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A while back I spent 8 months at a K12 educational development company called Teq and it changed how I approach branding and marketing. My approach is more beholden to pedagogy than selling — though selling is still the objective.

This morning I was reading a nice piece in the NY Times about the use of technology in education. Features included Marc Benioff (software), Reed Hastings (algorithm) and Mark Zuckerburg (student-centered).  In Mr. Zuckerberg’s segment the quote “Now educators are no longer classroom leaders, but helpmates.” While this statement may be a little too “new world,” it rang a bell.    

The best brand strategies are those understood throughout a company. They can be taught but are best when learned and believed. Proper training allows every employee to be a brand learner. And more importantly, a brand practicer.

When all employees get the claim and proof planks of a brand strategy, it accelerates penetration into the consumer ethos. Talk about mission and culture in a company all you want, branding is not about memorization it’s about practice. Start with the teachers. (The more the better.) Then “helpmate” the consumers.



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Wikipedia defines deterministic system this way:

“In mathematics and physics, a deterministic system is a system in which no randomness is involved in the development of future states of the system. A deterministic model will thus always produce the same output from a given starting condition or initial state.”

I am here to argue that brand strategy is s deterministic system. Most would argue it’s chaos theory.  Frankly, most people would be right. Brand strategy is chaotic. It is random,

Ninety percent of marketing organizations are set up to deal with brand strategy as a communications consequence. “We need order in our messaging, ergo we need a brand strategy.” Tasked with spending money mainly on ads and events, these orgs spend hundreds of millions each year on naming, logo development, style manuals and ad templates. Landor says, “Thank you very much.”

A smaller number of marketing orgs take it to the next level plotting out consumer experience; mainly in retail or online settings. What does t a Dunkin’ Donuts store look like? Where do we put the seasonal stuff at Costco? How do we offer online professional development at Teq?

And lastly, in the smallest percentage of marketing organizations, are those who actually think about the product. What do we do to the product to improve it to meet customer needs? Or with what do we replace our product to better deliver our value promise?

A tight brand strategy leaves nothing to chance. It speaks to all three marketing organizational models.  One claim and three proof planks drive all measures of business success. It starts at the brand level and IS accountable. I used to call it Return On Strategy (ROS), I now call it Return On Brand Strategy (ROBS.) Stay tuned.




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Learn This.

Learning is a topic I’ve written about before but today it’s the subject of the entire post.

I’ve been in the ad and marketing business since 1978 when a mail-slinger at my dad’s shop Poppe Tyson. It took me until 2011, while director of marketing at Teq, an educational development company, to understand the importance of learning in marketing. (Yeah, yeah, rabbit and hare thing.)

I’ve had lots of mentors over the years: a kid who ran the AT&T ad business with an iron fist and mind, a be-sotted ex-marine who was the country’s first million dollar a year copywriter, and a copy-contact, agency chief who built a powerful global brand that lived well beyond his years. None taught me the practice of learning in marketing.

To understand the role of learning in branding and marketing you have to understand teaching. Teaching is process. Learning the result. There are poor teachers, there are no poor learners. My stint in the education field helped me understand this. Learning why one product is better than another. Learning why one service has more value. The best learning is not forced but self-actualized. When someone comes to a learned moment on their own, it sticks. It’s important.

So you marketers out there. Focus on the learning first and the proper teaching technique will come to you. Most marketers are 85% teach and 15% learn. Flip it and your depth of success will change.



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Brand journalists aren’t for every company. Certainly most small companies can’t afford them. The first brand journalist I ran into worked for JWT, a forward thinking ad agency. He worked on Microsoft and helped the brand do some really smart things in the B2B space. But he worked for the agency. When I moved client side to an educational technology company, I was lucky enough to have a chairman with enough vision to see the value of a brand journalist. We hired a photographer/videographer who was also a wonderful visual storyteller. His ability to make people feel things was amazing and powerful.

Thomas Simonetti was his name and he came to us with a newspaper background. The company we worked for, Teq, had a great brand strategy and I helped Thomas understand it: the claim and the proof planks. The plan was Thomas’s story guide. His mission: Go forth, research, compile and communicate stories that convince consumers that are what we say we are. We do what we say we do. We live how we say we live.

A traditional journalist has no agenda. That’s what makes them good. Brand journalists have an agenda. And that’s what make brands great. And rich. And successful. Peace.


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Brand strategists are often defined by the quality of their insights. Over the years I’ve found that insights can be either supply side (what a brand does well) or demand side (what customers want most). Planners tend to work mostly in the latter space. I preach working in the middle. At the nexus. Where supply and demand come together.

For ZDNet  “For Doers, Not Browsers” was the brand strategy. It sat up there on the supply and demand fence.

For Teq, an educational development company, “Illuminating Learning” spoke to buyers and seller. At their cores.

For Sweet Loren’s Cookies “Craft Cookies Au Naturel” defined the product and consumer benefit in 4 words.

