Brand Management

    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.

    Fighting Overdog Syndrome.

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    Apple has been on the front page of many metropolitan newspapers over the last couple of years.  The FoxConn story on manufacturing in China under un-American circumstances, the hard looks at Steve Jobs during publication of his biography and passing and now its tax avoidance.  It’s almost as if some in the media have an axe to grind with this darling of American commerce and technology.  Overdogs often are targeted. Yet with all this bad press, most consumers still love Apple.

    apple

    Microsoft used to be the overdog and all consumers used their products — but most skewered them. Many techies loved to kill them on message boards, in offices and around the digital coolers.  The only Microsoft advocates worked at Microsoft.

    So how why does Apple get stink on itself and still maintain the love? Products. And proper brand management. Much of the latter is due to Lee Clow, TBWA/Chiat Day, Steve Jobs himself and the marketing Kool-Aid drinkers.  The Apple ads are fun, funny, sometimes biting, colorful and artful.  And clean like the products.

    I’m hard-pressed to see how the latest tax image problem will be resolved by Apple, but I’m sure it will be. Samsung, Microsoft, HTC and Google Glass will fight Apple for share of wallet. But when it comes to the “love,” they will need to create and manage their brands with grace, insight and focus if they are to beat the overdog syndrome. (Google and it’s agency BBH have a clue. Eye on them.) Peace.

    The Silo Chasm

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    How does a brand idea cross the silo chasm?  It’s doesn’t always. 

    Matching luggage is creative term for creative that travels nicely from media to media.  Let’s say you have a selling idea for a TV commercial – but it’s visual.  How does that idea transfer to radio? (“Hi, I’m a talking horse from Yonkers Raceway.” Ouch. )  Similarly, what if you have an experiential idea, perfect for promotion or digital but it lies like a lox in print? Campaign ideas don’t always travel. So what do you do? 

    And today, with marketing silos expanding not contracting, it is even harder to corral a campaign idea and bring it to life – especially for big clients with multiple agencies, all of which want to come up with the “big” idea.  

    So here are some rules to live by. Campaigns come and go…a powerful branding idea is indelible. Coke must “refresh” no matter the campaign.  Corona must convey a hot, vacation-like retreat. Norelco electric razors must convey a smooth shave. Rule 2:  Don’t kill yourself trying to force fit a campaign idea to a media. Media is not a strategy.  A hammer does not turn a screw.  Do your best to allow an idea to travel, but don’t force it.  It only will diminish the original idea.  Matching luggage may be nice for Paris Hilton, but she doesn’t have to carry that much shizz with her — she got peoples.

    Peter Kim (the deceased one) once told an AT&T client spending hundreds of millions on TV “Campaigns are overated.” 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.

    The Marketing Morass that is Google+.

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    “It will change the way people work, share and communicate” is a sentence we’ve heard hundreds of times. And a sentence we’ve read in ads, thousands of times.  This sentence was used in an article today to describe how businesses will use Goggle+ Circles.  According to the same article Google+ is a social network, like Facebook. It kind of looks like a clean version of Facebook but acts more like Twitter, organized to feed information of those one follows.  Then again, it displays pictures and videos in the feed as does Facebook. The buttons and apps in the side margins of Google+ are cool, offering the ability to gerrymander friends and acquaintances into groups and also to do video chats through an exciting feature called hangouts (which I have yet to try), so that feels new — but kind of hidden.

    The product managers at Google say Circle and/or Hangouts will change the way people work, share and communicate, and they could be right – but not based on the current mish-mash of free hand messaging in the market today.  Google+ released to techies in Beta because techies thrive on confusion.  They eat it for breakfast. But for the rest of the web Google+ still doesn’t have an Is-Does and so is compared to Twitter and Facebook.  The killer application (video circles) is underutilized and under understood.  I do believe video hangouts or cirlces (or whatever they are) will be a game changer – especially in training and education and problem solving.  But right now the whole Google+ thing is a morass of huh.  Were I Google, Google Labs or BBH, I’d be working on a Super Bowl ad (I know, it’s against their better judgment) that distills the Google+ value and showcases the ease of multiparty video chat to the world.  Google+ was a horrible name. A lazy name for what may be a huge product in 3 years. If properly brand managed. It is still a product in need of an Is-Does.  Peace!

    Back end developers.

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    An important target for What’s the Idea? is the technology company. I’ve worked with AT&T on the digital applications side, helped launch Lucent (now Alcatel-Lucent), wrote a lauded brand strategy for ZDNet and have helped scads of mid-size tech companies and start-ups.  Beyond experience, why tech companies are so important is the fact that they don’t get branding. The best of the lot are engineer-driven and see brand and marketing nerds are empty jeans.

    So for you tech engineers and entrepreneurs, here’s a simple metaphor: Brand planners are like back end developers. If the back end is the hardware and engine and the front end the software and user interface (UI), then we brand planners work the former. The back end creates the organizing principle that determines which 1s and 0s to turn on and off.  The brand plan creates and governs the same and the pathways.  It’s simple really.  Perhaps marketers have tried to make it sound so complicated with all our markobabble and talk about silly things like transparency, activation and, and, and.  But a brand plan is one meaningful strategy and 3 governing principles. On or off.  

    The front end in the metaphor  — what users see — is advertising, newsletters, digital content, acquisition programs.  Without good governance, these things show up on a corporate homepage as 38 buttons.  What I love about people like Robert Scoble, Brian Solis, Steve Rubel, Peter Kim, Bob Gilbreath and Jeff Dachis to a degree, is they get the brand “back end” and, so, their front ends are meaningful. People understand them.

    Engineers need to hear and live this lesson. If they do, they’ll see the market through infrared goggles. Peace!

    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!

    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.

    Some “Is he tripping?” business theory.

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    I was reading B-school management stuff this morning and came across some smart thinking from a few years ago.  Treacy and Wiersema suggested success was earned through “operational excellence, product leadership and customer intimacy.”  Who could argue?  Crawford and Mathews started by expanding or segmenting the 4Ps to include “product, price, access, service and experience,” but their unique thesis, explained in their book The Myth of Excellence, is that they want companies to pick one of those areas in which to excel, one to be strong in and simply maintain parity in the others.  This, they posit, will create focus, consumer meaning and differentiation. Who could not listen to this argument?

    These two school of business thought differ from mine, though, in that they are organized around corporate structure not brand structure. Huh?  Well, with the b-school approach, you could walk into the building and visit these departments using the office directory. In my brand planner view of the world, the company is organized not by department but by brand plank – or value proposition. Every company has a marketing dept., a finance dept., and product management, but few companies are organized to deliver value based upon the things that consumers care about – what moves them to preference and purchase.

    Companies chatter about differentiation all the time yet organize themselves the same as every other company.  Companies that want to be different, that want to create greater value for their customers, are companies that focus their energies on the planks. In the healthcare system space, the plank covering “information and resource sharing” is not the IT dept. or the quality control dept. For a commercial maintenance company, the “preemptive” plank that prevents mishaps before they occur, is not the customer care dept.

    Now before you get crazy. or think me crazy, I’m not advocating reinventing corporate structure – well maybe just a little.  I’m suggesting creating value at companies by better mirroring what customers care about. Companies with employees that understand customer needs, rather than operational excellence, etc., will be the market leaders of the future. How’s that for social business design, Peter Kim and Jeff Dachis? 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.