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Author: Mark DiMassimo

Brand Is #1 Again

Brand is CEO's and CMO's top priority again. 

According to Gartner, top management agrees that brand strategy is the single “Most Vital Marketing Capability.”
Let’s do an Inspiring Brand Idea Workshop and accelerate your brand-driven growth.
We’re a brand planning agency built for a performance-hungry world.
We’ve helped hundreds of clients discover the inspiring idea that organizes and drives growth.
The brand idea is the #1 performance driver.
While the trend of performance marketing is toward AI automation, brand becomes the sole strategic advantage.
I’d be honored to talk with you about your brand.
It’s amazing what one workshop can do.
You know where to find me.

Lester Wunderman, Direct Model Pioneer, Lives On.

Lester Wunderman, widely acknowledged as “the father of direct marketing” has died. He was 98 years old.

Direct Marketing.

That’s a broad category that includes subscription entertainment services such as Netflix, e-commerce loyalty programs such as Amazon Prime, and direct-to-consumer health and beauty memberships such as Dollar Shave Club and Harry’s. It includes e-commerce websites such as Amazon, direct grocery delivery services such as FreshDirect, and meal kit services including Hello Fresh, SunBasket and Blue Apron. Add to that all the mostly late-night 1-800 number direct-response television commercials selling everything from Swiffers to convection ovens, Peleton and Mirror and so much more in fitness, Weight Watchers’ app, SlimFast, Nutrisystem and Jenny Craig in weight loss. Warby Parker in eye glasses, Casper in mattresses and StitchFix in clothes. Dell in computers. American Express in financial services and credit cards. Apple in music and so much more. Priceline, Hotwire,, Kayak and TripAdvisor in travel.

I could go on like this for pages and still only scratch the surface of the immense direct marketing revolution that has upended the old intermediated marketplace and touched the lives of every consumer and business. Direct model businesses are the wave of the present, and Lester Wunderman saw this coming more than 50 years ago.

But, does that make him the “father” of all of this. There’s a really good argument for his paternity.

He did launch the first “direct marketing” agency, Wunderman, Ricotta & Kline, later Wunderman and now Wunderman Thompson. He is credited with coining the term “direct marketing” and describing his vision of more personal and accountable marketing in a 1967 speech at MIT. He and his team invented the toll-free 1 800 number (for a Toyota campaign), the magazine tear-off subscription card, the record club that is a precursor of both Apple Music and Netflix, and the first loyalty program (for American Express).

In addition, many of the techniques used in direct market and direct response advertising were first developed by Wunderman and his team. The use of on-camera telephone operators which has become a cliché’ in infomercials and direct television commercials was invented by Wunderman himself and introduced in his campaign for Time Life books which he called “the Judy Wrap.”

Another legendary ad man, Tom Messner, tells of how Wunderman wrested the Time Life business away from Messner’s agency by putting their television spot in between two messages from “Judy,” one at the beginning and one at the end. Thus, the Judy Wrap.

Messner’s commercial and Wunderman’s version of Messner’s commercial with the Judy Wrap were both tested in market. Wunderman’s won by a landslide, producing many more calls and sales. Wunderman’s agency won the account.

Wunderman managed to grow his agency huge, sell it to Y&R yet stay in charge, step down from the CEO role in 1998, well into his 70s, yet continue to come to work through a brief name change to Impiric, a public offering and acquisition by Martin Sorrell’s WPP, after which Wunderman’s name was returned to the masthead. He continued to come into the office every day well into his 90’s and survived to see his name placed ahead of J. Walter Thompson in the merger of the two agencies at the end of last year, forming Wunderman Thompson.

Or, at least I hope he saw it. Though he lived, I don’t know what his condition was at that time.

Those of us who labored “below the line” in direct marketing back in the day like to think he saw that. Whenever I meet a fellow direct marketer, they say the same. With that name change, it felt like the revolution was finally complete and those who had been last were finally first.

When I started my agency, I published a piece announcing our approach as “brand direct.” I was thinking of Lester’s introduction of “direct marketing.” I worshipped entrepreneurs like Lester and I guess I had an ambition to be the “father” of something too. I thought I saw something, a future in which direct model companies would need to build brands as well as businesses, and a gap in the marketplace – a lack of agencies that combined those areas of expertise. About six months after I launched my agency in 1996, Lester Wunderman came to our offices to visit. I had never met him before, but he said he was interested in what we were doing. I gave him a tour and he was mostly silent, taking it all in. At the end he said, “I think you’re doing something very interesting and worthy. Don’t let it grow too fast. We grew too fast and it caused us no end of problems.”

