Brand Strategy

    An Extensible Recipe for Business Failure.


    Growth Hacking is an idea for the times.  I’m kind of sure it’s a bad idea.

    Here’s a definition from Wikipedia:  

    Growth hacking is a process of rapid experimentation across marketing channels and product development to identify the most effective, efficient ways to grow a business. Growth hackers are marketers, engineers and product managers that specifically focus on building and engaging the user base of a business. Growth hackers often focus on low-cost alternatives to traditional marketing, e.g. using social media, viral marketing or targeted advertising[2] instead of buying advertising through more traditional media such as radio, newspaper, and television.[3]

    I don’t take issue with rapid experimentation across marketing channels. I do believe, though, product development as a hack is a little iffy. If growth hacking is a synonym for research and development (R&D) that’s fine. But using the web to randomly and quickly build a business case is goofy.

    When it comes to growth hacking, start-ups or recalibrating business better know their good-ats. They shouldn’t look to the web to find out what people want. Brand planning is about good-ats and care-abouts. At What’s The Idea? brand strategy is an organizing principle for product, experience and messaging.  It’s business strategy writ small.  Too much focus on care-abouts and not enough focus on good-ats is an extensible recipe for business failure. You may want to look like Cinderella but you are who you are.

    Growth is what businesses aspire to. How they get there and how they get to success is a result of planning, learning and commitment. An hour-long presentation on growth hacking may make you feel all warm inside, but it’s not a sustainable business approach.



    Attack Ads in Politics.


    Brand strategy is all about playing offense.  The organizing principle behind brand strategy (1 claim, 3 proof planks), which drives product, experience and message is designed to build value and engender loyalty. This claim and proof array all brand and consumer-positive. Offense.

    In this presidential election season, Super PACs are spending lots of money supporting their candidates of choice. But contrary to consumer brand building, Super PAC money goes into playing defense. Rather than say good things about their candidate, Super PACs line up bad things to say about opponents. We’ve seen and heard these ads and they’re not pretty… but they can be effective. The John Kerry Swift Boat ads helped put his candidacy asunder. Typically, one big ad can have an effect.  But those Swift Boat ads are rare. What about all the other drecky ads? They just create confusion.

    Just as consumer brands are built using an organizing principle steeped in positivity, PAC attack ads must be organized for negative effect. They should also follow the 1 one claim, 3 proof plank construct. Otherwise, PACS are just throwing tons of negatives at the wall.  It can become cartoonish.

    I’m sickened by all the negative advertising in politics and wished it didn’t happen but, hey, it’s life.  And it’s a big business. Why do it poorly?



    Brand Strategy Uptake.


    I have reading a lot of articles lately about U.S. Military being used in an “advisory” role with allies.  In Syria, in Africa… it is a good way to keep our men and women out of harm’s way and improve the chances of ally success. Yesterday American soldiers accompanied Somalian solders on a raid but did not participate. They stayed on or by the helicopters, no doubt providing logistical, intelligence and strategic assistance.

    Implementing brand strategy — affecting an organizing principle for product, experience and messaging – requires similar advisory support before truly turned over the plan to the owner. Brand strategy is never a total culture change for a product, it’s more a refinement, but the refinement requires strong commitment and oversight.  Brand strategy in the marketing department alone, is only a start. It is not until every employee gets the “claim and proof” strategy can true change occur.

    The first year is the roughest. It is a learning year. It is a teaching year. It is the year of “no.” Training is key. Advisors are key. This is how you affect brand strategy uptake. And, dare I say, win marketing wars.



    Brand Strategy Enculturation.


    Brand strategies are first and foremost internal documents. Ninety percent of marketers think they are external; ideas to be foisted upon the consuming public. That’s called advertising.

    Brand strategy comes way before advertising. It’s an organizing principle for product, experience and messaging. It needs to be sold in at the top levels of a company and enculturated through to the lowest levels of the company. When so handled there are few things more powerful in the land of marketing.

    I’ve written before that one of my regrets has been the inability to sell brand strategy throughout the client company. If the strategy is sold only on the executive floor, but doesn’t make it down the elevator, it is less likely to provide the shareholder/stakeholder/business value it needs to.

    The heavy lifting of adopting a brand strategy is found in training. And internal communications. PR needs to buy in as well. Once approved, brand strategy is not a democratic pursuit. It needs to be shared, understood, operationalized, practiced and incentivized.

    Great brand strategy becomes culture.






    Yahoo! Too Much Mouth.


    I don’t like being a brand commentator, sitting on the sidelines sharing what’s wrong with brands, without offering something positive. And I feel that way with Yahoo! As a brand consultant, people hire me to help create brand strategy. Were Yahoo! to hire me, here’s what I’d do. (Earlier in the month I wrote about What’s The Idea? process which covers Discovery, Fermentation and Boil Down. Here’s how I’d handle Discovery.

    I was watching cyber security conference video last week and a senior level Yahoo! Security officer was leading the talk. He was smart, witty, believable, and committed. He is what I call a Poster – someone willing to share and help the public learn. Sadly, this gentleman who has since moved on to a big job at Facebook, was stowed away at corporate not seeing the public light of day. With Yahoo!, often all we get as the viewing, investing and using public, is Marissa Meyer playing offense and defense. Mostly from a stage.

    I suspect there are scores of people like this security office at Yahoo! and these are the people I would speak to in Discovery. These are the body organs that drive a brand. That fuel the brain. That feed the mouth.

    At Yahoo! we’ve been getting a modicum of brain and a lot of mouth. A good brand discovery would help go all deep dish on the company.




