Brand Strategy

    Pregnant Context

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    pregnant-red-apeWhenever I try to explain to business people what a brand strategy is, I find it often better to just show them a few strategies. When I go on about “an organizing principle for product, experience and messaging” eyes glaze over and I fall into the marko-babble trap. But when I display the brand idea and 3 proof planks, the synapses start to fire and they begin thinking about their own business.  Practice and a modeling (as they say in .edu) are brain sparking. Theory not so much.  

    Then I typically walk prospects through the hard part of brand strategy: what we need to throw out. As in, what we needn’t say. The iPhone was positioned as a phone, not a camera-email-text-app device. The “i” carried all of that. The “i” was pregnant with all innovative things Apple.  

    Pregnant context is what you get credit for even when you don’t say it.  Select your brand strategy words with precision and you’ll get way more than you ask for. In the recent tyro brand planner event at BBH, celebrating the life of Griffin Farley, the winning idea for the Citibike assignment was “Bikes with Benefits.”  The idea was pregnant with target information, aspiration, vitality and value.  The best brand strategies live a long, long time. First they borrow context then they create their own.  Peace in The House (of Representatives). 

     

    Proof In Advertising.

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    Advertising isn’t ineffective because it’s a dying medium, it’s ineffective because it’s ineffective. Good branding is about “Claim and Proof.” Advertising, an important, controllable means of branding, needs to follow the same “Claim and Proof” dictum.

    Toyota, a company playing defense peppered with catch-up promotions, ran an ad in The New York Times paper paper today – a perfect example of badvertising.  All claim, no proof. Here’s the copy:

    No matter who you are or what you drive, everyone deserves to be safe. Which is why the Star Safety SystemTM is standard on all our new vehicles – no matter what model or trim level.  It’s a combination of five advanced safety features that help keep you in control and out of harm’s way.  Toyota is the first full-line manufacturer to make the features of the Star Safety SystemTM standard on all vehicles.  Because at Toyota, we realizes nothing is more important to you than your safety.

    I forgot the headline and I only read it 10 seconds ago. The call to action, where one might actually find the proof, is prominently displayed below the copy — Toyota.com/safety. This ad is one expensive call to action and a lot less.  Fail!

    Who is at Fault?

    I’m not sure who is responsible for this $20,000 piece of “we’re here” advertising but everyone is to blame. The creative person who said “People don’t read long copy.” The strategist who approved it, the client who agreed and paid for it. Frankly, The New York Times should be ashamed. Isn’t someone over there watching this stuff?

    This business is easy: Find a great claim and support it with compelling proof. Compelling proof. Compelling proof. Compelling proof. 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|

     

     

    How To Sell a Brand Strategy.

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    How can an consultant come into a company, study data, ask 200 questions, drive around with salespeople, and begin to think s/he can tell a CEO or C (fill in the letters) about the heart and soul of that company?  Or tell the CEO what will make the company grow at an out-pace rate. What customers want — and the best way to sell them.   It’s ridiculous to think a consultant can do that. But that’s what brand planning consultants do.

    So how does a brand planner present findings in such an uphill setting?

    First, the planner shares data the C-level can’t disagree with. Data doesn’t lie.  Plus, the data often comes from the same executives to whom the planner is presenting. Second, present observations. Who can argue with an observation?  It’s not a recommendation, it’s a carefully selected, important piece of field work. And, if spun with elan and poetry it can become powerful and memorable. “Peter Pan Syndrome,” for instance, is something I shared while working on Microsoft. Not really forgettable.

    Third, organize the big picture stuff in a way that allows for leaning moments driving Cs toward a POV or conclusion. A conclusion they will get to before it is presented.

    Forth, remove the complexity and contradictions. Oh, and there will be contradictions. (Deciding what not to present is often the hardest part of brand planning.)

    Fifth, give them a brand strategy that is brand-familiar, competitive, and with eyes up — toward the horizon. Also, one that makes the Cs feel a little uncomfortable. More often than not, in a great brand strategy there will be a word with which they disagree. The beauty of the word is that is can be changed – by the creative team. The brand strategy is a strategy, not the creative. And even if the “word” is pregnant with creative meaning like, say, the word “reboot,” it is really just stimulus for the creative team. (That’s why Campaigns come and go but a powerful brand strategy is indelible.)  In step five, the C gets to exhibit strength, power and insight (and have the last word) and yet idea détente is still achieved.  We have lift off. Peace!

    Chase What Brand Strategy.?.

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    Question: What is a brand strategy? 

    Answer: A brand strategy comprises a strategic idea or claim and three support planks that vivify the claim.  Three planks, because two don’t always allow for a complete, differentiated story. Getting the idea right is key. Selling it to consumers day after day is the heavy lifting…called brand management.

    Chase What Matters.

    JPMorgan Chase has a very identifiable idea: “Chase what matters.”  It’s a consumer directive from a very big company that knows how to make, save and invest money. Something they already get credit for.  The idea has ballast, but so far it is only an idea. Banks have been making promises without backing them up for decades. I’m not getting a read on the Chase support planks yet – the planks that allow me to believe Chase “knows what matters” to me and that they are the bank best equipped to deliver.   

