Marketing

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Lots of people talk about company culture. Like it’s a good thing. I’m not so sure. Culture, of course, is a good thing. But company culture, in and of itself, can be limiting. When you put a bunch of likeminds in a room the tendency is to swim together.  Nothing wrong with a little corporate water ballet, but I’m one that likes things a tad messy — where ideas and ideals are challenged. That’s how innovation happens.

So what’s better than corporate culture? I’m sure you saw this one coming: brand strategy. That so-called “organizing principle for product, experience and messaging.”  

When a commercial maintenance company uses the brand claim “Navy Seals of Commercial Maintenance,” supported by brand planks “fast, fastidious and preemptive,” company employees are able to build a certain, almost predicable value. Unimpeded by a set of cultural beliefs. Brand strategy is freeing not limiting.

It’s okay to study corporate culture but it’s way more productive to study and set brand strategy.

Peace|

 

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First question, “Do you have a brand?”  Most marketers will answer yes.

Second questions, “Do you have a brand strategy?”  Those same people are likely to pause then offer a less-than-emphatic yes.

Third question, “Can you articulate your brand strategy?”  This is where the homina-homina kicks in.

It’s a simple fact that most brand practitioners (meaning client side marketing or brand managers) have brands but not a tight articulation of strategy. Most agencies (ad, digital, PR, direct) also don’t follow a tight articulation of brand strategy — because one doesn’t exist. Brand strategy is the least scientific business tool in commerce. It’s an ideal. Not a framework.

Brand strategy is an organizing principle for product, experience and messaging; all three of which are marketing’s domain. Actual brand strategy framework is one claim, three proof planks.

Ask Interbrand, Landor, Future Brand, Siegel+Gale, Lippincott, Brand Union and Wolff Olins what their framework for brand strategy is and all you get is talk, process and case studies. They are long on smart people, insights, approaches, logos and style guides, but no framework. No “business-winning” binary (on or off) approach to building a brand.

When you have a framework that shows when work is on strategy or off strategy, you have found the brand building grail.

Peace|

 

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Storytelling is big in marketing today.  One flavor espoused by Co-Collective CEO Ty Montague is called Story Doing, a smart improvement.  I’m a fan-boy of doing rather than telling.

HOWEVER. And with me there is always a however when it comes to brand. However, a word that trumps “story” is “strategy.”  Using Mr. Montague’s construct then, a more active and effective form of brand building is Strategy Doing…inelegant though it may sound. Strategy Doing is the fastest way to build brands.

I love a good story. It can be captivating. And memorable. But unless the story adds value to the brand, unless it moves the ball farther upfield with regard to the brand claim and proof array, it may no more helpful than the Three Little Pigs.

Story telling good. Story doing, better. Strategy Doing, bestestest!

Peace.

 

 

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Anyone who has ever eaten fruit cocktail knows it tastes like sugar…and nothing but the sugar. As I’ve said to scores of marketers who have seen my brand framework presentation “The grape tastes like the peach, which tastes like the cherry, which tastes like the pear.” When you try to do too much, you do nothing.  The fruit cocktail effect.

Okay, not the greatest metaphor ever constructed, but it’s meme-able.

As a younger man, volunteering on archeological digs, I troweled dirt and paint brushed away the years in an effort to uncover artifacts from prior people and cultures. Eventually all the dirt would end up in a sifter which revealed small goodies from our slow and methodical labors. 

Brand discovery is a lot like that. We gather massive amounts of information and sift. Sift for goodies. In the case of my branding practice the goodies are called proofs. Tangible things, just like artifacts, that help construct a concrete story.  And because of the fruit cocktail effect, we know that only a few artifacts get into the story.

Amass and de-mass.

Peace.

 

 

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Someone recently posted this question to Quora “What’s the fastest way to build a brand?”  The answer is and always has been, through heavy doses of good network television advertising.  It provides sight and sound of a controlled message, broadcast to millions of people, millions of times.  Some cord cutting millennials might build a case they only watch Netflix and Hulu, but they still watch sports and news. Ish.

The slowest way to build a brand is without a meaningful brand strategy to guide product, experience and messaging. Those who study brand building, who study customers, sales and marketing, understand brand strategy as an organizing principle. An organizing principle that aligns brand values and good-ats with customer care-abouts.

Good things happen to products and bad things happen to products. Hacks, if you will. Well, you can hack a product but you can’t hack a brand. Because brand strategies are principle-based.  It’s impossible to hack a principle. The people who manage the principle can be hacked, but not the principle itself.

Get yourself a brand strategy and start building!

