Brand Strategy

    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.

     

    Planned Act Of Kindness.

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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.

     

    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.

     

     

    Red Lobster’s New Brand Strategy.

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    I was just reading in The New York Times about Red Lobster’s new ad campaign.  The campaign idea “Sea food differently,” is a little off-piste and perhaps a bit too creative.  The ads introduces a new logo with some locked-up words “Fresh Fish, Live Lobster” which is nice.  But the good news is, the traditional Red Lobster advertising that everyone can play back in their sleep — the big lemon squirt over a lobster tail and some superimposed pricing — will be replaced by ads with real people (people test well) talking about Alaska’s cold waters or oak used for grilling.

    This is a no brainer improvement for the work out of Grey, NY.  Advertising is all about claim and proof. The lemon squirt work was “we’re here” retail advertising at its best, which isn’t saying too much. The new work has a strategy.  If advertising is about claim and proof, branding is about claim and delimited, organized proof.  My take on the new brand plan for Red Lobster is that the proof planks are roughly: fresh fish, grilling, and lobster.

    Stuart Elliot’s article spends a lot of time talking about the people in the ads, but the reason the ads will work is not because of the fisherman with the beard from Ahh-rass-kahhhh (Alaska), but the storied proof and pictures that demonstrate the strategy.  People deliver the strategy, they aren’t the strategy.    

    Campaigns come and go but a powerful brand strategy is indelible. Sounds like Red Lobster has a tight brand strategy.  I smell some sales! Good job Darden and Grey. Peace!

    Paper the Walls.

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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.

     

    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.

    HP TouchPad Ads Off…and Running.

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    Hewlett-Packard is launching a new ad campaign today for the TouchPad tablet and it sounds rather messy.  I read about it in The New York Times ad column and hope it’s just poor reporting. The story was written by Elizabeth Olson.

    Here’s my strategic take. 

    • HP is late to market with the tablet and needs to get noticed.
    • HP has a new operating system (OS), which will drive all its hardware devices. Called webOS, it will integrate their smartphones, PCs, printers, tablets and soon other devices and appliances.  It’s a cool promise, but s complicated story.
    • Printers are a big franchise and potential differentiator, so HP wants to make them more relevant.
    • The purchase of Palm and the growth of the smartphone market has made the mobile business a critical growth component.
    • HP is not a big brand with Millennials and teens.

    That is a lot of stuff to convey.  If you have to say 5 things, you’ve said nothing.

    The NY Times story starts out talking about a new commercial with Russell Brand. I’m feeling it.  A little old school, but I’m feeling it. Then it says there are executions with stars from iCarly and Glee. The future holds spots/vids from Lebron James and Jay-Z and Lady Gaga did some work in May but has not re-upped.  Add to that, all the social media contests (100 free TouchPads) and Twitter tchotch and you begin to see how it’s going to be hard to find the idea. Goodby Silverstein is a great  ad shop, but it doesn’t sound as if it hasn’t corralled this herd of goats. 

    My head is spinning.  I hope it is just a lot of info, not well organized, by a reporter from another newspaper beat. And I’m no Leo Apotheker. Peace!

     

    Feeling Is Believing.

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    Before Christmas, I was removing dead strings of Christmas lights from garland – not a recommended pastime – and as the mind wandered I thought of my favorite pastime brand planning. While hunting for the next light in the branches I found that my sense of touch was often more powerful than my eyesight. When I couldn’t see the next light I just had to feel for it.  It dawned on me, as my fingers began to lose feeling, that most marketing is visual. Even radio, though an auditory medium, paints a visual picture. Ads, websites, search links are all constructs that show or tell consumers what to buy.

    Brand strategy, however, is a more “eyes closed” selling medium. Close your eyes and tell me why you buy Coca-Cola. Close your eyes and tell me why you prefer Burton snow board pants. Close your eyes and explain your preference for Disney World over Six Flags.

    Of course there are visual cues in branding that spark associations, but done the right way the most powerful associations are feelings.

    The difference between good and great brand planners can be found in their ability to drill past marketing jargon and ad phraseology and head straight to feelings. Feeling is believing.

    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!

    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.