October 2014

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Couple of things.

There is a new tech writer gaining momentum. His name is Farhad Manjoo and he writes the “State Of The Art” column in The New York Times. Read him, you will get smarter.  Since the half-funny, very good tech analyst David Poque left the confines of the Times for Yahoo, I’ve been seeking a Walter Mossberg-like writer at the Times. Mr. Manjoo may be it. He’s bold, thoughtful, not averse to homework and understands the tech user. Great writers are prescient when it comes to trends and usability, so let’s see if he can keep it up.

His column today was about Amazon. And that’s the second thing. Everybody knows Jeff Bezos is a tech top dog. Amazon’s journey has been fun to watch. Unlike Microsoft, whose cash cow(s) allowed it to buy and launch a number of public duds, Mr. Bezos has launched a luncheonette’s worth of products with varying degrees of success. From books to retail to devises to video and shipping, Amazon touches more consumers in more ways than most brands. Add to that Mr. Bezos move into publishing and one can assume the data he retrieves and the behaviors he notes are preparation for other very interesting plays. But unlike Microsoft, Amazon doesn’t get dinged in the press and among tech elites. 

The difference between Amazon and Microsoft is that Microsoft pizzled away money on new endeavors but always kept a huge bank — Amazon on the other hand continues to lack any meaningful profit.

As a brand planner, Amazon confounds me. As a consumer and business dude I really like them. For a first-to-market company, they do a lot of second-to-market things.

Messrs. Manjoo and Bezos are players. And both are going to be exciting to watch. Peace.

 

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NYIT is running a new print campaign encouraging people to get into the hi-tech fields. A worthy undertaking indeed. The U.S. is falling behind the world when it comes to educating students in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). Especially women. So reminding students what lies ahead at colleges and universities that provide these programs is a good idea. Making fun of — no, insulting — people who work in retail, however, is not the way to do it.  Not cool. NYIT has used just such a ploy in its latest ads.

NYIT ads

 

The largest company in the world is Wal-Mart. NYIT makes fun of them. One of the most powerful brands on the planet is McDonald’s? NYIT makes fun of them. Not by name, by association. But more than just tweaking companies whose riches abound, NYIT makes fun of their employees. And that’s two clicks from vile. Fun is fun. A joke is a joke. Belittling hard workings employees in the retail business…not something a well-educated institution should be doing. Peace.

 

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blog action day badge

Today is Blog Action Day and the topic is inequality. If the problem with society in America is poverty, the cause is inequality. There are other causes of course: poor parenting, inadequate education, drugs… but inequality is a root cause.

In recent brand and marketing plans developed for a new weight loss modality, I realized a strong component of the obesity epidemic is inequality. Bad eating habits in poor communities make for high indexing of obesity in lower socio-economic communities. That’s not to say obesity is not a problem among other classes of society (I feel dirty using the word classes), it is.  So in this marketing plan, I outlined two distinct targets based upon inequality. One I called the “Helplessly Obese,” the other “Weight Challenged.” Guess which one was the middle/upper class target?  Though they shared psychological similarities, there were enough noticeable differences to warrant separate tactics – media and otherwise.

The thing about understanding inequality is that it should be used for good, not exploitation. Pushing 32 oz. drinks to poor kids is wrong. Marketers who understand inequality for helpful reasons, will win customers hearts and minds. Marketers spending money to sell to middle and upper class consumers could take a page from this playbook. Peace!

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geotech

Mining is actually a good brand planning analogy. During the planning process where one combs research and interviews stakeholders and consumers planners are searching for nuggets of ore. Ore that might direct one to a vein or the mother lode. In my planning rigor, my ore is proof. Examples of acts. Facts. Actions. It’s ironic that while searching for proof, I don’t know yet know the claim. In my consultancy a brand strategy consists of 1 claim and 3 proof planks. At this stage, I’m nugget hunting.

(Just to level set, here are examples of things that are not proof: exception care, innovative design, tailored-to-meet-your-needs. These fall into the area of claim; and as claims they are a little wan. A little over used.)

Discovery in brand planning is listening, watching, paying attention to detail – almost being a human Galvinic Skin Response test – then categorizing the proof into clusters. It may sounds a little backwards, hunting for proof before identifying the claim, but it’s not. People can tell stories about proof. People light up citing proof. People are reticent, however, when it comes to claim. Reticent because it sounds like bragging. Because it is not always true.

Mine for proof first and your plan will have a stable foundation. Peace. 

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If invited to do a TED Talk, I’m sure it would be about branding. In an age where 70% of college educated kids start sentences off with “Me and Jessica are…”, where athletes refer to themselves as brands, entertainment shows dumb down baby and couple names into syllables, and Twitter handles are more globally recognized than Hollywood names, the person-as-brand is not too far-fetched.

Well, I’m not going there. I’m a purist. I am still debating whether a service can be a brand. Or a company. My brands are consumables. So shoot me.

Now Branding, brand with a ding on the end, that I can talk about. How to create a brand in the minds of consumers.  It is an act. A pursuit. And pursuits need plans. Branding is “an organizing principle, anchored to an idea.” Everything starts with the product. Then the product features and benefits. Wash those with consumer care-abouts – the most important first. Then combine what the product does well with the most compelling needs of the consumer and create a claim and proof of claim array (4 things). These are the things that drive perception and memory. Branding is not a song. But a tune may contribute. It’s not a color but may be a feeling.