He proceeded to charm me, in the way that he no doubt charmed every potential client who came within reach.

Thank you, Lester Wunderman, father of direct marketing.

“You are not in the club!”

“You are not in the club!”

Years ago, maybe a decade ago.

We’re in a meeting.

Plotting our glorious ascent.

A frustrated creative director blurts this out:

“You think you’re in the club, but you’re not in the club!”

He wanted to be in the club.

I didn’t.

An entrepreneur’s goal isn’t to be in the club.

White shoe, WASP country club ad agencies had no place

for young Lester Wunderman.

They were as “restricted” as country clubs back then.

Throughout the 20th Century and beyond,

they looked down on “direct marketing people.”

They were Jewish. (And sometimes Italian)

They were scrappy.

They cared about selling and business.

They harped on about “results.”

And they were sometimes lumpy and uncharismatic,

because they’d earned their seat at the table with results.

You see echoes of this, even today.

You see it in the horror of posts in this social network and others.

“How can they put Wunderman’s name in front of that classic Thompson?!!!”

Echos of the old WASP country club.

“Our kind” of creativity.

Lester Wunderman and the direct marketers couldn’t win advertising business.

They weren’t invited to the pitches.

Weren’t welcome.

They had to create business.

Lester literally invented businesses.

Record clubs, for example.

Seed clubs for gardeners.

He did the first ads and, if they worked,

the agency could make the commissions on the next ads.

That’s how he built a world-changing agency.

Because he wasn’t welcome at the club,

he invented his own club.

Built his own industry, company and culture.

Wrote his own book.

Donny Deutsch once told me,

“Most clients just want to be part of the club.”

I said, “Not my clients.”

He said, “Well, 95% of clients.”

I said, “I’ll be happy with the other 5%.”

Not being allowed in the club is opportunity.

The founder’s chance.

The entrepreneur’s moat.

The disruptor’s incentive.


First, they ignored you.

Then, they ridiculed you.

Then, they reviled and tried to fight you.

Then, they tried to buy and subjugate you.

Finally, they put your name up front, where it belongs.

Thank you, Lester Wunderman. Entrepreneur. Change Agent.

Change Agent’s Cookbook: Fox or Hedgehog?

The ‘Hedgehog Concept’ dates back to antiquity, to a philosopher-poet named Archilochus.

His idea still has power to move us today because he told it in the form of a simple story, the story of the Fox and the Hedgehog.

In nature, a Fox is clever, whereas a Hedgehog is well-fed. A Fox’s brain gets bored easily and seeks new problems to solve. The Fox has so many ideas he often forgets which ones are his best and most useful.

The Fox tries everything in its quest to catch and eat the hedgehog.

The Hedgehog has one idea, and he’s learned to execute it perfectly – he just rolls himself into a perfect, prickly ball, and the Fox goes hungry every time.

Because the Hedgehog has a single defining idea, she just gets better and better at working that idea.

In life, business and cartoons, hedgehogs beat foxes every day. Wile E. Coyote is a Fox. He is forever inventing new “business models” to capture the Roadrunner. Roadrunner is a Hedgehog. Roadrunner’s Hedgehog Concept is FASTER. This just happens to be the same one that has driven FedEx and Google’s success for decades.

I first met this idea not in the study of Greek philosophy, but in Jim Collins’ book, Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap… and Others Don’t.

Collins studied companies that had taken their results from good to great. Without bias, he and his team set out to learn how. A key factor in these good-to-great stories was the finding a “Hedgehog Concept.” 

Collins said that this hedgehog concept lay at the intersection of, “What you have enthusiasm for,” “What drives your economic engine” and “What you can be best in the world at.”

I took Collins’ invitation to find our hedgehog to heart. But, how does the Fox develop a Hedgehog concept? And how does the leader of an unruly skulk of Foxes – creative, strategic, analytical, artistic, entrepreneurial, multi-faceted, idea machines – establish a Hedgehog Concept culture?

I knew we had a passion for the intersection of entrepreneurship, creativity and personal growth – Growth. And, we shared a passion for working with and learning from the best.

Secondly, we took the word “agency” seriously, even if the rest of the world didn’t. 

To us, being an “agent” means putting the client’s success first, being “unconflicted” – having zero conflicts of interest – and limiting distractions. I believed that an agency must take fiduciary responsibility for the client’s success. 

So, it was clear that our economic engine would be fueled by client success and only by client success. That translated to fees and bonuses based on achieving milestones.

