Brand Planning

    What does success look like?

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    One of the problems with many brand planners is their laser-ike focus on the now. On the current tactical objective. And who can blame them?  Stuff has to work. And be measured. But true brand plans are for the long term, setting direction for all the tactical efforts. The micro measures of success as it were.  Think of a brand plan as the architecture of the house and the individual tactical projects as the decorated rooms. The architecture is the real strategy; the business-winning, business building proposition or organizing principle that drives commerce.

    One of the reasons I love Thomas Friedman, an Op-Ed columnist, is he looks at geopolitical, geo-religious problems before and after the now. He delves into what history has contributing to getting a region where it is (a rearview mirror approach well-worn in brand planning) but also looks into the future. With Syria, for instance, he wonders what the country will look like after the conflagration. He goes straight to a reasonable result and lives there in his mind. Brand planners don’t do this enough. Once you see the future, it helps create a more contextual present.  So the future of healthcare is what? The future of the energy drink category is what? The future of the mobile device operating system is what?

    I’d be a gypsy if I promised the future as a brand planning. But I’d be a goober if I didn’t operate there on behalf of my brands. Peace.

    Social Media and the Brand Planning Hammer

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    Who handles social media at large companies? Corporate Communications? Public Relations? Investor Relations? Marketing? Website? Customer Service? Human Relations.  Yes.  And at large companies there are often regional and international offices. Yes and yes. Most large corporations have a number of agency partners, as well: ad agencies, PR shops, digital, retail, B2B, promotion shops – you get the idea.  And God forbid, some of the people on payroll are career climbers trying to do some new things, new ways and name a name for themselves? So who is orchestrating all of this stuff? Is it the CMO? That wo/man with the 19 month shelf life?

    Social media, one component of marketing, is creating a dilution of corporate brands and products similar to what global warming is doing to the glaciers and icecaps. We know it’s happening, we just don’t believe it. And we are having too much fun with our carbons. I mean social tools.

    So what’s the fix Mr. Steve Poppe (as my friend Rachel might say)? An organizing principle that governs the product, its experience, and all facets of marketing. A brand plan: one idea (strategy), three planks.

    Customer service, guided by a brand plan is better customer service. Pricing supporting a brand plan, better pricing. These are the words of the brand planner. Peace!

    PS. Thanks to Altimeter Group’s Charlene Li and Jeremiah Owyang for the thought starter. 

     

    Storytelling vs. Crescendo Building

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    Storytelling in advertising and marketing is the haps. The narrative. The customer journey. These approaches refer to getting consumers onboard without direct selling. Direct selling being “me, me, me” advertising versus storytelling which is you, you, you — always a more thoughtful approach. An approach much harder to get funded by marketing officers.

    Agencies like storytelling because it creates buildables. Video is big. A friend of mine with a women’s sneaker company tells me “everyone keeps calling trying to sell me video.” BBDO has a Lowes Vines story on its website, boasting of effective 6 second Vines videos that only cost Lowes $5,000.

    I’m down with storytelling. And video. And the digital journey through an assortment of buildables. But I’m more down with strategy. Or moving consumers to the moral of the story –what one feels about a brand as a result of all the work. And it’s not just a click or a product purchase, it’s the why. I bought a Coke because I wanted refreshment. I bought a Krispy Kreme donut because I deserved a treat.

    Story telling is good but branding is more like crescendo building. Moving custies closer to full on purposeful love. Geico, could take a note or two here. Peace.

    Watching people work.

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    A great deal of market research is focused on understanding and mapping how consumers buy. With big data making almost every consumer transaction recordable and quantifiable we have more information than ever before about “when” and “how” buyers buy.  That’s quant. Beyond the data charts, there are qualitative ways to watch how buyers buy. Store observations, mall intercepts and focus groups. This helps get us to the “whys.” All good learning. 

