Brand Strategy

    Aol. Off to the Races.

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    Aol’s purchase of TechCrunch, the world’s most authoritative tech blog, is mad proof of its brand strategy to be the web’s content leader. Tim Armstrong, Aol’s chief, gets strategy. Claim: Be the content leader.  Proof: Ellen DeGeneres, TechCruch, local news with Patch. Using a TV metaphor, Mr. Armstrong is trying to create a lineup of talent not dissimilar to NBC’s “must see TV” on Thursday night in the 90s (or whenever that was). Buy and built the best visited sites on the web. 

    The Web is nothing if it is not content.  TechCruch rocks its category not because Michael Arrington is a star, but because he is focused, a great journalist, and attracts stories like white on rice…before brown rice became popular. Aol and its similarly strategied competitor Yahoo realize the ad-supported model is viable, so it is looking to cherry pick the best talent on the web in every category and corral it. Hopefully, it will keep its hands off, as if has suggested, and let TechCrunch be TechCrunch.   

    Patch.com

    Patch.com – Aol’s localization play – is a neat idea but I’m not sure it fits this model.  A local reporter from Bumpus Mills, TN may not raise the editorial or content bar but we’ll see. Aol is off to the races – and finally it has a race track.  Yahoo? Not so much. Peace!

    Chase What Brand Strategy.?.

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    Question: What is a brand strategy? 

    Answer: A brand strategy comprises a strategic idea or claim and three support planks that vivify the claim.  Three planks, because two don’t always allow for a complete, differentiated story. Getting the idea right is key. Selling it to consumers day after day is the heavy lifting…called brand management.

    Chase What Matters.

    JPMorgan Chase has a very identifiable idea: “Chase what matters.”  It’s a consumer directive from a very big company that knows how to make, save and invest money. Something they already get credit for.  The idea has ballast, but so far it is only an idea. Banks have been making promises without backing them up for decades. I’m not getting a read on the Chase support planks yet – the planks that allow me to believe Chase “knows what matters” to me and that they are the bank best equipped to deliver.   

    One of Chase’s neater tactical ideas lately is the “Chase Loan For Hire” program, through which it decreases small business loans by a quarter point for every new employee hired, up to three. Though I have no idea what Chase’s planks are, forensically, I might assume this tactic supports a plank titled “Meaningful borrowing matters.”  I’m not talking buy a hot tub meaningful, I’m talking something that relates to what popular culture views as meaningful. Today that’s jobs.  Nice touch.

    Banking is a tough category. In my bones I feel Chase has an idea, but the jury is still out on the organization of the proof.  I’ll continue to map its planks as they become evident and share them here at What’s The Idea? Peace!

    Under Armour. I wick. I mean, I will.

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    I love Under Armour.  I do. It’s an amazing, important brand. If the company didn’t invent compression shorts, it certainly gets credit for it.  The story is great, the product meaningful, and the company with its Baltimore provenance has people rooting for it.  Sports apparel is a category alone in its ability to push through the recession and Under Armour is leading that growth. Under Armour owns the “hard body.” But image-wise, it’s operating in a competitive field with players spending a lot more money.  Gatorade and Nike were first to hard body. Though all three focus on the flesh, sinew and sweat, Under Armour focus should be on the packaging (of that body).

    Women’s Sports Apparel

    Now Under Armour is amping up it targeting of women, who account for only 25% of sales. It is doing so by extending with the “I will” and “Protect this House I will” brand idea.  Don’t get me wrong, the imagery and music is rousing and I love Lindsey Vonn, but the brand idea is not tight enough to slap a pair of balls on some women’s training footage and make a lasting Under Armour product statement. Were I women watching the spots, I’d be inclined to go out and buy some Gatorade.

    Under Amour’s Focus

    Under Armour also brand extended into sneakers, cleats and sunglasses — a couple of moves which have hurt serious brand development. There is an amazing, ownable brand idea waiting for Under Armour to claim.  It has made to order brand planks, all of which can be mapped to its DNA…and it is unique to the category. Write me for the idea, if you haven’t figured it out already. Peace.

    Newsday Strategy.

