October 2018

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Many business and marketing efforts today are focused on “fixing what is broken.” The strategy starts out with:  

“Today’s _________ are broken. They don’t serve the needs of their customers/clients. They’re designed to maximize profit, monopolize industries, and maintain the status quo.”

The words that follow are typically about the product category and the ways it underperforms against customer carte-abouts.  This is marketing 101, traditional blocking and tackling and it’s all about fixing things.

Well the savvy brand planner doesn’t start out as a fixer. S/he starts out looking for the light. Not just the at end of the tunnel light, but light from the past and in the present. People like positive.  Brands are about positive.

What do you think would have happened if Facebook launched the world’s most famous social media brand with “don’t likes” rather than “likes?” Xactly.

Positive isn’t the obverse of negative. It’s just positive.  Be positive when brand planning and you will get to your idea in half the time.

Peace|

 

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You don’t have to be a futurist, democrat or republican to believe that paper and coin currency will eventually be replaced by digital currency. In South Korea the mobile phone is all many people carry to pay for their daily purchases. And don’t most millennials today pay via card — even for the smallest of purchases?

Fast forward 15 years and all currency transactions are likely to be cryptocurrent (sic). And where there are crypto purchases there is data collection. And where there is data collection there are likely to be marketing people. Hungry, rich, sellers of goods and services looking to collapse the distance between customer and product. Marketers looking to dial up efficiency.

Long gone will be the old saying “I know only half my advertising is working, problem is, I don’t know which half.”  Digital currency and purchase data are likely to reduce waste to single digits. I know Google is listening. They are already a sonic reducer in ad inefficiency.

Marketers who prepare for the future, will be the “one giant step” marketers. Do not get caught unprepared.

Peace|

 

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I did some advertising for AT&T Network Systems a number of years ago, introducing Systemax CAT 5 computer cable into Asia.  We converted some U.S. ads for local use having IDG Computerworld in-country offices translate them into local languages.  Having worked in B2B advertising for many years, with little success other than an occasional readership award and bingo card report I was thoroughly surprised when people across Thailand picked up their phones and ordered beaucoup feet of cable.  

It was like Sears Roebuck catalog time. The markets were so young.  Local companies needed cable, didn’t know where to get it, and we provided a location and phone number.

In the United States, the advertising market is so mature, so filled with messaging, it’s hard to find the pent-up demand. X, the LA punk band, sings “Now there are seven kinds of Coke, 500 kinds of cigarettes. This freedom of choice in the USA drives everybody crazy.”

Competition in the modern world is rampant. Advertising isn’t just about access anymore, it’s about creating awareness, then interest, trial, and preference. And as technology and service become more in vogue it’s about education. No wonder it’s hard to do advertising well.

That’s why brand strategy is so critical. It feeds and focuses the advertising beast.

Peace|

 

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Mazda Ad.

I’ve seen a Mazda TV commercial a few times over the last week or so and it offers up some nice imagery. A boy doing ballet in a locker room. A girl punching the weight bag. Footage of a car leaving traffic for a circuitous above-the-fray highway — stuff like that. The attendant voiceover poetically winsome.

At the end of the spot the voiceover echoes “Spread your wings,” a nice accompaniment for a deconstruction of the Mazda logo made to look like wings.  But for the most part there was no real tie to the car – certainly not rational tie. Film making.

The tagline to sum up all the ad: “Feel Alive.”  Talk about setting the bar low.  As opposed to feeling dead???  

I know car ads are tough. But whats the insight here? Old people are bored? Buying a car is as boring as watching TV?  Roy Elvove, a great adman friend of mine taught me to watch commercials and back out the strategies.  Now I watch them and try to back out the insights. Kind of at a loss with this ad.

Peace|

 

 

 

 

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There are lots of corporate executives out there who believe brands are the provenance of packaged goods companies. And while they will admit to having a brand name and logo, they don’t see the need for a brand strategy.

Service companies are about selling and sales teams. They are about lead generation, acquisition, sales commission, and turnover. Most service companies have directors of marketing but the dept. is little more than sales support and web. At larger companies marketing manages advertising. Sometimes, these marketing directors don’t even appear on the company website.

Service companies need brand strategy as much if not more than packaged good companies. They need an organizing principle for product, experience and messaging. When people are your product — and we all know people are hard to manage, just ask any parent – there is little to direct them. 

When I working at Teq Inc., a reseller of interactive whiteboards to schools, many employees on LinkedIn said they worked in education management.  Others said software and still others said Teq was a hardware company.  (What do you do for a living mommy?)  