These brand strategies may sound like taglines but they aren’t; they are organizing principles. Each supported by 3 proof planks that give depth and direction to the ongoing narrative.

Brand briefs differ from creative briefs in their output. The output must hit both supply side and demand side insights. Turning communications and experiences into selling freaking machines.

Peace it up.


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I was director of marketing at an educational technology company named Teq a couple of years ago and though the fit wasn’t a good one (I got canned) it was one of the most important weigh points of my career. It was there that I was introduced to the sciences of teaching and learning. It was there that I studied pedagogical theory and practice. I walked the halls of K12 institutions in rural and urban settings. I read kids compositions hanging on the wall. I was steeped in learning.

What was career-changing was coming to the conclusion that branding and marketing are best when focused on learning. When consumers are allowed to learn about product value, come to their own conclusions, and personally experience the “buy moment “ as my friends at BrandTuitive would say; then, they are likely to purchase with greater loyalty.

Today a study confirmed that students, especially African Americans, learn better by participating. When lectured (the way of most schooling), students don’t learn as well, but when engaged, in participatory mode, in teams, and with real-time exercises, they outperform.

This is how marketing should be. More experiential. Less tutorial. Less half duplex. (Full duplex is what you hear on your land line. Half duplex is what you experience on your cellie.)

A good brand plan provides demonstrations of the brand claim. Not messaging fodder. Real experiential examples. This is how the mind shift in marketing begins. Peace.

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Not to be outdone by Amazon’s drone delivery announcement on 60 Minutes Sunday Night, Google hit the front page of The New York Times today with a story trotting out Android czar Andy Rubin as head of its new robot division.  Not to be confused with Google’s self-driving cars business (Just what we need, more cars.)

And it’s not only a future thing, robots are arriving in schools daily, as my friends at Teq will tell you.  The NOA robot is setting kids a-giggle across a number of Long Island schools.  And robots are even cleaning windows now. Take that! window washers union of NY.  Drones and robots deliver on Larry Page’s vision, “Technology should be deployed wherever possible to free humans from drudgery and repetitive tasks.” Como se breathing?

Have you seen a movie trailer lately?  Or prime time TV show? They are 50% fantasy. Dude, I love technology. I also love the future…and that we’re becoming smart enough to know when we’re effing up the planet and gene pool. I love all the “springs” that are blooming…but let’s remember to take time to watch the bears (see headline); those pesky animals rolling around in our urban sprawl dumpsters.  Nature is still the best part of humanity. The craft economy or roots economy is part of that and is picking up speed. It will not outpace the robots and drones, but it’s growing.

Good marketers and brand planners see ahead of what’s trending. Peace.

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Last year I worked with an interesting K12 educational development company called Teq. For a brand planner it provided a perfect storm of stimulating elements: a business with a changing model, tons of humanity (tools to teach children), inner city color, political sturm und drang, and pent-up market demand. Oh, and the market could be measured in billions not millions. In addition to developing a brand plan and marketing communications plan I had my eye on creating a social media dept. – something I’ve long blogged about.

Before I landed at Teq I found a dude on the company site named Jeremy Stiffler. He was one of the reasons I really liked the Teq, site unseen. Every company needs a Jeremy Stiffler.  He was a SME (subject matter expert), who without breaking a sweat could be recorded on video and teach the products and services.  Part actor, part teacher, part digital usability savant, Jeremy could look the camera in the eye and walk you through a product or topic tutorial (tute) with flawless effectiveness. Good teachers know when a student doesn’t get something by looking at their expression. Jeremy, intuitively knew it, even from behind the camera.

Social media departments need a good writer, videographer, editor and still photographer.  Obviously, they all need to be orchestrated at the hands of a brand manager and plan.  But the best departments in their respective business will always have a full or part time Jeremy.  Not a pretty on-camera face or rented talent, an illuminating teaching presence who works for the company and gets people. Peace.

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engineers hat

Date-driven is the other new thing.  Find a business category and put the words “data-driven” in front and you have an new and fertile business. Data-driven Social Marketing Solutions for the Dachis Group.  Data-driven instruction for Teq, Inc. and educational development company. Data-driven decision making. Data-drive fill in the blank.

When has any field of endeavor not been data driven?   Data has successfully driven businesses for time immemorial. Como se Sears catalog?

Today, however the web has enabled us to be awash in data. And it is a good thing. Enter the Haggis.  I mean, enter the dashboard. The dashboard has a way of keeping us sane. Then there is the dashboard engineer: the person responsible for looking at all the dials and doing something smart with it. The dashboard engineer will be the new social media manager. A data nerd who reports data, reports patterns and trends, but may not see the bigger marketing picture.

Mark my words, on the job boards of the future we will see data engineer and dashboard engineer titles aplenty. Then the fill in the blank will come before the title.  Peace. 

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