May 2015

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I’m a big Al Ries fan. His and Jack Trout’s book on Positioning changed my career. I have memories of reading it on a Long Island Rail Road. It’s a great thought piece.

Today however, I take issue with the idea of positioning in branding. 

Positioning is the act of finding a competitive and defensible place for your brand in the consumers’ mind. The search for a position — a position being a noun. Position is defined as “a place occupied or to be occupied; site.”

In my brand consultancy branding is defined as “an organizing principle” for product, message and experience. This approach is much more fluid and alive. It allows for branding as a series of behavioral acts. Ongoing. Making ads, customer care, retail design, and web experience all fall into activities that define the brand and its promise. That prove its promise.

With branding as an organizing principle everything is viewed as an active, a non-machine related sales opportunities.  Built and enforced by people. Not a destination or compass point in the mind of a consumer.

Positioning was way better than anything before it. And barring any real brand strategy (one idea, three planks) it is the next best approach. But I think we can do a little better.

Peace.

 

 

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business problem

Here’s my business problem. When I tell people I’m a brand planner and run a brand consultancy they immediately think I’m trying to sell them a new logo. New design and packaging. They think brand consultants are needed only for repositioning or brand extension.

The big ass fact is most of my work is done on behalf of marketers with existing brands and logos – not in the market for a design makeover. My clients tend to be making okay or good money but are adrift strategically. If they were hemorrhaging they wouldn’t be talking to brand peeps, they’d be engaging blocking and tackling business consultants.

My brand planning rigor is actually closer to that of a business consultancy than a design firm. The work is all about articulating a business winning strategy and the three planks that further that strategy. My “one idea, three planks” approach puts into English an action plan – a decision plan, really – that lets companies and employees know how to sell. From product, message and experience points of view.

Make more money is not a strategy. Make higher margin is not a strategy. Make customers happier is not a strategy. For an example or six of business winning brand strategies, please write steve@whatstheidea.com. And help solve my business problem.

Peace.

 

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officejetI was in BJs the other day by the HP ink cartridge area. I counter 92 SKUs for OfficeJet Printers. And OfficeJet is only one brand of HP printers. There’s OfficeJet, LaserJet, DeskJet and more. There were more OfficeJet options than types of gum at a candy store.  While doing fieldwork at BJ’s I observed very few people buying HP ink products. Maybe one or two an hour. And you wonder why HP needs to fix itself?

It wasn’t that long ago when HP was the number one PC manufacturer and killing it at earnings time. Now the company will be split so it can retrench, focus and hit some numbers. Sad, really.

There’s not a person in America (not working at HP) who thinks printer ink for the home is fairly priced. So there’s an opportunity. Develop a new way to transfer words onto paper, or some other surface, that is legible and low cost. A cost that makes consumers smile. Right now it might feel to HP like eating the children, but it’s a smart future play. And one that will restore some luster and earnings potential. Como say patent?

Come on HP. Peace.

 

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There’s a nice piece in the NYT today by Farhad Manjoo about the evolution of luxury apps to apps that end up being affordable over time once scale is created. One example cited is Munchery, who with enough orders and resources, hopes to deliver healthier food to consumers close to the cost of junk food. Ish. The ability for scale to reduce cost is a promise of the interwebs.

In this world, we resource and massify what is produced, yet individualize what is delivered. At scale. Logistics, as Uber likes to say, is a nice living.

Mass communications have for decades been produced and sold in bulk. Direct marketing tried to individualize, but really only segmented. The creators of advertising have never really tried to individualize marketing communications, yet today data collection and analysis and digital content are bringing us many steps closer. The individualized creative product is still pretty awful and way too expensive. Even at retail, belly to belly selling is static; a couple of selling points used for every customer.

We have a long way to go. With new tools like NFC (check out the promise of Invisible Media) and single user identifier not too far away, personalized selling will improve greatly. Then, so will creative. Ad agencies will have to become more fluid.

As this happens selling will atomize – and brand strategy become more important. An organizing principle for a brand built upon what a product does well and what a customer wants most, will be the only staple.

Peace. 

 

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Here’s a marketing infographic without the graphic. And without serious paragraphing. The early 1990s: computers and clunky email clients. The late 90s: laptops, infant web, networked software, and bad banner ads. The early 00s: search, ecommerce catalogs, bad leaderboard ads. Mid 00s: web communes, multimedia handhelds, entrepreneurship. Late 00s: content, thin things from Apple, cheesing the SEO system, Google Adwords. Early teens: apps, streaming, millennials, pay walls for heretofore free stuff. 2014: applications that solve real problems, meaningful use of the web, 3 mobile devices in every house. 2015 and beyond: ANALYTICS.

