Brand Planning

    How to measure brand effectiveness.

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    I am not in the brand awareness business. I am in the brand association business. And to take it one step further I am really in the brand benefit business.

    Brand awareness is simply recall of a name, logo and/or package. Marketing begins with awareness. It’s the price of admission.

    Brand association takes awareness a step further in that consumers are asked to play back certain context and associations with that recall. It might be category association, e.g., Coke is a cola, Cowboys are a football team, or perhaps the association may extend beyond what a brand “is” to a quality, Apple offers product innovation, for instance.

    But the third level, the one I refer to as Brand Benefits walks consumers beyond rote awareness and context features to benefits they need, desire or cherish. I’m not talking Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, I’m talking endemic product or service needs. But importantly, these brand benefits must be few (three to be precise) and constant. They are brand planks. 

    To measure the success of a brand, you must track awareness of brand benefits. If consumers can play back your planks in unaided recall testing you are winning the branding war.

    Peace.

     

     

    Endemia. Root word endemic.

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    I’m a NY Jets fan and wonder how the franchise can be so mediocre for so long. We often look at the quarterbacks, coaches, general managers for our answers. But rarely does the average fan look at ownership. The last couple of owners of the Jets, Leon Hess and Woody Johnson, are magnates who built empires upon gasoline and Band-Aids.

    It is a rare business indeed where someone from outside the industry can come in and have massive success; Robert Kraft being an exception in the football world. But Mr. Kraft sans Bill Belichick and Tom Brady, would look, I suppose, quite average as an owner.  

    Brand planners understand how important it is to deeply understand a business — even if only engaged with a brand for a month or two. It is a work imperative to speak the language of the business. It’s critical to understand fiscal drivers, consumer motivations, and operational strengths and foibles. Brand planners cannot set master brand strategy as an outsider.

    Jets ownership, as smart as they may be, are just not football people. They are business people. A restaurant owner can’t be the chief of police. A history teacher cannot be a construction engineer. A cable TV CEO can’t build a basketball team. My drift.

    Peace.

     

    Learn Baby Learn.

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    I’m all about systems. When developing a marketing plan I use my proprietary “24 Questions,” a follow-the-money rubric.  When working on a brand, I have a form simply called “Fact Finding Questions.” Broken into two sections, one for C-level executives, the other for top sales people it asks generic things, e.g., “If you were to get a job at a competitor, how would you deposition your current company?” Stuff like that. Good, but generic.

    When working in a new category and having to learn a new language – a language in which I am illiterate – generic doesn’t always cut it.

    I’ve worked with a magician and I’ve worked with a top two professional services company.  The questions that work for a teeth whitening company don’t translate. So my question framework almost always needs to go off the reservation.  The off-the-rezzy questions are always works in progress. They require listening, parrying, redirection and often a good deal of bi-directional story telling.  

    When I ask an executive or sales person a question that spikes their blood pressure, it’s a hit. Follow that trail. If a hospice nurse is explaining how to tell whether a patient is minutes or hours away from passing, feel the mood. The sanctity. 

    Learning is the absolute best part of brand planning.

    Peace.

     

     

             

    Storytelling Vs. Story Listening.

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    storytelling

    From the big consumer package goods marketers to the mid-size boutiques to one-man PR shops, “storytelling” is the communications art form of the day. A well-worn pop marketing tactic.

    The stories to which most refer are content stories, spun by marketers to get customers to buy. Today, content is a by-the-pound business. Stories are, in fact, buildables — production buildables. Storytelling fills the revenue void of the once lofty high margin TV spot.

    I’ll trade you 25 stories, 50 stories, for one powerful brand idea. In terms of value.

    That’s what brand planners do.  We create big, honkin’, motivating brand ideas. And for brand planners “story listening” is way better than “storytelling.” Sure, I prime the pump by telling consumers a story. The more personal the better. I’m trying to get them to free up insights. Even strangers free up when you are real with them. I’ll show you mine… You’ve got to give to get. Brand planners are good at quant but great at hearing stories fertile with brand meaning. Consumer stories that set off alarms in planners’ heads.