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    Over a decade ago, I wrote a creative brief for Newsday, a large metropolitan newspaper covering Long Island and Queens New York, using the insight “We know where you live.”   Newsday liked the notion but didn’t completely get the insight. They reframed it and turned the words into their tagline of many years “Newsday. It’s where you live.” 

    “We Know Where You Live” was meant to provide residents of Long Island  — a diverse, but captive audience – with a reason to buy the paper in addition to The New York Times…and in place of The New York Post and The NY Daily News. Many of LI’s hundred thousand plus train commuters buy these other 3 papers every day for world news and sports and “We Know Where You Live” was intended to make them feel a bit out of touch with their local community news and home lives. (Sneaky, but true.)  It was also a means to create greater loyalty among current readers.   

    This brand idea, if properly acculturated throughout Newsday, would have made every employee hypersensitive to providing an editorial experience that only a LI-based paper could deliver.  

    Fast forward to 2010 and the underperforming Newsday.com.  “We Know Where You Live”, though long gone, is still a powerful rallying cry for building online readership and participation.  The owners, architects and builders of the website, should be brainstorming how to deliver that experience. Instead, I submit, they are probably in brainstorming meetings chasing the latest social media twist, the next community promotion and the October program intended to build time on site. These are tactics, not strategy.  “How” is tactical. “Why” is strategic.  Newsday and Newsday.com need to revisit their brand strategy.  And let those 34 new reporters they’re hiring in on it. Peace!

    Lee, Mike, Arnold and Amber.

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    It was reported by Stuart Elliott in today’s New York Times that Lee Jeans is using Mike Rowe as its spokesperson.  Mike Rowe, the guy from the Ford commercials, is the star of America’s Dirtiest Jobs (or whatever it’s called).  His fame comes not from the show, which probably does a 2.2 rating on Cable, but from walking around Ford showrooms and using his sing-songy manly voice. 

     The fact that Mr. Rowe is the news of the Lee Jean advertising story shows how shallow the strategic idea really is. Moreover, Lee has 3 agencies carving up the work: Arnold Worldwide, GroupM (for media), and Barkley of Kansas City for PR and didge. The total budget is about $10M and you know a chuck of that goes to Mr. Rowe. 

    So let’s recap. National challenger brand. No identifiable, differentiated brand strategy (comfort a man would love?). A spokesperson famous for selling cars. A limited “jump ball” budget shared by 3 partners.  And a product with little to talk about. About right?

    The Fix.

    Arnold is actually a good shop with breadth.  Lee should go all Joel Ewanick on itself and give them the entire business.  Then turn Amber Finlay loose, Arnold’s new head of digital strategy. I bet she could multiply the dollars.  Lee needs a little brand spanking and, if allowed, Arnold is the kind of shop that can do it. Was there a buy-out clause in Mr. Rowe’s contract?  Peace!

    Aol Needs Talent.

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    Tim Armstrong has a lot to do if he really wants to fix Aol, but he needs to start by hiring a chief talent officer. His executive suite — with all props and deference to those recently hired — has grown and become an enviable suite, but the big investment should be in Posters, original web content creators, not suits.  Creative people, writers, videographers, style queens, humorists, and the politically angry.  Aol must become more relevant to Teens, Tweens, Millenniums, Gen This & That, Boomers…and it has to start this quarter.

    Don’t Wait.

    Start the content strategy today. Hire Ochocinco. Hire Robert Scoble. Hire Kandee Johnson. Fab Five Freddy. Melting Mama. People with content game. Hire punk rockers before they’re famous. People burning with a point of view. People on their way up. A great talent officer will help today, but more importantly, will allow Aol to ride the ascent of future talent before it becomes expensive. As George Steinbrenner did when building the world’s most famous sports franchise, invest every penny in the players. This is not a markobabble post about teamwork, this rant is about players. Talent. Content. The right Posters will give you the inspiration to reinvent what content is.  Don’t rely on an “innovation team” sitting in a San Diego corporate resort.

    With the right web talent, ad sales will come. Ding dong, money at the door.  Lined up around the block.

    Get you first piece of talent this week. Celebrate it and start to build Aol momentum.  Content is not an algorithm, it’s talented people expressing themselves through words, song, poesy and art. Peace it up!

