September 2012

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In the marketing world there are “approvers” and “inspirers.”  I’ve been both and the latter is a much nicer place to live. Both must teach the people who work for them, but approvers tend to look at work product, evaluate it, then recite the right way or provide principles for good work. More often than not this comes off as preachy and pedantic. Using a pedagogy metaphor, they teach from the front of the class, broadcasting the lessons.  Inspirers, on the other hand, instruct by creating an environment for people to do great work.  It’s not judgmental it’s inspirational. Rather than instruct from the front of the class, continuing the metaphor, inspirers allow for learning through participation, experience and discovery.

When writing creative briefs or insight decks my job is to inform through stories and observations pregnant with possibilities. Telling an art director and copy writer to sell more absorbent paper towels is different than finding a moment when an absorbent paper towel is important. (Baby in arms, new skirt on backwards, presentation in 35 minutes, sitter late, orange juice spill.)

We are all big boys and girls.  Not everyone deserves a trophy. Some work is not good and doesn’t deserve to be approved.  Balancing feedback with inspiration forth can make a world of difference. Find ways to inspire and everyone’s work will improve…including your own. Subtle peace.

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I was on the Wells Fargo home page this morning, don’t ask, and counted the clickables above the fold.  There were 46. In my lifetime there is no way I’d be interested in 46 different pieces of information on banking from Wells Fargo or any bank for that matter. Imagine walking into a bank and having 46 questions? (Too many clicks, for those Bush Tetras fans.)

The irony is that most bank home pages have a similar number of links. Citibank does a good job, providing only 18 clickables…on one of the cleaner pages in the category.

I advocate using your home page to convey the company Is-Does and brand value. I recently had a major difference of opinion with a company over this approach. The executive team at regional (non-financial) brand with national aspirations and a changing business model, felt it more important to use the homepage as a navigational tool than to explain the complicated business it was in and what made it different. Similar to the bank approach, it organized upon the home page an array of things it thought customers would want, by target. It’s the “me” versus “you” argument I often have in reverse when discussing advertising. (Good ads are you focused, a good home page is me/brand focused.)

Cory Treffiletti a really smart colleague once told me, “If you give customers too many choices they will make none.”   To that I will add, if you don’t tell people what you do and do differently than competition, they won’t make a choice. Certainly, not an informed choice that is.

Even in a category as generic as banking – when simply removing confusion can be a differentiator – companies need to use their home page to convey their brand story, their soulful difference. Homepages that are simply navigation-driven are tofu and a lost, lost opportunity.  Peace!

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When I was a kid, there was your metropolitan newspaper and three TV news channels.  You couldn’t change public opinion with a bulldozer (settle your shit down Steven Doescher). Today there are scads of news channels, podcasts, blogs, feeds and streams all of which update by the minute.  One silly statement by a presidential candidate can be captured on a Canon video camera, edited on a Macbook Air and PAC’ed onto the evening news before the sun rises again.

Marketing is a little bit this way.  There is macro marketing, one big idea (or as Strawberry Frog calls it a “movement”) and there is micro marketing, use of media and messaging dashboards designed for instant wins. The ROI huggers love the latter.  Big picture people don’t.

The divisiveness between macro and micro marketing is not dissimilar to that of democrats and republicans. Or Hatfields and McCoys. But it’s in the middle that we must and will land.  You might think a brand planner (me) would favor the big honkin’ idea – and I do.  But I also favor proving that idea and its supporting principles, every day through effective, on-plan tactics.  

Those jockeying the dashboard without a brand plan are likely to fail. If you have a brand plan you have a voice.  Otherwise, you are likely speaking in tongues.  Peace!

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Money.

I broke a rule of mine this morning.  I used the word “transparency” in an email.  The word is anathema to me because it’s part of the lexicon of markobabble used in meeting rooms across America.

