boil down

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Have you ever wondered how the men and women who do financial reporting write headlines for daily stock market results? On in today’s NYT read “Tech and Health Care Firms Lean Broad Rally.”  Some of it is pretty easy: They look at the big winners and losers and simply declaim.  It’s data centric.

When less clear cut they need to put on analytical thinking caps, telling us how various market factors impacted buying and selling. Housing starts. Fed reports on interest rates. Impending wars.  This approach relies on implications and deductions about data and facts.  But what happens when the data is contradictory? How do they come up with a headline?  That’s what master brand planning is.  (Master brand planning drives all brand activities; not just daily marketing and communications tactics.)

Master brand strategy is never clean and tidy.  There are always scads of factors. Lots of data. Lots of targets. Everything has to go into the stock pot for the brand boil down.  Headline writers have a half day to write financial report ledes. Brand planners don’t have that luxury. We have to write a headline that encapsulates past, current and future value and our deadline is presentation day. I sometime envy reporters with more exact deadlines.

Peace.

 

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I Like Myopia.

I’ve read a number of pieces by brand planners who advocate “question everything.”  Look at a problem, then look at it from many other directions. Point-counterpoint. Question everything was driven home to me early in  my career with McCann using AT&T’s heavy-handed reliance on consumer research and message testing. It was healthy to listen to consumers share likes, dislikes, preferences and attitudes.  I grew as a result.

But today my brand planning rigor is more fluid. I do not stop and question myself. I don’t look at the obverse. It’s a buzz kill. It kills the poetry. As a rapper might say if I’m in the “flow” I don’t want to break it. So on I go.

Clients are the ones I rely on to question my brand strategy (one claim, 3 proof planks). I like to think, after all my deep digging, marinating, cogitating and “boil down,” that all sides have been considered. And it’s time for flow.

If this approach seems myopic, so be it. But a good brand idea, a big brand idea, is usually rooted in flow, not the result of over analysis.

Peace.  

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Every once in a while I am asked to work on a tough piece of business. Cracking a tough piece of brand strategy code.  Businesses with complicated targeting, multiple value propositions, never-been-done-before product or service make ups.  This is my sweet spot.

The toughest part of brand strategy is what I call the Boil Down. Taking all that is discovered (the care-abouts and good ats) and reducing it to a more manageable level. Sometimes, before I can do that I just need to go back at my client stakeholders. One tool I developed as a waypoint in the process is The 7 Conundrums.  

Before I’m comfortable writing the brand brief I create a presentation identifying behavioral or product observations that seem contradictory. Conundrums are tension points that when discussed with stakeholders and subject matter experts can reveal important insights. And/or also may move stakeholders closer to accepting possible brand strategies.

For an online art gallery marketplace client, here was a conundrum:    

Walking into an art gallery can be intimidating but also freeing.  

I’ve always found that fertile discussions about marketing and branding tension points get me closer to cracking the toughest nuts.

Peace.

 

 

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Every business needs a promotion, something to jump start revenue when things are slow. My go-to promotion for the last few years has been a “Free Day of Planning.”   I offer up my services for one day, free of charge.  Try before you buy.

I had an opportunity to do some strategy work on Heineken Light during one of these free days. In ideation, I came up with a very cool “idea” for activation; it was on target, on culture and had mad finesse.

Since moving to Asheville, I’ve been thinking anew about promotions. While the free day of planning tended to target agencies, the new promo will target marketers. I’m thinking of calling the new promo  the “Climb Around,” a reference to climbing all over the product from my B2B days. A 2-dayer, the Climb Around will have me on-premise observing various business practices; understanding the 4 Ps (product, price, promotion and place), while observing organizational structure, management and culture.  

What will make the Climb Around unique will be my quietude. With only 2 days, the time will be best spent watching and listening — much as if undertaken by a cultural anthropologist. Field workers only observe — they never should they insinuate themselves into the cultural tableau. It changes the dynamic.

Using my stock pot/boil down metaphor, the output of the Climb Around will be only three observations. Three for free.

Any Beta testers out there?

Peace.

 

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In 1974 JWT London’s Stephen King wrote a Planning Guide. Thanks to Julian Cole of Bee Bee Do (BBDO) for sharing it today. The JPEG below summarizes nicely how a brand works, based upon Mr. King’s constellation of “appeals.”

This is a smart boil-down of what a brand is, why it works, and what it needs to do to connect with consumers.

I’m a simple man. One of the reason for my success in brand planning is my simpler view of branding. It is easier to articulate than that of many others. Verbose planners get you nodding. Then nodding. And more nodding until you can’t actually play back what they said. My meme-able word bites on branding stick.

In Mr. King’s case, I take into consideration all of his brand appeals but boil them down further. Into two variables in fact. I call it the Is-Does. What brand IS and what a brand DOES. The Does prioritizes the appeals and picks one. Ish. But don’t underestimate the Is.  The iPhone, for instance, was introduced as a phone, not a hybrid device. Smart.

Selling with simple language works. Consumers respond well. Even when those consumers are marketers.

Peace.

 

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The Boil Down.

