Brand Planning

    Brand Planning Technique.

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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.

     

    Brand Target vs. Tactical Target.

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    The target for a “brand brief” is very different from a target for a tactical brief. The target for a tactic is much more specific. Much more finite.  For a brand brief, everyone who comes into contact with the brand must be accounted for.  

    The rigor is this: Look at all the groups who may be influential in a brand decision. Let’s say we are selling a protein drink to an elderly consumer. One group would be the consumer himself. Then the consumer’s caregiver – usually a family member – and there are many flavors of caregiver, trust me. The physician is certainly an interested party as are paid caregivers like home nurses. Also payors are a target, such as insurance companies and govie groups like Medicare/Medicaid.

    Once you have all the targets, you need to understand what motivates them. Peter Kim, the author of this thought process, would say you must re-massify the target; searching out a commonality they all share. With the protein example, you can see that a consumer might have different motivation (taste) than a physician (grams of protein) or insurance company (cost). Which may be different from a caregiver (compliance). It’s a bit of a maze. The deeper you dig with each target the more likely you are to find the common ground.

    Brand building is bigger than a click or a sale. Branding building is not transactional. Brands live on. Brand planning must be an inclusive pursuit. Measure twice, cut once. Peace.

    Brand Planning. The Clarity Cure.

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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!

     

    When a food writer can’t taste.

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    I read a headline this past weekend “When a food writer can’t taste” which got me thinking about brand strategy and marketing strategy.  How does a food writer approach an assignment when s/he can’t actually taste the food? (How did Beethoven compose after losing his hearing?)  Had the food writer the ability to taste prior to losing the sense, the experience would be muscle memory-driven.  Of course the writer would need to know how the meal was prepared, the ingredients and the amounts. And watched preparation technique.  It would also help to watch people eat the food to understand tastes, aromas and textures.

    Sadly, a good deal of strategic work in the market today is perfunctory. It lacks the hand and design of someone who has actually tasted the product or product experience.  Often there is a reliance on the muscle memory of other assignments. A reliance on demographics — and then the work is driven by nothing more than a media insight. jean-georges

    Just as creatives know when the work is done, so do planners. Planners need enough time to mine insights, experience those insights and learn deeply about their meaning. Put that level of learning into your brand plan and you are, then, ready to start tasting. Peace.     

     

    The Loyalty Store.

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    One of the 24 Questions I use in my deep dive brand planning rigor is “How much company revenue comes from existing or repeat customers?” When I compare this figure with lost customer and new customer revenue I get a sense of a company’s loyalty, loss and business development focus.

    If you look at marketing job boards today you will notice a great deal of acquisition activity.  The majority of marketers are absolutely smitten by new customers; it’s akin to generals in battle who need to take new territory. Loyalty marketers, on the other hand, know it is the back door, the door customers leave by, that is most critical. 

    chocolates

    Loyalty is engendered when customers are not overlooked. Everyone knows a broken family where mommy or daddy found s new partner because back at home they felt underappreciated. This behavior not only breaks up families, it drives wedges between parents and children. Loyalty, love, under-appreciation and inquisitiveness are human traits. Marketers try to build love through the AIDA principle: Awareness, Interest, Desire and Action, often forgetting Loyalty until it’s too late. Until the back door has been open too long.

    Coupons (sorry honey flowers), shallow thank yous, and automated responses do not loyalty make. Understanding yourself and your customers through a well-principled brand plan, is the place to start. Otherwise, it’s off to the loyalty store for some quick fix tactics.  Peace.

     

    Business Consulting or Brand Consulting?

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    Bob’s Discount Furniture just received a cash infusion from Bain Capital. In other words, Bain now owns a big chunk of the company. If you were Bob, or any other  underperforming company looking to fix their business what would you do?  Before you sold out to a big fixer company like Bain, that is? Many go the root of hiring big business consulting companies such as McKinsey, Boston Consulting or Booz. Pricey choices. Especially for a company under duress. You certainly wouldn’t hire a brand consultant.

    But should you?

    If you were to go to Landor, Interbrand, Wolff Olins or Siegel+Gale, you’d get some really smart people supervising your business, a lot of smart designers and brand planner worker bees, resulting in a new logo, style book, positioning statement, some lessons in voice and, maybe, if they were feeling a bit feisty culture. Probably not going to fix the business.

    Were you to come to What’s the Idea?, a different kind of brand consultancy, you would get some of these things, but only after signing onto a brand plan — the foundation of which is built upon business metrics.  Business fundies. Economic success measures.

    A brand plan built upon anything else is simply storytelling. (And storytelling is the pop marketing object of the day.)  Am I suggesting an engagement with What’s The Idea? is superior to a big city business consultancy or brand consultancy?  Perhaps I am. As someone schooled in both disciplines, who works within the company to determine issues and answers, this approach is a “heal thyself” approach. It’s a learning model rather than a teaching model. Peace.

