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.

     

     

     

    Service Brands.

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    I was wondering this morning who is doing a good job of branding these days and the question took me to my new home town Asheville, NC with its exciting beer, food and hospitality businesses.  Most of these brands are retail. Retail branding is organic, contained and a brand petri dish.  The owners and operators are on prem. The product is there. The experience is there. Messaging abounds. When you see a retail space that holds tight to an idea, it’s powerful. It’s even more powerful if the product, space, experience and vibe are unique from all the others.  There are 35+ brewers in Asheville, for instance.

    If the retailer had done a good job, 75 out of a 100 customers leaving the store will relate pretty much the same value statements.  And words like “cool”  or “awesome” are not what you’re looking for.

    So what happens, then, when your business is a service or professional company? A lawyer, doctor or accountant, perhaps? How do you build a brand then? When a tax return is a tax return, how do you influence the experience?

    The answer is with a brand claim and proof array. Also known as a brand strategy.  A plan for packaging your service…where no product package exists. If you’d like to see examples of service brand strategies, email me Steve@WhatsTheIdea.com.

    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.

     

    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.

     

    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.

     

    The Importance of Product In Brand Strategy.

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    Yesterday I posted a definition of brand strategy: An organizing principle for product, experience and messaging. “Product” is the first component of brand strategy. It seems like a no-brainer but can be overlooked.

    Most companies aren’t thinking about brand strategy when developing a new product.  They are looking for differentiation and successful position in the marketplace.  Or price advantage.

    Brand strategists do most of their work on existing products; products with established manufacturing consistency and formulary, e.g. Coca-Cola, In-N-Out Burger. Where an organizing principle comes in handy is in cases of line extensions and reformulations.  White Castle, wouldn’t want to create a cat head size burger, for instance.

    Where an organizing principle for an existing company most comes in handy is in the service sector — where the product is people.  Sure you can dress them up in a uniform but if you don’t organize how they work and deliver service, it’s harder to brand.

    One of my favorite brand strategies in the service sector was for a commercial maintenance company. Their business is cleaning buildings at night and tending the grounds by day. Their brand staretgy became “The navy seals of commercial maintenance” (the claim), supported by “fast,” “fastidious” and “preemptive” (the proof planks). Think these employees didn’t know how to work? Or get a raise?

    Tomorrow Experience. 

     

    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.

     

    Sharing.

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    One of my clients is so good at what they do they take a “rising tide” approach to sharing their IP and tools. For free. This soooo goes against everything I was taught as a pup in the business, where “proprietary” and “patented” carried the day.  But the software and services worlds are a changing.  Look at what Satya Nadella has done with Microsoft, opening up much of the company and reaping massive rewards.

    I’ve been sharing my brand strategy framework for years. I’ve borrowed from some of the leading lights of the “sharing” age, even meme-ing “open source brand strategy.”

    The reality is, brand strategy requires doing something smart with all the data and discovery that goes into it. You can’t just pour the information into muffin cups and start baking.  You have to organize and prioritize your ingredients.  And that’s when a framework turns into strategy.

    I share my framework – the claim and proof array – but I’m not nervous it will hurt my business. Sharing is never a negative.

    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!