Every brand planner has his or her own toolkit. But basically they drop themselves into a category or brand space and learns. They understand the product, competition, care-abouts and functions. If they’re smart they also try to understand the business and finances. A dive into the culture of the buying is important. And learning the language of the category is not underrated.

After all information is amassed, balanced by some qualitative data, it’s time to put paper to pencil. Or finger to keyboard. This is where the good brand planners separate from the not so.  

My key tool is the brief. Many brand planner use a brief to create strategy…or a fill in the box template. Same thing.

The real key in crafting a brief is the “boil down.” The boil down removes all non-essential information gathered during discovery.  I call it the boil down because it riffs on the metaphor of the stock pot. Fill up the stock pot and boil it down to a very rich bullion at the bottom.

At What’s The Idea?, a brand strategy is one claim, three proof planks. This is the organizing principle for brand strategy. Four things. That’s a lot of boiling.

Peace.  

 

 

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Yesterday I watched an interview with Mike Maples, Jr. on Pando. I wasn’t familiar with Mr. Maples but am a big fan of one of his investments Chegg, run by Dan Rosensweig. Talk about content marketing? Pando CEO/Interviewer Sarah Lacy understands content marketing. This is no content factory stuff — filled with blather, key words and juvie likeability — it’s an interview with a person who not only wants to redistribute marketing wealth, he wants to grow the whole pie. Rather than watching The Voice or a cop show tonight, click up this bad boy.

In one segment, Mr.Maples tommy guns why his competitor Sequoia Capital is so great.

“They are killer. Their talent, focus, intensity, their ability to do generational transfer, their aggressiveness, their hustle, intelligence, organizational wisdom and knowledge, and the institutional frameworks that they have…”

This stuff wasn’t from notes. He is crushing big time on Sequoia, but knows exactly what it takes to win. These qualities are success drivers at all companies, not just start-ups. The former traits are personnel/employee related; the latter are company culture and strategy based. Wisdom and knowledge are about learning and sharing – they are not static. Frameworks are about replicable processes and optimized outcomes.

My boil down on branding is about claim and proof. Mr. Maples’ boil down on success is about talent and strategy. Learn from this dude. Peace.

 

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Boil This!

The secret sauce of the brand planner is their ability to take all the information at hand and boil it down into a compelling argument that leads to a sale…or predisition to a sale. (We are not always buying, you see.)

I was with a bunch of IT guys yesterday and the technical fur was flying. Back in the day it would have been enough to make me feel light-header and inadequate. Yesterday it reminded me of times at Bell Labs and AT&T’s Microelectronics listening to English-as-a-second-language engineers talk technical gibberish (to me) about their digital signaling processors. My job at the time was to be polite and make a good ad. Actually, be polite and come home with a strategy to give to creative people to make a good ad. These trips, it turns out, are where I cut my planning teeth.

Information gathering is an art, but taking that “stock pot” of information and boiling it down to insights, then a single selling argument is da monies. Packaging that argument with a little evocative poetry is the Richard Sherman monies.  Thank you AT&T Microelectronics. Peace.

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The boil down is what happens in my brand planning rigor after I feel I’ve collected enough data and information. Lately, I’ve been using Microsoft OneNote, to capture all the market info and links  — a cool tool. When the boil down begins I am looking for proof and patterns.

I was reading an Op-Ed piece about Egypt yesterday and came across two pieces of proof that set me off onto insights – which lead to strategy. These two proofs were the increase in sale of police dogs to citizens and skyrocketing tour guide unemployment.   Lawlessness and fear emerge as problematic outcomes of the unrest in Egypt. Proof informing strategy.

Good planners look to brand strategy that offers both claim and proof.  Too much strategy today is all claim, little proof. Too much marketing, the same. And 90% of advertising is all claim, no proof. Ground up brand planning starts with collection of product strengths, consumer insights, competitive pressures, cultural biases and proclivities, and a deep search for insights and proof. Find the right proof and you are free to move about the brand craft. Peace.

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Yosef D. Dlugacz, PhD, Senior Vice President and Chief of Clinical Quality, Education and Research at the North Shore-LIJ Health System was the person I met when working on the North Shore brand brief who had the greatest influence on the strategy.

My first discussion with Yosef was on the phone and didn’t go very well. He offered up a lot of quality-speak. It was hard work getting to interesting truths about Yosef’s work. What he did for a living. His day. Outputs. Influence.  But once I got it, once I was able to wend myself around the quality jargon and statistical answers, a very instructive insight emerged.  When writing a brand brief you are telling (yourself and others) a serial story. If it doesn’t hang together it’s not done. There are gravity points in the brief that are important and create pathways for the strategy.  Sometimes the gravity points come from consumers, other times from the product or service. They can really come from anywhere in the information gathering experience. Gravity points help with the “boil down” – the decisions about what to not focus on.     

What separates great from the good planners are the boil down and the gravity points. With these in hand the story almost tells itself — finishing off with a big ending (claim) and moral (support planks). The moral, BTW, is always influenced by selling more, to more, for more, more times. 

Searching for Dlugacz (pronounced Dlu-Gotch) is how to start. Peace.

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