zdnet brand strategy

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Fly Paper Strategy

My first brand strategy was a career changer. I was at technology boutique called Welch Nehlen Groome, in Garden City, NY trying to introduce account planning to the advertising rigor. The client we were going after was ZDNet, a Ziff Davis property in the tech space. It began as a portal of all the Ziff Davis technology publications with a few interactive bells and whistles.

Our contact at ZDNet, Michael Della Penna, passed on a PowerPoint deck from a branding shop in San Francisco. The firm clearly understood branding I thought, because it had a cool name. Dog Bowl or Bath Water or some such. Once past the title page of the deck however, I noticed the group was all hat and no cattle. 80% of the paper was marko-babble. Or more specifically, brand-babble.

I don’t remember writing a deck to win the business. I remembered the brief. ZDNet had a good sense of their proof points; they were smart people, as techies often are.  They just didn’t get the poetry side of strategy – the claim side. Their brand planks were what they called the 3Cs: Content, Community and Commerce. ZDNet’s main competition at the time was C|Net, who matched up pretty well with the 3C.

The Brand Idea from the brief was “For Doers Not Browsers.” A strategic cherry and rational/emotional difference maker. We won the business and the CMO of all of Ziff companies called the paper strategy galvanizing (my word, it was a long tome ago).

I was hooked.

 

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Before I became a brand planner I was a writer of creative briefs at an ad agency. One of the bigger refinements of my learning came at the hand of Peter Kim, McCann-Erickson NY’s the strategy officer.  He designed (or repackaged) the McCann creative brief to include what he called the Key Thought. The Key Thought was the “spark that propels the brand toward its objective.”  The word spark is what I preserved for my branding practice. I morphed Key Thought into “Claim” a more focused branding label but both are cultivated from and beholden to the word spark.

At an ad agency, a spark is the direction that gets the creative team excited about an ad.  In brand planning, the spark is the claim under which all marketing work is organized.  

When I wrote crappy briefs, before spark, they were lifeless sentences devoid of personality, culture and intrigue. Post Spark, they were strategic but poetic. More pregnant with possibility.  As a brand claim, a spark is strategic but also more interpretative.

One of my first claims with a spark was for ZDNet. Written in the 90s, the brand strategy was “For doers not browsers.” Still holds today.

Spark it up! Peace.

 

 

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