brand planks

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Ask any Chief Marketing Office or Marketing Director what their annual sales are and you’ll get an answer. Ask about the annual marketing budget. Quick answer. Cost of goods, manufactures suggested retail price, market share? These are questions for which marketing leads all have answers.

Two questions likely to baffle CMOs and marketing directors, however, are: What is your brand strategy (claim)? And what are your brand planks (proofs of claim)? Most marketers know their business KPIs, but don’t have them translated into brand-benefit language. The language that give them life and memorability. CMOs use business school phrases like “low cost provider,” “more for more,” “innovation leader”, “customer at center of flah flah flah…”, but that’s not how consumers speak.  

claim and proof

The key to brand planning is knowing what consumers want and what the brand is good at. (“Good ats” and “care-abouts”.) Combining these things into a poetic claim and three discrete support planks is the organizing principle that focuses marketing and makes it more accountable. Across every expense line on the Excel chart.

Stuart Elliott, advertising columnist of The New York Times should make this a requisite question in all his interviews. “What is your brand strategy?” If he gets any semblance of a claim and proof array, I’ll be surprised. Peace!

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I often use an example of my brand planning rigor when explaining to prospects how I work and what I create. Brand plans are many things to many different people. Mine contain one claim and three support planks. The example:

For a commercial maintenance company, one that does office cleaning, building upkeep, snow removal and lawn service among other things, the claim is “the navy seals of commercial maintenance.” This is strategy remember, not a tagline or creative. The support planks are: fast, fastidious and preemptive. These are qualities buyers want. These are also things the company is good at.

navy seal

Clients, big and small, often get the outbound nature of the plan, seeing how this organizing principle can drive communications. Yet sometimes they have a hard time seeing how it can influence the company internally. For a C-level executive or a marketing person who is truly influencial in the product, the internal part of the equation is easily understood. For this level thinker it’s easy to see how one can productize and build experiences around the brand planks — that’s what they are for.

Back to the example — anyone can say they are fast, and in commercial maintenance most do. Anyone can say they are fastidious and many do, using words like “attention to detail.” But preemptive, that’s not so common. Taken together this value prop is unbeatable. And by proving these qualities every day, not just saying or printing them on a website, it is business-winning. Claim and proof…ladies and gentlemen I give you a brand plan.

Peace.

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In the advertising and marketing business thousands of briefs are written every day. 98% of them are tactical.  I was visiting an acquaintance at Wieden and Kennedy and he had to go off to write a couple of ESPN briefs for women’s tennis, or some such.  Sounded like a cool job. Briefs are what planners do. Planners also fill the holes in their day with insight decks.  I’ve done quite a few. 

The other 2% of briefs written are brand briefs the briefs under which all insight deck and tactics briefs will magnetically hover. These are the most important. Frankly, with a great brand brief, many of the other briefs need not be written at all. With one good idea (claim) and three planks (proof of claim), the organizing principle is set and the creative teams prepared.

Sure, specific tactics with unique goals may require a new lens through which to look at a program. A tighter target segment. A new product feature. Yet the organizing principle that is the brand plan is the default marching order. The reality is, many, many companies don’t have a brand brief, just digital folders with scads of the tactical variety. It’s sad and inefficient.

Tactical briefs are for now. Brand briefs are for when. Or better put, for ever. Campaigns and agencies come and go, a powerful brand idea is indelible.  Peace on Monday!

PS.  I am not suggesting here that W+K does not do brand briefs. The shop is too good not to.

 

 

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When a group of CMOs on LinkedIn has to ask the question “What is a brand?” (Or was it a bunch of brand planners?)  The fact that the question is asked is damning.  I’m a big Noah Brier fan – he of Percolate – and even he asked me once “How do you define a brand plan?” His question was meant to see if I was all dreads and no cattle. There are so many a practitioners out there who don’t have a clue.

Many rubber-meets-the-road marketing types want to know “How do I measure a brand plan?”  “How do I measure the sales return of a brand plan?”  The answer is easy.  First, have one.

Assuming your brand plans are like mine: one claim and 3 support planks, the measures are easy. If one plank is about being fastidious, you can ask your customers to rank you on fastidiousness.  You can ask general consumers to rate you as well, that will tell you how well the story is getting out. You can rate yourself on fastidiousness – doing spot checks on personnel performance. On a macro level, you then tie sales, margins, or stock performance to the rise and fall of these brand plan metrics.  This is where the rubber meets the road.  This is the part of the dashboard you get to present upstairs at headquarters, while the cost-per-click and coupon redemption people remain waiting in the lobby.  Along with the people polishing that gleaming Cannes Lion.

(The headline for this post is for you to interpret.  It’s part George W. part morning coffee. Hee hee.) Peace!

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immune system

Always on the lookout for metaphors that help marketers understand branding, I’ve come upon a new one: the immune system.  When a marketing entity has a brand plan (defined in my practice as one claim and three support planks) it has created an immune system designed to deflect all non-essential forces. Maintaining a healthy immune system takes work. It must be cared for and fed.  If the immune system has to work overtime, because the brand is constantly being attacked by outside forces, or it is spending time on off-plan activities, it weakens the immune system.

And let us not forget the immune system is a system. It is not separate unrelated functions or activities. Brand planks, discrete parts of the value proposition working together to increase brand meaning and loyalty, are not always organically aligned. Too much price message might negatively impact the quality message, say. Too much focus on tasty, may impact the healthy message.  Each brand needs its own balance because every brand is different.  But the quick story here is that “a tight, focused organizing principle for product, product experience and messaging” can create an impervious barrier for your brand to ward off evil.  

What are the parts of your brand’s immune system? Peace.   

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lululemon pantsThe first time I heard of Lululemon I was on a weekend marketing retreat with a number of women at the invitation of Nfinity, a wonderful women’s athletic footwear company.  I was a last minute replacement for a woman who had to beg out.  Most of the ladies were aware of Lululemon and sang its praises. They loved the category (yoga), styles (great looking, great fitting) but what they spoke most about was quality. I’ve never done downward dog in my life, but to hear them talk I was ready to buy. 

Come Christmas, off I went to buy the wifus some Lululemon yoga pants. Trying to explain hip size using your own hips to a young, comely salesperson is uncomfortable. But successful I was and I opted for a yoga mat too, hedging my bet. Hee hee.

As I read about Lulu’s quality problems today, which include previous grievances about material pitting, seam unraveling and color bleeding, I see how far the company have come. Backwards. Even with sales and revenue up  thirty plus YOY, someone has taken their eye off the ball. (Not sure if their equity partners or public stock offering put undue pressure on the company, but quality has faltered, even as the brand had grown.)

Quality is a tough brand plank to build around.  It’s most important in categories where it’s not common. Otherwise, quality is the price of entry.  But in yoga, where stress and strain and exertion are part of the experience it’s not a bad play. Lululemon needs a quality facelift. And fast! Peace.

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