Because of our commitment to aligning with the client, from CEO on down, we knew we needed an integrated offering, bringing together brand and performance. Clients were increasingly lonely with the responsibility for integrated brand-building and revenue-generating – brand and performance – as agencies focused on micro-specializations.

So, the typical specialization couldn’t be our Hedgehog. We couldn’t just do digital or brand design or creative or media.

We stepped back to observe ourselves solving problems. Whether launching, relaunching and turning around a brand and business, we noticed that we do in fact have a single, all-powerful strategy, a single defining idea.

Inspiring Action.

The Hedgehog views the world through the lens of a single defining idea, overarching goal, belief, or ethos that informs, colors and exemplifies all that they do.

For us that idea is Inspiring Action, and we’ve built it into a powerful, predictable process for accelerating growth.

All Growth is Behavior Change

Inspiring action starts with a core truth, that no growth in life or business is possible without behavior change. When we approach a business problem, we first look at the key drivers of value in the business. What levers move business value? What gears accelerate growth?

Value-Driving Actions.

All value creation is the result of behaviors, value-driving actions. For example, for many years we worked with an electronic broker, during which time we increased the efficiency of marketing by over ten times.

Analyzing the creation of value in the business, we noted three key levers: new funded accounts, more trading activity and increased balances.

In a low-interest environment, balances didn’t add much value to the company. We needed new accounts from active traders and a higher share of trading from our current customer.

In short, we needed to get more active traders to choose us, to fund their accounts and to trade more often with us – all value-driving behaviors.

Behavior Change is Inspiring Action

Optimal behavior change comes from a synergy of brand and performance.

Performance marketing alone is less efficient in the short run and damaging in the long run.

Inspiring = Motivated

Behavior is most likely to change – action is most likely to be taken – when motivation, ease and a trigger all happen at the same time (B.J. Fogg).

An inspiring brand organizes motivation, motivating the first value-driving action, while setting up the motivation for subsequent actions.

Inspiration is a function of the brand idea – does it connect and motivate, does it create a powerful lift?

Action = Ease

Action = Ease (simplicity, presence, lack of friction, plus a trigger – all at the same time).

In each case, we analyze the prospect and customer journey, looking for blocks, gaps and drags affecting value-driving actions. We prioritize those gaps and address them one by one, unlocking growth, marketing efficiency and customer value.

Yes, we can be fox-like in solving these problems, but the fact that we have a single problem that we solve – the problem of brand and business growth – and single, powerful way of solving that problem – Inspiring Action – means that we keep getting better and better.

So that’s why “Inspiring Action” is so much more than a “tagline” for us – it’s truly our hedgehog concept.

What’s your Hedgehog? Where do you stand with it? I’d love to hear from you.

Yours in Inspiring Action,
Mark DiMassimo

Grow a Business. Build a Brand. Change the World.

Let’s face it, we live in a world of behavior gone wrong.

Some see imminent apocalypse.

I see plenty of work for behavior change marketers and designers.

Opioid Crisis. Digital addiction. Inactivity. Unhealthy eating. Rising oceans. Uninspiring workplaces.

Pick your target. Go.

The problems that the world faces can only be solved with Behavior Change marketing and design. Growth and business success are behavior change marketing problems.

Growth problems can only be solved by behavioral solutions.

The process of behavior change marketing is simple. Determine the key performance indicators that support the growth theory for the business. Identify the behaviors that lead to those KPIs. Analyze the key behaviors along the customer journey, identifying gaps, drags and blocks.

Prioritize your design interventions. Describe the experience that will most likely transform behavior into habit for this brand.

Create experiences that will inspire action, informed by the vast store of behavioral science outcomes and deep direct response and interactive design testing experience.

Relentlessly test and optimize.

Grow a business. Build a brand. Change the world.

Let’s go, Behavior Change Marketer!

Learn more about Behavior Change Marketing by signing up for The Change Agent’s Cookbook for 2019:

Drucker on Two-Track Planning.

I recently discovered in reading my copy of The Daily Drucker that I’ve long shared one of Peter F. Drucker’s main management philosophies – the concept of two-track planning.

For decades, I’ve heard the following sentiment.

“We can’t solve your problem because we haven’t done our strategic work yet.”

When I worked at other agencies, I always thought this to be the ultimate bureaucratic blindness.

Building the BRAND while we build the BUSINESS.

This is the core promise of our agency, DiMassimo Goldstein. This is the experience our clients have bought when they’ve bought us.

