an organizing principle for product experience and messaging

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I’ve been talking to a magician about doing some branding work for him. We chatted about the Is-Does – what a brand is and brand a brand does – something that is not as necessary for a magician as it is for, say, a startup. But there are many flavors of magician. So finding your magic sweet spot, is important in so far as positioning. Cards? Illusion? Big stage? Escape?

As we talked, I realized that a performance-based brand (an act really) may require slightly more scope than a company. If a brand strategy is “an organizing principle for product, experience and messaging,” then the proofs of the brand claim may include, things like introductory music. It could also include costume, staging, lighting, and lots of other things I’ve never thought about as elements of a brand plan.  It’s rather exciting, actually. The unknowns are aplenty. Kind of like magic.

Should be fun.  Peace.

 

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I’m going out on a limb here to say the majority of marketing buildables, e.g., ads, websites, PR plans, research studies, and content marketing are created sans a brand brief.

The tendency for agencies to work off a brand brief is much greater than for one-off contractors, but even they tend to use a campaign briefs or tactical briefs.  Whose fault is this? Clients. It’s the client who provides the input…and the approvals. It’s the client who needs to have an organizing principle for product, experience and messaging (aka brand strategy). It is the client who needs to codify it and make it sharable.  

Smart ad agents/contractors ask clients “Do you have a brand brief?,” but know the answer is “no.”  Every company has a website. How many of those writers and coders worked from a brand brief? Every company has an ad. Same question. Every marketer will tell you they have a brand. 95% of those people can’t articulate that brand in a clear, concise way. They don’t have a brief.

Peace.

 

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Brand strategy is a bit like plumbing.  The theory is nice but it’s the real pipes and engineering that carry the water.  I say this because when I read or see many people interviewed about branding they often answer with authority, but generically.  Sure brands need an organizing principle for product, experience and messaging. Sure they need visual and style directives. Of course, they need to promote values that help sell and satisfy. But the real business of branding can only be discussed in depth, with alacrity, when the strategy itself is known. 

To ask a so-called brand expert questions about branding or tactics, sans actual strategy, is like asking president Trump about policy. All you get is “wonderfuls” or “disasters.” You don’t get meaningful, actionable insight. To going back to the original plumbing metaphor, you get discussion about pipes, elbows, resin and leaks.  Brand experts, me included, need to dole out advice citing actual strategic examples. Not generics.

Peace.

 

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I play Google like a Stradivarius. But it helps top blog a lot. Actually blogging is foundational to how I play my violin.  I was reading Thomas Friedman today and in his Op-Ed column he suggested readers Google “power drills to the head and Shiite militias in Iraq.”  Please don’t, I‘m just making point.  Mr. Friedman knows how one can direct people about the web by simply offering key words or key phrases. I’ve been doing the key phrase thing for years. And key wording them in my daily blog for years.  In many cases, in the branding world, they have become memes.

It’s heaving lifting and takes commitment. It’s also cleaner than white or black hat SEO manipulation. When I direct people to my definition of branding as “An organizing principle for product experience and messaging” they find me.  When I tell prospects to Google “social media guardrails” they find me. “One claim three proof planks” is indexed by Google straight to me.

Are you hearing that violin? Back pat, back pat.

Peace.

 

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Probably the most overused work in marketing the last 5 years is disruption. Maybe the last 10 years.  If you were to put all the marketing conference speeches given since 2010 into a cull rack and block from falling through the ones with “disruption” in the title, you’d have a stack a mile high. Google SXSW speeches, book titles or blog posts.

Do you want to know something that is truly disruptive? Brand strategy. Huh?  Brand strategy.  Everybody has one they’ll tell you, but no one can articulate it. Not clearly.  Because brand strategy means so many things to so many people, it has become a nonentity. A quagmire within a morass.

Here’s the deal: A brand strategy is an “Organizing principle for product, experience and messaging.” Nothing less. The framework for such is “One Claim and Three Proof Planks.” Nothing less. And certainly, nothing more.

If you’d like to truly disrupt your business. If you’d like to make clear and easy marketing decisions. If you’d like to measure effectiveness with almost binary simplicity, consider a brand strategy. (And this is not a packaged goods thing. It’s a marketing thing.)

Peace.

