Brand Planning

    A moment of reflection…about selling.


    One of the cool things about being a brand planner, probably not unlike being a psychotherapist, is being a student of man. Though I am not looking for maladaptive behaviors as does the psychotherapist I am looking for behaviors. All types. By doing so, I’m always learning. When on the clock, I’m learning about behaviors contributory to commerce in a specific business category, but when off the clock, I’m learning about human nature. Always learning.

    I’ve been a painter, a waiter, and ad guy and a couple two tree (sic) other things, but brand planner and constant learner has to be the best. And when you can share what you’ve learned to help people, it’s among the best feelings on earth. The fact that brand planners help sell things shouldn’t minimize the job. When working on a elemental nutrition formula for infants with eating allergies and observing “a mother is never more protective than of an infant in distress,” the goal was helping, not selling. In my presentation “Social media guard rails,” one of the first slides is about this point. Help, don’t sell.

    The best brand plans help; the result is selling. Words to plan by. Peace.



    Noise cancelling.


    noise cancelling headphonesWhen I was a stupid kid, I had a nice office on the 14th floor overlooking Park Avenue South in NYC.  Today, I know $200,000 a year executives who work in cubes on Lex and 47th. Ten feet from their admins.  I know kids tell you they can listen to music and do their math homework, but sometimes work just needs to be quiet. Quiet outbound and quiet inbound.  That’s why God, Allah, Krishna or whomever invented noise cancelling headphones. A new way of doing business. A new solution.

    We must continue to adapt, as we have with the cube vs. real estate cost scenario, though one thing is for certain: noise will never leave us. It’s a constant.  Many marketing bloggers, digital execs and analytic software salespeople love to talk about noise.  Me too.  Brand planning is a noise canceller. It provides the harmony a consumer hears that is memorable.  Like a good hook in a song, the selling ideas in a brand plan are ordered, complete, fulfilling and replicable.

    Hey marketers, hey c-levels, ask yourselves “What idea do you have that cuts through the noise?” Unless you have a good brand idea and brand plan, you are the noise.  Hee hee. Peace.

    Brand Planning and the Natural Order.


    For the first time in over a century the Elwha River in Washington state is running free.  Dammed up for reasons that made sense a long time ago, the gub-ment has decided to tear down those mud walls. And the salmon and others, with mud in their eyes, are starting to reclaim the river that made them flourish. So we found a work around for the original function of the dams and are making ecological and planetary progress by letting the natural order reestablish itself.  In a few years, when we screw up, we’ll simply “stick a few stem cells on it” and all will be right – that’s not a good future.   

    Why talk about the Elwha? Because good brand planning is a bit like understanding the natural order.  If a planner truly gets the organic flow of a product and service, then s/he havs a great foundation.  Many planners, marketers, ad agency campaign makers don’t get that flow, they just get the flow of money. They manage the flow of money and mortgage the brand. This approach builds dams. And culverts.  I believed Steve Jobs when he said he wants to market things consumers will need. You can buy the market, but that’s despotism and doesn’t create good brand will. Create product consumers will need, by understating the flow.

    Brand planners need to get the natural order of their category and product before they attempt to benefit. Peace!


    The Most Powerful Word in Brand Planning.


    If allowed only one question with a consumer during a brand planning interview I would use that question to delve into “pride.”  In my years doing strategic work I’ve found it to be the most personal of questions. And the answers are always pregnant…and telling.

    Planners can dig into anger, happiness, product usage stories, displeasure with competitive offerings, and a cocktail of other consumer probes – all of which are valuable, but pride, be it individual, societal or cultural often cuts to the chase.

    If doing strategic planning for a business, marketing probes typically end up in the land of margins and revenue and sales, but asked about pride and the color of the answers change. Pride is soul stuff.  Pride gets you into emotional territory.  Though it can be touchy,  a little personal and may require careful handling, it is very fertile ground and almost always provides powerful brand insights.

    Now go forth lions and find your pride. Peace.


    My Brand Strategy Secret.


    Clients pay me for two deliverables: brand strategy and marketing plans. I can’t do the latter without the former. It’s possible to pretend, even hide the brand strategy component, but without strategy the marketing planning is a little bit like paint-by-numbers.

    gem miningSo how do I approach brand strategy development?  I look for proof. How does a guy walk into a company and in a matter of days or week know a brand well enough to create a strategy that will operationalize marketing success? Proof. A hunt for proof.

