February 2011

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Here’s the difference between the Daily Beast’s content strategy and that of AOL.  Daily.  AOL has a broad set of content properties with a new video focus and a top-tier Poster mentality, but the Daily Beast is all about today.  Combining of the Daily Beast and Newsweek was all about allowing the Beast to learn the journalism craft and investigative reporting and to infuse news gathering DNA into its being.  Whether or not the Beast subsumes and devours Newsweek, only time will tell (I suspect it will), but this is the play for the Beast.  It has set its sights on the Huff Post, part of the AOL family, and made an interesting move yesterday.

By bringing over the Daily Dish from The Atlantic yesterday (there’s that daily word again) and paying Andrew Sullivan for his column/post/blog, the Daily franchise will grow in stature and readers.  The brand is taking form.  In the magazine media form, first there were monthlies, then weeklies.  Online has allowed for dailies.  Of course newspapers are dailies and if anyone should own the daily label it should be them, but for some reason they can’t seem to get out of their own way.  It takes a blog.

Go ahead and laugh, but it won’t be long before someone comes along and takes the “hourly” franchise.  Peace. 

 

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In brand planning there are two schools of thought: Find the strength and highlight it, or find the weakness and negate it.  At the root of this approach is optimism vs. pessimism.  This is where quantitative research can play a role – testing which approach will have the biggest business impact.  But few mid and small-sized companies are willing to spend that money.  Large companies will, but tend not to want to do major brand planning overhauls unless under attack. Pessimism, then, often wins out.

Consumer Marketing

Consumer marketers by nature are all about the positive. All about the user benefit and that’s a good thing. But if everyone, in every consumer category, is being positive: “be more productive,” “more individualized service,” “lower cost” then it’s hard to make an impression. 

Business-to-business.

In B2B selling for the last 10 years, sales people trek annually to Arizona to chant “Find the pain point.” Understanding a company’s pain seems the pop marketing way for a B2B salesperson to connect in a meaningful way.  And therein lies a marketing conundrum: consumer marketing labors around the positive while B2B favors the negative. Overstatements perhaps, but patterns. And brand planning is about patterns and breaking or disrupting them; in ways that serve all consumers — with actionable, scalable and repeatable ideas that sell.  Watch the patterns. Peace.

  Brand planning, patternsm pan points, b2b marketing, consumer marketing, whatstheidea, whats the idea,

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Over the years I’ve found many words around which to probe when interviewing people to get to important, actionable branding insights.  “Pride” is one such word.  On the business side “tolerance” is another.  “What are some other things you are willing to tolerate if they help you make money.” For building a business plan, I have the 24 questions.  If going short form, a diff battery of questions to get at what’s what. 

But in all frankness, it’s not the forms; they are just a starting place — a brand planner has to have a good ear. And s/he turns that ear into a microphone that plays back what it hears into further probes…creating energy. If energy or heat is generated around an opportunity or an advantage, take that path because energy begets energy.  If the probee checks his or her mobile, abort and redirect.

As an anthropology student at Rollins College, I was once rebuked by a peer who thought as an ethnographer I needed to stay outside of the events observed. By insinuating myself into the situation I changed it, and he was quite right. But as a brand planner, people want to know you care about what they care about.  Then they open up.  I’m not talking about panelists talking about their itchy asses behind the glass, I’m talking about two people looking into one another eyes, and talking with personal energy and interest. Ask, listen, learn. Go off piste if it is where the interview goes. Probees can see your interest in your eyes. They can hear it in the timbre of your voice. If you are energized, they will deliver. Peace.

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I came up with the branding Is-Does a while back because while operating in the technology sector I realized many start-ups don’t always know what their company “is.”  Oddly, it’s also true in some Fortune 500 companies. Case in point: the CEO of the world’s largest home care company for whom I did some consulting went around the room at an executive gathering asking each officer “What business do you think we’re in?” He was referring to the managed care part of the business, but it was still a billion dollar revenue stream. And the “is” is the easy stuff. The “does” is what gives people fits.

A chief technology officer at software company I worked for could not answer the “What the business does?” question in a half hour.   

The Is-Does is a wonderful brand planning starting point.  It’s not a mission, or a brand promise, elevator speech or brief. It answers the question what a brand “is” and what a brand “does.”  Keith Hernandez might call them fundies. 

I was invited into a meeting at an important non-profit.  I say important because it was a community center in a under-served neighborhood trying to save lives and build lives. The meeting had close to 25 people including a song writer, teachers, web-o-files, marketers, community advocates, nutritionists and more.  The facilitator (a branding dude) had a huge pad, a marker and as he was getting ready to lay down some marketing rhymes, you could tell he didn’t know exactly where to start.  So I suggested the Is-Does. And off we went. Peace!

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The speed of the Internet is pretty amazing.  In an instant a great idea like, say, Carla Emil’s “One Job For America,” can go viral and change the world (let’s hope so).  Businesses such as Groupon can launch with a real monetization plan and become a billion dollar company. Businesses without a real monetization plan can launch (Twitter) and do the same.  Much of it is because of technology and the Inter-nech. 

But commerce in this world is still driven by people, IBM’s Watson aside. And people are often a company’s biggest asset.  If you leave a company they can wipe your hard drive but not your gray matter.  Something learned at company A can be re-envisioned at company B.  There is a lot of churn today in the corporate ranks and the freelance economy is also quite viable.  But I see a change in this churn behavior when I look beyond the dashboard. The Japanese used to talk about “employees for life.”  Well, even though this behavior seems unabashedly un-American, I see us moving in this direction. I expect to see at the top and mid-top levels of American companies employment contracts of much longer durations.  Just as a baseball team wants its #1 starting pitcher around for 7 years, smart companies moving at internet speed need their key difference- makers to stick around.  Had Ray Ozzie signed a 25 year contract, would that have made a difference? How about Tim Armstrong?  

