Obs and Strats

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    Brand Strategy

    Branding is not Colon Surgery.

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    If there is a secret sharable sauce at What’s The Idea? brand consultancy, it’s proof. This business, this branding business, and all the brand strategies built for clients over the last 25 years, owe their being to proof.

    Proof is perhaps the most underrated element in advertising. And sadly, well-constructed advertising, if not built on proof, can become a branding element sending brands off the rails.  Flame broiled for Burger King is proof.  The King is not.  The effervescent bubbles coming off a sweating Coca-Cola bottle is proof. Happiness is not.  

    My approach to brand strategy is open source.  That is, I share my framework with all marketers: One claim, three proof planks. It’s simple and understandable. Google the words “brand strategy frameworks” and you get an assortment of marko-babble charts and circles that will make your head spin. Even the requisite boxes used in these frameworks are inexplicit. Brand Voice. Brand Personality. Mission. 

    This isn’t colon surgery people. It’s selling stuff through a simplified organizing principle. One that gives people proof of why they should purchase and continue to purchase.

    Find the proof and you can find your brand.

    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.        

     

    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!

    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.

     

    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. 

     

    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.

     

    Proof Well Told.

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    We undertake certain roles in life from which there is no return. Being mother is one such. My wife always felt mothered by my mom, but today my wife has similarly stepped to.  She not only mothers our children, she mothers me as well. (Oh, it’s a good thing.) As I said, there are some roles from which there is no return.

    For brand planners these roles are fertile ground. 

    I wonder if you can actually ask a person to accurately share their most important life role?  I suspect you wouldn’t get the cleanest of answers.  “Work is my life.”  “I live to teach.” “Saving lives.”  “My family.” These answers are a bit generic. They even sound like taglines. The planner’s job is to dive in, past the macro, and find the proof. Find examples of the claim. Because this is where the realities lie. Where the behavioral pictures truly emerge.

    Lots of planners talk about truths. And those truths may fill in lines on a brief. But to really understand the truths you must uncovering proof.

    McCann-Erickson’s tagline is “Truth Well Told.” It’s the best agency line in the business. It should be “Proof Well Told.”

    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.

     

    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.