If you work at a service company or professional group you can have a competitive advantage – it’s called brand strategy.

Peace|

 

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…was yesterday’s headline announcing someone new will be fill the costume of Big Bird on Sesame Street. The new talent will study Big Bird’s mannerisms, body language, physical quirks and more.  Going to game film, as it were.  I’m not sure if the voice will change but my guess is the new Big Bird will step in seamlessly and miss nary a beat.

Why, so seamless?

Because the Big Bird is, effectively, a brand; a brand that has been managed very, very well. Sure a package is a package — and that hasn’t changed in 50 years — but it’s what’s inside the package that counts. Goofy. Lumbering. Thoughtful. Concerned. Open and positive. These are all things associated with Big Bird. These are brand qualities, traits and expectation of Big Bird.   

The new actor who plays Big Bird has big shoes to fill (sorry). One misstep and it will be seen. But Mr. Spinney and the Sesame Street brand managers did such a brilliant job there will be no missteps.

Peace|

 

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If I’ve read it once, I’ve read or heard it a thousand times, the four words in the headline referring to good advertising: Cut through the clutter. Talk about setting the bar low! And if you are advertising you are branding. Proponents of this kind of investment need to be taken to the woodshed.

If the main goal of communications to customers and prospects is simply to have them notice us we’re being stupid lazy. And likely ceding too much power to the ad makers.

Shouldn’t our aspiration for communications be to make people “feel something, then do something?” And shouldn’t those feelings and doings be strategic?  Based upon brand values and brand claim?  

If you ever find yourself in a room with makers and hear the words “cut through the clutter,” you are probably about to create the clutter.

Don’t do it. 

Peace|

 

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ROS stands for return on strategy. In my world brand strategy is strategy. As “an organizing principle for product, experience and messaging,” there is very little that a brand strategy doesn’t touch.

So as Sears tries to become profitable out of bankruptcy and needs to sell under performing stores, that’s about the product. The retail stores being Sears product.  If Sears decides to double down on Spanish and Latino customers (as I’ve suggested for years), that’s about experience. And if Sears wants to let customers know it’s time to check it out again, that’s messaging.

The best brand strategies are business-measurable. Not in awareness levels, and engagement, and likeability, but in sales, loyalty and referrals. Attitudes and preference overlaid with sales.

That’s what return on brand strategy is. Returns that can go into the bank. Deposits.

Two decades ago when I told a NY-based healthcare system that proving you had better nurses resulted in higher physician retention, my client marketing lead scratched his head.

Return On Strategy ain’t no disco.

 

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Lots of people talk about company culture. Like it’s a good thing. I’m not so sure. Culture, of course, is a good thing. But company culture, in and of itself, can be limiting. When you put a bunch of likeminds in a room the tendency is to swim together.  Nothing wrong with a little corporate water ballet, but I’m one that likes things a tad messy — where ideas and ideals are challenged. That’s how innovation happens.

So what’s better than corporate culture? I’m sure you saw this one coming: brand strategy. That so-called “organizing principle for product, experience and messaging.”  

When a commercial maintenance company uses the brand claim “Navy Seals of Commercial Maintenance,” supported by brand planks “fast, fastidious and preemptive,” company employees are able to build a certain, almost predicable value. Unimpeded by a set of cultural beliefs. Brand strategy is freeing not limiting.

It’s okay to study corporate culture but it’s way more productive to study and set brand strategy.

Peace|

 

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First question, “Do you have a brand?”  Most marketers will answer yes.

Second questions, “Do you have a brand strategy?”  Those same people are likely to pause then offer a less-than-emphatic yes.

Third question, “Can you articulate your brand strategy?”  This is where the homina-homina kicks in.

It’s a simple fact that most brand practitioners (meaning client side marketing or brand managers) have brands but not a tight articulation of strategy. Most agencies (ad, digital, PR, direct) also don’t follow a tight articulation of brand strategy — because one doesn’t exist. Brand strategy is the least scientific business tool in commerce. It’s viewed as an ideal. Not a framework.

Brand strategy is an organizing principle for product, experience and messaging; all three of which are marketing’s domain. Brand strategy framework comprises one claim, three proof planks.

Ask Interbrand, Landor, Future Brand, Siegel+Gale, Lippincott, Brand Union and Wolff Olins what their framework for brand strategy is and all you are likely to get is brand-babble, talk about process and case studies. They are long on smart people, insights, approaches, logos and style guides, but not framework. No business-winning binary (either you are “on” or “off”) approach to building a brand.

When you have a true framework that shows when work is on or off strategy, you have found the brand building grail.

Peace|

 

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