The reality is, though, some marketing categories do not tell the complete truth.  They tell the “selling truth” and leave the rest of the story for consumers to figure out.  Thanks to the web, consumers are more educated these days before purchasing things. With rating and ranking systems, it’s harder to sell a dog. But there are still certain categories that are almost in collusion when it comes to telling the whole truth. Banking is one such category.

Were one bank to stand up and go all “Michael Bloomberg soda legislation” on us, it would be refreshing. It would engender trust. Bank vault doors are opaque for a reason. It’s sad because banks don’t stand for anything these days. (Customer service?) They could stand for so much.  Banks are integral to the American dream, yet they get no credit.  That’s because they are always selling. And now with the mortgage scandal fresh in our minds, and borrowing instruments at every turn, we could use a bank to step up and tell us the hard truths.  That strategy is money. Peace.     

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Brand Mixology.

Brand planning is going to be huge.  Brand plan is an organizing principle for product and messaging and the need for it is growing exponentially as we turn brands over to the Web…and to consumers.  This came to me after driving home from Higbie Bagel Saturday morning listening to a “Coors Light Night Rules” radio promotion. “Send us your night rules” the spot asked.  Coors is asking people to sign up on their website and enter a fun idea about evening drinking behavior. Oooh. Tactics-palooza. Do it on the Facebook page, I’m sure, and all-the-better.

Coors Light has fallen into a cycle of promotions that is watering down (pun) brand meaning by using by non-endemic brand values and it is confusing consumers. When everything is a promotion, game, or boutique campaign, the brand loses essential meaning. And web and digital agencies, left unmanaged, are contributing to this fast twitch, near term brand mixology.

I was reading a recipe recently for a chicken dish.  There were so many spices in the dish it lost its taste focus. Like adding too many paint colors and coming up with brown. The mixology of brands needs to be well thought out, simple, compelling and most importantly managed.  Think Steve Jobs.

The soap box is yours. Peace!

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Roots Rock.

Someone from McGarry Bowen in an account planner’s group on LinkedIn posed the question “What are some hot trends in the offing for 2013?” My response was roots. In college I read a book that talked about cultural transferences – the complications of modern society that take us farther and farther away from being able to provide for ourselves. As in, Can you put asunder, pluck, clean and cook a chicken with the help of Pathmark? Do you know how to jump start your Prius if it conks out? Can you walk 12 miles in a pinch?

Roots is all about removing the middleman and doing things for yourself. And in doing so, being just a little more self-sufficient, healthy and sustainable. Rather than throw out jeans with a rip, sew them. Rather than toss an appliance, fix it. Have friends over for a meal that you cook rather than order in or go out. Build a birdhouse with your hands. A lot of learning there.

Hike to smell a flower, instead of purchasing aromatics. Listen to simpler hand-made music. Etsy is about roots. Going to school board meetings is about roots. Fishing with your kids, sitting around a campfire, sitting on a stoop in Brooklyn drinking a pint of homemade beer – the list goes on.  As statistics and big data and the web flatten the world, bringing tragedies and goblin to our door, all glamorized by TV and movies, we need to and will return to roots culture.  (Just Google it.) Peace Friday.     

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I write about and consult on a new media marketing rigor called Twitch Point Planning — the ability to “understand, map and manipulate” media twitch points in ways that move consumers closer to a sale. A twitch point is a media experience where one twitches away from what they are currently consuming. Yesterday, I was looking in my blogger bookmarks and came across a link to Anil Dash, a tech entrepreneur. I visited his blog but did not read deeply, but did check out the About Me section.   Somehow I twitched over to a video presentation of his recorded at Mark Hurst’s 2011 Gel Conference, watched a couple of minutes then left.

This morning, I was reading a New York Times paper paper article on how Apple’s iPhone 5 maps have replaced Google maps on the new iPhones (brand mistake) and guess who is quoted?  Anil Dash.  Typically, were I reading the Times and saw the name of an expert with whom I wasn’t familiar, I might Google him mid-sentence. (Twitch.) Or, write a blog post about him and the subject. (Another twitch.) Either way, I might not return to my original media moment – The New York Times article. 

