Conversation Starters – What Brands Are Made Of

Mahesh Murthy, founder of Pinstorm and a venture capitalist at Seedfund, writing in The Wall Street Journal asks if your brand is “remark-worthy.” Because it’s kind of difficult to start a conversation around the brand if it isn’t.

When someone talks about your offering, is there a 10-second sound bite that is “re-tweetable” on Twitter? If not, go back to basics and craft a simple, clear hook that that sets you apart. Like: Google helps you find stuff better, Harley owners are a cult, Starbucks is a great place to be, Red Bull lets you party harder.
…Then intervene in conversations and respond to complaints, visibly, with your own Twitter account or some other way of interacting. It’s important that on-lookers see your response to a complaint in the open so they know that you can take care of theirs too, if they ever have one. This is where your real brand is built.

Speaking of “intervening in conversations” and building one’s brand in the transparent space of the Web, Bob Hoffman picked up on our story about Portland-based Fight and how they believe in “the right idea, not the big idea.”
Hoffman says, “Now the favorite excuse for not having an idea is technology.” It’s important to note here that he seems to be speaking generally, because Dave Allen at Fight never said anything about not having an idea. Or that technology itself was an idea. What Fight believes is we can make better use of technology to test whether or not ideas of all sizes are, in fact, working for the client.
Justin at Fight also “intervenes” on Hoffman’s site with a lengthy comment. Here’s a small part of it:

It’s not satisfying to me to pitch another micro-site, or another UCG contest, or another Facebook app that’s going to live to for a season and die. And I have no idea how that’s money well spent for my client. It’s EXACTLY this mode of thinking that leaves clients feeling like marketing is an un-trackable expense. And it’s why our budgets and timelines keep getting cut. While we may know that good creative and good design is good for business, as an industry, we’re awful at proving. Instead, we take a “trust me” attitude and end up sitting in meetings debating the aesthetic merit of our work with our clients.

The conclusion I draw is to implement lots of right ideas (big and small), then use technology to prove that the ideas are working.

About David Burn

Co-founder and editor of AdPulp. I wrote my first ad for a political candidate when I was 17 years old. She won her race and I felt the seductive power of advertising for the first time. I worked for seven agencies in five states before launching my own practice in 2009. Today, I am head of brand strategy and creative at Bonehook in Portland, Oregon.


  1. why do i feel this debate is very 2004? maybe because it is.
    Mr. murthy says “go back to basics and craft a simple, clear hook that that sets you apart. Like: Google helps you find stuff better”. Oh thanks man. a simple clear hook that sets you apart. you know, like Google. Google is a hook? no, google is the biggest idea in recent memory.
    Well at least he didn’t talk about “conversations” or “transparency”. Oh f**k, he did didn’t he. And he got this published in the WSJ? What next? Articles on how to breathe?
    And who exactly is Justin talking about? The mythical big spending irresponsible big agency (you know, the one led by the egotistical ECD who probably doesn’t know anyting about digital). And let me guess, Justin’s company is the complete opposite of this profligate straw man agency?
    I’m with TAC on this one. And if anyone has any big ideas they’re not planning on using based on philosophical reasons, please send them my way. i’ll make sure they find a good home.

  2. VeeDub,
    The guy’s a VC. He lives in a world where the elevator pitch is all.
    BTW, I think Justin did work at the Portland agency with egotistical CDs who don’t know anything about digital.

  3. Hey Vinny, I can’t speak for Murthy, but I can speak to Fight. The mythical big spending agency isn’t mythical at all. It’s any of the majority of the agencies you can probably name of the top of your head.
    Fight, for what it’s worth is a 4 person strategic firm. So yes, we’re quite different. We don’t make ads. We don’t make sites. We all come from the agency world, but we all left because we felt like there was too much codified in agency culture for it address the cultural changes digital has brought to the market in any sort of meaningful way.
    Our goal isn’t to get rid of great ideas. Great ideas are part of what we do for our clients. What is different is that we don’t take creative briefs and just run with it. We work really hard WITH our clients to understand their relationship with their customer and with the marketplace. We work to help align their marketing goals with both their business goals, and their customers goals. We deliver to our clients strategic frameworks that they can utilize, long-term, to drive their marketing efforts, and iterative tactical roadmaps based on this strategy they can invest modestly in to prove that it works.
    This is all a long-winded way of saying: we’ll be keeping our ideas right here with us. 😉 Hope that clarifies a little where we’re coming from and why we’re doing things this way.

  4. i just thought mr. murthy’s “insights” were a tad inane. “create a brand that’s awesome and really worth talking about” is a bit like me advising a VC to “only invest in stuff that’s really cool and that will pay out bigtime later on”.
    justin, i suspect we have a lot in common. but i just didn’t see a lot of my experience in the approach you were railing against. it felt a bit like when extreme conservatives rail against “liberals” that live only in their head. that agency sounds like a bunch of really stupid people.
    and ultimately, clients do have a make a leap of faith. we all do. that’s what makes this exciting! at the end of the day a commitment has to be made to course of action that makes sense.