A couple of years ago a smallish branding shop contacted me about helping creating a strategy for a division of a top 5 consulting company.  The master brand is known to all and likely has a brand strategy (maybe not) but the division we were helping offered a very complicated, layered value proposition in health and security.  Read security as in homeland security, not home and property protection.

The ultimate deliverable was a long form brochure, changes to the division website content and some presentation pages explaining in somewhat lay terns, what the group did and did so well.

I read all their decks, interviewed a number of consultants from around the world, performed the due diligence one does when sanity checking the Kool-Aid drinkers, and came up with a tight idea and organizing principle – a division brand strategy.

But then came the hard part. Consulting the consultants. Getting them to organize their “product, experience and messaging” around a claim and 3 proof planks (a division brand strategy).  Consultants are great at giving advice, but are they any good at taking it?  

Momma never said this job would be easy!  She was right.

Peace.                                                                  

 

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Mitch McConnell recently accused President Donald Trump of “excessive expectations” with regard to the speed at which democracy moves.  As a brand planner I kind of like excessive expectations.  The right brand strategy can snowball into many more business accomplishments than most marketing directors would ever agree to.  I like to load up on business objectives when thinking about brand strategy.   

I once explained to the head of marketing at a huge health care system that the brand strategy would increase nurse retention. And reduce the cost of physician hiring. A demure man, he was near apoplectic. “Get the shredder.”

Don’t misunderstand, I am not suggesting a broad and diffuse brand strategy that attempts to accomplish too much – a.k.a. The Fruit Cocktail Effect. (Google it.) Brand strategy needs to be tight: One claim, three proof planks.  But the more excessive the expectations during the planning stages, the more likely the finished product will deliver.

Powerful bespoke brand strategy starts with high expectation.

Peace.

 

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If I say Las Vegas shooting you know what I mean. If I type “Las Vegas sh..” into Google, it auto defaults. In 5 years if I say Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino are you likely to think of the same carnage? Hopefully not.

The words “nine one one” have a very different meaning than the words “nine eleven.” Words high-jacked by violent human and natural disasters affectively become brands. Disaster brands. There aren’t going to be a lot of babies named “Sandy,” for instance, on the south shore of Long Island for a long while. Columbine, Pulse Nightclub, the list goes on.

Disasters are happening more and more in our society. And how they are propagated and recorded in history are mostly determined by the media. If the media overuses Mandalay Bay as shorthand for the Las Vegas massacre, it will completely ruin that brand. As of now, it’s still a tossup whether Mandalay Bay can last as a brand.

Media people tend to favor location-based naming. Yet even that can put a blight on a community, read “Amityville, Horror.” Sandy Hook has etched it name into our collective minds…and the school was torn down. Newtown, CT the location of the school is slowly healing as a disaster brand. 

I don’t know the answer. I just want to suggest a more sensitive approach to creating names for these violent disasters.  

Any thoughts?

Peace.

 

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The two fundamental components of strategic marketing are the brand plan and the marketing plan.  Most companies have a marketing plan. They also have brands. Not always to they have both. 

The marketing plan is viewed through a lens of “making money,” as it should be. Each tactic, event or channel strategy is gauged by how it contributes to topline sales and profit. The brand plan, on the other hand, is about creating value in the minds of the seller and buyer. It sets places in the minds of consumers differentiating the product and creating preference. It also creates a roadmap for brand managers and company stakeholders to deliver and create even greater value. Guideposts if you will. 

In all my years doing brand strategy I’ve never included a loci around profit or revenue. The proof array supporting a brand claim results from prioritizing care-abouts and good-ats. While profit is always the goal of the marketing plan, it is never the subject of the brand plan. This Yin and Yang, this republican and democrat balance is what make brands unique and powerful.

If every plank in a brand strategy was about profit and sales, every brand would be the same.

Profits are the motive of the marketing plan. Logical and emotional reasoning are the motives of the brand. Peace.   

 

 

 

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Gender in Branding.

The Boy Scouts of America are getting ready to allow girls as members. Bravo. Or should say Brava?  Legislating inclusion is very American.  If girls want to join the Boy Scouts and their parents agree, go for it. Jealousy, bullying, sexual harassment and other injustices are going to happen regardless of age, dominion or organization.  It’s up to peers, adults, parents and law to adjudicate. And maybe by allowing this inclusion we’ll get a step closer to removing these behaviors.

But let’s drop the politics for just a minute and ask “What’s the best way forward for the Boy Scouts of America brand?”  The easy answer would be to go to “Scouts of America.” But that might subvert the Girls Scouts.  

If we look at the mission of BSA, which by the way is not on the website that I could find, the word “boy” isn’t that important. In an article I read to today, a proponent of letting girls in said “leadership” is what BSA is all about. And leadership certainly plays no gender favorites.

If girls want to be in the organization. Let them. If they decide in a few years they want a new name for the org, let them propose it. I’m okay with changing brand names for the right reasons. Strategy change is a right reason. Product change is a right reason. But I’m also a fan of brand equity. Hard won brand values, acquired over time, shouldn’t be tossed away so a marketing director or brand agency can make a mark, or a few dollars.  For me, this “product change” change is not as important as the “character and values” non-change. 

My gut says Boy Scouts of America is right for right now.

Gender peace.

 

 

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Vision On Paper.

