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Claim and Proof.

Claim and proof are the driving forces of the What’s The Idea? brand strategy framework. Find a claim (a simple, endemic idea that sets your product apart from the competition), then array three proof planks beneath. Proof sells the claim. It is evidence. The planning rigor, unlike many, is evidence-based.

It’s not overly complicated. That’s why it works.  Consumers get a consistent brand claim, supported by memorable proof. Without proof a claim is just marketing drivel. (Hey Laura Ingraham “Shut up and drivel.”)

When I turn over the brand brief to content creators, they love that there is direction. Some wonder, however, if they need to espouse all three proof planks in each piece of content. The answer is no. One is fine. One makes for a clean deposit in the brand bank.

A website home page should hit all the planks, certainly the “About” section should. But the claim is always present — across product, experience and messaging.  Again, don’t feel that every ad, every promo, every PR story must hit all three support planks. Do one and do it right. 

Once ensconced in this approach, it’s fun to modulate each plank and see how it impacts KPIs.




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Highland Brewing is “an original” craft brewery located in Asheville, NC – founded in 1995 by Oscar Wong.  When I moved to Asheville and having becomes a big fan of the Highland Gaelic Ale, I decided to contact president Leah Wong Ashburn for a quaff and chat about branding. Ms. Wong, I learned, was way ahead of me with a re-brand underway, using a shop in TX she had met at a beer tradeshow.  

I’ve seen a little bit of the work – the grand reveal is at the brewery this Friday – and the brand shop and Highland team seem to have hit on all cylinders.

Disclosure: I am a brand strategist who make paper, not pictures. I deliver an organizing principle for product, experience and messaging. As such, I’m always eager to hear the paper strategy. In the case of Highland the claim seems to be “Pioneers in Craft.” Nice. The phrase doesn’t say “craft beer,” it says “craft.” Love the nuance.  Craft extends way beyond beer making. So it opens more doors for the brand planks – the proof areas that deliver on the promise.

Not being privy to the Highland brand strategy, I’ll have to do some digging to uncover the brand planks. Can you say fatty liver JKJK.

One minor for me was the mark or logo. Using a compass and letter “H” lacked a little local mountain flourish. Logos are hard. This one is strong and professional… I’ll get used to it.

Bravo Highland. Good stuff. Can’t wait to see more.



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One of the keys to good brand planning is the consumer interview: Getting consumers to open up and share deeper insights.  To start you must do some shallow digging, but you don’t want to stay there too long or the process will feel like an online survey. If you sound like a research survey, you will be treated so.  The goal is to get to conversation as fast as you can, so the notion of an interview and the interview dynamic are quickly forgotten.

When I am on roll, I’m giving as well as taking. I’m sharing ad hominem personal views and stories to fuel the conversational pump. My intent is to connect, share, listen, process and grow the conversation. In a word it boils down to “caring.” About the topic and the person sharing. When the questions feel too “commercial,” the caring quotient goes down. When stories flow, insights flow

By caring and with a good ear for insights and the opportunity for redirection, each interview can be different. There’s nothing worse than hearing the same answers to the same questions. It makes the interviewer care less. And that’s bad tradecraft.




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I went to the Starbucks yesterday, one housed in my local Ingles grocery store, and a nice young women in a non-descript polo shirt came to serve me.  I was looking for an Ingles logo on the shirt, but didn’t see one.  Within a minute another woman walked into the Starbucks retail space with a green apron on – she more befitting the brand experience.

I asked her if they were still called baristas. She said yes.  Then I asked her when telling friends what she did for a living if she said “I’m a barista” or “I work at Starbucks,” she admitted the latter.  Howard Schultz are you listening?

When Starbucks began, the barista was fundamental brand thing. They co-opted the word. Now people just work at Starbucks. When Starbucks first got rid of the hand-crated latte and espresso machines in favor of automated brewing, I thought it might be the beginning of brand stasis. Think I was right. The brand can advertise blonde coffee and all the new flavors it likes, but if it doesn’t tighten up the in-store brand experience, it will suffer.

Peace be upon you, children and parents of Parkland, FL.


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As a brand planner, whose primary concern is developing master brand strategy, my discovery phase is all about finding the right claim and the three most motivating proof planks supporting that claim.   This claim and proof framework is perhaps the simplest most easy to understand means by which to build a brand.

Claim and proof is also a good driver for making effective advertising. Advertising, the biggest chunk of a marketing budget, is one of the weaker arrows in the marketing quiver. Why? Because it is mostly claim and very little proof. Following is an example

UBS is a huge global financial company.  It invests billions of consumer’s retirement savings, mine included. It ran an ad in The New York Times today attempting to convince readers it is expert in the complicated Chinese market (claim). There is lots of flah flah flah about risk and reward in the copy then they break out the big and “proof” of claim: “As the first foreign bank in China…”   That’s all you got? That’s the proof of local knowledge superiority?