Movement from company to company can be a healthy thing for top executives, but staying and working within the system makes the system stronger.  This I see. Peace!

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CBS. FOX and Yahoo!

CBS is a content company. Most think of it as a TV channel…with a bit of an integration problem across the country.  Different call letters, different channel numbers, not where it’s supposed to be on the dial when you move from city to city.  (See? Platform integration has always been around, it’s not just an issue for the TechCrunch crowd.)  CBS has always been dinged for catering to the older market. Well, in today’s media world the older market watches TV. Lots of it. And CBS’s quarterly numbers are quite strong, especially for local sales.   CBS owns C|Net and ZDNet, which along with other web properties, is helping the company diversify and learn about new targets, markets and categories.  CBS has radio, outdoor, book publishing, and other web properties in addition to cable and broadcast, which positions it nicely as all media moves towards the middle.  At its very core, CBS is a content play.

And in a new media world where everyone’s a publisher therefore no one’s a publish, CBS continues to crank out content people want to watch, hear, and read.  This content strategy is also the strategy of AOL and Yahoo!.  Oddly, they are all competitors.  I know AOL and Time Warner didn’t make it, but that was then.  WABC (Disney) and WNBC (Comcast) have too much baggage.  Fox has the stomach for it (read MySpace), so I predict Yahoo!, or less likely AOL, will be purchased by Mr. Murdoch and FOX.  This would be the year to do it, too.   Peace!

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Which comes first?  It’s not a trick question.  And I won’t go all “sort of” on you.  The answer is product design.  A good brand planner will take the product design, understand it and package it.  A great brand planner, while packaging the product will “inform” it — change, evolve, aspire it and help create its future.

Brand planners know when you see a friend’s baby for the first time there’s a difference between “What a beautiful baby” and “Ooh, what an amazing rosebud mouth.”  It’s the different between talking an observing. Most marketing today is talk. When you talk to a product designer and really see what they have created, you connect.  Just like when you really see someone’s baby.

In today’s commodities world (see yesterday’s post on banks and healthcare), it is imperative for planners to find the difference.  It may only be a DNA-like strand, but it’s there. And once found that difference can give form to the brand idea.  Not a tagline, not a campaign, but a brand idea: The world’s information in one click. Refreshment.  Different.  The people who tell you brand design comes first are probably art directors. Or peddlers of marko-babble.  Peace be with you and with Lara Logan and her family.

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Innovation is a word I hear in brand planning meetings all the time.  Executives, brand managers and marketing partners love to camp out on it claiming its importance to their brands. If you don’t count technology, two categories come to mind as the primary innovation hounds: healthcare and banks.  In healthcare, marketers and their agents scurry around the hospital looking for innovation under every bed and when found hit publish.  Right next to their awards ad.  Banks are so mired a commodity status (TD Bank’s only claim to fame is the color green) that they create innovation just so they have something to say other than rate and service.   

News flash!  Innovation is not a brand plank.  It’s lazy, fleeting and often a refundable deposit in the brand bank. Even Apple doesn’t get caught up in the innovation game. Their schtick is design. They innovate but don’t talk about it, showing design and apps.  If you did a tag cloud of every piece of copy Apple has run on TV over the last 15 years, I bet the other “i” word would turn up in only 4 point type.  Lee Clow, you on the tag cloud thing?

Innovation is the price of doing business —  it’s not a branding value. Coddle it, couch it and canoodle it into your story but don’t try to be the Innovation company.  Peace@\!

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A good brand planner has to love his or her brands. With that love in hand the planner can spend enough time and mental capital to really get close.  Past the label. Past the brand manager’s bias.   That means seeing a brands warts. Knowing the warts and working around them are the goal.  Consumers at their very core love patterns and predictability, but they also like new and optimism.  Have you ever tasted lettuce grown in your own garden?  It tastes better, no?  That because you want it to taste better. Optimism.

In the advertising business there are a lot of people who live on snark.  Creatives don’t like clients who don’t buy their work.  Managers don’t like people who can’t make decisions or won’t follow directions. No one likes those who are focused on the broken not the fix.  Have you ever read the comments following an Adweek story?  There is so much envy and loathing it’s scary.  

But brand planners have a nice job. A Zen job. To do it well  they need to like consumers  — to watch and listen. To find the love.  But don’t advertising it.  Are you listening Blackberry and Subaru.  Peace!

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Here I go again about Pepsi Refresh.  Broken record,  I know. And please don’t think me a geeze for seemingly dis’ing media socialists and their heartfelt efforts to do good’s work on behalf of brands. (Liberal I am.)  But count the likes and clicks and friends and authenticity and opacity and, and, and in the soda category this week and two numbers stick out: Coke’s North American volume is up 3% and Pepsi’s is up 1%.  2 percentage points in market research may not seem like a lot, but in a billion dollar consumer business that some serious.  Especially in the much attacked sugar water marekt. Right Michelle?

Coke’s earning, announced this week, were kicking on all cylinders. First time in a long time. And Pepsi’s were down, overall.  No wonder Pepsi chief Indra K. Nooyi took a couple on the chin in the analysts call.   To be read in a whining voice “Commodity prices, really killed us. Considering the economy we did gre- ate.”  Well watch Mad Men.  Commodity prices have always been a problem for which one must be prepared.  Playing with pop marketing tactics, not well integrated into your core value prop or linked to an ersatz brand plank, do not a great earnings report make.  Head down. Sell soda. Peace!

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