January 2014

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Introducing the First Annual What’s the Idea? Super Bowl Ad Strategy Contest. There will be prizes (not really), gifts, kudos and giggles. Here’s how it will work. The day after the Super Bowl, please write me (steve@whatstheidea.com) and tell me your two favorite TV spots from the game.  

If you can’t remember the brand, just describe the spot. “You know, the one with the guy who jumped off the cliff with the helmet cam and landed in a kids birthday party.”   But the kicker for this competition is — in your email, please include what you believe the ad strategy to be. Something like “Sell more Planters peanuts by positioning them as healthier than potato chips.” Or “Budweiser tastes better because Clydesdales, are nice to puppies.”  That sort of thing.

The person who comes closest to outlining a real and compelling selling strategy wins. It may just be a congratulatory blog post, it may be a bag of Doritos – depends on my winnings in the pool. Go Hawks. Peace!    

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There was a great piece in Contagious about how ad agencies are still overly concerned with the money maker that is outbound messaging. The article supports my boiled down thesis that “Branding is about claim and proof. Proof and deeds. Deeds and experiences. Strategically organized and soundly managed.”

The article’s writer Laurence Green, founding partner of 101 London, believes that outbound alone is old school and slowly being replaced by a more complete, informed, productized and bidirectional selling rigor; one where technology, media, product and creative come together to make people buy more, for more, more times.

One point in the article with which I might take issue is that the strategist and the coders should  play together for the optimal output. I need to think about this one. Digital strategist perhaps, but I’m not so sure about brand strategist. I’m not sure coders need more than the brand plan to mash up their digits. But hey, this is pioneer stuff and smart shops, whose buildables are steeped in full duplex marketing are still learning. Exciting stuff. Peace. 

 

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Boil This!

The secret sauce of the brand planner is their ability to take all the information at hand and boil it down into a compelling argument that leads to a sale…or predisition to a sale. (We are not always buying, you see.)

I was with a bunch of IT guys yesterday and the technical fur was flying. Back in the day it would have been enough to make me feel light-header and inadequate. Yesterday it reminded me of times at Bell Labs and AT&T’s Microelectronics listening to English-as-a-second-language engineers talk technical gibberish (to me) about their digital signaling processors. My job at the time was to be polite and make a good ad. Actually, be polite and come home with a strategy to give to creative people to make a good ad. These trips, it turns out, are where I cut my planning teeth.

Information gathering is an art, but taking that “stock pot” of information and boiling it down to insights, then a single selling argument is da monies. Packaging that argument with a little evocative poetry is the Richard Sherman monies.  Thank you AT&T Microelectronics. Peace.

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Salman Khan, founder of the Khan Academy an online educational video tutoring site, began his business by uploading math instruction videos to YouTube. Part of his secret sauce was making math instruction interesting.  If instruction lacks vocal intonation (drone, drone) it didn’t connect.  Been there.  If it was overly flourished, same thing. His approach, like that of other good teachers, was to be in the middle. Connect. Watch what students tuned in to and package that using good pedagogy.

As a brand planner, I sometimes go into situations where the topic is less than exciting.  Healthcare and banking come to mind. When interviewing SMEs (subject matter experts) or consumers using Salman’s approach is important. The interviewer needs to show interest; not academic interest but true category interest.  The interviewer needs to find ways to bring the subject to life. To be engaged and earn trust. Personal stories are a good way to prime the pump. Hearing them. Telling them.  Some will say interrupting people when they talk is not polite, however in this case it shows energy and interest. (Do it carefully however.)

Be a good listener, a careful watcher of body language, and most of all be human. React, respond, find emotional attachments. Joy and happy endings are also nice, though may not in all cases be appropriate.

Once again, good teaching and learning practices come into play in brand planning. Peace.

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Social media is still primarily a tactical rather than strategic effort within companies. Years ago while at a meeting and doing introductions a young social media maven offered, “Hi I’m Rebecca, I work at Tribal DDB and I teach clients how to use Facebook.”  You just remember this stuff.

This Technorati link shares some interesting data points on social media and confirms my strategy vs. tactical point.  Only 51% of company social media programs are managed out of the marketing department. And let’s face it, many marketing departments are tactically rather than strategically focused themselves.  Sure they keep an eye on sales, but mostly they measure acquisition tools, traffic, engagement and, lately, activation.  The strategies driving these things, the value-based claims, are not measured. There is also some data on top three social media careabouts for the coming year, none of which are strategic – even though they are ironically identified as “strategic objectives.” 

Measuring awareness of the advertising line “Hope Lives Here” is not nearly as important as measuring attitudes towards “physician who know the latest protocol.”

With a plan, social media can soar. With a plan social media can prime the attitude pump. With a plan, not only the 51%, but all others, can be a chorus of harmonious business-building voices. Peace.

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The Altimeter Group just rebranded according to Charlene Li, CEO. I’ve never met Ms. Li, but did do an analysts briefing with her (while she was in China) during my Zude start-up days. Influential doesn’t even begin to describe Ms. Li’s role in the technology business. She’s the Ester Dyson of the new millennium. That said, Ms. Li has fallen into the trap many have when referring to branding, or in this case, rebranding. Brands are not style and make-up. Not logo design and color. Brands are organizing principles anchored to an idea. A customer facing idea.