    I learned early on however, that understanding the buyer is not enough. I like to watch the sellers sell. More broadly, I like to watch them work. That’s why ad agencies tend to put creative people behind the counter at fast food restaurants when pitching Mickey Ds and the like. Sales people will tell you how they sell, but watching them is often a different story. It’s the theory vs. the practice. And it’s not just sales people that need to be watched. It is other employees. Don’t overlook anyone when studying a company. Insights are everywhere. Context is everywhere.

    If you are hunting for insights, look beyond consumers to the sell side (not just what c-levels tell you).  It provides lots of complex flavor for your plan.  Peace.

    Percent of GDP Spent on Brand Planning.

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    I am on a quest to figure out what part of the US GDP is spent on marketing. The current US GDP according to the World Bank website is $15.6 trillion. Healthcare in America is estimated to be about 18% of the GDP and my gut is telling me dollars spent on market are probably in the same ballpark.

    GDP is defined as the sum of gross value added by all resident producers in the economy plus any product taxes and minus any subsidies not included in the value of the products” so one might say since marketing comprise all four Ps, product being one, that all of GDP is marketing, but let’s use What’s the Idea? math and remove the cost of producing goods from the equation.

    So what are we counting? Research and development of new products. Headcount of people in all marketing services; within the company and vendor.  All out of pocket for advertising, promotion, PR, research, sales, channel, web and service. Based on my seriously fuzzy math, let’s say we are spending $2.8 trillion in marketing sans production.  That’s some cheddar.

    Of that amount, what percent do you think is spent creating an organizing principle that guides marketing? That allows employees and consumers to learn the unique value of a brand…and articulate it with meaningful language. Not taglines like “Chase what matters.”

    The answer is not much. 

    Were we to take all the revenue of companies like Interbrand, Landor, Brand Union and Siegel+Gale and brand planning practices at agencies, we would find that it amounts to a milli-portion of the total. So we’re building brand with lots of people, lots of tools, lots of services and very, very little strategy. I’m having a brain freeze and not even eating ice cream. Peace.

    PS.  Getting to actual spending numbers would be a great econometric project for a business school student. 

     

    Foster, Bias and Sales.

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    My political leanings are of a certain color. I tend to read editorialists that support my views and support and form my arguments.  That said, I do make an effort to read opposing views so as to round out my world. 

    In brand planning, if you gather your facts mostly from the client extended family, from product users and agency acolytes, you are not being fair to the brand. That’s why focus groups are often conducted among non-users. That’s why I like to interview lapsed users.  In fact, I developed a focus group technique called brand spanking a number of years ago, where you bring in haters to bounce the brand around. Even among haters, a few will defend you (just to be contrary) and in those defenses often lie gold.

    In politics, it’s not okay to be unbalanced. In brand planning it is heresy. (Notice I wrote this entire post without using the words “authentic” and “transparent.”  It can be done. Hee hee.

    Peace.

    PS. When a kid, I wanted to name my ad agency Foster, Bias and Sales. It is okay to create bias, but not to be biased when developing a brand plan.

    Now and when.

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    In the advertising and marketing business thousands of briefs are written every day. 98% of them are tactical.  I was visiting an acquaintance at Wieden and Kennedy and he had to go off to write a couple of ESPN briefs for women’s tennis, or some such.  Sounded like a cool job. Briefs are what planners do. Planners also fill the holes in their day with insight decks.  I’ve done quite a few. 

    The other 2% of briefs written are brand briefs the briefs under which all insight deck and tactics briefs will magnetically hover. These are the most important. Frankly, with a great brand brief, many of the other briefs need not be written at all. With one good idea (claim) and three planks (proof of claim), the organizing principle is set and the creative teams prepared.

    Sure, specific tactics with unique goals may require a new lens through which to look at a program. A tighter target segment. A new product feature. Yet the organizing principle that is the brand plan is the default marching order. The reality is, many, many companies don’t have a brand brief, just digital folders with scads of the tactical variety. It’s sad and inefficient.