    One of Chase’s neater tactical ideas lately is the “Chase Loan For Hire” program, through which it decreases small business loans by a quarter point for every new employee hired, up to three. Though I have no idea what Chase’s planks are, forensically, I might assume this tactic supports a plank titled “Meaningful borrowing matters.”  I’m not talking buy a hot tub meaningful, I’m talking something that relates to what popular culture views as meaningful. Today that’s jobs.  Nice touch.

    Banking is a tough category. In my bones I feel Chase has an idea, but the jury is still out on the organization of the proof.  I’ll continue to map its planks as they become evident and share them here at What’s The Idea? Peace!

    A “Tough Love” Brand Strategy Offer.

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    Does your company or product have a brand brief? Also known as a brand plan. It is a piece of paper outlining for senior officers, marketing and sales teams what your strategy is.  I’m not talking mission and voice and personality — all that agency gobble-di-gook; I am talking about a piece of paper on which there is an actionable plan that drives product development, consumer experience and messaging. Think brain, not words and actions.

    I pretty much know you don’t.

    Why do I know that? Because I study this stuff for a living. Because in my years of doing this work, I’ve seen very few with articulate brand plans?  I’ve read strategy documents from large Fortune 100 companies with hundred million dollar marketing budgets and you can drive trucks through them.  They’re like maps with myriad roads and routes leading everywhere.  Frankly, you can almost flip-flop brand names on these plans and manage the products with little negative impact on market share. 

    And that’s the big boys and girls.  Imagine what happens to mid-size companies and small companies?  SMBs reach out to the only marketing partners they can afford (C and D level players), falling for some Svengali charm and marko-babble, and pay out $50,000 or $100,000 for some web design, brochures and pretty ads. But they have no strategy to measure, just tactics.

    The Offer.

    So here’s my offer.  For 3 companies I will conduct an audit of materials, product, packaging, web presence and stated marketing strategy. Learning and findings will be presented in the form of an assumed brand strategy, within 48 hours of the beginning of the audit.  The presentation will show how you really look to your consumers and the public, not how you see yourself.  The first 3 companies, with sales in excess of $750,000 will be awarded an audit. I’ll happily sign a nondisclosure agreement.  The offer does not apply to agencies and marketing consultancies. Tough love this brand work. Offer ends 10/31/13.

    PS. Certain rules apply, e.g., cost of travel not covered. For more information, please write steve@whatstheidea.com

    Attack Ads in Politics.

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    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?

    Peace.

     

    Wendy’s. Kaplan Thaler. Unreal.

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    Branding is about owning a discrete idea in the minds of consumers.  Find the right idea — something you are good at and upon which you can deliver – then spend your money proving it.  

    A couple of years ago, Wendy’s, a top 3 fast food burger chain, gave its account to Kaplan Thaler Group. Kaplan Thaler does good ads, great music and creates muscle memory for its clients.  It won the Wendy’s business with a neat jingle and neat idea “You know when it’s real.”   The idea revolves around a commitment to use more natural ingredients.  No one doesn’t want more natural ingredients.  So it is a great idea in a category with pent up “bad nutrition” ideals.

    We can debate whether the last two year of advertising have delivered on the natural ingredients promise, but there is a $25 million campaign launching for Wendy’s new French fries that has gone off trail. The product uses natural-cut unpeeled Russet Burbank potatoes and sea salt. Presumably they are using a healthier quality of fry oil.  The advertising idea – and here is where the disconnect comes in — is about “taste and sharing.”  People like the taste so much they don’t want to share.  You know when it’s real?  When this work is copy-tested people will play back “the fries are so good you won’t want to share.”  FAIL.  (I’m sure the copy talks about real ingredients, but the idea is about taste and sharing.) This doesn’t put a deposit in the brand idea bank, it makes a withdrawal.  

    Money into the market will make sale blip up. It will be viewed as modest near-term success.  But by now, Kaplan should know how brand strategy works: Get them to sing the strategy, then burrow it into their heads.  Props to Wendy’s product people for the product idea. As for the marketing people shame, shame.  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!

    Yahoo’s Lazy Eye.

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    Yahoo has once again gone public with its strategy; this time Marissa Mayer announced it at a presentation to advertising buyers in NYC.  (I once accused Yahoo of having a lazy eye and must admit my view hasn’t changed too much, but I still believe Ms. Mayer is the right person for the job.  In a previous blog post I noted she may be on to something with a the germ of a brand idea, but yesterday may have dissuaded me.)

    Yahoo needs to step up its original content game. And yesterday she acknowledged “premium content” as one leg of the stool.  The other two legs being: innovation and performance. I’ve heard innovation before – What technology company doesn’t use that one? –but performance is new. But you can also drive a truck through it.  At least she didn’t hang a brand plank on advertising. Last time out she talked about mobile, but I guess that falls under innovation. 

    Every house has a foundation.  Every company needs a business strategy and a brand strategy. What I’ve found out in my years as a planner and consultant is that creating the brand strategy first is the best way to build a business strategy — because it’s built on customers and endemic business value.  There I’ve said it. Come get me Harvard Business Schoolies.

    Yahoo is making money. Diddling around with mobile.  Promoting Ms. Mayers in lovely ways. But it still does not have a brand strategy. Ask Gareth Kay. Search this site for all posts on Yahoo if you would like to see the history of missteps.  Yahoo is pulling its nose up (aviation metaphor)…it just needs more time and a tight brand plan. Peace.