Not: “First we’ll build the brand, then we’ll build the business.”

Not: “First we’ll build the business, then we’ll build the brand.”

Instead, we do both, and simultaneously. Like you do!

Sometimes this translates as “Building the brand while lowering the cost of acquisition.” 

Sometimes it’s “Building the brand while driving sales efficiency.”

Sometimes it’s just “Growing the business and the brand.”

Our clients never wait months to see returns from an agency engagement. We typically deliver measurable revenue within the first 30 days, and we don’t have to sacrifice future success to do it.

Drucker calls this the harmonization of the immediate and long-range future, going on to state that “a manager must, so to speak, keep his nose to the grindstone while lifting his eyes to the hills.”

At DiGo, we call this practice two-track planning, and it’s implemented in everything we do. Imagine two columns on a page, the left titled URGENT and the right titled IMPORTANT.

Some urgent things are truly unimportant, but some we term “The Runway.” The board meeting coming up. The quarterly results reporting. The partner’s meeting.

If a plane doesn’t get aloft by the end of the runway, it doesn’t matter how good the food service and the movie were going to be. There are things you just need in the short run to make the long run possible. Often these things include results. That’s the Runway.

And, we don’t lose our strategic heads. We see the long-term opportunities in urgent problems.

And we manage them both, so that our clients can move forward, paying for tomorrow’s opportunities with today’s wins, all while strategically planting the seeds that ensure growth for the future in a time-starved world.

Let’s talk about inspiring action in the short and long term!

The Best Intentions Deserve The Best Creativity

Steve Jobs once asked John Sculley, then the CEO of Pepsi,

“Would you rather spend your life selling sugar water, or do you want to change the world?”

Old Advertising has answered with a resounding,

“I’ll have the sugar water!”

Great talent will line up to sell sugar water. Award show judges will reward them for it. Industry press will laud them for it.

The best intentions deserve the best creativity.

But, that’s not the way things work, in this system or any system we know.

In this system, if Pepsi has the most money, Pepsi can get a great effort from any number of great agencies.

Sugar water puts their kids through college and pays for their beach houses.

The best intentions will only get the best creativity if enough of us choose to make that so.

If you choose helping people change their lives over manipulating them.

A whole economy is being built on helping people change the behaviors they want to change in the way they want to change them.

But the old advertising industry is only seeing a small part of that business, because they are focused on where the big money still is.

And, because they’re focused on the easy.

It’s easy to be lighthearted and engaging about bubbly sugar water.

It’s harder to bring that same touch to things that matter.

The Founder CEO, A Marketer’s Orientation.

I love working for and with Founder/CEOs.

No doubt, this makes me an eccentric marketer and an odder ad guy, and casts extreme suspicion on my membership in the creative community.

Marketers are supposed to want to run their own empires – otherwise why spend all that money on a Harvard MBA and all that energy climbing the corporate ladder? Creative directors think the ideal client listens to their presentations, and then applauds. Ad agencies think their job is to please the target audience no matter what the client might think.

I’ve always hated that stuff.

You don’t let your target audience tell you what to be any more than you let your friends tell you who to be. There’s no integrity, surprise or life in that at all. Yet, in many places, it’s the norm.

And you don’t go to a dynamic, growing company – or a turnaround – to run a department like a fiefdom. You go there to be a key member of the CEO’s leadership team. You need that CEO to help you succeed even more than the CEO needs you.

I’ve always sought out clients with vision. Not rude or insulting, but laser focused, blunt, and as domineering about the brand as possible. Sometimes they are articulate. Sometimes they just know it when they see it. Either way, as long as there is really an “it” that will ultimately differentiate the brand in a world of bland, I’m in.

There will be twists and turns. I’ll hang in. I’m in it for the ride and because I believe in the destination.

As a marketing director or CMO, you are going to get the ride of your life working for a Founder CEO, and the twists and turns are no small part of it.

That inertia you feel is the marketing strategy hugging the road of a changing growth strategy. That’s a feeling you’ll rarely get in a big, lazy company.

But if you care about getting to the destination, you’ve got to care about making all the right turns along the way.

It’s exhilarating. But it’s not for everyone. If you can deliver on the business results, if you can be resilient through the twists and turns, and if you can bring on partners who share your passion and resilience, you will become irreplaceable to your visionary leader.

You’ll play your best game along side stunning colleagues. These will be the days and years you’ll never forget.

If you want to make a mark in the world, this is the way. And I’ll see you at the weekly meeting with the Founder/CEO.