whatstheidea

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I’m all about systems. When developing a marketing plan I use my proprietary “24 Questions,” a follow-the-money rubric.  When working on a brand, I have a form simply called “Fact Finding Questions.” Broken into two sections, one for C-level executives, the other for top sales people it asks generic things, e.g., “If you were to get a job at a competitor, how would you deposition your current company?” Stuff like that. Good, but generic.

When working in a new category and having to learn a new language – a language in which I am illiterate – generic doesn’t always cut it.

I’ve worked with a magician and I’ve worked with a top two professional services company.  The questions that work for a teeth whitening company don’t translate. So my question framework almost always needs to go off the reservation.  The off-the-rezzy questions are always works in progress. They require listening, parrying, redirection and often a good deal of bi-directional story telling.  

When I ask an executive or sales person a question that spikes their blood pressure, it’s a hit. Follow that trail. If a hospice nurse is explaining how to tell whether a patient is minutes or hours away from passing, feel the mood. The sanctity. 

Learning is the absolute best part of brand planning.

Peace.

 

 

         

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Not enough credit has been giving to the name of my business in this blog. What’s The Idea? is the name of the blog and the business. People think is a cool name even though the URL requires explanation: “Not what is the idea, what’s the idea dot com, sans apostrophe.”

What’s The Idea? perfectly describes my brand consultancy. The search for a fitting and motivating brand idea consumes me. A single idea that captures what consumers care about and what brands are good at. (Care-abouts and good-ats.)

Not every marketer thinks they need an “idea.”  It’s not top of mind. But a sound brand idea helps position, sell and defend against competitors. If you market and don’t brand, you’re apt to struggle.

The funny thing is, the “ideas” I come up with are almost never mine. Sure I put the words together. I may even add some poetry. But the ideas come from others: from buyers, and sellers, and influencers. I’m actually just the curator. The prioritizer. I decide which idea best motivates selling and buying of a particular brand. The I organize under that idea, three proof planks to guide the way.

So when I say “What’s The Idea?” to a marketer, I’m not just branding, I’m asking a fundamental marketing question.

What is your brand idea?

Peace.

  

 

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So I don’t know if you follow Michael Rapaport on Twitter but the actor turned social commentator has used social media to quickly establish his brand. Marketers and brand managers can learn from him. (Save for the F-bomb every six words.) Actors are like tofu. They’re as good as their craft and roles. Mr. Rappaport is best as an actor when doing irascible characters; but because he’s an actor, you expect he can do milk toast if need be. It’s all acting after all.

On Twitter he Real. The real Michael Rapaport, albeit with a fun gangsta flourish.  

I tell clients different social channels are for different things. Facebook’s for friends. LinkedIn’s for work. Instagram for one’s artistic self. And Twitter for the full-on personality. Well Mr. Rapaport uses Twitter right. It has quickly defined him for me. In a week or two.

His Twitter pic is an image of Charles Oakley sporting a crown.  He tweets about St. John’s basketball. He rants in his car about Trump and he hates haters with the best or them. He defends where defense is needed. And he’s funnier than shit.

I learned more about Michael Rapaport in 10 minutes on Twitter than I would in years of watching Access Hollywood or reading journalist magazine accounts.

Brands can establish their personality on Twitter. Fast. They just have to dedicate time and work their brand strategy (one claim, three proof planks,)

Peace.

 

 

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There are a lot of smart people out there in brand planning. Many work at agencies, some as consultants.  I was reading a piece on LinkedIn this morning by a Toronto consultant dba Beloved-Brands. It discussed Benefit Clusters. Lots of good thinking and a number of similarities to my framework at What’s The Idea?.  

Brand consultants don’t want to make the process sounds too easy or it won’t sell. Big ass consultant companies, in fact, want to make an engagement seem complicated so they can extract good margins. Beloved-Brands, as evidenced through its website, PPT presentations and perhaps RFPs, treads lightly on the complicated/easy continuum. The promotion is nicely done and quite palatable. Where I take issue with their framework (and that of many others) is in the use of the word “benefits.” 

I don’t look at benefits. I spent my time instead looking for “proof.”  Benefits tend to be holographic. Mass produced. Proof on the other hand is tangible. Memorable. Articulate-able.  Proof accrues to benefits, but only as determined by the consumer. Don’t tell a person to be happy, make them happy.  

When push comes to shove any brand consultant worth its salt is going to do discovery and insights work that helps them build a case for “an idea that drives product, employees and customers toward sustainable and profitable commerce.” (Not a bad for an on-the-fly definition.)

When you are thinking about your brand, don’t play in benefit land. Dig for proof.

Peace.

 

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Walmart’s mission, I just read on Forbes.com, is “We save people money so they can live better.” Is this an endemic or non-endemic mission? I would normally say non-endemic, in that anyone selling anything can talk price strategy, but since Walmart is selling just about everything it might work. It might be endemic. Nah. Not falling for it.

And the whole “live better” is so done. It’s like we help you “sleep better.” Done.  The fact of the matter is much of the low cost stuff one buys at Walmart it not built to last. It’s built for now and next year.  Like products at BJs. A Coleman cooler, for instance, with cheesy plastic hinges is not long for this world.  You’ll be buying another in 22 months. That’s not living better.

