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While attending Rollins College, anthropology really sparked my interest. I learned all the bones in the body, excavated on the St. Johns River, and traveled to see Margaret Mead, a keynote speaker and the national anthropology conference. As a brand strategist today, the cultural side of my anthropology experience is still amazingly helpful. I love putting myself in learning and observation mode in a community with which I’m not familiar.

A couple of years ago I was hired to do a brand strategy for a startup in the art work. I didn’t know buhp (pronounced like book, but with a “p”) about art. The assignment was to help create a site where artists, collectors and galleries (gallerists, actually) could come together to transact business. My learning was therefore three-fold as it related to the targets. The world of art was foreign to me — scary and thrilling at the same time.

As soon as I opened my mouth, it was obvious I wasn’t from the art world. So I worked that angle. People are forgiving, given the time. If they love what they do they’ll open up.  Like a good therapist, my job was to draw out insights, water and feed them. Observe. Enjoy the learn. Bring an outsiders view and enable tutoring. Slyly learn. Notice patterns. Share observations for feedback. Always in learn mode. It is most effective to be truly interested, amazed and lively.



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Apple’s success can be boiled down to two guiding product development principles: functionality and desire. Steve Job’s was a big fan of design as you know. Creating products that perform valuable, needed functions was his first hurdle and he did it well. That by itself can create desire. But doing so with beauty, grace and artistry? Well, that warms the heart. And fires up the brain’s feelings sensors.

When I explain brand planning to people I say it’s the marriage of “what a product does well” and “what a consumer wants most.” In a sense, this mirrors Apple’s function and desire approach.

Many brand people like to talk about the culture of the company and the culture of the brand. As someone who studied anthropology for a number of years, I’m a big fan of functionalism; where institutions and cultures develop to meet the physical needs of the population. In brief, culture is an adaptation to reality. So rather than spend brand planning time over-analyzing symbols and cues, I prefer to spend time on product function. Things like status may be a desire, but they are certainly not functions. As you do discovery in your brand planning ops, make sure you don’t look past function and go straight to desire. It’s a fundamental part of the product story. Peace.

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Ask me the title of the book I’m reading and you’ll mostly get  “I nah know.”  Ask me the name of the bespectacled, nerdy character from TV show Revolution. “Sorry.”  But ask the most important thing told to me by the head of marketing at Kinney Drugs in 2008 while planning on a protein drink and not only will I recite the sentence, I’ll build a new store around it.

I once got a meeting with MT Carney, an original partner at Naked Comms, by telling her I have a good ear…that I hear things other don’t.  Like the dog that hears abba dabba do abba dabba do Wannagofor a WALK?

This is no curse, it’s a blessing.  It was born, not of an account planning manual from the UK, or a year of quant in the research dept. at P&G, it was born of the crucible that is advertising.  Studying how it’s make, its results and consumer attitudes toward it. (Okay, throw in some amazing anthropology instruction at Rollins College and seeing Margaret Mead at the annual convention. )

The mind of a planner sorts, compartmentalizes, after seeing and hearing everything.  It is always on. That’s why we smile a lot.  We’re the sober dudes and dudettes smiling on the street when there’s no reason.

Lastly, we are not horders.  We remember the important stuff – the big stuff – but we know what to keep. To act upon.  To celebrate. Then we make the paper. For some sample paper in your category, please give a call. Peace.

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I apologize for the potty word, not the invective.  At Rollins College I studied anthropology and a piece of learning that has carried forward quite well in my career is the idea of “functionalism.” It suggests that every cultural phenomenon is the result of some function in the community. This theory along with the Darwin’s natural selection (which suggests positive physical and morphological traits are selected for for future generations), comprise the two key rules I use when brand planning – trying to find an idea and organizing principle under which to conduct brand commerce.

If you are going to grow crops as a farmer, it’s important to know what type of soil you have. What the minerals are. What annual rainfall is? How much sun the field gets. Predation too. In other words, you understand the natural order? It’s a key pursuit in brand planning too.