 

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There are a number of brand strategy consultants out there I hold in high regard. They totally get insights and market conditions, are quick studies in business categories, have keen understanding of meaningful metrics, and possess indefatigable bullshit barometers. Sadly, I’m seeing a trend among this crew where they are reinventing and repositioning themselves away from pure brand work into other aligned areas. Customer experience. Team optimization. Digital transformation. Culture plotting.

Why is this?

Well, that’s what the market sparks to. Most marketers and business owners don’t think they need a brand strategy. They want measurable results on sales. Higher top line and lower bottom lines.  What they don’t understand is that those things are directly tied – or can be tied – to a smart brand strategy. When you define brand strategy as “an organizing principle for product, experience and messaging” you begin to understand how brand strategy can impact bottom lines. And top lines.

Tomorrow I’ll share some business metrics side-by-side with brand metrics. I encourage you to tell me which are more actionable.

Peace.

 

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Many years ago I learned a trick about advertising from Brendan Ryan, president of FCB/Leber Katz, in NYC. One day he asked the AT&T Network Systems account team to paper the walls with the current campaign. The headline for each as we “Are You Ready.” Network Systems sold the 5E switches to phone companies that powered American communications. So paper the walls we did.

Mr. Ryan walked around the plush conference room reading sub-heads, looking at visual and dashing through copy here and there. He pointed to campaign outliers and confirmed what he thought to be the idea. Neat trick. Neat way to level-set the idea.

Fast forward 25 years to an era when communications manifest across more channels than we ever perceived, some with control, many with none. If you were to paper the walls with the myriad comms we generate today, you’d have a messy, messy room. A walk around that room  would remind you why an “organizing principle for product, experience and messaging” is critical. Otherwise known as a brand strategy.

So me droogies, paper your walls with your internal and external comms and see what-ith you spew-ith into the consumer realm.

Peace.

 

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In a piece of 2014 research conducted by the Economist Intelligence Unit on the subject of customer experience, the top box response to the question below was about message uniformity.

I know to the hammer everything looks like a nail and to the brand planner everything marketing thing looks like brand strategy, but this one made my day. Brand strategy, defined here at  What’s The Idea? as “An organizing principle for product, experience and messaging,” is the key to message uniformity. Sure “voice,” “tone” and “personality” are important (ish) but the substance of the message is how one builds brands.

Find your claim. Identify your three proof planks, make sure they are key care-abouts and brand good-ats, and you have a strategy.

Stick to it and it will stick to your customers. And prospects.  

Happy holidays to all. Peace.

 

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Branding Polemics.

I saw the word polemic in an article about the alt-right and had to use it in a post. I’m a brand polemist. At What’s The Idea? brand strategy is defined as an “organizing principle for product, experience and messaging.”  In and of itself, that is controversial. Many brand agencies don’t consider product or experience in their work, they cut straight to messaging. 

When brand strategy involves product it means the claim and proof planks inform product features, composition, even formula. When brand strategy relates to experience, it informs in-store, customer journey, website content and usability. It may involve media usage, e.g., Twitch Points (Google it). But mostly, brand strategy is about messaging, advertising, campaigns and communications.   The comms and graphic presentation of a brand being the bread and butter of the branding business.

The contrarian polemic is one that puts product and experience on par, or even ahead, of messaging. Get the first two right and the last one has to follow.

Peace.

 

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stitchfix

I’ve been writing a lot lately about how brand strategy is the perfect intersection of customer care-abouts and brand good-ats. Earlier this week I posted that it’s best to have good-ats as part of company DNA rather than just build them based on customer needs research.

Enter Stitch Fix, a very cool clothing start up that melds the best of the online web retailing with features of brick and mortar clothing stores. Stitchfix has built its business around convenience, surprise and renewal. It’s genius. And addictive.

The brand planner in me loves what I interpret as the company’s three brand planks: “personalized,” “better every time,” and “on your time.” This organizing principle for product, experience and messaging is unique and, if done well, highly defensible.

The website lists these three things as benefits, which is another word for care-abouts.  They are presumably brand good-ats but time will tell. This is a case where a start-up has to build the good-ats as the business matures. And course-correct in real time.  But you can see how having a plan, an organizing principle and commitment to brand strategy can make it work.

If Stitch Fix gets benefit delivery right it is going be a high-flier.

Peace.

 

 

 

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