brand planning tips

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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.

 

 

         

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houzz homepage

Came across a cool new website called Houzz. It’s also an app on the iPhone. Someone showed me the app on the iPhone (my first user experience or FUE) where it displayed a picture of a kitchen with lots of scroll over call-outs. You scrolled over a countertop and lots of little bubbles (way too many) popped up – I assumed they were prices, or comments. For the life of me I couldn’t figure the app out. I later went to the website and subscribed and started receiving emails, which I didn’t open. Until today.

It’s a real nice website. Lots of bleed pictures, little text on the homepage, the way I like it. But I still couldn’t tell what the site was about other than home stuff so I dug in and visited the About Page. Here’s what they say:

“We are a platform for home remodeling and design, bringing homeowners and home professionals together in a uniquely visual community.”

Now that made sense. My FUE with the app did not.

The Houzz site (not the app) is an awesome resource. Power kitchen and remodeling users (people with leisure time?) spend a nice amount of energy here. This is exactly the kind of place a brand planner wants to do research. It’s the kind of place where thoughtful helpers, info seekers, and smart sellers spend time sharing. All in one location. Brand planners with ample asses (impolitic, I know) can learn a lot – sans fieldwork – on a site like this. I love finding gems like this in every category.  It’s where Posters go. (Google “Posters versus Pasters”.) Peace.

 

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merle haggard

So I was listening to Merle Haggard yesterday and the old coot was doing a duet with Jewel and, by God, he changed his vocal treatment – his voice — on the song. It was Merle but he was trying to impress her, trying to woo her. Men! There was a gentleness to his voice that you won’t hear in most of his tunes. The tone send a message. So I’m thinking if he can change his tone and impart different meaning, sub rasa meaning, so can the rest of us. Why not use it as a brand planning tool?  So I’m playing around with an interview technique that will prompt interviewees to answer questions in various voice types. You know the voice you use when someone is confiding tragic personal news to you? Or the voice used to encourage a child who needs support? Have you a sexy voice? The key is to get the interviewee to use a topic-appropriate voice in an interview to impart greater meaning.  To do so you have to put them in a zone; coach them like an acting coach. Get them to a place where they are feeling an emotion then get them to answer your question, truthfully, but that particular voice.

Try it, I certainly will. Peace.

 

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In the curated social media world the most shared content tends to have numbers in the headline. In an effort coattail this phenomenon, following are three ingredients to successful brand planningshipdom.

Follow Trends. What is a trend? It’s a pattern. A pattern of behavior, thought and scientific phenomenology. As we watch patterns — first small, then large — we get in touch with what growth is. And we understand growth.

Create Trends. This one is more difficult and some might say egotistical. Fashion designers think this way. Copywriters sometime think this way, coining product memes. Some ad agencies suggest they create trends. It’s a wonderful motivating factor for strategists to project their work as trend-worthy. Aspire to it, but don’t be consumed by it. Trends are fickle. They are also functional (the anthropologist in me might say).

Optimism. Growth is about positive things working together. Stasis is about inaction. Death, about negative forces. Brand planners are best when focusing on the positive. We are in the optimism business. Is it dangerous not to worry the negatives? Nah, that’s someone else’s job. The art of growth, human desire and sunny tomorrows is what we do. Don’t spend an ounce of energy of the dark side of the ledger.

Peace.

 

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I’m always on the lookout for new ways to extract important information from executives about their companies. My 24 Questions, designed to follow the money, are not great at generating stories… and stories (aka proof/examples) are what create context and power for brand planners.  A flesh vs. bones thing. So the latest question I’ve been dabbling with is “Who is the industry’s biggest critic?” Or, “Of all the opinion leaders in your business, whose approval do you hold dearest and why?” I’ll probably test it out both questions. The first is the more open of the two and presumes a critical but, honestly, I am more eager to hear about praise. It is an open question and can be easily toggled.

Most people, be they executives or consumers, can articulate the opinion leader they most admire. That person is a good source of brand planning study. That person may not want to share all his/her secrets, but often provides shortcuts to pearls of wisdom and grist for the narrative mill.  Successful home brewers’ opinions are worth more to the average beer drinking Joe than are sports stars. An IT professional’s opinion is more valuable than a Best Buy salesperson.  Think “expert witnesses” in a jury trial, to the max.

Find these people, learn why they are great critics, and get their stories. Probe the “doing” part of their role rather than the “critique or praise” itself. Probe for story. Peace.