    Tactical briefs are for now. Brand briefs are for when. Or better put, for ever. Campaigns and agencies come and go, a powerful brand idea is indelible.  Peace on Monday!

    PS.  I am not suggesting here that W+K does not do brand briefs. The shop is too good not to.

     

     

    Enculturation.

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    Many think of marketing as acquisition. Or lead generation. Business leaders in that mode don’t really understand brand planning. What often drives leaders who think this way towards branding or rebranding are: old logos, mergers and acquisitions, and boredom. Brand planning though, is all about strategy.

    At What’s The Idea? a brand plan is defined as one strategic idea (or claim) and the three support planks – planks that prove the claim and organize how business is done. A mark or logo is best if it supports that idea. Salespeople and operations people are optimized if they are guided by an organizing principle.  Those businesses who don’t get branding can’t ask employees to go out and “blue” for the company based on the color palette or “leader” for the company, based on a mission statement.  

    A brand plan makes it so that when every employee leaves the building at night they can ask themselves a strategic question about their performance. And that is the litmus test.

    I like to say “campaigns come and go, a powerful brand idea is indelible.”  Leads come and go. Customers come and go.  Brands strategy should not. If it’s not about building and maintaining business through strategy, it’s not a brand plan.

    Employees come and go too, their understanding of the strategy should not. Executives talk all the time about company culture. At the best companies strategy is enculturated.  Peace.

    Rose Color Your Glasses.

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    I was judging at The Beautiful Minds Event last weekend, a wonderful BBH-sponsored celebration of the life of Griffin Farley, and was struck by how rose colored my glasses have become.  Not sure if it’s all the find the pain point pop marketing books the kids read in school or what the media hath wrought, but most of the young were wrapping their strats around problem solving. (Beautiful Minds, BTW, is a competition among tyro brand planners.)

    The brief the competitors were chasing was about Citibikes. Imagery of sweat, commuter angst, cramped subway cars and ornery taxi drivers abounded.  Where was the happiness factory? Readers know I love Coke strategy and have been a little contrary when it comes to the happiness strategy. Growing up at McCann and seeing how “refreshment” can be optimized for Coke sales, I’ve not been “feeling” the happiness thing.  But then I watched the lovely “Small World Machine” video designed to bring closer together Pakistani and Indian youth. I cried then said to myself “that’s refreshing.” A different kind of refreshing.     

    With all the negativity in the world, all the cop/killing TV shows, movies about aliens eating cities, religious wars and hate mongering, it’s not hard to stick out with some positivity. Let’s not just fix problems with our strategies, let’s surround and celebrate the good.  And let’s teach the youth to do so as well. Check all your briefs at the door people. Peace.

    RIP Aunt Irma. The Poppe matriarch.

    We are not Tweakers, we are brand planners.

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    In a presentation I wrote while with JWT during its tenure on Microsoft I came upon an insight I called the “logged and tagged society.”  It was intended to be a business insight identifying how employees at larger companies are somewhat interchangeable – with knowledge workers being replaced by armies of freelance soldiers with log-ons and access to tagged assets, information and data. But that was then…a couple of years ago.  It’s still true but logged and tagged now is also extends to consumer life.

    Facebook yesterday launched a new search tool called Search Graph which does more than count likes, it attempts to get one to personal proclivities faster.  I tried to read the story but got a little tangled and bored and twitched away. That said, it is Facebook’s way of trying to improve search results keeping people on “the book” and making more of da monies.   Using my logged and tagged lens, it’s their way of fighting through the tags and searchables.

    As the searchable words and tags grow in this exponentially data driven world (Can I read any more big data stories before breakfast???), search will continue to become less accurate and in need of improvement.  And as communications agents continue to spread the pop marketing fallacy that consumers own brands, this environment will create greater demand for brand planners. Brand planning is about returning control to marketing…not algorithm tweaking.

    Peace!