Peace.

 

 

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Inexpensive and Easy.

A quote from The New York Times today points to market forces that have made Jeff Bezo the richest man in the world.

“One is the unequal impact of digital technology, which has reduced costs and brought convenience to many.”  

Digital technology has allowed Mr. Bezos to gather $160B in personal wealth, simply by making shopping less expensive and easier.  Less expensive and easy are, not surprisingly, money-makers.

Brand strategy makes marketing less expensive and easier.  It does so by pointing all company actors in a similar direction. It gives them direction for their innovations. It corrals vendors. And it programs consumers to understand quite clearly the value of a product or service.

Marketing is strengthened by strong blocking and tackling. But it needs creativity. Some on the creative side view brand strategy as limiting; as creating limits to creative outputs. Nothing could be further from the truth. Brand strategy sustains creativity. It gives creativity a reason for being. A goal.

Peace|

 

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There are many definitions of brand strategy. Most hard to understand.  And for businesses whose sole purpose is clarity of message, you would think brand strategy definitions would be easy.  

Here’s mine: “An organizing principle for product, experience and messaging.”

What does an organizing principle look like in words?  (Brand strategy is inanimate.)  Well, it is a “claim and proof” array. A single claim about brand superiority or value, supported by 3 proof planks. Proof planks are evidence of the claim, grouped into homogenous clusters.  One of my favorite brand claims for a small commercial cleaning and maintenance company is “The Navy Seals of Commercial Maintenance.”  The proof planks are: “Fast,” “Fastidious” and “Preemptive.”  Put these words into a single sentence and you have a clean, articulate brand strategy. You are organized to market. You are organized to productize. You can build your business experience, communications and website.

Okay other businesses out there — care to share your brand strategies in one sentence?

Peace|

 

 

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Eric Christianson, chief marketing officers for Perdue Farms, was quoted in USA Today as saying the new package design for its fresh chicken is about “contemporizing the brand” for Millennials.  

Research suggests young consumers care about the humane treatment of animals raised for food – and, so, the industrialized approach to husbandry, e.g., heads sticking though gates, animals shoulder to shoulder, is distasteful.  Perdue has enlivened its packaging with a band of blue at the bottom showing a farm-scape and lone chicken pecking at the ground. Quite a reality stretch, if you ask me.  A consultant quoted in the article suggests this “repositioning” will speak to Millennials. Whoa.  Package design is not positioning.  

Nowhere in Mr. Christianson’s comments did I read about brand strategy. Contemporize is not a brand strategy word. It’s a tactical word. It’s a targeting word. Chief marketing officers who move the same pieces around the gameboard can’t expect long term sales gains.

Repositioning is about brand strategy. Not packaging. Not targeting. Brand strategy is an organizing principle anchored to an idea. I don’t see an idea here.

Peace|

 

 

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A brand is an empty vessel into which we pour meaning, someone smart once told me.  But products and services often exist before the name is created. So the vessel isn’t quite empty, is it?

Have you ever named a child? Empty vessel. Or is it?  The parent’s backgrounds are often contributors: family names, favorite bands, etc. (A couple of hippies I knew in college named their kids Dylan and Hendrix.) Were those kids empty vessels? You decide. 

Totally empty or partially full, the name of a vessel is an important brand component. In all three of my discovery questions sets, though, never has there been a question about the name. There will be moving forward. A brand name, done well, will say volumes about the product. But it may also can say a lot about the founders.  A startup founder I worked for picked the product name Zude because “Oh, and it rhymes with dude.”

Brand strategy organizes the all activities associated with building a brand. It is the life blood. But that strategy, has to come from organic material, and understanding a name is rich start.

Peace.

 

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There are some in the advertising business who believe brand strategy is limiting.  They use pejorative terms for brand strategists like “brand police.” (Not that there’s anything pejorative about police.)  When a brand strategy is seen as confining, most often by creative people at agencies, the belief is that brand strategists are conditioned to say “no.”  And it’s true to a degree; good brand manager wants deposits in the brand bank.    

Brand strategy needs to be shared with creative teams and content builders well before the creative process begins. Not on the eve of the job. Creators need to understand the claim and proof array that is brand strategy, then they need to sleep on it and live with it.  Brand strategy done right is like fly paper.  It captures ideas over time.  There is nothing more freeing when ideating than having an articulatable goal. A goal beyond simple engagement and recall.

If you have a creative team working on an assignment, brief them early. Engage them over time. Let the strategy percolate.  Then set them free on an assignment. You’ll up your potential for “yes.”

Peace.

 

 

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