Brand Planning

    Facebook and Google Hit the Highway.


    Steve Rubel is a “beyond the dashboard” digital commentator.  That’s what I love about him. He doesn’t spend his day looking through the rearview mirror, he looks ahead.  Check out this Paste from his stream today:

     “I believe business web sites will become less important over time. They will be primarily transactional and/or for utility. Brands will shift more of their dollars and resources to creating robust presence where people already are and figure out how to activate employees en masse in a way that builds relationships and drives traffic back to their sites to complete transactions. Media companies will do the same – they will be “headless.”  Google and search will remain important for years to come. However, what we’re seeing is the beginning of big changes where social networking and Facebook will further disrupt advertising, media, one-to-one and one-to-many communications, not to mention search.”

    Beyond the Dasboard

    I like to look forward too — beyond the car dashboard as the metaphor goes.  And a car metaphor is appropriate when talking about Facebook, Google and social media.  Content is still king in my book. Mr  Rubel’s very believable notion that corporate websites will diminish in importance, save for transactions, is accurate. Today.  But I see Facebook, right now, as the highway.  The road that takes you somewhere.  It’s a highway filled with signs, and people and so much traffic that you can learn lots by being there, yet it’s still just a highway. Corporate websites are losing relevance because they have no pulse. They tend to be static. The action, the pulse, is on the highway. Google is the map and the directory and it’s fighting with the signs and the traffic.  (Check out Mr. Rubel’s post for some comparative traffic numbers showing Facebook overtaking Google by some measures.) 

    Content Still King

    As we settle down and as companies being to truly invest in bringing their brands and value proposition to life through their web presences, corporate websites will come back in importance.  All this talk about the conversation is great. But at some point the conversation has to stop so commerce can start. Corporate marketers will learn this soon enough.  That’s the future Yo.

    GE’s New Health Campaign(s)


    Happy Friday youze all…as we like to say in NY. It’s beautiful outside with everything blanketed in pristine snow. A fitting beginning for the Winter Olympics. Tonight, on the Olympics the new GE Healthymagination campaign breaks.  Knowing it’s from BBDO, I’m sure it will be heartfelt and striking…in its pieces.  It will also be a time for G.E. to try and flex some integration muscle.

    I’ve seen two print ads already and they are pretty but plainly messaged. Having read about the campaign in the New York Times today and piecing together bits and quotes, I’m going out on a limb here and gonna say “What’s the Idea?

    What’s the Idea?

    Here’s what we can expect: GE wants to humanize the technology, so no pictures of machines. GE wants to make doctors the heroes.  Doc’s are very influential in technology purchases, especially when it comes to those $80,000 procedures. Innovation will be in much of the new campaign; it’s a corporate keystone. Imaging technology will be front and center, as it should be; people understand medical imaging and how it helps them. Consumers will participate because “health spreads contagiously” so expect the people to be posting on Twitter and Faceboook. “Healthymagination is saving billions in healthcare costs.” There will be How-Tos on Howcast, iPhone apps, and, and, and.  Lots of ideas, lots of agencies (Big Spaceship has a chunk), lots of content contributors, yet I haven’t heard a powerful brand idea with muscle memory. Healthymagination is a word, not an idea.  After seeing the body of work I’ll weigh in again. Peace!

    An important brand planning question.


    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.       

    Marketers as actors.


    Acting is an interesting thing.  Big name actors who don’t have the luxury of being able to hang with “regular people” often have to study them, so they can get into character.  When in character, these actors become the regular people they mimic.  The more regular, the greater likelihood of acting awards. 

    Have you ever seen a friend, acquaintance or family member act in a movie or on TV?  They come across as stilted, odd and, well, like high school actors.  Clearly, they are just not being themselves.  To the rest of the world they may be doing a fine job, but because you know them – they’re acting.

    Marketers and their agents, when creating advertising, are like actors.  They create meta worlds for selling. Even when they are doing case studies or live consumer capture testimonials.  Ad agencies are good at telling stories, making people smile and warming a heart or two, but consumers know it is still a form of acting.  That’s why year after year, “word of mouth” and “advice from a friend” win out in terms of product influence.

    Brand planners attempt to take acting out of the equation. We try to get to the real. The truth.  The closer the story teller gets to real, and away from acting, they closer the consumer can get to brand promise.  Keep it real, me friendlies!  Peace.

    Doing Good’s Work.


