Brand Strategy

    Binary Brand Strategy.

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    If you want to see a nice presentation on contemporary guardrails for strategy and brand planning (they are two different things, says the presentation), please click up Faris and Rosie Yakob’s video from this year’s 4A’s Stratfest, entitled the Gemini Agenda. There’s a lot to like here.

    One key point they make is binary is bad. Their argument? There is soulfulness and smarts in the grays laying between bland and white. Hard to disagree.

    But…the premise of What’s The Idea?, the premise of brand strategy as an organizing principle for product, experience and messaging, runs contrary.  That is, product modifications or developments, product experiences and the messaging supporting all are either on strategy or off. On or off is a binary orthodoxy.  Can a binary approach to brand strategy kill work? Yes. Must it? Not necessarily. Humans have antibodies for a reason. Brands can live and learn from off-piste activities. But they certainly shouldn’t be habit-forming.

    For my money and my clients’ money, brand strategy is binary. On or off.  It’s freeing. It inspires value-building creativity. And it is the fastest way to build brands. Brand strategy is a formulary…much as Coke is a formulary.

    Peace.

     

     

     

    Buzz Words in Marketing.

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    Marketers love buzz words. Here are a few ripped from the pages of today’s business journals: change management, design thinking, business development, disruption, innovation, and transformation programs.  Google these bitches and you will end up immersed in business-babble. Immersed in the writings of consultants, sales people, content jockeys and entrepreneurs.

    Here’s what I know. 

    These buzzwords are all tactics.  Innovation may feel like a strategy, but it isn’t until you actually have an innovation…a thing. Mostly these words are used to describe processes, promises of ways to make things better in the marketplace.  Can’t fault people for that. But as a brand strategist, whose job is also to make business better – to “sell more things to more people more times at higher process” (Sergio Zyman), I begin with a foundational brand strategy. One that governs and effects value and perceived value. With that in place, you can design think, change manage, develop business, disrupt, innovate and transform until your heart’s content. And do so in an organized way. With intent.

    Peace.

     

    Are You Strategic?

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    What does it mean to be more strategic?  Does it mean more analytical? Smarter? Does it mean you flail around less looking for a solution? Are you more successful when strategic?

    Once in my career at McCann-Erickson a supervisor told me I needed to be more strategic; it cut me to the bone.  But I wasn’t sure what to do to fix it. It was a swipe and advice sans solution.  I had to figure it out on my own. “Strategic” doesn’t come with a handbook.

    It’s hard to be strategic without a strategy. Then you have something to abide. Something to affect. With a strategy in place you can measure your efforts. As I sometime write, you can be binary in your efforts. Either “on” or “off.”

    The problem with branding, and therefore marketing, is that strategic people often don’t have a brand strategy. As a result they are strategic but with tactics. Or objectives. More money, more margin, more more. Unfortunately, they’re not building a brand. Not using “an organizing principle for product, experience and messaging.” With branding the ends trump the means.

    Peace.

     

     

    Branding and the better deal.

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    I read somewhere “people will naturally gravitate to a better deal.” Two Cheese Whoppers for the price of one is a better deal. Chevy Family Pricing is (probably) a better deal. $100 off a Deuter Backpack, better deal. 

    Thirty years ago, you had to promote a better deal in the newspaper, on TV, or at point of sale. Today, your network of friends and online cohorts can share a better deal in a nano. If you know where to look online better deals abound. But better deal viewed through a pricing lens is not the full story.  

    Brand strategy uses science to position products and services as a better deal, sans promotional pricing. Branding answers the “Why?” your product is a better deal than the competitor’s. The why used to be random and of the cultural moment; often something conjured up by ad agents.  Doritos are better than potato chips because they bounce around the room and hit people in the eye (from a Super Bowl spot years ago.) Yeah, no.

    Branding, the verb, uses a discreet organizing principle to convey positive associations based on endemic product values that preclude consumers from buying other people’s products. This doctor is better than that doctor. That four-wheel drive car is better than this. My beer is better than yours.

    People will gravitate to a better deal, if and when marketers help define what that better deal is – outside of price alone.

    Peace.

     

     

    Strategy Is The Cool.

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    When I was a kid in advertising someone suggested I take a copywriting course. Not always one in love with advice based on a criticism, I still took it to heart. After spending a couple of years with writers I decided that nothing would be cooler that to tell people I was a writer. Life didn’t work out that way. Today I’m a strategist.  A very cool title.

    In marketing you are either a strategist or a tactician. In marketing, tactics are what make the world turn. What makes the cash register ring. Tactics are the ballast of budgets.  Heroes are made through tactics. But strategy — strategy is the air tactics breathe. The water that feeds the cells. The protein for the amino acids.