    All you storytellers out there – you creative, biz/dev. and agency positioning types – go on and do your storytelling thing, but remember how you get the strategy for those stories. By listening.

    Peace.

     

    Why I like brand planners.

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    Brand planners are always observing. Always willing to learn. They crave learning. Part anthropologists – students of mankind – brand planners are also creative; it rubs off on them being around art directors, writers and creative directors. In addition to learning about consumers they must learn how to eroticize ideas for creative people.

    margaret meadBrand planners are always on. They can’t afford to be depressed. They love brands, the lifeblood of commerce. They are always friendly, even in the face of haters. There are lessons to be learned from hating. (Brand Spanking, in fact, enables negative discussions.) Brand planners are good lovers. They’re exocentric – caring about others. They are not academics. They are humanists, realizing it’s not always about being right…more about being. Environments are of great interest to planners. Stim in any form.

    Brand planners are paid to make money (for others) but are not motivated by money.

    I didn’t know it at the time, but seeing Margaret Mead speak at the American Anthropology convention as a college kid, cast the die.

    When was the die cast for you? Peace.

    My Brand Strategy Secret.

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    Clients pay me for two deliverables: brand strategy and marketing plans. I can’t do the latter without the former. It’s possible to pretend, even hide the brand strategy component, but without strategy the marketing planning is a little bit like paint-by-numbers.

    gem miningSo how do I approach brand strategy development?  I look for proof. How does a guy walk into a company and in a matter of days or week know a brand well enough to create a strategy that will operationalize marketing success? Proof. A hunt for proof.

    Proof of what, you ask? Ahhh, that’s the $64,000 question. At the beginning, it’s way too early to tell. Each brand presents a clean slate. As I trek through fact-finding, data, sales, consumer and business partner interviews, I come across lots and lots of claim-ish fluff. But when tangible proof rises up, it is easily noted. Proof may be found in behavior. In deeds, business decisions, investments. Product taste. Product experience. It’s everywhere. With enough proof arrayed and smartly clustered, the brand planner can begin to formulate the brand claim and key support planks. And that is the secret sauce of What’s The Idea?. Proof hunting.

    Rest in peace David Carr.      

     

    Learned and earned, not told and sold.

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    A great deal of brand planning revolves around observation. That’s why my anthropology major came in so handy after all these years. Who knew? Based upon observation, planners postulate and prove, then write briefs and decks which are given to others for action. Action that might be design-related, comms-related…even behavioral. The brief grows out of observations focused on creating behavior change. Want this. Buy this. Purchase more of this. That’s marketing and advertising today.

    Since working in the education category – one I find utterly fascinating – I’ve changed my MO (modus operandi, for those who don’t watch a lot of cop shows) about brand planning. Now, I am of the mind that changing behavior as an objective is not the best way forward. Rather, I like to educate consumers and let them decide if and how to change their behavior. When a consumer comes to a conclusion on their own, without the smarmy hands of the marketing gods to convince them, then a sale better made and more loyal. In other words, consumers won’t buy because they were told, they buy because it makes more sense. It rationally lights up the right parts of the cerebral cortex.

    The decision is learned and learned, not told and sold. Peace.

     

    A moment of reflection…about selling.

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    One of the cool things about being a brand planner, probably not unlike being a psychotherapist, is being a student of man. Though I am not looking for maladaptive behaviors as does the psychotherapist I am looking for behaviors. All types. By doing so, I’m always learning. When on the clock, I’m learning about behaviors contributory to commerce in a specific business category, but when off the clock, I’m learning about human nature. Always learning.

    I’ve been a painter, a waiter, and ad guy and a couple two tree (sic) other things, but brand planner and constant learner has to be the best. And when you can share what you’ve learned to help people, it’s among the best feelings on earth. The fact that brand planners help sell things shouldn’t minimize the job. When working on a elemental nutrition formula for infants with eating allergies and observing “a mother is never more protective than of an infant in distress,” the goal was helping, not selling. In my presentation “Social media guard rails,” one of the first slides is about this point. Help, don’t sell.

    The best brand plans help; the result is selling. Words to plan by. Peace.