The Altimeter Group has altered its logo, PPT, newsletter format and, soon, will redesign its web site — but I’m not feeling a brand idea or brand strategy.  Disruption, social leadership and change are three words to describe the sandbox Altimeter plays in. And as for the Is of the Is-Does, they are definitely analysts. But I’m not seeing a strategy.

Ms. Li and team have been leaders in sharing information on social business strategies. And it is thought provoking, smart, transformative work. However, treating branding with color and design and not a strategy component is like saying social business redesign can take place by adding some Twitter, content managers, Yammer and a video production studio.

Hey Altimeter, What’s the Idea?  

Peace.

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Do you know your product’s top 5 twitch points? You should.  Customer journey is a new age marketing tool used by comms planners to find better ways to intersect with and influence customers. The journey maps out awareness, activities, research, purchase and out-of-box experience. (Chart courtesy of Frog Design.) Some use the old school taxon AIDA (awareness, interest, desire and action), a dumbed down version.  It’s truly good stuff and a lot more valuable than a simple DILO (day in the life of) media planning approach, but if you follow the Frog Design rigor (chart) you may also end up a little dizzy.customer journey

Twitch Points are moments when a person twitches way from one media or device in favor of another in search of clarification. Kindle to Google Earth. Newspaper to Wikipedia. Car dealership to JD Power. Best Buy to Amazon. Car radio to Shazam.

Twitch Point Planning is simpler than the above Frog Design learning scheme. Less complex. Understanding, mapping and manipulating customers closer to a sale is its goal. It needn’t be overthought.  Don’t get me wrong, it needs to be thought, just not overthought. If you find your top 5 twitch points, your five most commerce producing twitches, you don’t need a road map, journey, or KPIs.  You need a good accountant…to count da monies.

Peace be upon you.

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A start-up prospect of mine accidently sent me an email, the topic of which was an internship program at a local university. (I did not open it, good boy that I am.) But it got me thinking. The top interns gravitate toward startup companies who do the best job of ‘splaining what the company is and what the company does –startups that can articulate their Is-Does in other word. And that doesn’t just apply to  startups. Many small and mid-size companies lack the Is-Does ability. The smartest interns go to the companies who can easily and clearly define their product and its value. In 140 characters. Not a breathy 6 minute meander. 

How does one create a tight Is-Does? Yep, from a brand strategy. 

A brand strategy is not a tagline.  It is an organizing principle anchored to an idea. It is the result of lots of work, insights, customer care-abouts and product strengths boiled down into a tight easy to articulate, easy to remember explanation.    

If you are a company fishing in the intern pond, you know there will be lots of resumes coming your way.  A tight Is-Does will makes sure the right resumes are coming your way.  The resumes of then next generation of leaders. Peace.  

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If you were to take all the apps in the world and put them in room then analyze their reasons for being, what would be the commonalities? Access to information. Connectedness among people. Geolocation. And shopping assistance. With the first two of these alone you have enough firepower to change a country’s political future, so we’re not talking trivial functionality here. When combined, these four abilities, are creating unbound wealth and an industry the size of which the planet has never seen. BUT. But most apps, by themselves, are quite shallow, trivial, narcissistic and a waste of good spectrum. And so an opportunity.

That opportunity is for mankind to create web and mobile applications concerned with improving harmonious life on the planet. Less bullying, more cultural understanding. Less bias more plurality. The internet of things that lets us take note of and turn off energy-consuming appliances is a start. Saving money is one motivator for turning out the lights, saving the planet quite another.

Apps that aid the environment, apps that improve health, apps that allow us to contribute positively a sustainable future are going to be the new black.  This is what Kleiner Perkins was thinking about a few years ago. Slow and steady goes the race. As Millennials turn into greyheads, thus will turn the trail of apps. Peace.

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Ask any Chief Marketing Office or Marketing Director what their annual sales are and you’ll get an answer. Ask about the annual marketing budget. Quick answer. Cost of goods, manufactures suggested retail price, market share? These are questions for which marketing leads all have answers.

Two questions likely to baffle CMOs and marketing directors, however, are: What is your brand strategy (claim)? And what are your brand planks (proofs of claim)? Most marketers know their business KPIs, but don’t have them translated into brand-benefit language. The language that give them life and memorability. CMOs use business school phrases like “low cost provider,” “more for more,” “innovation leader”, “customer at center of flah flah flah…”, but that’s not how consumers speak.  

claim and proof

The key to brand planning is knowing what consumers want and what the brand is good at. (“Good ats” and “care-abouts”.) Combining these things into a poetic claim and three discrete support planks is the organizing principle that focuses marketing and makes it more accountable. Across every expense line on the Excel chart.

Stuart Elliott, advertising columnist of The New York Times should make this a requisite question in all his interviews. “What is your brand strategy?” If he gets any semblance of a claim and proof array, I’ll be surprised. Peace!

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