    Proof of what, you ask? Ahhh, that’s the $64,000 question. At the beginning, it’s way too early to tell. Each brand presents a clean slate. As I trek through fact-finding, data, sales, consumer and business partner interviews, I come across lots and lots of claim-ish fluff. But when tangible proof rises up, it is easily noted. Proof may be found in behavior. In deeds, business decisions, investments. Product taste. Product experience. It’s everywhere. With enough proof arrayed and smartly clustered, the brand planner can begin to formulate the brand claim and key support planks. And that is the secret sauce of What’s The Idea?. Proof hunting.

    Rest in peace David Carr.      


    Observe, Intuit, Package.


    The work of ad agency David and Goliath speaks to me.  I may not always be in the market for what they’re selling and may not always be the target, but I do know people and these guys and girls can package a message.  David Measer is a head planner at DnG and not long ago I offered him a “free day of planning,” something reserved for friends and family. He said “we are so immersive in our planning work, we don’t believe one day can really generate anything of value.”  And he’s right.  As it relates to the end idea. (But a day can generate some crazy good crumbs.)

    I was reading today about a volunteer park clean up in Brooklyn which brought to mind my archaeology days and how it helped me become a better planner. Archaeologists uncover stuff from the dirt. They plot it, ponder it, and may actually have to wait until winter in the lab to understand it – if they ever do. It’s a slow and thoughtful process, though it does offer some exciting immediate rewards.  Brand planners operate in the same exploratory sphere but with truncated timeframes. We observe and intuit purchase behavior — then package it for creative teams. We don’t have the benefit of waiting for winter or have a long mental gestation period.

    Brand planners need to be able to observe brilliantly. To see and hear only the important. Then they need to intuit the meaning, which requires context and experience. Lastly, it all has to be packaged for an art, copy and design team. In a way that inspires them to “focused” stimulating greatness. Observe. Intuit. Package. David and Goliath subscribes. Watch them grow. Peace.

    Brand Planner’s Create Awe.


    I once volunteered at the Fort Michilimackinac archeological excavation at  at the “tip of the mitt” in Michigan. (Not that Mitt.) For a week I sat on my heels and removed soil with a mason’s trowel and paint brush, centimeter by centimeter, marking the depth from a line tacked above each pit. I found a hand-made straight pin, the type you throw away when opening a new shirt — the “find” highlight of my week.

    Most co-workers were locals and I remember leaving Michigan feeling I knew a lot more about the local community – certainly its history – than those who live there. All from digging in the dirt.  Sometimes we live places and don’t get it place in history, save for a few stories taught in school and a landmark sign or two. “Marconi broadcast the first radio signal from this lot.”

    Brand planning is a lot like archeology: digging, uncovering, cleaning (archeologists have this tendency to lick their finds to remove dirt) and analyzing. Putting finds into context, then patterns and finally doing something smart with their work.  That’s what brand planners do. Both endeavors require taking what may seem mundane or prosaic and displaying it in ways that create awe, or near awe. If you are a market strategist and your selling insights do not move you,  then you are not a brand planner you’re a researcher.  (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.) Peace!

    Don’t Market To The Middle.


    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.



    Selling Education and Futures.


    There are few things harder to sell than education.  I’ve done some brand planning for universities and the academicians who approve the work are often not equipped for the job. The budgets are also low so good agencies are rarely around and in many cases students, professors and recent grads in-house are at the controls.  Brand strategy is non-existent and everyone promises the same thing: a good life after graduation. The end benefit.  The how to that end benefit is also pretty much the same: great faculty, personal teaching environment, great courses, flah, flah, flah.

    It’s ironic that college and university advertising is so poor because often the experience is one of life’s most powerful. That 4 years has the ability to create a loyalty few jobs can.  Who sleeps in their Met Life tee-shirt 20 years after working there? Two husbands later.

    As we slide out of the difficult economy with new elections upon us and technology flattening the world, the moment is nigh for some serious focus on education.  There are lots of trivial bits flying across the web these days, but only a small percentage are focusing on education. We are already using web tutorials to help us clean bathroom pipes and shower grout, why not improve our SAT scores.  Perhaps things are changing. This morning I noted on Skype an organic chemistry teacher available for $40 an hour (first hour free) and high school math assistance at $.25 a minute. (Do the math.)  

    Web-enabled academia is not the haps yet – not like geolocating your friends at Mary Carrol’s – but it’s coming. And along with that, in time, will come improvements in the branding of higher education institutions.  These times are exciting. Stay tuned. Peace!

    When a food writer can’t taste.


    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.