    Brand Craft.


    carbonsPlease don’t kill me for this poor metaphor, but China is pumping 1 million more tons of carbon into the atmosphere than previously reported. And Greenland is melting. It’s worth a big fat ulcer. And we’d better do something about it.

    The state of the advertising and marketing business is not much better. We are pumping billions of dollars into the advertising atmosphere, filled with not much more than “we’re here ads” and other cultural blather. “We’re here” advertising works when awareness is all that is needed to stim a sale but its poor tradecraft. Blather is not only poor tradecraft, it creates a pool of murky water through which consumers cannot see the good work. It uses and re-uses words like “quality” and “innovation” and “best” to the point where advertising is melting. This is exacerbated by online messaging.

    Great brand strategy creates a map of acceptable “good ats” and “care abouts.” It organizes them in such a way that the collective story stands out. A brand strategy is easy to follow. You are either on strategy (one claim, three proof planks) or you are not. When the brand craft is good, the advertising tradecraft is good. Even if part blather. Let’s start practicing brand craft to improve our tradecraft.



    Deeds vs. Materials.


    The early Egyptians built with stone and what they built still stands. Shea Stadium was built in the 60s and had to be torn down. It was built with steel and cement. If you were to build a structure today that you wanted to last for 1,000 years what would you use? Perhaps someone will invent a new composite material for building construction that will last 500,000 years.

    The materials with which we construct products – sugar in carbonated soft drinks, salt in French fries, silicon in computer chips – are seen as building blocks of brands. Yet, when I develop brand strategy (1 claim, 3 proof planks) the materials are secondary, perhaps tertiary. What the materials deliver is way more important.

    During my exploration rigor I use a number of tools to mine insights as to “what customers want most” and what the product or service “does best.” Then with all the learning arrayed, I begin to boil down the elements into groups. The groups cluster and point to a common claim…of brand superiority or customer desire. So proof, in fact, comes before claim.

    Rarely are materials the sole heroes of the proof planks; deeds and experiences often are. It may sounds backwards but it works for me.




    Cutting Through Brand Marko-babble.


    “Brand identities create memorable distinction and differentiation in marketplaces in which meaningful functional product or service differentiation is increasingly impossible to secure. They help convey stories and meaning that assist decision-making, establish relevancy and positive disposition.”

    This is a quote from a friend and really smart branding person. Someone who taught me a lot. It is true as true can be. It explains brand identity in a thoughtful, complete and rich way — yet it is a bit dense and suffers from what I call marko-babble. If you parse the sentence slowly it makes sense. It’s cogent. However, in branding circles where there is so much marko-babble quotes like this gets sucked right in.

    I have worked really hard to take the marko-babble out of branding. I like to think I’ve simplified the definition and the outputs. Here are a couple of boil downs, in consumer language, for you to ponder.

    A brand strategy is an “organizing principle for product, product experience and messaging.” (Some might argue product is the domain of product strategy and they would be right. But after the product is created, enhancements, extensions and evolutions need to be true to the brand strategy.)

    A brand strategy is 1 claim and 3 proof (support) planks. Planks are populated by actual and future examples of what a company is great at and what consumers want most.

    In sum, my branding meme is this: Branding is about claim and proof. Proof and deeds. Deeds and experiences. Strategically organized and tightly managed.

    Marko-babble beware. Peace.


    UBER brand strategy. ‘sup?


    charger strom trooper

    UBER is doing a really neat promotion in NYC, tying in to the new Star Wars movie. It is making 8 Dodge Chargers, painted to look like Mattel Hot Wheels Star Wars Storm Trooper cars (white with distinctive black striping), available for free for the day, providing you use the appropriate promo code. It’s really cool for Dodge, whose cars become roving brand billboards, and it’s a nice way to get UBER some excellent pub.

    The promo made me wonder though about UBER’s brand strategy. I’m not sure I know what it is at this point. And that’s often okay for a first-to-category company. Your Is-Does becomes the brand claim a la “Your Ride, On Demand.” But without a brand strategy (1 claim, 3 proof planks), it’s hard to decide if a promotion is making a deposit in the brand bank or a withdrawal.  So this seems to me a promotion for promotion’s sake, not for strategy’s sake. Though I don’t know the Dodge Charger brand strategy, I’m feeling a proximity to it with this promotion. Storm troopers charge, no?

    Start-ups and category pioneers need brand strategies. VCs should encourage this. It helps everyone make decisions about product, experience and messaging. UBER should have one.



    Mouth-Watering Brand Strategy.


    shake shack burger

    Quick, I say Danny Meyer, you say___. I say Shake Shack you say____. I say New Orleans Po Boy, you say_____. The word associations for many food brands are mouth-watering. They bring to mind powerful senses. Reading the NYT Food Section this morning, with colorful pictures of summer veggies and toasted bread crumbs created for me a sensory moment.

    So how do we create sensory moments with brand ideas in B2B?  Not easily. But that’s our challenge. Lazy planners default to ideas like “a good night’s sleep” or “make more money” or “customer centricity,” but that’s every company’s strategy. To arrive at a mouth watering B2B idea you must bathe in the customer experience. And in the customer’s customer’s experience. Each B2B category has it’s own language. Learning and using that language when selling a brand strategy helps. It gains you trust and acceptance. Don’t be a foreigner to the category.

    But most of all keep asking yourself, it you have landed on a mouth-watering claim. Will it register on the Galvanic Skin Response? Keep pushing until you find it. It is there. And it’s worth the pursuit.

    Peace be upon you.