Brand Planning

    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!

    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.