Brand Planning

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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.

 

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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.

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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.      

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

 

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For my upcoming workshop “A marketing consultancy, behind the curtain,” I suggested yesterday that the best way to undergird a brand strategy is by asking 24 Questions. With questions answered about business economics, processes and financials we move on to more of a customer focus, the brand strategy. Brand strategy (one claim, three support planks) is a coming together of what “a brand does exceedingly well and what customers want most.” An organizing principle, if you will.

Marketing and branding more specifically, are about claim and proof. Disorganized proof is not the answer. And claim, claim, claim without a reason to believe is what today we call “badvertising.” So once the claim is found the heavy lifting is finding the proof to support it.  Proof not platitude.

There’s a questionnaire I use to get to the brand brief, some of which I will share at the workshop. Questions are designed for customers, C-level execs and salespeople. I also like to do windshield time with salespeople. Watching them sell and buyers buy. If not a B2B brand, I turn windshield time into retail store time and customer observation.

For other workshop goodies tune in tomorrow. Peace

 

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I was on the We Are Slightly Mad website yesterday and noticed a quote from Sun Tzu worth repeating. “Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victor. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.” This little gem went ink to parchment around 500 BC. In brand planning and marketing some are actually getting away with a tactics-first approach.  But only the few that course-correct around a strategy live on. Social media, let’s not forget, is a tactic; a tactic that has garnered close to a billion in annual revenue I’d guess.  Yet those are not marketing positive dollars for the most part, they are more like R&D dollars. The social media programs used to support strategy are the ones paying off.cooking technique

Metaphors and examples are the key to inspiring brand planning so I’ll drop a metaphor here. In great cooking there is technique and there are ingredients. As with the Sun Tzu quote both are needed, yet technique is most akin to strategy. My cooking gets better as I understand the various heating methods, preparation skills, complementary flavors and seasonings. As these techniques become more intuitive, creativity and possibility become more apparent. In brand planning, understating how and when to listen is technique. As Sherlock might say “hearing” can trump “listening,” so that, too, is technique. Redirecting, building trust, connecting with the interviewee – all technique. Also seeing patterns in data and behavior and the ability to predict behavior — technique.

When searching for good strategic planning people, talk about technique not ingredients. It’s even more important than the final product…the idea. (Did I just say that?) Peace.

 

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