The natural order in brand planning is not found by asking “How do I make more money?” then working backwards.  Yet that’s how many commercial enterprises roll. They start with the money and deconstruct. The converse is often true when it comes to start-ups. They construct. And as Facebook and Twitter will tell you, not always with monetization as a starting point.  The most successful start-ups follow nature then build. The least successful start-ups lose sight of nature and are governed by instant cash. Companies that lose sight of nature, spend time genetically engineering results and upset the natural order.

If you know what’s natural in your category, you can better predict what will be natural for consumers. Peace!

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What do geneticists do for a living?  They disassemble genes and DNA strands, figure out what the working or nonworking parts do, how gene relationships are fostered, then they make some assumptions.  They test those assumptions with the hope of doing something smart with the information – like curing cancer.  Or, making chickens disease-free in shmoo infested cages. (Sorry, that was uncalled for.) Once we crack the code on clean tech or green tech, whatever it’s called today, genetics will be the next big thing. It will be cool-ish.

Brand planners follow a similar process as geneticists. But rather than study microscopic things, we study what walks around. That’s why a behavioral science or anthropology degree fits nicely into a brand planner career path.  The study of man is critical. Many planners, though,  stop at observing man and mining behavioral insights.  The good ones take it beyond insights and into the area of marketing stimulus — what gets man to buy.  The good ones know man well enough to understand what selling words are over-used. Which contexts are pregnant with possibility. What emotions are likely to stir response.   

Be you genetic engineer or brand planner, the rubber meets the road with the “do something smart with it” part of the equation. Peace.

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I was lost at college until I found anthropology:  The study of man.  In college I loved reading how sexually repressed we were and how other cultures found sex with someone other than your spouse healthy.  Primitive?  I think not.  Have I ever cheated on the wifus?  I think not. Freakin’ culture!

Who knew anthropology would end up shaping my career 30 years later?  I certainly didn’t.  My senior year I went to Washington D.C. on Rollins College’s dime to the annual convention of the American Anthropological Association where I had the absolute privilege of seeing Margaret Mead.   I could tell she was one of those special earthlings, but didn’t then conceive she would impact my career, unless I worked in a museum or became a teacher.

After years in account management, I became a brand planner. Planners care about culture. Not brand culture, people culture.  Good planners must assess the product. They need to understand how it’s made, of what it’s made, where and why.  Then they must map that learning into patterns — trying to find the love.  Where culture comes in is delving into how consumers and non-consumers intersect with the product. Deeply understanding the how, when and why. Becoming intimate with the feelings, needs, and the fulfillments. Weighing these intersections, culling, then prioritizing them.  

What comes out at the back end is a brand plan.  A brand plan has two things: A brand idea or claim.  (The claim doesn’t have to be unique, it just has to be true.) And 3 support planks or proof planks.  The organizing principle for proving the claim. When combined, these three planks must be unique.

The brand plan is the way forward. It guides future product development, creates the map for marketing, and allows employees to understand product culture. I’m not sure Margaret Mead would approve of me name dropping in a marketing blog but I bet I could get her to buy something. Peace! (On that she would agree.)

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Over the years I’ve found many words around which to probe when interviewing people to get to important, actionable branding insights.  “Pride” is one such word.  On the business side “tolerance” is another.  “What are some other things you are willing to tolerate if they help you make money.” For building a business plan, I have the 24 questions.  If going short form, a diff battery of questions to get at what’s what. 

But in all frankness, it’s not the forms; they are just a starting place — a brand planner has to have a good ear. And s/he turns that ear into a microphone that plays back what it hears into further probes…creating energy. If energy or heat is generated around an opportunity or an advantage, take that path because energy begets energy.  If the probee checks his or her mobile, abort and redirect.

As an anthropology student at Rollins College, I was once rebuked by a peer who thought as an ethnographer I needed to stay outside of the events observed. By insinuating myself into the situation I changed it, and he was quite right. But as a brand planner, people want to know you care about what they care about.  Then they open up.  I’m not talking about panelists talking about their itchy asses behind the glass, I’m talking about two people looking into one another eyes, and talking with personal energy and interest. Ask, listen, learn. Go off piste if it is where the interview goes. Probees can see your interest in your eyes. They can hear it in the timbre of your voice. If you are energized, they will deliver. Peace.

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