I first heard of Masayoshi Son, head of international conglomerate Softbank, in 2,000 when he purchased Ziff Davis.  Since then he has been quite busy.  His new big care-abouts are  Artificial Intelligence and Robots.

He has always been cutting edge – some hits, some misses – but the man is paying attention. And the man is paying. His investments are legendary.

In today’s New York Times Vijay Sharma, CEO of Paytm, said about Mr. Son “Masa is in a hurry. He sees this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity where everything we touch can become a market, where we’re at the opening up of a new industrial revolution.”  

I love this “always in a hurry” worldview. I’ve never met a successful tech or industrial entrepreneur who wasn’t in a hurry. Andy Grove who drove Intel during its formative years admitted to constant paranoia. He was in a hurry.

Can you guess the best way for people who are in a hurry to be efficient? To make decisions. To learn? Brand strategy.

Brand strategy codifies vision. Ask any VC what they’re looking for in an investment and they will tell you vision. Brand strategy is vision on paper.

Peace.

 

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More and more, technology startups are being purchased by multinationals to help large ships chug into the future. Owners in hot categories like self-driving cars, streaming video and alternative energy are cashing in daily as billion dollar companies purchase their intellectual property. It’s a tech thing. The purchased companies are small, 8-15 people, so prices aren’t crazy high, but the stock agreements make sellers happy.

This makes me think about my company. I am not a tech startup. What I offer, however, is in demand: A way to harness marketing power by strengthening ties and building preference among purchasing consumers.  What I offer is a framework for business winning brand strategy. The secret sauce of the discovery process is “proof.” Ninety five percent of brand strategy firms, I’d venture, have discovery processes similar to mine: Interviews, research (primary and secondary), hierarchy of needs, stuff like that. But none look at proof, as a foundation.

I don’t expect large companies to buy What’s The Idea? Proof, my IP, is not technology. It’s not code. To many it’s ephemera.  Process is hard to value.

Peace.

 

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Be. Prove. Do.

If you say it be it. If you say it prove it. If you say it do it. Branding words to live by.

Every brand needs a claim or promise. The power and relevance of the promise is why companies invest in a brand strategist. Sadly, many brand promises are simple ad taglines. The one that comes immediately to mind is Northwell Health’s “Go North.”  It was developed, I believe, by JWT, NY as a smile at the end of each TV Ad.  Luckily, Northwell CMO Ramon Soto, hasn’t used the line on signage, called a logo lock-up. Monigle, the Northwell re-brand agency, probably counseled so. They know the difference between a brand strategy and tagline.

Go North is not a promise. It’s not much of anything except perhaps a dose of name-onics, a term initially coined by NY ad shop Jordan Case McGrath (I think). Go North-Northwell, get it?

You can’t be north. You can’t prove north. And you certainly can’t do north.

I rant here today because I saw another Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center ad over the weekend whose advertising tagline is actually a brand idea. And a good one. “More Science. Less Fear.”  As good as MSKCC is at cancer, they are not good at brand strategy. The ad, a wonderful cure story testimonial, attempted to “prove” its more science claim with the words “groundbreaking treatment.”  No explanation. As if potential cancer patient aren’t patient enough to read about a real treatment.

Be. Prove. Do.

Peace.

 

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A lot of brand planners talk about “voice.”  The voice of the brand. It’s a metaphor, of course, and one marketers easily understand. If I close my eyes and listen to Eddie Vedder sing, I know it’s him. Voice is an identifier.

As someone who has run gazillions of dollars of radio and TV ads, I know the power of a distinct voice. It’s smart marketing, if sometimes a crutch.   

The voice metaphor falls apart when the delivery of the message outweighs what’s delivered. In branding what is delivered needs to be the brand strategy (one claim, 3 proof planks).  Brand strategy is content-related not piping or music. Building a brand by organizing a limited number of key values in consumers’ minds (and employees’ minds) is the fastest, most efficient way to marketing success.   

Years ago when a St. Louis focus group attendee looked at an AT&T videoconferencing ad and exclaimed “AT&T would never talk to me like that.” It was a comment about voice. When another said “If it’s from AT&T, I’m sure the videoconferencing quality will be excellent,” that’s brand strategy.

Peace.

 

 

 

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Google Reason.

I’m a big fan of  tech pundit Robert Scoble. (Wish he would start blogging again in earnest.) Robert has been head down lately on Artificial Intelligence. Part of his reduced visibility is because he’s trying to live a life but it’s also because AI isn’t fully baked.  

That said, the oven is coming to temperature on AI. Google unceremoniously announced a brand strategy shift yesterday.  Sundar Pichai, CEO, referred to Google as an “A.I. first” company.  This, at the launch of new Pixel smartphones, Google Home devices and VR and wireless headsets.  The NYT used this event to question Google’s hardware chops, and they’re partly right; but they are also missing the point.  AI is the haps. The incipient haps. And Google with its flattening-the-planet search business , Android OS and new data collection devices will feed that trough like no one else.

Big Data ain’t shit without reason. And reason is the reason Google and Alphabet and Amazon, don’t forget Amazon, are in business today. Might as well add IBM to the mix. Amazon isn’t overt about its plans, but rest assured they are in the AI biz.

I like to say it’s going to be a fun ride.  It is. Google is going full-on in AI. The apps to come will be ridiculous (millennial definition). And Mr. Scoble is going to be quite busy.

Peace.

PS. Oh, and Google Reason will be a brand.

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