    Proof In Advertising.

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    Advertising isn’t ineffective because it’s a dying medium, it’s ineffective because it’s ineffective. Good branding is about “Claim and Proof.” Advertising, an important, controllable means of branding, needs to follow the same “Claim and Proof” dictum.

    Toyota, a company playing defense peppered with catch-up promotions, ran an ad in The New York Times paper paper today – a perfect example of badvertising.  All claim, no proof. Here’s the copy:

    No matter who you are or what you drive, everyone deserves to be safe. Which is why the Star Safety SystemTM is standard on all our new vehicles – no matter what model or trim level.  It’s a combination of five advanced safety features that help keep you in control and out of harm’s way.  Toyota is the first full-line manufacturer to make the features of the Star Safety SystemTM standard on all vehicles.  Because at Toyota, we realizes nothing is more important to you than your safety.

    I forgot the headline and I only read it 10 seconds ago. The call to action, where one might actually find the proof, is prominently displayed below the copy — Toyota.com/safety. This ad is one expensive call to action and a lot less.  Fail!

    Who is at Fault?

    I’m not sure who is responsible for this $20,000 piece of “we’re here” advertising but everyone is to blame. The creative person who said “People don’t read long copy.” The strategist who approved it, the client who agreed and paid for it. Frankly, The New York Times should be ashamed. Isn’t someone over there watching this stuff?

    This business is easy: Find a great claim and support it with compelling proof. Compelling proof. Compelling proof. Compelling proof. Peace!

    R/GA Creating the Law?

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    R/GA is a bold leader in the digital marketing area. As all advertising and marketing shops move toward the middle — toward the strategy — only one digital shop aspires to be the agency of record: R/GA. Most digital shops rue the fact that they don’t get a seat at the big table, R/GA wants the table.  And they make quite a case.  Their entrée is the “platform.”  

    In a video by Nick Law, R/GA’s chief creative officer (thankfully, he’s not goofily titled), he says advertising needs to move “from metaphors that romance a brand to seductive demonstrations of a brand platform.”  Agreed. Were he to have substituted the word “strategy” we’d be in perfect agreement.  The word platform, you see, is a euphemism for website (and other digital stuff residing on the website). Brand strategy is hard to put a price tag on and websites and digital assets are easy estimate. 

    Mr. Law is correct campaigns come and go. He’s right that tactics need to feed the brand strategy. He’s right that utility and community are the source of sales growth and retention. And he’s certainly not being disingenuous in suggesting that something needs to hold and tie all the brand building work together. So I’m going to cut him some slack and not argue the noun platform and favor a more verb-like version of the word. 

    In the video Mr. Law refers to one of R/GA’s most famous successes Nike+.  “Nike+ is a platform fueled by campaigns” he says.  Nike+ was first a product and it’s growing into a branded utility. Is it growing into a platform? You tell me. 

    These guys are the real deal. And as good marketers they are trying to create a new language for the marketing world.  As I said, bold.  

    Business Strategy Vs. Brand Strategy.

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    On prompt, many company executive will tell you their business strategy is “Make more money.”  Some invest to make more money others reduce the cost of goods. There are many ways to invest or cost-cut: alter the product, play with pricing, change distribution, promote in a new way.  All are business decisions. 

    Ask that same company executive what their brand strategy is, though, and you may get a quizzical look. Or the quick parry “To provide customers with the best product, at the best price, with uncompromising service.” But that’s not a brand strategy, that’s the brand marketing equivalent of pasteurized cheese.

    A brand strategy is created at a product’s molecular level.  It is inherently product-based.  A brand strategy grows from the product then gives back over time. And I’m not just talking “deposits in the brand bank,” I’m talking about informing product innovation, brand extension, expansion, even M&A activity.

    A brand strategy is deeply rooted in the consumer — the consumer’s environment (physical and emotional) and needs (known and subconscious). Brand strategy is about growth and growth doesn’t happen without nourishment, environment and caring.

    A brand strategy is a living thing. Not a business thing.  

    Business strategies are logical. They are easy to articulate.  Brand strategies are psychophysiological.  They are harder to articulate but have a pulse.  And when right — they quicken the pulse.  Peace!