Brand Planning Tools

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The early Egyptians built with stone and what they built still stands. Shea Stadium was built in the 60s and had to be torn down. It was built with steel and cement. If you were to build a structure today that you wanted to last for 1,000 years what would you use? Perhaps someone will invent a new composite material for building construction that will last 500,000 years.

The materials with which we construct products – sugar in carbonated soft drinks, salt in French fries, silicon in computer chips – are seen as building blocks of brands. Yet, when I develop brand strategy (1 claim, 3 proof planks) the materials are secondary, perhaps tertiary. What the materials deliver is way more important.

During my exploration rigor I use a number of tools to mine insights as to “what customers want most” and what the product or service “does best.” Then with all the learning arrayed, I begin to boil down the elements into groups. The groups cluster and point to a common claim…of brand superiority or customer desire. So proof, in fact, comes before claim.

Rarely are materials the sole heroes of the proof planks; deeds and experiences often are. It may sounds backwards but it works for me.

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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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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claim and proof

In meetings I love to say “I am a simple man.”  Not sure how much good it does me, but it is me nonetheless. My whole brand planning shtick is tied to the simplification of branding. Readers know that means a brand plan is One Claim, Three Planks. The claim is not a tagline, it’s the strategy that drives business. The planks are the array of proof that give consumers permission to believe the claim. Simply put, a brand plan is a coming together of what consumers want most and what a brand does best. Period.

I love brand planners, but some are so wound up in inside baseball terms and theory, they lose sight of the goal: Creating an idea in the mind of consumers that predisposes (and post-disposes) them to a sale.

A brand plan is an upstream thing. Once done, all the follow-on expression of the plan – the tactics – need to be planned as well.  And that, too, is the provenance of the planner. However in all of my travels in the space, I’ve yet to come across one SlideShare presentation, one Plannersphere deck, one Planning Salon video, one Planningness talk that simplifies the upstream brand plan into this 1+3 recipe. So either I’m tripping or we haven’t found the clarity cure yet.  

One claim, three planks is the cure, he said humbly. 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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Learning is at the center of everything good.  Teaching doesn’t always get the same rap.  Where would we be without teachers?  Not in a good place. There must be teachers.

I worked for a company that enlightened me about learning. My job was to organize the selling of leaning tools, be they technological or pedagogical, and it really warmed me to the difference between teaching and learning – how they are perfectly and imperfectly intertwined

Brand planners are attuned to learning. They take to it like ants to peanut butter and jelly samiches. Interviewing SMEs (subject matter experts), company captains and consumers in true learning mode really lights up the exchange.  Note taking and quiet keyboard clicking makes for a short, dull interview. Smiles, thoughtful questions, stories, and engagement make the time fly. Even when you ask a goofy or counterintuitive question — if done as an eager learner, it can enhance the experience. And try not to teach the teacher. Be Socratic in your method. You can challenge observations or highlight contradictions, but do so with that dog-like “Where’s the ball?” gaze.

Brand planners who are devout learners, who don’t enter a room with answers, are the ones who turn on the lights. The ones who create illumination. It may be steady, sporadic or rocky, but it is illumination. Puh-eace!   

 

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I’ve been interviewing a number of registered dieticians the last few days, all specialists in renal or kidney disease. A fascinating group. This country has about 20 million people with chronic kidney disease and I am guestimating about a half million of those are on dialysis.  

A typical marketer in need of a dialysis ad would call the ad agency in, perhaps invite a physician to brief them on disease and treatment.  Then the agency would go back to its office, do some budgeting, paperwork and layouts and return 2 weeks later with a picture of a sunset of blue sky and a pithy copy about how the future looks brighter with XYZ product.

What would a brand planner do? (What would I do?)

Having primed the pump by talking to the second, maybe first, line of defense for kidney patients – the dietician – I would like to do a DILO (day in the life of) od a dialysis patient. Anthropologists might call this a quickie ethnography.  Wake up in the patient’s house. See what breakfast is like.  Ask about dreams (Freud-like). Watch clothes selection. Find out who they call on the phone.  Probe feelings. Learn about professional support, caregiver relationships and insurance coverage. Plumb the highs and lows.  Listen to the dialog at dialysis check-in. Experience food and drug shopping. Talk meds. Vamp. Care.

In one full day, with his technique, a brand planner could craft an EFFIE winning ad strategy, a medical retailing strategy and a spending level that would redistribute marketing wealth. All in one day. Why are we not doing more or this? Peace.   

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David & Goliath talks about “brave.”  Jean-Marie Dru writes and talks about “disruption.”  Lots of ad agencies try to find a word to describe themselves as outside the box thinkers.  I was searching this morning for a video about a young Israeli illustrator who wanted to get published in The New Yorker… his one word is “no,” his story about its power to motivate.

Brand planners have a word too.  It’s the word “but.” Even in our quest to find brand-illuminating patterns, we are wowed by the word but.  The word takes what is considered known and understood and it angles that understanding.  It reorients it in a new way. In a fresh way with a little friction. And as you know friction causes heat.

Sp read your briefs planners, and search for the word but. Wherever you see in on your paper you can be sure you’re  getting close to the idea.   As my Norwegian aunt might have said “tink about it.” Peace.

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If I met you for the first time and asked  “Describe yourself to me” what might your answer be?  If I were to ask a consumer a similar question about Langone Medical Center, what might they say?  “They are the NYU hospital.”  Or that’s the hospital with the purple ads.”  How about this question “Describe for me PNC Bank” or “Describe Volkswagen to me.”

Top recall explanations are telling. They are not deal breakers as it relates to purchase behavior – we buy things and brands we don’t know all the time – but those explanations share what is most important to the consumer at that time.   Two things drive first response associations for consumers: product experience and marketing communications.  Readers know that an organized brand plan has powerful impact on the latter.  If all internal and external dollars are used to support a tight strategy, consumers are able to play back that strategy.  “15 minutes could save you 15% or more on car insurance.”  What reader may not know is that a tight brand strategy also impacts the product, offering ways forward for new features, line extensions, aftercare, etc.

The opposite of a tight, embedded brand strategy is every man for himself. And when that happens you become the company with the purple ads or the company that has banking on the mobile phone. Don’t allow that to happen. Peace!

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