Brand Strategy

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I am loath to admit it, but What’s The Idea? is a small batch brand strategy consultancy.  The market has been conditioned to think a large corporate brand strategy has to cost $100,000; add another $150k for naming and logo design. Most of my clients don’t have that kind of money. My clients tend to be small and mid-size or start-ups.

My framework for brand strategy – one claim, three proof planks – is tight and enduring.  But for some larger businesses, helmed by multivariate MBAs, it may seem overly simplistic.  And inexpensive. Simplicity is its beauty, frankly.

In small batches, with only 40 or 80 hours invested in research and planning, the process has to be relatively simple.  The information gathering metaphor I use is the stock pot. My cognitive approach, the “boil down.”  When you work in small batches, you self-limit your ingredients. You know what not to heap into the pot.

I’ve done small batch brand strategy for crazy-complicated business lines. A global top 5 consulting company with a health and security practice and a preeminent hacker group who helps the government keep us safe. Small batches both.

Try the small batch approach. As Ben Benson used to say, you are going to like it.

Peace.  

 

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I’m going out on a limb here to say the majority of marketing buildables, e.g., ads, websites, PR plans, research studies, and content marketing are created sans a brand brief.

The tendency for agencies to work off a brand brief is much greater than for one-off contractors, but even they tend to use a campaign briefs or tactical briefs.  Whose fault is this? Clients. It’s the client who provides the input…and the approvals. It’s the client who needs to have an organizing principle for product, experience and messaging (aka brand strategy). It is the client who needs to codify it and make it sharable.  

Smart ad agents/contractors ask clients “Do you have a brand brief?,” but know the answer is “no.”  Every company has a website. How many of those writers and coders worked from a brand brief? Every company has an ad. Same question. Every marketer will tell you they have a brand. 95% of those people can’t articulate that brand in a clear, concise way. They don’t have a brief.

Peace.

 

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I was reading a story this morning about ResearchGate a social media community for researchers. It’s a place where they can get together online to share ideas, sources and projects – the end game of which is to accelerate project completion. If Facebook is the 800 lb. gorilla, social media plats (short for platforms) are smaller more discrete communities where people can commune and learn. Edmodo is one such for educators. Houzz is one for home remodelers.  And Etsy for people selling their home made crafts.

These category-specific social media plats bring the world’s resources to our fingertips. I remember talking and thinking about this while in a strategic role at (start-up) Zude in 2006.  Then, a few years later, while working for JWT on a “future of work” project for client Microsoft, the topic came up again under the guise of something I named the “logged and tagged workforce”  — an idea where was the project was more important than the workers.

The web opens up worlds of information and data to everyone. Google’s ability to search this information has transformed our lives. But as search matures and we pull back in search of better ways to get stuff done, I’m realizing how random and mis-organized is the Google sphere. Smaller learning and sharing communities are the future. And they won’t be free either.

More to come, once I dump the cache.

Peace.

 

 

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There are a number of brand strategy consultants out there I hold in high regard. They totally get insights and market conditions, are quick studies in business categories, have keen understanding of meaningful metrics, and possess indefatigable bullshit barometers. Sadly, I’m seeing a trend among this crew where they are reinventing and repositioning themselves away from pure brand work into other aligned areas. Customer experience. Team optimization. Digital transformation. Culture plotting.

Why is this?

Well, that’s what the market sparks to. Most marketers and business owners don’t think they need a brand strategy. They want measurable results on sales. Higher top line and lower bottom lines.  What they don’t understand is that those things are directly tied – or can be tied – to a smart brand strategy. When you define brand strategy as “an organizing principle for product, experience and messaging” you begin to understand how brand strategy can impact bottom lines. And top lines.

Tomorrow I’ll share some business metrics side-by-side with brand metrics. I encourage you to tell me which are more actionable.

Peace.

 

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Meryl Streep closed her Golden Globe acceptance speech with “Take your broken heart, turn it into art,” a borrow from Carrie Fisher. As I dried my tears after watching Ms. Streep I thought about my craft and how important feelings are in brand strategy.  When writing a brand brief, I tend to go long form. Creatives say they don’t like this, but it’s how I work. As I work through it, if my brief is flaccid and too business heavy it goes in the trash.  I know when a brief is working because I start to feel something.  

There’s an old advertising axiom, “Make them feel something then do something.”  It works in strategy too.

Like all good writing a good brief evokes a response. When my blood pressure changes, when I go flush, giggle or smile, I know I’m onto something. In a zone. More importantly, I know my clients and content creators will feel it.

Meryl Streep is more than a great actor she a wonderful evoker.  Brand strategy is meant to package or direct how consumers evoke. Those who purchase while feeling are much more apt to remain loyal.

You feel me?                                                                

Peace.

