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Data Analysts For All.

In a marketing plan for a huge multiuse senior care organization I included the hiring of a half- or full-time data analyst. The essence of the brand idea being “average care is poor care.”  Reading this morning about NYC public schools and their tough road to grade and graduation improvement, it was reported that some progress was underway, albeit at great financial costs.

Well, positive results are positive results. A proper and deep dive analysis of the results may work to reorient the investment more efficiently. Improvement is what social orgs want and certainly what marketers want. We just have to be able to codify, recreate and extend the improvements. And the way to do so is through data.

Every marketing team – big or small – needs a data analyst. Sadly, for all but the largest companies it’s a line item rarely in the budget. Without a data analyst the task falls to the CFO or marketing director – two titles not well equipped to read data contributory to marketing success.   Money in, money out, yes. Nuance, no. 

I once presented a comprehensive list of marketing objectives to a multibillion dollar healthcare client – one with serious data nerds in the quality control dept.  The marketing director thought the marketing metric list was too long. “How can our brand and advertising program accomplish all that?” said he.  “By measuring,” said I.



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Every once in a while I am asked to work on a tough piece of business. Cracking a tough piece of brand strategy code.  Businesses with complicated targeting, multiple value propositions, never-been-done-before product or service make ups.  This is my sweet spot.

The toughest part of brand strategy is what I call the Boil Down. Taking all that is discovered (the care-abouts and good ats) and reducing it to a more manageable level. Sometimes, before I can do that I just need to go back at my client stakeholders. One tool I developed as a waypoint in the process is The 7 Conundrums.  

Before I’m comfortable writing the brand brief I create a presentation identifying behavioral or product observations that seem contradictory. Conundrums are tension points that when discussed with stakeholders and subject matter experts can reveal important insights. And/or also may move stakeholders closer to accepting possible brand strategies.

For an online art gallery marketplace client, here was a conundrum:    

Walking into an art gallery can be intimidating but also freeing.  

I’ve always found that fertile discussions about marketing and branding tension points get me closer to cracking the toughest nuts.




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Harmonious Brands.

The second most important and difficult task in brand building is adherence. The most important task is actually developing a brand strategy.  I’ve written about adherence before, a borrow from the medical community, because it is so, so important.  The initial adherence task for the marketing and brand team is to get senior management on board.  A marketing team who feels others in the company won’t understand brand strategy, who thinks it’s too inside baseball, is setting itself up for failure. It’s not that complicated.  (FYI, a brand strategy comprises one claim, three proof planks.)  

Once company owners and c-levels are behind the brand strategy (not the ad campaign, not the website redesign, they are different), then the heavy lifting can begin: getting all company stakeholders into the fold.  You can opertionalize this through a training class, educational material, a video, an annual CEO address…there are many ways. But commitment to sharing with all employees is key.

What results is a wonderful harmony throughout the company. There are few things more beautiful than perfect harmony. You don’t need instruments, you needed even understand the words to the song. When you hear voices in perfect pitch, tone and harmony it is mesmerizing.

Mesmerize your employees and you can mesmerize your consuming publics. 



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Brand Leaders Educate.

A couple of years ago I wrote a brand strategy for an accountable care organization. An ACO is a physician group, the rules for which are shaped by the Affordable Care Act.  It was an exciting project and one I felt was quite political in nature. The brand strategy captured and celebrated the best of the Affordable Care Act – turning the systems from curative (treating sick patients) to preventative (prior to sick) a la well-baby.

Disclosure: The ACA built financial incentives into the system so that docs are paid to keep us well – sharing with the insurance companies the savings accrued thanks to wellness.

The Claim for the brand strategy was “Intensive Primary Care.” By telling targets (patients, physicians and payers) the primary care physicians or general practitioners (GP), as some know them, are going to treat patients more preemptively and exhaustively, rather than turning them over to specialists when really sick, it changes the calculus of medicine.

Managing healthy people is less costly than treating sick people.

This brand claim was a first to market claim. It sold the accountable care organization category. Being first to market is a leadership position. And leaders educate, someone smart once told me.




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I was reading about the NY Public Library yesterday and its Beaux Arts design, which led me to look up Beaux Arts (pronounced Boh-Zahr) in Wikipedia. Love Wikipedia. The Parisian Beaux Arts school was big in the late 1800s lasting until the first quarter of the 1900s in the U.S. As architecture goes this stuff blows away today’s glass and steel.  As I read I wondered why the word is so often used in brand strategy.

Brand Architecture, me thinks, borrows too much from its building architecture paternity. In building architectural classifications are a somewhat open set of guidelines and schemes and materials.  In brand planner, practitioners also have guidelines and tools. Many individualized.  

I work in master brand planning, the one that drives subsequent briefs and tactics so I like to stay away from this interpretive guideline thing. I like to be extremely explicit. Brand Strategy in my practice is one claim, three proof planks.  The marketing and comms are either on claim or they are not. It support a proof planks or it does not. Brand strategy is either open or closed. No room for interpretation. No schools. No architecture within which to operate. Is and 0s. On or off.  

