Brand Management

    Ceding Control of Brand Strategy.

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    Advertising used to make us get off our asses and go buy something. Or, call someone to talk about buying something. That was its job.  Retail advertisers understood this better than most, watching the cash register ring when ads activated customers.   

    In the NY market AT&T and Verizon used to be able to tell how many new cellular customers they were going to add based upon how far forward their ads were in The New York Times

    The Web has changed all that.  Social media pundits and digital strategists tell us we turn to one another to learn which products to buy. Consumers believe consumers, they say, not ads.  The web facilitates this consumer-leading-consumer behavior.  Through community and ratings machines, consumers can certainly gather information to help them with purchase decisions. No argument from me. But these online tools that gather and parse consumer attitudes, with no organizing principle behind them, are eroding brand strategy.  And brand managers are allowing it. 

    Good advertising and market professionals find “reasons to buy” that are way more powerful than those offered by John and Mary Q public. Professionals are trained to prioritize and organize reasons to buy.  If we let consumers decide, and then employ the algorithm to drive our decisions, there is no art or science. We cede control of the brand strategy. It may even alter product design, so everything moves toward the middle.

    Marketers who let consumer do their job for them are lazy. Great brand strategy comes from consumer insight, no doubt. But a consumer collective as brand manager? Nuh uh.  Peace.

    Branding and Selling.

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    The word “branding” means many things to many people.  To an art director it means design.  To a writer it means tag- or campaign-line. A media person sees it as threshold weights of eyes and ears. A web designer sees branding in terms of wireframes.  Digital agencies view it as the part of their portfolio that doesn’t need to be judged on click throughs.

    Selling, on the other hand, is a verb and it has only one meaning.  Moving merch.  Or services.

    No matter who is using or misusing the word branding, it’s important they know it means selling. Not exposure. Sadly, many feel getting the name out there is enough. When a communication is all claim and no proof it’s nothing more than “we’re here” advertising.  “We’re here” advertising simply acknowledges the category and where to buy. “If you have lung cancer, our hospital provides hope.”

    Branding is about organizing proof beneath a claim.  That’s why creative briefs have a line called “reason to believe.”  If there is no reason to believe – following an organized, road-mapped, discrete plan – there is no branding. There are simply tactics.  Tactic may be the fun in the business but the revenue and earnings are in brand management. Peace!

    Planned Act Of Kindness.

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    Just finished reading a story in The New York Times about the Robin Hood restaurant chain in Spain run by Father Angel Garcia Rodriquez, who operates a pay-for establishment during breakfast and dinner only to serve the homeless for dinner. The dinner crowd is served by waiters and waitresses, on real plates, using nice cutlery, not plastic. For free. In addition to the charity, his wish is that the experience will engender hope in his nightly diners. This planned act of kindness is popular and successful and may be on its way to Miami, Florida.

    Acts of kindness and selflessness create powerful feelings for all involved. Selling is not a human trait. Charity is. Every brand should ask itself “What is the nicest thing we have done for customers this year?” If the answer is a one-day-sale or a pre-printed holiday card the brand needs to reexamine its approach.

    Planned acts of kindness should be requisite for all brands. The financial officers may not always see the value, but they’re not building brands. They are building bank accounts.

    Peace.

     

    Brand Dignity.

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    I love the brands I work on. It’s a requirement. I’ve often said “your baby might be ugly but s/he’s your baby” and that’s what happens if you are a good brand planner. Brands become yours, like children.  It’s not likely you are doing a good job of planning until you do have the love.  Being smitten isn’t enough.

    So what’s this dignity thing? Well, if you get to know your brand well enough to love it, then you see there are probably many ways to present it in undignified ways.  Ad agents, tyro in-house designers, social media interns may tart it up like a trailer park hussy. Or give it a smart-ass, know-it-all voice. The music arranger might change the vibe, like the DNG’s dancing hamsters for Kia, who are now grooving to techno rather than hip-hop. Undignified.

    Once, in a focus group in Kansas City for AT&T, while exposing advertising to consumers I was smacked in the face by the comment “AT&T wouldn’t talk to me that way.  That’s not an AT&T ad.”  That consumer had a dignity-ometer working.

    The point:  If you don’t know your brand, starting with the idea and planks, you are not able to understand how to present it with dignity. That doesn’t mean you can’t have fun, be irreverent and even a little pushy – it means dressing the baby up for success. Know it, love it, share it with everyone on the team, then present it. Peace.

    The best worst job in America.

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    One of the most exciting yet scariest jobs in the world is probably CMO of the Magazine Publishers of America.  The MPA is an association funded by competing print and online properties that fight one another harder than the GOP and Dems at holiday time.  To say the magazine business is changing would be an understatement.  But to a great extent, it is also staying the same.  All that’s changing is what’s delivered and how.  Brilliant photo journalism is still required but now must include video.  Great writing, analysis and thought leadership still win that day – but there is a lot more competition (bloggers) and algorithmic noise.

    Readers twitch more today than ever before, requiring magazine publishers to anchor them to their sites.  And advertises, the lifeblood of the magazine business, are becoming enamored of publishing and content creation. And don’t forget magazines are made from trees, not a particularly forward thinking resource. (Though probably more renewable than circuit boards.)

    Herding the powerful magazine cats out of the marble hallway is a challenge. It requires someone who has more power than the cats themselves. Someone who commands respect. Probably not an ink-stained patriarch, but someone with mad vision. Someone who can see beyond the dashboard. Who the Lewis and Clark is?   If you thought being CEO of Yahoo was tough, keep your eyes on this search. Peace.

    Got Brand Continuity?