We are all going to be very anal about analytics; be they used to map the DNA gene sequence of cancer or Alzheimer’s, single user identifier of consumer digital behavior, or the most effective protocols and treatments for wellness and healthcare. Why? Because we can.

The data nerds are coming. It’s what’s next. Marketers and brand planners can smell it.

Peace. 

 

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coke and bottle logo

I’d like to buy the world a Coke and keep it company” were the words Bill Backer scribbled on a napkin during an unscheduled stop in Ireland one morning. Those words eventually gave birth to one of the world’s most memorable TV commercials: Hilltop. In today’s NYT, Mr. Backer recounted the basic idea “to see Coke not as it was originally designed to be – a liquid refresher – but as a tiny bit of commonality between all peoples (angry travelers in an airport), a universally liked formula that would help keep them company for a few minutes.”

An equally powerful Coke commercial, remembered simply as “Mean Joe Greene,” sees an injured, tired, defeated and grumpy football player consoled by a little kid with a Coke. It does not play Mr. Backer’s “company” card. He doesn’t need company, he’s limping to the locker room.

The fact is, both of these spots have plots. Both use different strategies. What they share, whether solving the world’s ills or an individual’s is the need to refresh. The current iteration of Coke advertising, by Wieden+Kennedy, is the “happiness” campaign. It’s some really great work. But happiness is an outcome of refreshment. Coca-Cola is not pot. It’s not Xanax.

Coke ad strategies have changed over time according to its ad agents. According to its taglines. But the brand strategy remains the same: refreshment. There is no escaping it. Don’t reinvent it, embrace it.

Peace.

 

 

 

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The Daily News newspaper is up for sale. It is a money losing effort and has been for years but is one of the greatest NYC brands. Sadly, what it means to be a newspaper man has changed over the last two decades. The web has trumped the paper’s ability to share fresh news. Papers have become what old people consume, while young people read and watch digital media. And $.75 for an individual size serving of news isn’t a commercially forward idea anymore.

The Daily News has a lot going against it, related to this contextual point and time in the business. What is shouldn’t lose sight of, however, is the fact that news is still in demand. As is great writing, analysis and curation. The Daily News has to forget about is paper legacy and revert to some killer news collection, reporting and investigating work. Have you seen what passes for entertainment these days on TV and movies? We certainly have the appetite for crime, corruption and mystery.

The Daily News needs to find 10 brilliant news junkies, embedded in the cultures of today, and turn them into journalistic celebrities. Let everyone else at the paper learn from them. And publish. Don’t worry about ink and paper, worry about news content. Who knows a daily paper paper may still work.

This is the craft economy. Great journalism is a craft. The Daily News’ new owner needs to find some new blood for this new age and move the brand forward. It’s new school journalism. But it’s still the news. And in NYC it’s on every corner.

Peace.

 

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There is no segmentation in brand strategy. There are segments. There are segment priorities.

This I learned from Peter Kim, while he was the strategy head at McCann-Erickson in the 90s. On the iteration of the brief he pulled together at the time – which I still use today – Mr. Kim talked about understanding all target audiences. As we know, it’s a big world out there and many targets purchase and influence purchase. In Mr. Kim’s rigor, once you understood all the different targets, it was time to “remassify” them into one target. From that one mass target he asked you to determine a shared attitude or care-about all would agree upon.

One might think this could create an opportunity to water down the care-about. And it may…but only if you let it. Brand planners have to prioritize at this point. They may have to hold one part of the target more sales-sacred. Brands touch everyone. No one should be left behind.

Segmentation studies make it so one focuses the brand claim on the most likely buyer. But in branding we try to speak to the masses. Segmentation comes later once the brand strategy is cooked.

Peace.

 

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I posted yesterday about Verizon’s purchase of AOL and how it begged the need for a “single user identifier” to maximize ad revenue across devices. A mobile phone number is an individual identifier, but it doesn’t integrate cleanly with that individual’s IP address or cable TV account number. I wrote a futures piece for Microsoft a few years ago in which I talked about the “Logged and Tagged Society.” Well, consumers are certainly tagged, but their log-ins are all screwed up. An analog for this is electronic medical records in the healthcare world. Also all screwed up. In the future each person will have a single user identifier and when that comes about, the ad platform people will have more context for smart sales than ever before.

An article in the NYT today quoted Facebook’s Andrew Bosworth (note to self, follow him on Twitter) saying “Are ads even relevant now? Do they even make sense on mobile? If all information is indexable and searchable, then what purpose does an ad serve?” He’s partly correct. But with a single user identifier in a logged and tagged society, ad serving will be more contextual and so much more powerful. Sadly, the nerds will take over and the creative people will be pushed aside to a degree. Creative selling is still a fundie of marketing and may take a hit in this mobile ad served/cookied era. But is will be back. We are not droids.

Peace. 

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