This marketing environment is not limited. It does not lack for creativity. All buildings do not look the same. They are just built to last. Flourishes yes. Ephemera no.




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A number of years ago I subscribed to an advertising magazine called Lurzer’s International Archive.  It showcased the best ads in the world every month. I often found creative people thumbing through Archive looking at pictures and ideas inspiration.

M advertising work in those days was in technology. Often with Bell Labs engineers.  When they didn’t have an answer they would call-a-friend. Sometimes at Bell Labs, other times at PARC, a Xerox research lab in Palo Alto.  Back then engineers were a collegial bunch and helped one another. I loved this science-first worldview. Ad guys and girls would never have reached out to competitive peers to help solve problems.

Now I’m a brand strategist. We are more like Bell Labs engineers than creatives. The science of strategy, for many, comes first. Thanks to social media platforms such as Stack and Facebook, strategists can post questions and have 10 answers by noon. It’s wonderful. Looking for a framework for behavior change? You’ll have editorials, white papers, snark and frivolity from around the world.

Social business design today offers an exciting openness.

It’s a human trait. So is jealousy and greed. Openness is winning me thinks. Enjoy.



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Every business needs a promotion, something to jump start revenue when things are slow. My go-to promotion for the last few years has been a “Free Day of Planning.”   I offer up my services for one day, free of charge.  Try before you buy.

I had an opportunity to do some strategy work on Heineken Light during one of these free days. In ideation, I came up with a very cool “idea” for activation; it was on target, on culture and had mad finesse.

Since moving to Asheville, I’ve been thinking anew about promotions. While the free day of planning tended to target agencies, the new promo will target marketers. I’m thinking of calling the new promo  the “Climb Around,” a reference to climbing all over the product from my B2B days. A 2-dayer, the Climb Around will have me on-premise observing various business practices; understanding the 4 Ps (product, price, promotion and place), while observing organizational structure, management and culture.  

What will make the Climb Around unique will be my quietude. With only 2 days, the time will be best spent watching and listening — much as if undertaken by a cultural anthropologist. Field workers only observe — they never should they insinuate themselves into the cultural tableau. It changes the dynamic.

Using my stock pot/boil down metaphor, the output of the Climb Around will be only three observations. Three for free.

Any Beta testers out there?



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There’s a chain of fast food chicken restaurants in NC called Zaxby’s.  I’ve yet to eat there but am sure it’s competitive with others in the space. I’ll have to do some research. Yesterday I had a couple of meetings and presentations in which I discussed the “Fruit Cocktail Effect.” When a brand tries to be too many things, goes the theory, it becomes none. Fruit cocktail, is a sweet sugary mess rather than a mélange of grapes, peaches, pear and cherries.

I watched a Zaxby’s TV spot last night and noted how very plain it was. Pictures of human beings, chicken shots, nature, nurture – the ad could have been for any product. The culprit? Fruit Cocktail.  

Zaxby’s tagline (de facto brand strategy) is “Friends. Family. Flavor.”  That’s three claims – if they can even be called claims. Flavor might be the closest thing to a claim.

No doubt Zaxby’s gets the chicken right — because they are a successful business.  Now they need to get the brand right. Zaxby’s needs a single claim behind which it can load up its proof. Make a claim…and prove it every day.



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Trout and Ries turned me on to Positioning with their book Positioning: The Battle For Your Mind. It’s very hard to disagree with Jack and Al.  The logic is dead on. It addresses many marketing ills. But the thing about strategy is it is best when reverse engineered – a wonderful practice for book writers and theory writers.  It’s easy-ish to look in the rearview mirror and ‘splain why success happened. Positioning does work for some forward thinkers, but it’s a practice and process. An activity. Find a position in the minds of customers.

I prefer to rally around Claim rather than Position. A brand Claim is a strategic statement of customer value married to brand feature or function.  While Claims are malleable and organic, Positions are finite and immobile. If you Position a house by the river and the river moves, you’re toast.  If you Claim fertile soil and rich yield, that’s future-friendly.

One can argue that Coke’s brand claim of “refreshment” is both claim and position. I would agree.  So it’s not like they can’t work together. But mostly Positioning is process-focused. And Claim is product-focused. Therein lies the difference.



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One of the oldest problems in the pantheon of marketing problems is targeting. Everyone who wants to sell something wants as many people as possible to buy. Laudable. However, when it comes to brand strategy it’s message-limiting to be everything to everyone. (I call this the “fruit cocktail effect.”)

The tighter the target the tighter the brand.

That said, I worked on a branding assignment for a web startup targeting artists, art buyers and art sellers (e.g., galleries). Three targets. All were important and needed to be part of the strategy.

On an assignment for a physician group built after the Affordable Care Act was passed, targeted physicians, patients and payers (insurance companies.) Also a broad target. Each constituent group needed to be part of the strategy.

When the targeting gets broad the work gets harder because value props are often less shared.  Targeting is a conscious decision. If you go broad don’t do it out of avarice or laziness. Do it because the product and experience dictate.



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