     

    Don’t Market To The Middle.

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    Adaptive learning is an educational practice that tailors lessons to the learning level of each pupil. It is the opposite of the all too common pedagogical practice of “teach to the middle of the class ” where lessons are created for average, middle of the class students, not the highest or lowest performing. (Talk about no child left behind?) Adaptive learning is really individualized learning. As a term it has been taken over by technologists who employ computer software to identify a student’s learning level, via a battery of questions, and then create a learning scheme that best fits each student. It’s good pedagogy.  

    Responsive design is the new “big thing” in web development. It creates a valuable, though often singular, web experience for users regardless of the device they’re using. And we know there are lots of devices and operating systems out there. There’s big money in responsive design today.

    When we apply the tenets of adaptive learning and responsive design to digital marketing we recognize there is a long way to go before we’re not marketing to the middle of the class. Data people and ad serving jockeys will tell you they can serve up a special pieces of creative based upon user behavior or website visits, but this does not tell you where the customer is along the continuum of a sale (awareness, interest, desire, action and loyalty).  In offline and online we are still profoundly marketing to the middle of the class.

    Brand love and brand loyalty will ebb through boredom. Through repetition. Marketers who treat their most loyal customers like babies are forgiven…up to a point. (America knows that “15 minutes can save you 15% or more on your car insurance.”)  So what’s the 21st Century Challenge for marketers?  Adapt to your target. Be responsive to time and place.  And stimulate them with brand positive messages and deeds. But most importantly, do it in support of a brand strategy — an organizing principle that marries what you do well with what customers want.

    Peace!    

     

    Coen Brothers.

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    A.O. Scott in his New York Times review of the new movie “Inside Llewyn Davis” today nicely captures what makes a Coen Brothers movie a Coen Brothers movie. Says Scott, they offer a “brilliant magpie’s nest of surrealism, period detail and pop-culture scholarship.” To me this description means their work a magnetic, unusual and blasting through context. The Coen’s attention to period detail is another reason I love these guys. Como se “True Grit?”  And pop-culture scholarship just suggests their storytelling is human and humane(ish).

    It strikes me that these are qualities that also make for a great brand strategy.  

    I often find a little tension when presenting brand strategy… and it tells me I’ve done a good job.  

    • “We know where you live” a brand strategy for Newsday, was a thought a little creepy.
    • “A systematized approach to improving healthcare” for North Shore-LIJ, a bit cold.
    • “We crave attention” for a women-owned PR firm, a smidgen gender-sensitive.

    Just as good advertising creative makes you think, feel and do something, so should a strategy. Sometimes, for the squeamish, the do something is ask me “Do we have to use that one word?”  My answer is always “No, it’s a strategy, not a tagline.”

    I’m no Ethan and I’m no Joel yet my work aspires to staying power. To muscle memory served up as product value. A great brand plan is an organizing principle that sticks to your ribs.   Peace.

     

    Steps to a brand plan.

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    Here’s how I do it.

    1. Observe. As a consultant, observation happens before an engagement and during. Before, observations are used in biz/dev. What’s going on in the culture? What’s going on in the selling culture? The buying culture? These nuggets are the grist for the emails that start a dialogue. Emails explaining what I do for living are “me” focused not “you” focused.

    Once engaged, observations are the ebb and flow off the business tide – contextually set up by business fundamentals provided by senior client management. Research, both qual. and quant. come in at this stage, budget permitting.

    2. Commune. Unlike anthropological fieldwork, in brand planning we need to commune with those we study. Plumbing, probing, storydoing (thanks Ty), making of friends. This is how we add dimension and luster to our hunting and gathering – talking to people. There are no wrong people.

    3. Cull. A cull rack in Great South Bay parlance is the rack that catches the clams of legal edible size. With all observations in (one can observe forever), the cull begins. What to save. Knowing what is important is personal, subjective, objective, scientific and artful. Basically it’s a brain thing. Can’t really be explained. No algo for this.

    4. Organize. In my work I often talk about brand planning as an organizing principle. Today I’m thinking about the root word organ. Yes, organ. The business winning elements of the strategy are like organs. They give life to the brand plan. I use 3 brand planks and there are three really important organs. (My brand plan contains one claim, three support planks.) With this structure, the puzzle pieces come together.

    5. Package. Brand strategy doesn’t package well. It’s like an early Pearl Jam song, when they weren’t good at endings. The big reveal of a strategy (remember it’s not creative) often feels soft. It feels right, everyone is nodding, but it’s often a soft landing. If I may be crass, it’s kind of blue ballsy. Unlike creative which is more artful and has a hook, brand strategy is only a beginning. It needs great packaging to make it feel more creative. A touch of poetry helps.

    This is how I do it. This is how brand strategy at What’s the Idea? is made. Have you a different approach? Peace!