 

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Bravery is big these days. A lot of agencies and marketers have tied their brand promises to the word, including David and Goliath and Mondelez – a couple of forerunners. And why not? Who doesn’t want to be brave? It’s as American as apple pie. I, too, rely on the word in my practice. A boast I proudly share with clients (after signing them) is that there will likely be one word in the brand strategy they may find objectionable. They’ll love the sentiment. Feel the strategy. Know in their bones I get them. They’ll proudly nod at the defensible claim. Yet often, they will sheepishly ask “Do we have to use that one word?”

A $5B health care system asked “Do we have to use the word systematized?”

The world’s largest tech portal asked “Do we have to call consumers browsers?”

The country’s 10th largest daily newspaper asked “Do we have to say ‘We know where you live?’”

The list goes on.

The point is, brand strategy needs to be brave.  If it’s not, is it really strategic? If your brand strategy is not bold, it will be a long, expensive build toward effectiveness. And may weaken your brand planks. (Three planks support your claim.) This brave approach takes brand strategy out of insight land and into claim land. Out of observation mode, into prideful attack mode.

Oh, and the answer to my clients one-word objection? “No, you don’t have to use the word. The creative people will create the words. But you must use the strategy.” And everybody, myself included, bobble-heads in relief. Peace.

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Salman Khan, founder of the Khan Academy an online educational video tutoring site, began his business by uploading math instruction videos to YouTube. Part of his secret sauce was making math instruction interesting.  If instruction lacks vocal intonation (drone, drone) it didn’t connect.  Been there.  If it was overly flourished, same thing. His approach, like that of other good teachers, was to be in the middle. Connect. Watch what students tuned in to and package that using good pedagogy.

As a brand planner, I sometimes go into situations where the topic is less than exciting.  Healthcare and banking come to mind. When interviewing SMEs (subject matter experts) or consumers using Salman’s approach is important. The interviewer needs to show interest; not academic interest but true category interest.  The interviewer needs to find ways to bring the subject to life. To be engaged and earn trust. Personal stories are a good way to prime the pump. Hearing them. Telling them.  Some will say interrupting people when they talk is not polite, however in this case it shows energy and interest. (Do it carefully however.)

Be a good listener, a careful watcher of body language, and most of all be human. React, respond, find emotional attachments. Joy and happy endings are also nice, though may not in all cases be appropriate.

Once again, good teaching and learning practices come into play in brand planning. Peace.

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I favor the poetry inherent in good brand planning, so in various places on the web you may have seen some of my references to “redistributing marketing wealth.” Redistributing marketing wealth is a great calling if you can do it. It is one goal of great strategy. The only thing that trumps it is “creating new wealth.”  The most exciting work in marketing is not taking a market that currently exists, say a $2.4B market for nutrition drinks, and rejiggering it to get more share – though that is fun.  It’s taking a static market and growing it. Finding new uses, new custies, and new (I can’t think of a third thing)…  

That’s not redistributing marketing wealth, that’s creating new wealth. A smart boss at McCann once asked me, “Where will the money to pay for this product come from?” In other words what will someone not buy to pay for this product? Carbonated soft drink dollars are flowing into waters. So Coke owns both. Now Coke is getting into protein – another reapportionment. But what if Coke took money away from the gyms?  Or created a product that took consumer budget from the gas budget?

Rational consumers only have so much money to spend.  Figuring out how to get them to spend it with you is a planners MO. New money?  Or old money? That is a big planning  question.

Peace be upon you this Friday!     

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Yosef D. Dlugacz, PhD, Senior Vice President and Chief of Clinical Quality, Education and Research at the North Shore-LIJ Health System was the person I met when working on the North Shore brand brief who had the greatest influence on the strategy.

My first discussion with Yosef was on the phone and didn’t go very well. He offered up a lot of quality-speak. It was hard work getting to interesting truths about Yosef’s work. What he did for a living. His day. Outputs. Influence.  But once I got it, once I was able to wend myself around the quality jargon and statistical answers, a very instructive insight emerged.  When writing a brand brief you are telling (yourself and others) a serial story. If it doesn’t hang together it’s not done. There are gravity points in the brief that are important and create pathways for the strategy.  Sometimes the gravity points come from consumers, other times from the product or service. They can really come from anywhere in the information gathering experience. Gravity points help with the “boil down” – the decisions about what to not focus on.     

What separates great from the good planners are the boil down and the gravity points. With these in hand the story almost tells itself — finishing off with a big ending (claim) and moral (support planks). The moral, BTW, is always influenced by selling more, to more, for more, more times. 

Searching for Dlugacz (pronounced Dlu-Gotch) is how to start. Peace.

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