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    All the world’s a brand. Recruiters and HR people will tell you you are a brand. The town you live in is a brand, the car you drive is two: master and model. A company is a brand and its products are too.

    Probably the most capable brand ministers are B school grads very young in their tenure at packaged goods companies. But then they go to war, fighting market share battles and become soiled by their many agents and agencies.  They move off the brand plan and pursue tactic with the highest return.  If the tactics do well by them, they may specialize; often at the expense of the brand.

    Technology advances have done more to simultaneously help and hurt marketing than at any other time in history. The web has collapsed the 4Ps (product, price, promotion and place.) Technology has taken our focus off the brand and put it squarely on a shiny new toolkit. But even as geolocation marries search which will marry worldwide pricing and real-time auctions – brand remain a vital part of the marketing picture. So I ask you, do you know your brand?  Can you articulate your brand in a few seconds? Is it a person place or thing?  Or a service company or solution provider? And what does the brand do for customers?  Can you articulate what it does in a quick, meaningful and distinguishing way? If you can’t do you think your customers can? Your agents?

    In the movie and TV production business there is a person responsible for something called continuity. That person makes it so that an actor doesn’t go into the kitchen in a red shirt and come out in an orange shirt. Continuity is what many brands lack today.  A brand plan, a boiled down artictulation of what a brand is and what a brand does, secures continuity. Peace.

    Scheiße

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    This is my last post of 2011.  Are you ready?  It’s a short one.

    No one loves consumers more than I. I study them, they are my living. But consumers don’t know scheiße (German, pronounced shy-zah) about managing brands; let’s stop pretending they do. May peace be upon you.

    Brands and Social Media Noise.

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     Branding is about creating muscle memory around a selling idea. It’s not about the color of the idea. Or the smiling faces.  It’s not about the talent or the sing-songy tagline.  It about finding a powerful selling idea and organizing it in a way that consumers can play back.  It’s what good brand managers and their agents go to school for. 

    What makes one hospital better than the next?  The stuff that’s been planted in your head.

    Social media and its ability to make everyone a media mogul is having an impact on brand management.  The Brett Favre brand has just taken a major hit thanks to recorded cell phone conversations and some unseemly texts.  Sorry Wrangler Jeans. Social media created a torrent of unintended and, often, untended information about brands.

    “Hi, I’m Amanda.  I’m from DDB Tribal. I teach clients how to use Facebook.”

    As an ad agency kid in NYC I once suggested giving away free tee-shirts sporting our logo to bicycle messengers. Messengers were everywhere in NYC…in and out of some of the world’s most important marketing offices. My boss said “No, what if a bike messenger broke the law and got his picture in the paper.” Like it or not, that’s brand management.

    The pop marketing psychology of the day is “Companies don’t own their brands anymore. Consumers do.”  I argued this point with the chief strategy and innovation officer at an IPG promotion agency earlier this year.  He agreed with the pop marketing thesis. I do not.  As social media allows more and more consumers to make fake ads and weigh in on products that others spend millions to build it becomes more important for brand managers to tighten up. We can’t silence the masses but we can friend them, hopefully program them toward our way of thinking, and maximize the share of message to noise.  

    Find your selling idea, campaign it, refresh it, invest in it.  And manage it. Because social media for all its good can create noise that is not always brand and sales-positive.  Peace!

    Freehand Messaging.

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    Freehand is defined thusly:

    adjective

    1. drawn or executed by hand without guiding instruments, measurements, or other aids: a freehand map.

    adverb

    2. in a freehand manner: to draw freehand.

    When CMOs, senior marketers and their agencies say “consumers own brands,” it makes for good copy but bad management. Consumers buy products, weighing in with their pocketbooks as to taste, preference and price requirements, but they do not own the brands.  Ad, direct and digital agencies have known this for years.  It is what creates the conflict between client and agency.  Clients want the work they want and agencies want the work they want.  Clients own the brands.

    Freehand messaging is what happens when you turn your brand over to consumers to manage.  The conversation, then, can take any course it wants. Good, bad, indifferent. If I am working my ass off managing a craft cookie brand, around attributes of “naturally moist,” “healthier ingredients” and “complex flavors” — on a shoestring budget — I want to make sure people are talking about those things…the things that sell my cookies. Not cookie ephemera. When the consumer discussion is not guided by brand managers and agencies, the discussion is freehand. And marketers are not doing their job. Every dollar spent by a marketer needs to result in a deposit in the brand bank. Withdrawals are the Antichrist. Stop the freehand by managing it! Peace.

    Remote control marketing.

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    Don’t do it.

    I once worked with an in-house marketing group, the manager of which thought his/her craft was separate from that of the parent company.  As much as I suggested the manager and team needed to get “out of the building” and participate in the buying/selling/product experience, the manager, trained as a designer, thought spacing and type and color were his/her primary concerns. A remote control manager.

    A good deal of modern warfare is also remote control. Drone pilots thousands of miles away are conducting military assaults without having to looking into the eyes of their target. It protects pilots but is a desensitized form of warfare and sometimes errant.

    Rock musicians who don’t tour do not get to see if their art causes the audience to jump (on beat), smile, sing or become transfixed.

    Remote control marketers and their agents are not paying attention. They allow their own passion to drive the process making it more important than the passions of buyers. That is not to say a marketer has to please everyone; some audiences are just not prospects. But by keeping marketing off of remote control you have a chance to get even non-targets swept up. Strawberry Frog talks about creating movements. Creating selling and brand movements happens to marketers who are always on, always paying attention, and rarely in remote control mode.

    A good brand plan allows marketing guidance, yet the senses must always be on.  Peace.