The brandstrategy framework used at What’s The Idea? is not an impenetrable membrane. That is to say, it is not a wall that keeps out creative ideas and marketing executions. Sure, there may be some brand policing by brand manager, but brand strategy is not meant to create “the land of no.” Think of brand strategy as a springboard for creative ideas. A place to start.
The What’s The Idea? framework comprises one claim and three proof planks. A claim is a statement of value to a consumer; something they want. The stronger the want or need, the better the claim. As for the proof planks, they are exactly that. Proofs of claim. Proof planks are the foundation of brand stories. They create muscle memory for consumers as to why the claim is true.
The claim and proof array open the doors to creative thought, it doesn’t close it. This is not untamed creative thought or “creative for creative’s sake,” but ideation based upon an organized selling strategy that builds brands.
Brand strategy organizes the creative mind.
We remember beauty.
We remember new.
We remember rich.
We remember melody.
We remember funny.
We remember nature.
We remember poetry.
We remember pain.
We remember educators.
We remember warmth.
We remember charity.
We remember happy.
We remember love.
We remember triumph.
These are the things we remember.
These are the things consumers remember.
(I post this brand planner’s prayer once a year…as a reminder.)
I took a part time job a couple of years ago doing something I’ve never done before. Sales. Belly-to-belly sales, to be more specific. Quite a departure getting paid to look the consuming public in the eye and pitch.
“Story” had always been an important part of my marketing life but in this new position, after product knowledge, it became a very close second in terms of my sales effectiveness.
There are two basic kind of stories a salesperson can tell: product-based stories focusing of features, functions and outcomes and entertaining stories tangential to the product. Everyone needs the first to move the merch, but for me the entertaining, humanizing stories were the difference maker. They kept me on my toes and helped engage consumers.
The last two days I was working side-by-side at a trade show with our territory’s best sales person. He is brilliant with customers, performing straight from the sale manual and beyond. At his best he’s jovial, informative, a locomotive of product fact. His stories are all about product. I, on the other hand, used personal stories to pepper my sales. Some self-deprecating, some shared interest, some environmental – the whole gamut.
Turns out, mixing in some entertainment with sales haymakers was a winning combination. Not everyone is an entertainer. I’m no Sebastian Maniscalco. As Jimmy Breslin taught us, the best way to tell the news is to get out of the building. In sales, the best way to sell product is to get out of the building…and the product is the building.
The word “and” has killed more brand strategies than an online community college marketing course. Here’s a company mission that foretells brand strategy problems:
Our priority is school safety and accountability; our goal is to be the standard for integrated school safety and operations systems.
First sentence: How can something be your priority when you’ve added something else? That’s two priorities. Second sentence: They added the word “integrated” to the mix, whatever that means. And for good measure, bringing up the rear is the tag along “operations systems.” I’ve been to this movie before and it’s not pretty. Not from a branding standpoint.
I know this company. They do good work in the school security space. Their most in-demand product is smart cards. Cards with chips in them that have multiple applications but student safety is the key care-about.
If you parse the Is-Does from the statement, they are a security company that offers accountability. Accountability for what? Safety? And they integrate, but with what? And of course, operations systems are important, but what are they? Is this a hardware, software or services company?
The positioning reality is — this is an educational smart card company. The other stuff are bells, whistles and features. Oy.
And. It will get you every time.
The first step in brand strategy is getting the product Is-Does right. They ability to articulate what a product Is and what the product Does sounds easy, but it’s not. I developed this simple concept while working at a tech startup where the product was a software as a service (SaaS) called Zude. Because the management team couldn’t get the Is-Does right, we failed.
The term of art “elevator speech” is the result of an improper Is-Does. If it takes an elevator ride to explain your product, you are little toasty. iPhone was a phone, albeit a very functional phone. If it was called a Newton (hee hee) it may not have survived.
Zude’s Is-Does was “the fastest easiest way to build (and manage) a website. The Is was “website builder” the Does was “fastest easiest.” But the management team could not completely agree. The technologist, who understood code and features but not consumers, kept building until Zude was part video platform, part social network, part advertising company…you get the picture.
Get the Is-Does right and there may be an Is to build a brand around.
As a kid who grew up in the ad business, I’ve seen a lot of ad craft. Today, as a brand planner it’s hard for me to look at advertising without a jaundiced eye. When I see ink and words and picture, but not strategy, I cringe. Worse when I see an ad with 7 strategies.
Who is approving this stuff?
The best advice I learned in the ad business was “focus.” There is a research convention in advertising called “Day After Recall Testing,” in which a magazine is sent to a consumer paid to read it. A day later they are called and questioned about the ad content. Most common recall is tied to the pictures; rarely the words. If the words relate to the pictures all the better. It’s a great litmus for effective advertising.
Trinet is a smart benefits and HR outsourcing company. Sorry to pick on them again. But I read and expensive ad they published today, delivering what they feel it their brand claim: Incredible. That’s an ad claim, not a brand claim, by the way. The ad suffers from the “fruit cocktail effect” in that it is pushing 6 corporate good-ats: Expertise (oy), Access, Benefits, Guidance, Technology and Freedom. All under the “Incredible” umbrella. James Joyce would be proud.
If this ad campaign is not done in-house I’d be surprised. If done by an agency, I’d be ashamed.
Smart marketing starts with a smart, actionable, endemic brand strategy.
A brand strategy brief, at its very best, is a story. A story with beginning, middle and end. Like good entertainment it contains a problem, solution(s), tension and resolution. Most importantly, it needs to appeal to the reader/viewer (aka the consumer) in order to take hold.
I write brand briefs for a living. In each and every one, the story has to flow. If the flow is interrupted by some structural anomaly, the brief will confuse. The money part of the brief is the finish — the claim and proof array. (Once claim, three proof planks.) It is the organizing principle for product, experience and messaging. If the claim does not fit the rest of the story like a glove, something is wrong with the story.
The brand brief story is written for the brand marketing lead. Once the claim and proof array are approved, and immutable, the brief is just a tool for brand managers and agents. Then the storytelling or as Co:Collective calls it Story Doing, is in the hands of the marketing team and creative people. And I am on the my next assignment.
In branding the brand brief is the greatest story ever told.