May 2014

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I use a battery of static questions when doing discovery in my brand planning process. There are follow-the-money questions for C-level executives and follow-the-sales questions for sales people. I augment the latter with sales call tag-alongs with top and bottom sales earners.

An interesting way to get information fast is to interview the head of HR. S/he should have a great understanding of heard-on-the-street market perceptions. The tough questions they field from candidates are great input and can provide competitive intell. Additionally, ask the HR head to recap the boiler plate they use to introduce the company.

Another way to get to information fast is to sit in on new employee sales training. Succinct and compelling value props, key talking points, and product benefit highlights suggest an easier task for the planner. A fruit cocktail approach, not so much.

If a company is smart enough to have an internal messaging service like Chatter, see if you can get access and peruse key topics. (At Nestle, the internal messaging community is very strong.) This is not Edward Snowden stuff, I’m talking about approved community threads and discussions. Read them, they can provide centers of gravity for planners.  

Great planning is 80% listening. But when you don’t have the time to listen to everybody you need some shortcuts. Plan on. Peace!

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Yesterday I watched an interview with Mike Maples, Jr. on Pando. I wasn’t familiar with Mr. Maples but am a big fan of one of his investments Chegg, run by Dan Rosensweig. Talk about content marketing? Pando CEO/Interviewer Sarah Lacy understands content marketing. This is no content factory stuff — filled with blather, key words and juvie likeability — it’s an interview with a person who not only wants to redistribute marketing wealth, he wants to grow the whole pie. Rather than watching The Voice or a cop show tonight, click up this bad boy.

In one segment, Mr.Maples tommy guns why his competitor Sequoia Capital is so great.

“They are killer. Their talent, focus, intensity, their ability to do generational transfer, their aggressiveness, their hustle, intelligence, organizational wisdom and knowledge, and the institutional frameworks that they have…”

This stuff wasn’t from notes. He is crushing big time on Sequoia, but knows exactly what it takes to win. These qualities are success drivers at all companies, not just start-ups. The former traits are personnel/employee related; the latter are company culture and strategy based. Wisdom and knowledge are about learning and sharing – they are not static. Frameworks are about replicable processes and optimized outcomes.

My boil down on branding is about claim and proof. Mr. Maples’ boil down on success is about talent and strategy. Learn from this dude. Peace.

 

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I once ran a promotion for ZDNet where we asked readers to write short essays as to why they were techies. The prize was a swim with porpoises in the Florida keys. We received over 35,000 responses. “Oh boy, now what are we gonna do?”  That’s a lot of reading. How would we scale? ZDNet had to hire temps to be judges. Unexpected expense there. I was talking to someone recently about a similar project and their approach was to build a reading/grading algorithm. At least to winnow the thousands to hundreds.

I guess you teach the algo some rules (like what?) and let it do its thing. It’s sad actually. When we use social media monitoring to gauge sentiment, that’s also algo-driven. And frankly, that’s not social.

I likes me some big data, no doubt. But when I drill into the big data I’m looking for humanity. The open ended question section of quantitative is a favorite. It’s where subjects, after checking boxes, get so fed up they want to blow out the important insights. It’s where they expect you to listen.

Marketing at scale has to have its eye on the sea of humanity, not the statistics alone. Right Mr. Spock? Peace.

 

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I’ve worked on a number of brands at different stages of their lifecycle. And depending on the stage, they need a different type of web site organization. Marketing is about moving a consumer closer to a sale.

A fairly common definition of steps to a sale is covered by the acronym AIDA: awareness, interest, desire, action. For an unknown brand you don’t achieve awareness just by having someone on your website; they must know what the company does. Does the brand pass the Is-Does test?

Once there and aware how does one create interest? Typically with some context about a product’s usefulness or a unique function that captures the imagination. A website home page must pass the interest test, if none exists.

Third, if a brand has met the A and the I, we must tackle the D, desire. Often ads and websites load up on benefits to achieve desire. This can border on bragging and quite often diminishes the Interest factor. Be wary of shallow, common benefits. Also beware of pile on.

Action is where the money is. The best action is click to buy. Or go to store to buy. But some actions are brand positive and moving closer to a sale, say, like a prove comparison or a feature comparison. That’s action.  Feel something thane do something.

Knowing what stage you’re in and not covering tread upon ground is key.  Coke doesn’t need to work on awareness. Know where you are — and design your web home page experience accordingly and you are doing your visitors a service.  Otherwise you are bombarding them with the kitchen sink and ceding the experience to search and whim. Peace.

 

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Big World.

While brand planning for an educational technology company I had the pleasure of driving around the great State of NY and seeing a number of its secondary cities and suburbs. It’s an amazing state. The gravitational pull of New York City for Long Islanders and others in the tri-state region jades our point of view, however. And it’s unfortunate. It is not until you get to Florida, NY or Copenhagen, NY that you get the full picture.

As someone who grew up middle-to-upper middle class and also worked in the advertising/marketing business, I confess to be overly focused on brands. I worked at McCann in its glory days when Coke was still there. I worked on AT&T when it had the largest ad budget in the solar system. Brands were subsistence in this world. But outside of NYC and other NFL cities for that matter, the gravitational pull of brands was not that great. People made decisions based on the size of their wallet. It affected what they bought, what they could afford. Post college, while a house painter I was introduced to generic canned good in black and white cans. Eating bait fish at fish fries.

Brand planners don’t research the underclass. But they should. There is a lot of life and learning in this part of the economy.

My first brand planning insight – the reason I became a planner, was this: “Why does a Appalachian father, without a pot to piss in, insist on buying Castrol Motor oil for his truck when so many less expensive brands are available?” Brand planners – get out of the city. The office. Do what Heidi Hackemer did and drive the country. You will be refreshed in your thinking.