Walmart is about the transaction. Volume. Turnover. China. It’s not about living better.

This mission is internal. It’s for the 2.2 million employees at the world’s largest private employers. To make them feel better.

Walmart has a lot to offer. It just needs to be more straightforward and perhaps smarter about its positioning. If you want to do good, do good. Especially when hawking value. Study ConAgra’s Banquet brand.

Peace.

 

 

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Aetna Insurance is moving 250 top jobs and its corporate headquarters from home town Hartford, CT to Ninth Avenue, Manhattan. They are investing millions in a new space and taking advantage of the city’s digital workforce – moving to the northern vertex of what I call the Digital Triangle.

I think the insurance business sees the writing on the wall. As do many other businesses who see automation and AI cutting into future earnings. Hartford, once the center of the insurance industry, has seen jobs reduced (according to the NYT) to 37,000 from 60,000 in 1990. As we get closer to socialized medicine, there will be less need for numbers crunchers deciding on health policy and policies. We will still need to insure stuff, however, but software and intelligence is making that work less labor intensive. Slide rile anyone?

I was working on a project for Duck Creek Technologies over a decade ago to develop an “insurance policy in a day.” All built on unique data feeds.

The innovations in insurance will be tech innovations and digital in nature.

Moore’s law for business, in reverse.

Peace.

 

 

 

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Yesterday I wrote about the power of a clear brand idea. In closing I mentioned it only works if adhered to.  Smart people in the brand consulting business do training.  After the idea and architecture are sold to senior management, the consultant goes in and trains stakeholders in its proper use and care. A good practice.

I worked at McCann when they launched the new Lucent Technologies brand and the agency created a wonderful brand book that would live on office bookshelves for years, explaining the proper use and care of the brand — well after training faded. Training plus a brand book has a better chance of working. But there is an even better way.

Who is to be the steward of the brand idea? Usually it falls to the CMO and/or brand manager. But for most companies the task is back-burnered. They are too busy. So the position of “brand steward” needs to be created. A chief brand officer, if you will, but really only at a director level.  Just as legal counsel needs to keep the law in mind, a brand steward needs to own brand strategy adherence. Someone to ask “Does this work deliver our brand claim and proof array?”  

It’s not a hard job. It’s an important job. No one ever got sued for nonadherence to brand strategy. And that’s why there is so much sloppy brand craft.

Peace.

 

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There’s a famous David Belasco quote that goes something like this ‘If you can’t fit your idea on the back of a business card, you don’t have a clear idea.’ David was an impresario of Broadway plays.

A number of years ago I worked at a web start-up run but a mad code scientist. He was a drag-and-drop genius. Like many entrepreneurs he fancied himself the head of marketing (my job). He wrote a draft of the home page copy which my pops would have called a “doggy’s dinner” of claims, goals and marko-babble. Suffice it to say it wouldn’t fit on the back of a business card. That didn’t keep us from winning Robert Scoble’s Demo of the Year.  It did, however, keep us from becoming bah-millionaires (billionaire slash millionaire). due to feature creep and poor consumer usability.

A good brand strategy – defined as an organizing principle for product, experience and messaging – will fit on the back of a business card. It might not make you a millionaire, but it will make you an articulate marketer. And hopefully it will make your customers similarly articulate about the product. Of course that’s in the execution…which will be a topic for another day.

Peace.

 

 

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Every brief is a brand brief…that is, until the brand brief is actually written.  This is my life. A friend asked for some help with his website. I was paralyzed until I wrote a brand brief.  “Can’t you just write copy for the website? Only a couple of pages?” Sorry.  

A brand consultancy asked me to work on an idea for a top six business consulting company – they really wanted a brochure. “Love to help. Gotta do a brand brief first.” Want me to write an ad for your energy drink? Brand brief.

I can’t go tactical — not in good conscience — until I understand the organizing principle aka the brand strategy. I’d have restless leg syndrome. I’d be afraid I would do something to hurt the brand – which would be hard since without a brand brief “Who knew?” what would help the brand. 

So this is my career dilemma. The boulder I must push up the mountain. Wouldn’t have it any other way.

Peace.

 

 

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I’ve written tons of briefs.  Mostly for ads. The last quarter ton have been mostly brand strategy briefs which create “the organizing principle for product, experience and messaging.” My first healthcare brand brief was for the North Shore-LIJ Health System, now Northwell Health.  Fifteen years and 3 agencies later, I’m still excited to hear my strategy every time it pops up on radio, TV or community newspaper. But my head wasn’t into it when I first put paper to pen – I mean how exciting could a healthcare brand be?

Very.

Healthcare, even back in the day, was a crazy fertile space to develop strategy. We’re not just talking whiter teeth here (done that), we’re talking life. Death sometimes. Family. And powerful emotions.

Since North Shore, I’ve done hospice work, nutrition, obesity, accountable care, senior care, acute rehab and global care. The insights have been some of the most exciting I’ve ever encountered. Healthcare is even more exciting today, if you make it so.

To health.

Peace.

 

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