    Strategy is the real cool.

    Peace.

     

    Brand Strategy for Complex Businesses.

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    I worked on an assignment recently where a tech company came back to me 3 years after having me develop their initial brand strategy. A strategy they loved.  It was for a complex business, which in three years’ time grew even more complicated. The service offerings got broader – and they entered into a white-hot new tech sector.  A sector with mixed reviews as to its viability, albeit one boasting tons of VC money.

    The CEO wondered if a reposition was in order. As someone who always tries to future-proof his brand strategies, I was a tad reluctant but willing to give it a try.

    Fast forward a few weeks, a couple of dozen interviews, some financials and a bevy of care-abouts and good-ats and the new brand strategy was complete. It changed. The brand claim evolved, broadening the scope of the business. It was a modest but significant change.  The proof planks stayed the same, though slightly nuanced.  

    The way to handle complex problems in branding is to render them not complex. Once you remove most complications, once you figure out the most important business and attitude drivers, you can lay down the track.

    Peace.        

     

    All Claim, No Proof.

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    Marketing communications is 80 claim and 20 percent proof. Read a print ad. Watch a TV commercial. Listen to a radio spot. The lion’s share of the communication tells consumers what the seller wants them to believe. If you just learned the claims by rote the marketer would be happy. The reason to believe the claims — or the logic — is often absent. Maybe a crumb here and there. Hence, consumers lack the ability to explain the claim. All claim, no proof.

    By some accounts North Shore University Hospital is the best hospital on Long Island, a large land mass next to NYC with 3.5 million residents.  Many believe the best hospital claim. Ask them why it’s the best and they are likely tongue-tied. Umm. Well. Because.

    Branding is about Claim and Proof. Find a claim consumers truly want and need. Then find proof of that claim and promote it every day.  If you do so in an organized way – with three proof planks – you will succeed faster.

    When Coors Light spends millions on TV advertising telling young adults it offers the coldest beer on the market (claim), how do they prove it? With a picture of the Rockies? It’s a Trumpian claim. It’s foolish and silly. But they still claim it.  

    Branding is about conviction. It’s about evidence.

    Get your paper strategy right and every arrow in the marketing quiver shoots toward the target.

    Peace.

     

    Obs and Strats

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    Everything we do in marketing has to support objectives and strategies (obs and strats).  Similarly, everything we do in the brand building needs to support brand strategy. A well-designed brand strategy (one claim, 3 proof planks) is inexorably linked to obs and strats; therefore brand strategy is measurable.

    So how does one measure brand strategy?

    The easy answer is to conduct periodic quantitative studies of attitudes and then marry that attitude data against key performance indicators, such as sales, transactions, utilization — things that generate revenue.

    Unlike ROI which maps, say, an ad spent to income generated, Return On Strategy (ROS) measures attitude swings against revenue.  That’s why brand claim and the proof planks must be embedded in obs and strats.

    Tink about it as my Norwegian aunt used to say.

    Peace.

     

    Never Too Small To Have A Brand Strategy.

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    Small companies are the least likely to talk about brand strategy.  That’s because, for the most part, they don’t have people “dedicated” to marketing. They can’t afford them. So marketing falls to the founders and owners. In such cases, marketing becomes tactical: Make the phone ring. Get leads. Generate floor traffic. Build a website so Google can find us.

    In each of these scenarios, small companies often turn to outside content creators. Designers. Coders. Writers. Media companies.  But what do they tell these outside agents? They certainly don’t provide them with brand strategy — a boil down of customer care-abouts and brand good-ats. A brand strategy boil down is a specialized piece of work; work smaller companies would be smart to invest in.  When tactical work is given to outside content creators, it has the benefit of governance and focus.

    Small companies can save thousands of dollars and scores of hours with a simple investment in brand strategy.

    Peace|

     

     

    New Brand Strategy Rigor.

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    Here’s an exercise for brand planners.

    I read this morning that when president Richard Nixon prepared for a summit in China to meet Mao Zedong, he created a checklist. What do we want?  What does China want? And what do we both want? Each question had three answers.

    Brand planners should ask themselves the same questions only with a slight modification at the end.  What does the company want? What do the consumers want? And what does the brand want?  The brand’s desires may not align with that of the company and could be a healthy source of exploratory tension.

    The What’s The Idea? the brand strategy process plumbs consumer “care-abouts” and brand “good-ats.”  The nexus of these qualities decides the brand claim and proof planks. But with the tripartite “What want?” approach, it may make the planner look at a new dimension.  May.

    Might be worth a try.

    Peace.