The longer the “what is a brand debate goes on” the more brand planners will be in business. And the more TED Talks there will be on the subject.  Brands may be misunderstood but making them doesn’t have to be.

Is North Korea a brand? They follow an organizing principle. Hmmm.

 

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In just about every marketing consulting meeting I attend the word “differentiated” comes up. It’s a word marketing directors love. Sadly, most think messaging can differentiate their products. True differentiation in marketing, positioning and branding comes straight from the product.

What I do as a brand planner, in my search for things that are “different and desired,” is to diagnose. Webster’s defines the word as “to know apart from” or “to distinguish.” Most look at the word diagnose and think medical. In a meeting this week someone said about my work “You are really like a detective, aren’t you?” Good strategic planners are diagnosticians and detectives. Both look for problems. But brand planners must look, too, for positives. The Coke Happiness campaign, being the ultimate positive. We know positive is better than negative, though B2B clients don’t always roll that way.

Good brand briefs serve up the positive by understanding the negative. A smart card marketer selling to K12 schools, for instance, knows security is a major issue today. It also knows that proper attendance and every hour spent in a class room can improve learning – an educational positive. Finding an idea that works both angles is the heavy lifting. A company like that wants differentiation. A line. A website. The planner wants the strategy. One that diagnoses the problem yet serves up the proper positive medicine.

Peace you all.

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Sometimes brand planners do not have the budget, time, or resources required to do a complete job learning and understanding their targets. Hey, welcome to the real world. The last thing a good planner does is impose his or her perceptions on the assignment. Perceptions soiled by previous assignments, individual experiences with a product, and pop cultural observations. Just as a good anthropologist knows not to insinuate him/herself into the fieldwork and only observe, brand planners should acknowledge they don’t know everything and attempt to “out-of-body” whatever they can. Here’s a tip: 

acting class

To help gain an deeper understanding of the target, identify a prototypical target persona, get into character and interview yourself. Of course it’s play-acting — and the DILO (day in the life of) you use to understand the target is made up — but as a creative exercise it is much better than the alternative.  Write out the questions in advance, put on your creative acting hat, dream daily activities (perhaps even do them), and observe signs, rituals and behaviors the target will experience. If not actually doing the behaviors in-situ, play act and interview yourself in a dark room. 

The key is to really leave yourself and your belief system at the door. Open your mind. Note activity function and structure. Sounds weird, I know, but it’s doable and a wonderful learning opportunity. Learn on, plan one. Peace.

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A great deal of brand planning revolves around observation. That’s why my anthropology major came in so handy after all these years. Who knew? Based upon observation, planners postulate and prove, then write briefs and decks which are given to others for action. Action that might be design-related, comms-related…even behavioral. The brief grows out of observations focused on creating behavior change. Want this. Buy this. Purchase more of this. That’s marketing and advertising today.

Since working in the education category – one I find utterly fascinating – I’ve changed my MO (modus operandi, for those who don’t watch a lot of cop shows) about brand planning. Now, I am of the mind that changing behavior as an objective is not the best way forward. Rather, I like to educate consumers and let them decide if and how to change their behavior. When a consumer comes to a conclusion on their own, without the smarmy hands of the marketing gods to convince them, then a sale better made and more loyal. In other words, consumers won’t buy because they were told, they buy because it makes more sense. It rationally lights up the right parts of the cerebral cortex.

The decision is learned and learned, not told and sold. Peace.

 

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This morning I received a silly promotion that did more harm than good to three participating brands: Banff Ski resort, Visa and Klout. Here’s what I received in my email inbox: Banff Promo   If I found a $5.00 bill on the ground, I’d pick it up…I’m no stupe. If I found a five up at Banff on the floor of the bar or mid-mountain lodge, it would definitely buy two-thirds of a craft beer or bottle of premium tap water.  But to ask me to watch a promo video, print out a coupon, pack it in my bootbag before it even starts snowing (the boot bag under lots of stuff in the hall closet) so I can buy some free Chapstick the next time I go skiing at Banff, a place I’ve never been, that’s a bit of a stretch.  A trip to Banff from Long Island probably costs about a thousand dollars per person after travel, lodging, lift tickets, etc. This is not only a goofy promotion it’s a slap in the face. The whole Klout Perks thing – Klout scores rate one’s online influence — has really diminished in my eye. If I was a ski bum living in Banff I might use the coupon, but frankly this promotion is not worth the HP ink it will cost to print.  Silly.  Sorry to rant. I expected better from Visa and Klout. Peace in Hong Kong.

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Many marketers using social media today are underperforming. One of the problems is that the programs are run by interns and tyro marketers – those recently out of school with dexterous fingers and, maybe, a marketing degree. More likely, a political science degree. People at keyboards without an in depth understanding of selling or buying. The second problem is the posts, tweets and promotional ideas are way too random. That is, not governed by an “organizing principle, anchored to an idea,” aka brand strategy.

Random social media programs can and have worked. Toss enough out there and positive increments will happen. But marketing is not R&D. You can’t just spill some chemicals and invent Post-It Notes.  Just as good branding requires planning, execution and sticktoitiveness, so does social media marketing.

No one loves the potential value of social media as do I. But today, social is to marketing what the selfie is to mobile phones. A picture of oneself, with little value to others. Peace.

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