 

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Many years ago I learned a trick about advertising from Brendan Ryan, president of FCB/Leber Katz, in NYC. One day he asked the AT&T Network Systems account team to paper the walls with the current campaign. The headline for each as we “Are You Ready.” Network Systems sold the 5E switches to phone companies that powered American communications. So paper the walls we did.

Mr. Ryan walked around the plush conference room reading sub-heads, looking at visual and dashing through copy here and there. He pointed to campaign outliers and confirmed what he thought to be the idea. Neat trick. Neat way to level-set the idea.

Fast forward 25 years to an era when communications manifest across more channels than we ever perceived, some with control, many with none. If you were to paper the walls with the myriad comms we generate today, you’d have a messy, messy room. A walk around that room  would remind you why an “organizing principle for product, experience and messaging” is critical. Otherwise known as a brand strategy.

So me droogies, paper your walls with your internal and external comms and see what-ith you spew-ith into the consumer realm.

Peace.

 

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In a piece of 2014 research conducted by the Economist Intelligence Unit on the subject of customer experience, the top box response to the question below was about message uniformity.

I know to the hammer everything looks like a nail and to the brand planner everything marketing thing looks like brand strategy, but this one made my day. Brand strategy, defined here at  What’s The Idea? as “An organizing principle for product, experience and messaging,” is the key to message uniformity. Sure “voice,” “tone” and “personality” are important (ish) but the substance of the message is how one builds brands.

Find your claim. Identify your three proof planks, make sure they are key care-abouts and brand good-ats, and you have a strategy.

Stick to it and it will stick to your customers. And prospects.  

Happy holidays to all. Peace.

 

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Just finished reading a story in The New York Times about the Robin Hood restaurant chain in Spain run by Father Angel Garcia Rodriquez, who operates a pay-for establishment during breakfast and dinner only to serve the homeless for dinner. The dinner crowd is served by waiters and waitresses, on real plates, using nice cutlery, not plastic. For free. In addition to the charity, his wish is that the experience will engender hope in his nightly diners. This planned act of kindness is popular and successful and may be on its way to Miami, Florida.

Acts of kindness and selflessness create powerful feelings for all involved. Selling is not a human trait. Charity is. Every brand should ask itself “What is the nicest thing we have done for customers this year?” If the answer is a one-day-sale or a pre-printed holiday card the brand needs to reexamine its approach.

Planned acts of kindness should be requisite for all brands. The financial officers may not always see the value, but they’re not building brands. They are building bank accounts.

Peace.

 

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wendys_mascot_logo“Quality is our recipe” is the new tagline for fats food chain Wendy’s. It adorns all the stores. Quality is an industrial word. It’s not a food word. If you go to a Lidia Bastianich or Eric Ripert restaurant you’re not going to savor a meal and talk quality.

The key to branding is finding the right “claim” and proving it every day. I use three proof planks to support the claim. Three provides focus. Were I to parse the quality claim for Wendy’s I might select “ripeness” for vegetables, “natural” for ingredients, e.g., less additives, few GMOs, real sugar, and “immaculate facilities.” I’m just riffing here but you might actually build a nice story with this strategy. The problem, however, is the word quality. A far as claims go, it’s in the neighborhood, but a Norwegian neighborhood.  Quick, name a tasty Norwegian food.

Brand strategy claims need poetry. Humanity. They need aspiration and emotion. Wendy’s can do better. This is a company that has always been ad campaign driven, not brand strategy driven.      

Peace.           

 

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Know More How.

I’m always on the lookout for arguments supporting brand strategy. A brand strategy, as I define it, being an “organizing principle for product, experience and messaging.”

Many marketing plans have firm business and sales objectives: increase stock price 4 points, slow market share by 1% per annum, reduce materials cost by 2%, increase sales 150%. These are important, hard metrics. Metrics with which no one can argue.

Accomplishing objectives is the purview of strategy. In marketing this is where things get problematic. Many marketers go to the marketing playbook. If there was a tactics store (An agency? A consultant?), they would shop there — given the money. Typical strategies one might find in a tactical plan are: customer acquisition, increased sales-per-customer, improved retention, increased efficiency in production or marketing. All are business imperatives. Sadly, they’re generic. Everybody has them in their marketing plans.

Where the road curves toward the light is with brand strategy. Brand strategy (one claim, three proof planks) provides the “how.”  Patton’s strategy was “kill more bastards than your foe.” Generic. But his brand strategy equivalent included things like “outflank, tank destroyers, thrust line, etc.”  Specific to the situation. And all actionable. 

I’m not going to go all Sun Tzu on you but will ask “What elements of your strategy are unique to you, differentiated, and non-generic?  What elements can every employee understand and personally act-upon? These are the elements of the brand strategy — the how. Know more how.    

Peace.

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