Happy Memorial Day…a celebration of Peace.

 

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tgi fridays

TGI Fridays is doing a big brand refresh in the hopes of slowing its revenue downturn. Recently sold to a new investment group, TGI Fridays launched as a single restaurant on the upper east side of Manhattan decades ago by Ben Benson and Alan Stillman. Some credit these two gents with inventing the “single’s bar.”

As part of the brand refresh there is lots of talk about talking tchotchkes off the walls, replacing frozen with fresh ingredients, updating the menu and removing potato skins from consumer muscle memory. All of which are good ideas, especially the food upgrade. But there is something about the original concept that might endure if the brand planners dig deeply enough. Places where the vibe is conducive to meeting people is not a bad business model. Look at online dating services. Look at the Axe strategy. Read a Millennials magazine.

Were I the planner on the business I’d try to understand what made the original Friday’s Fridays. What made it different from Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursday (other Stillman and Benson brands). Only Friday’s made it.

Readers know I’m not big on rearview mirror planning. But I am about providing consumers with experiences that meet needs and desires. So a little look back might help with Fridays look forward. Peace.

 

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Campbell’s Soup, once a high flier, has hit a snag. Condensed soup sales are as down 3%, while ready-to-eat soups fell 1%. So what should they do? Here’s uncle Steve’s take. Go deep into R&D and make the product healthier. Find some salt substitute and flavor enhancer that makes soups more desirable. Help retrain our palates. Soup should then be re-positioned as a healthier-for-you meal alternative. Filled with good stuff, low in bad stuff – including calories.

Soup is convenience food until it’s time to eat. And that’s a good thing. I, for one, eat way too quickly. Maybe it’s a savannah holdover from millennial ancestors but scarfing is not healthy. Soup has to be eaten slowly. Leverage the spoon and bowl, sitting at a table, the common sense approach to eating. Throw in a little family, some civilized soup eating etiquette and you may create a new trend a la ramen-for-the-hipsters. A friend of mine with a blood pressure and weight issue was told by his doctor to eat light at dinner. Healthy soup would be perfect.

There was a tagline for Campell’s a while ago, “Soup is good food.” Not a bad tagline. If soup was good food — but for the most part it’s not. Certainly not processed soup.  Campbell’s needs to fix that. Then they need to not just claim it, they need to prove it.

In 5 years if 80% of consumers agree that soup is a healthier-for-you dinner alternative, sales of Campbell’s should be up double digits. Peace.

 

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I get major brand planning wood when landing on a cool target insight. Not a transplanted insight from my experience imposed on the target, but something from his or her very soul. Target transference besets all planners. How could it not? Young planners, planners in a hurry, planners without data and depth of consumer experience take from their own frame of reference. From reading. Past research. Input. But if it feels “safe” and “done” it probably is.

And let’s not forget that when doing brand planning, not project planning, there are often many targets to consider. For instance, a brand plan for a toothpaste needs to appeal to the brusher, household goods purchaser, and even the dentist. All targets count. So the target insight can have a tendency to get watered down. Don’t let it.

Be selfless. Remove yourself from the equation. Close your eyes and listen. Every word matters. Find the special words. If you are not getting special words, plants some and see where they go.  Some words have many meanings to your target. Plumb their depths.

Peace.

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The headline above is the tagline for the extraordinary Brigham and Women’s Hospital, or so it appears on advertising and the website. It reflects a tripartite brand strategy. Maybe 4-partite if you define “giving” two ways. Most hospitals don’t really get branding. They understand the need to fill beds, increase revenue and improve reputation, but don’t really know how. So they establish a marketing board, fill it with retirees who once worked at Clairol, and raise money for an ad campaign. Someone at the new ad agency writes a poor brief and a lazy ad pops out about the latest treatment, a survivor story or an award. All tied up in a tidy little tagline like Life. Giving. Breakthroughs.

Taglines are claims. Claims that meet at the intersection of what a brand is great at and what consumers want. If you take the periods away from the Brigham and Women’s tagline the strategy is about breakthroughs. Not a bad place to be if you can prove it. New York Presbyterian’s line “Amazing things are happening here” does a better job of making this claim from a poetic sense. But again, the strategy only works when you prove it by sharing amazing things.

Healthcare, which makes up 18% of the GDP, is the consumer category that needs brand strategy the most yet employs it the least. Here’s a tagline and brand strategy that work. Tell me if you know the brand. “The best cancer care anywhere.”  

Peace.

 

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Good Bias.

Eric Keshin, a friend for whom I worked at McCann Erickson, liked to use the word bias when describing good advertising strategy. Creating bias toward your product resulted in sales increases the logic went. In my younger years I always wanted to start and ad agency and name it “Foster, Bias and Sales.” Foster attention. Create bias. Generate sales.

I received an email this morning about an upcoming board of education election in town. A current board member endorsed a candidate, with the candidate’s introductory email attached. The note included paragraph after paragraph about years of service, kids in the district, the challenges we face, yada yada… all the good brochure ware you’d expect. Idiot that I am and in an attempt at humor, I debated hitting “rely all” and asking “Elizabeth _____ , what type of name is that?” Of course I’d have been run out of town, but it is very Steven Colbert. And certainly raises questions about bad bias a la something you might have heard in the 60s. 

Bias is a powerful. When it takes 276 kidnapped girls in Nigeria to get the women of the senate to cross the aisle and unite, that’s bias. But bias “toward” not bias “against” can be a positive marketing strategy.

Brand planners who favor strategies attempting to build preference are on the right track. Those who work harder to create bias toward a brand — where consumers become defensive about their choice – are the true winners. Tink about it, as my Norwegian aunt might have said.

 

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