Brand Strategy

    Brand Identity…or Ornamentation?

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    Wikipedia defines a brand as an identity.  Many years ago, while excavating a late woodland Indian shell midden on Moshier Island for the University of Southern Maine, I came across a piece of deer rib bone I assumed was some type of weaving shuttle. (It wasn’t my day job.)  It had some notches on the bone which gave it a unique appearance and I wondered if they were ornamental or a personal identifier. 

    Outside branding nerds, many in marketing today don’t quite know the difference between identifier brands and ornamental brands.   What’s the Idea? builds and rebuilds identifier brands.  Only then do we allow them to be ornamented.  And that dress up, as beautiful as it may be, must add to the identification story.  Go into a room, turn off the lights and listen to the voices of your friends and family. You can identify them.  But if you feel their clothes, not so much.

    The big girls and boys know this.  Whenever an Interbrand, Landor or Wolff Olin starts a new  logo project they create a brief; one that sets the identity direction.  Recently for a commercial maintenance company I developed a strategy suggesting they were the  “Navy seals” of maintenance.  Preemptive, fast and fastidious.  When the art director went off to do logo designs, he had a directive. When the client reviewed designs, he knew “how to buy” and “what to approve.”  Of course some ornamentation got in the way and he wanted to be a “green” company and, and, and.  But the CEO ran his group with navy seal precision – it was the company. It was his identifier.   The mark and brand organizing principles where hard to debate.  This is how we do-oo it!.  Peace.

    Brand Planning Patterns and Breakage.

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    In brand planning there are two schools of thought: Find the strength and highlight it, or find the weakness and negate it.  At the root of this approach is optimism vs. pessimism.  This is where quantitative research can play a role – testing which approach will have the biggest business impact.  But few mid and small-sized companies are willing to spend that money.  Large companies will, but tend not to want to do major brand planning overhauls unless under attack. Pessimism, then, often wins out.

    Consumer Marketing

    Consumer marketers by nature are all about the positive. All about the user benefit and that’s a good thing. But if everyone, in every consumer category, is being positive: “be more productive,” “more individualized service,” “lower cost” then it’s hard to make an impression. 

    Business-to-business.

    In B2B selling for the last 10 years, sales people trek annually to Arizona to chant “Find the pain point.” Understanding a company’s pain seems the pop marketing way for a B2B salesperson to connect in a meaningful way.  And therein lies a marketing conundrum: consumer marketing labors around the positive while B2B favors the negative. Overstatements perhaps, but patterns. And brand planning is about patterns and breaking or disrupting them; in ways that serve all consumers — with actionable, scalable and repeatable ideas that sell.  Watch the patterns. Peace.

      Brand planning, patternsm pan points, b2b marketing, consumer marketing, whatstheidea, whats the idea,

    Best Buy Oops.

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    I say Best Buy, you say what?  “Lot’s or products.” (Good) “Low prices” (A core value.) “Twelpforce and Twitter.” (Oooh, sorry.)  That’s right.  Best Buy and CMO Barry Judge have been in the spotlight and awards show klieg lights for months due to its so-called leadership in social media.   Best Buy used to was (Southernism) all about being the best buy.  Well they took their eye off the brand prize, found technology, and have now lost market share in laptops, TVs and videogame software in the quarter just reported.

    I looove social media, but it’s not a brand strategy. It’s a media strategy and a marketing tactics. Had Mr. Judge focused more of his efforts on ways to provide a more competitively priced product than Walmart, Target and Amazon, the klieg lights would still be shining.

    Alas.  Peace!

    The Web’s Specialty.

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    There’s a cool story in today’s New York Times about single-food restaurants. It stands to reason that enterprises of this type can only thrive if the food is excellent and the stores located in highly populated areas.  In NYC you can take out and, in some cases, eat in at a Mac and Cheese store or a meatball store. There are places that sell only mussels, only rice pudding, and only fried chicken. It’s a growing phenomenon. Specialization suggests focus; a focus on quality, ingredients, product and knowledge.

    In mid-town Manhattan, where there are probably a half million lunches served within walking distance of any high-rise, there are lots of options. So why not go to the best option; the place that specializes? The place that eats, breathe and sleeps its specialty. Forget me not that this type of store can scale well and have a supply chain with amazingly fat margin opportunities. That’s gravy at the gravy store.

    This is a key chapter in the story of the Web — and where the web is going.

    I’ve written before about “worldwide pricing” and the ability to search the world for the best prices.  Well, how about searching the world for the best quality? The ability to do so is a web app. And specialization and focus are the tools of that trade.

    We are bound by product and service mediocrity because of geographic and time limitations. And because of supply and demand.  Well, say buh-bye to these barriers.  Ima stop there and let you entrepreneurs ponder that for a while. Ponder, Ponder.  Peace!

    Wendy’s. Kaplan Thaler. Unreal.

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    Branding is about owning a discrete idea in the minds of consumers.  Find the right idea — something you are good at and upon which you can deliver – then spend your money proving it.  

    A couple of years ago, Wendy’s, a top 3 fast food burger chain, gave its account to Kaplan Thaler Group. Kaplan Thaler does good ads, great music and creates muscle memory for its clients.  It won the Wendy’s business with a neat jingle and neat idea “You know when it’s real.”   The idea revolves around a commitment to use more natural ingredients.  No one doesn’t want more natural ingredients.  So it is a great idea in a category with pent up “bad nutrition” ideals.

    We can debate whether the last two year of advertising have delivered on the natural ingredients promise, but there is a $25 million campaign launching for Wendy’s new French fries that has gone off trail. The product uses natural-cut unpeeled Russet Burbank potatoes and sea salt. Presumably they are using a healthier quality of fry oil.  The advertising idea – and here is where the disconnect comes in — is about “taste and sharing.”  People like the taste so much they don’t want to share.  You know when it’s real?  When this work is copy-tested people will play back “the fries are so good you won’t want to share.”  FAIL.  (I’m sure the copy talks about real ingredients, but the idea is about taste and sharing.) This doesn’t put a deposit in the brand idea bank, it makes a withdrawal.  

    Money into the market will make sale blip up. It will be viewed as modest near-term success.  But by now, Kaplan should know how brand strategy works: Get them to sing the strategy, then burrow it into their heads.  Props to Wendy’s product people for the product idea. As for the marketing people shame, shame.  Peace!

    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!