    Doing good’s work is the brand idea I wrote not too long ago for a not-for-profit called Bailey’s Café, in Bedford Stuyvesant, Brooklyn.  A noble, noble women by the name of Stefanie Siegel allowed me to participate and attempt to organize her brand. Check out the site. Jay Leno, is a fan.

    For about 7 months, I’ve been working at a for-profit in the education space.  The goal of that company and brand, not dissimilar from the goals of all educational companies, is to improve student achievement. Again, noble, noble work.

    For 5 years I did strategic planning and marketing in healthcare, the objective of which was to convey a systematized approach to improving patient outcomes in the communities it served. Noble.   Today I read about how HCA hospital corporation’s profitability is spawning purchases of a number of other hospitals across the country by private equity firms, hoping to cash in on certain margins that can be squeezedand others that can be expanded.  

    Somewhere between selflessness and profit is where America ethos lies. Brands that see this, be they for-profit or not, are the brands that win.  They are also the brands I would like to plan for. Even Doctors Without Borders needs someone with a sharp pencil watching over them. Let’s all try to do good’s work. Peace!

    Best Definition of Branding.


    Were I to guess, I’d say 90% of people who use the word “branding” misuse it.  Designers use it to define packaging. Art directors to describe “look and feel.”  For P&G brand managers it’s a reference to budget size. Direct marketers think it means synergy with general advertising. Copywriters don’t really know what it means. The digiterati try not to use it. And agency principals think it is whatever makes the bank deposits flow. 

    Noah Brier while a head strategist at the Barbarian Group once asked me “There are lots of definitions of brand plan, what is yours?” That’s a question every marketer who hires an agency should ask. There would be a lot of Rick Perry answers, me thinks.

    Branding is an organizing principle. Locked onto the right organizing principle one can build a brand with ease and sharp measurement. Brand strategy as an organizing principle can guides all the other strategies you will hear during the course of the marketing day: the product strategy, sales strategy, retail strategy, channel strategy, pricing strategy, media strategy, messaging strategy.  I could go on.  

    The organizing principle defines how a product is built, cared for, presented and nurtured. It’s one simple piece of paper that organizes the others. It organizes leadership, employees and the hard to manage consumer. 

    I always wanted to create an ad agency named Foster, Bias and Sales. It’s where the rubber meets the road in marketing. But without an organizing principle to guide these steps to a sale, you are simply a tactics jockey.   

    Poetry and Brand Planning.


    Most marketing strategists, especially those of the digital variety, are all about the science. Success and failure are things that can be quantified and measured.  Well ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, I’m here to tell you that science is the price of admission. Como se duh? The dashboard is important – especially that “sales” metric – but every marketing organization is better off if they have a handle on the softer side of selling. The tone and poetry of a brand.

    I was sharing coffee with a behavioral planner at BBDO a while ago, I believed he worked on Gillette, and he said something that really stayed with me.  It spoke to me planning brain (he was Irish). He said most planners don’t have a sense of poetry. And I agree. Wholeheartedly. They may appreciate poetry, they may even seek it out in their insights, but when it becomes paper time, time to make the brief, the words become rational and the emotions are simply reported. The brief must provide the poetry.  

    When science is the price of admission and poetry is the voice of brand reason, great things can happen. Because poetry is what moves creative people to greatness, not logic. Poetry is the fertile ground that makes writers and art directors (and yes, even coders) feel and spark and sing. And, oh yes, laugh out loud.

    So whoever you are, if you are looking at a brief (even your ouwn) ask yourself “Where is the poetry here?” The poetry that warms the brand. Peace!

    Watching people work.


    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.

    Brand Planners and Movie Directors.


    It is movie awards time again. The Golden Globes just finished up and got me thinking about roles and responsibilities. How can a director win, yet the movie or an actor not?  If it is so well directed, why isn’t the movie a winner?

    Since metaphors are a part of the brand planner’s tool kit, I asked myself to project the brand planner’s role in marketing, using the movie business as an analog.  Actors are the tacticians I guess, playing roles consumers experience. Set designers and costume people are production people and grips. The producers of the film are the marketing executives. Script writers deliver copy. That must leave brand planners as directors.

    You never see the director in the work, you just see the work. A movie director is in charge of flow, performance quality, story and emotional resonance. And certainly more. It may be the most important job in movie making, yet also the least appreciated. Me thinks that’s the case with brand planning. Behind the camera, behind the scenes. Movie first, product first. Works for me. Any better thoughts?