An example of Twitch Point Planning, in real time, would be for Mr. Dash to log on to Google AdWords and buy his name, the words Apple Maps, and make a penny a click ad. Or, he could change his website, based on his appearance in the article, and put an offer on the homepage, to build appropriate business.

Twitch Point Planning is a new tactic that adds exponential measures of value to social media. It’s active, not reactive. Twitch Point Planning is strategic. Go forth and twitch. Peace. 

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The Samsung Leash.

Samsung should be the world’s most powerful and prestigious brand. Peter Arnell knew it in the 80s and did his part to burnish the brand. Every time I turn on my Samsung flatty to watch a little TV  I’m in awe.  The color saturation and picture never cease to amaze.  Though I don’t own the Galaxy III smart phone, it is no apologist piece of hardware.

Samsung, makes great office phone systems, microwaves and, I suspect, has ships loaded with merch heading for our ports in numbers we can’t fathom.  So why isn’t the Samsung brand more powerful?  Why has South Korean executive management stood in the way of this amazing brand? South Koreans get style and new like few other cultures, yet Samsung refuses to let go of the North American reins. They are okay being a challenger brand. They are okay being adaptive rather than brand innovative. And they continue to spend promotional dollars with South Korean transplant agencies (read Cheil) and little ad hoc shops while some of the best marketing shops we have to offer are never called.

Samsung in the U.S. needs to throw its weight around.  It needs a brand leader (person) in the U.S. with some power.  South Korea needs to “drop the leash.” It’s a flat world. Let freedom ring. Peace.

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Bob Gilbreath’s book Marketing With Meaning is an important read for all marketing strategists and executives. Without “meaning” in marketing deliverables we are simply singing. Not that good songs don’t sometimes work, they do; but a meaningful selling premise motivates.

Meaning is an imperative for brand planners, when creating an organizing principle for a brand. Finding a pent up demand consumers desire – one that your product can fulfill —  is hard enough.  Landing on a desire that extends across buying targets is some seriously heavy lifting.  This is a problem for most brand marketers.  

As one’s planning audience grows in size and complexity, the focus of the desire has to lessen. And the meaning delivered even more so. 

This is why many brand extensions fail. A company that has meaning with one target and adds a new one, often finds out the brand equity doesn’t travel.  I once blamed Google for its “culture of technological obesity.”  It was eating everything in its way, independent of its palette.  Marketers need to know what businesses not to get in to.  He happy with your meaning.  Unfortunately, it’s that money thing, that stockholder thing that turns us crazy. So we expand, lose focus and add fish to the burger menu. 

Let’s be happy with success marketers. Don’t hedge your bets by adding more targets; get better at what you do. Protect your meaning. Peace!

 

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Most marketing strategists, especially those of the digital variety, are all about the science. Success and failure are things that can be quantified and measured.  Well ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, I’m here to tell you that science is the price of admission. Como se duh? The dashboard is important – especially that “sales” metric – but every marketing organization is better off if they have a handle on the softer side of selling. The tone and poetry of a brand.

I was sharing coffee with a behavioral planner at BBDO a while ago, I believed he worked on Gillette, and he said something that really stayed with me.  It spoke to me planning brain (he was Irish). He said most planners don’t have a sense of poetry. And I agree. Wholeheartedly. They may appreciate poetry, they may even seek it out in their insights, but when it becomes paper time, time to make the brief, the words become rational and the emotions are simply reported. The brief must provide the poetry.  

When science is the price of admission and poetry is the voice of brand reason, great things can happen. Because poetry is what moves creative people to greatness, not logic. Poetry is the fertile ground that makes writers and art directors (and yes, even coders) feel and spark and sing. And, oh yes, laugh out loud.

So whoever you are, if you are looking at a brief (even your ouwn) ask yourself “Where is the poetry here?” The poetry that warms the brand. Peace!

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