Brand Planning Tools

    Brand Planning Interview Techniques.

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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!   

     

    Deeds vs. Materials.

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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.          

                

     

    To plan or not to plan…

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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.   

    The power of but.

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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.

    An important brand planning question.

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    The secret sauce of the What’s the idea? brand planning rigor (WTI is my blog, but also a brand consultancy I had for 3 years prior to coming on board at Teq) is the battery of questions I use when interviewing company stakeholders. Finding out what a company does best and matching it with what the market wants most is the goal.  I may have just found a new question.  The inspiration was an amazing story today in The New York Times of Lonnie G. Thompson, a man in search of proof that global temperatures are rising.

    The secret sauce question is most powerful when asked of an individual, yet it can be altered to apply to a company. Let’s stay with the individual, for simplicity’s sake:  

    What is your life’s work?

    Not an easy question to answer.  Or is it? Most will probably say something like “Be a good parent.”  Or “Be a good spouse.”  Maybe “Leave the world a little better place.” Perhaps “Be a better person.”  Following up these answers with probes will get you to the meat of the discussion. Using the question with a company, however, may get bogged down in “mission statement miasma,” but don’t let it.  A “life’s work” has to have import. If a company has a hard time answering, it likely will have a have a hard time branding it.

    As my Norwegian aunt Inga might have said “Tink about it.” Peace.       

    Brand Planning Tips

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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.

     

    Brand Planning Technique.

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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.

    A Brand Test for CEOs.

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    Here’s one way to see if your company has a brand plan.  Summon department leaders and one random dept. employee into the conference room on a Monday morning. Ask each of them to create a PPT presentation describing the company mission in twelve pages — no more, no less. Make sure they explain what the company Is and what the company Does. (Here referred to as the Is-Does.)  Ask them to report back by 1 P.M., where sandwiches will be served and the work reviewed as a group.

    As with any research, offer up that there are no right or wrong answers and grades will not be issued. 

    Companies with strong brand cultures will share presentations containing similar organizational structure and language.  The other 92% will be a mash-up. What will they mash up?  Learnings from category-leading brands. Things they recall reading in the trade press and news.  A little bit of personal aspiration, maybe some lyrics from the company PR boiler plate and, likely, some CEO language. A doggy’s dinner as Fred Poppe might have said.

    In companies with tight brand plans, every employee knows what business they’re in. They can articulate what products are sold, what customers care about and the business-winning goals. These are business fundies. This is strategy.  It’s worth sharing with employees.  

    Try this brand plan test out and see what can be learned about from a few simple PPT sides. Peace.

    First Responders in Brand Planning

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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!