Opportunity lost.



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I’m working on an assignment that has me reading a child development text by a PhD and clinician who also happen to be parents.  The text delves into brain function. Fellow brand planner and friend Megan Kent has built up a great practice mapping the brain to preference and emotional attachments to brands. Check her out.

When I look at my discovery process, I realize the success of my practice owes a great deal to they way I interact with my interviewees.  I listen, parry, enthuse (to join in) and redirect in ways that show interest in the interviewee, in their smarts and experiences. I do it to gain trust of the person — and for the subject. By jumping in as a nonjudgmental listener, they open up and tell me things they might not even tell a spouse. I show them a little of mine, they show me theirs. What I’ve been learning from my brain book, however, is this omniscient friend approach may leave some things on the table. I may not be truly listening.

I am going to work on that but must admit to loving the connection my approach allows me with interviewees. We laugh, we cry, we share intimacies and bond in ways that often creates brand planning magic. When the barriers are down in an un-clinical (listening) way, sharing happens. Some of it deeply cognitive.



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I was reading a recipe this weekend for chick pea chili (don’t judge) and decided right off the bat I’d never make it. Not for the chick peas, not for the drive to the grocery store(s), but for the over complication of ingredients.  I favor minimalism in my cooking. It’s easier to taste a few ingredients. (Google “Fruit Cocktail Effect.”)

My framework for brand strategy reflects this sensibility: One claim, three proof planks.  That’s how you build a brand. One and three.

Getting to one and three isn’t easy though. Trust me. You have to go through hundreds of ingredients to get to the one claim and three planks. When looking for brand good-ats and customer care-abouts, you’ll find many. But when forming brand strategy, don’t just look at the most common ingredients or the most abundant; this job is all about finesse.

For you tyro brand planners out there, use your palette when considering all the ingredients, but use your heart and brain when selecting the true flavors.





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Brand strategy is an organizing principle that gives brand managers a “go-no go” guide for product, experience and messaging. It makes branding easy.

Nicholas Kristof in the NYT today was talking about the social entrepreneurs attending Davos and how refreshing they were to have around.  He was poo-pooing consumerists who are all about the money.

Doing “good” in a commercial sense is smart strategy.  In my practice, when I’m looking at care-abouts and god-ats, I try to plot and push brand planks that are socially positive. It’s not hard to do, and it can’t be forced, but it butts up against the nature of what makes humans humans.  

When a cigarette ad choses to shoot a photo at the top of a mountain on a bluebird day amongst cottony snow drifts, it’s hitting our natural beauty button. When a box of diapers shows an amazing toddler smile, it hits a warm, nurture button. But advertising which use positive imagery to cloud our judgement about what is “good” is disingenuous. And it give marketing a bad name.

A brand strategy, built with brand planks supporting positive social ideals is deeply human. And enduring.


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Anthony Noto was just names CEO of SoFi, the online banking lender. Mr. Noto came to my attention when named chief marketing officer of Twitter – with nary a marketing bone in his body. He was hired as Twitter’s CFO, then slid over into marketing side of the house (two hats) after spending time at Goldman Sachs and the NFL.  The gent knows finance and business. And gets technology, but he’s no nerd.  I’m betting he’ll really find his footing at SoFi.  Having spent time with Jack Dorsey and absorbing the Square’s platform and financial designs, he’ll have a nice non-Goldman view of the world.  

Still not sure if Mr. Noto is a marketer but marketing is easier with a great product. And I’m guessing he’ll be able to take Sofi’s gerrymander-the-lending-market approach and build some smart products.

Money, be it paper or digits, isn’t going away. And Mr. Noto is back where he belongs with some nice learning along the way.

Watch him.  



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Healthcare (B)Ads

I was watching a TV ad last night for a local hospital and groaned to the wifus as the fifth obligatory shot of a doctor group hit the screen. You’ve seen it before — the blue scrubs, four or five smiling heads. (Proper smiling is harder than surgery for some.)  The only things that set this spot apart from the hundreds of other interchangeable hospital spots was the fact that each doc/nurse held a card containing a smiley face. And each smiley face was on what I thought was an outline of the state of NC.  My wide told me it was a smiley face on a heart outline. A Valentines heart.

She thought it cute. Me not some much.

What was the muscle memory of the ad, which I think was created for Pardee Hospital?  If the cards they held were hearts, I’m assuming they have a cardiology practice.  Otherwise, the only take-away was they have a lot of white people working there, and 12.3% black. And they can all stand up.  The copy way gobbledy, the visuals deafening in their silence, no idea and, frankly, no heart. “We’re Here” advertising at is worst.

The state of the advertising art in healthcare continues to be at an all-time low. Search What’s The Idea? posts for comments about Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center to see that even the best practitioners are lagging. Pity.



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