Brand architecture

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I was reading about the NY Public Library yesterday and its Beaux Arts design, which led me to look up Beaux Arts (pronounced Boh-Zahr) in Wikipedia. Love Wikipedia. The Parisian Beaux Arts school was big in the late 1800s lasting until the first quarter of the 1900s in the U.S. As architecture goes this stuff blows away today’s glass and steel.  As I read I wondered why the word is so often used in brand strategy.

Brand Architecture, me thinks, borrows too much from its building architecture paternity. In building architectural classifications are a somewhat open set of guidelines and schemes and materials.  In brand planner, practitioners also have guidelines and tools. Many individualized.  

I work in master brand planning, the one that drives subsequent briefs and tactics so I like to stay away from this interpretive guideline thing. I like to be extremely explicit. Brand Strategy in my practice is one claim, three proof planks.  The marketing and comms are either on claim or they are not. It support a proof planks or it does not. Brand strategy is either open or closed. No room for interpretation. No schools. No architecture within which to operate. Is and 0s. On or off.  

This marketing environment is not limited. It does not lack for creativity. All buildings do not look the same. They are just built to last. Flourishes yes. Ephemera no.




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Brand planners are architects and builders.

I once hired an architect to build a garage onto my house — with a room above. He was masterful. The front elevation looked amazing. But the builder looked at the drawings and said “It can’t be done.” Not based upon what was behind the elevation. All façade no structural depth.

Brand planners make the façade – something that looks beautiful, feels right and sells, but they also create a structure that creates the depth. The there that needs to be there. Brand design, as my friends at Starfish Brand Design like to say, is not only the strategy but the execution of the strategy.

It’s nice to determine you are “a customer service company,” but then you have to out-deliver the competition and leap and exceed consumer expectation. Claim and proof in branding is the grail. (Organized claim and proof. ) The architect is about the claim, the builder the proof. Together they build a brand. Apart they shake the money snow globe. Peace.

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I sometimes tell people in the business how my brand strategies contain one word that company management finds objectionable.  They love the strategy — they get it and it gets them – but they say “That, one word. Do we have to use it?”  My answer is always “No, it’s a suit strategy, not a creative strategy.”  “Systematized” for a healthcare org is kind of cold.  We know where you “live” is a little creepy, for a newspaper. Stuff like that.  

Have you ever walked in a city and passed someone you couldn’t keep your eyes off of?  They’re so uniquely made-up or dressed in such a magnetic way you have to do a double or triple take.  It may be beauty, or fashion or demeanor. It may be all three.  That’s how I like my brand strategies. The claim may not be that magnetic, but the attitude, salience and three brand planks are. The gestalt of the idea and support creates a life that pulsing with “look at me.”

A brand plan is not an ad.  It is a story with organized chapters. Three chapters to be specific, but those chapters are long and lush. Well executed, a brand plan can carry serial campaigns over years. Even over ad agencies.

If you can find that word that is s branding freight train and surround it with value building supports, you will win your marketing war. Peace!

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Somewhere on the web is a product called Reputation Builder. It’s a smart web search tool that finds all the negative things people say about you or your brand web so you can do something about it. In this product’s world you build reputation by removing the bad. Kind of a negative way to build a reputation, no?

Rather than remove the negatives, why not build brands by organizing and enhancing the positive?  Advertising most of the time shines light on the positive, but often ads don’t stick out. Or are not believable. Or say things that have been said ad nauseam. More likely, the advertising idea is quite disorganized over a period of time.  If brands were buildings, many would be leaning towers , polished shacks or inverted A-frames.  Too frequently brands don’t have architects. Long term architects.  As crazy as it may seem, some web-based companies change brand strategy by the click. 

So, let’s all think about building brand reputation by answering this question “My company has a great reputation for _________.  Here’s a brand planning URL for you: Peace.

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There are two kinds of marketing strategy people: brand planners and strategists.  Brand planners create a brand architecture comprising brand strategy and support planks that organize the 4 Ps of marketing. Once that architecture or band plan is done, so are the brand planners.  Then it is up to the brand managers to toe the line – to make sure all things marketing align with the plan.  If you want to keep the brand planner around to handle that function, you can, but the key is sharing the plan with all interested managing parties. You rarely find brand planners in marketing jobs, they tend to work at agencies or consultancies.  Frequently they’re involved in new business.

Strategists have the brand planner bone, but tend to spend their days improving the focus or the quality of specific tactical work.  Good strategists mine market insights, behavioral insights, even product insights and present them, usually in deck form, to the makers of things – the creative teams. Say you are strategist at Wieden and Kennedy in NY working on ESPN — right now you might be getting ready for the men’s NCAA basketball tournament.  What are you doing?  Writing creative briefs. By the end of the week you may need two briefs for radio, one for TV and two for an in-arena mobile programs. The paper you make (the strategy) will be judged by the quality of the creative ideas generated.  And with good creative people to work with it’s a fun, nice living.

Brand planners take their orders from the brand.  The brand is their master. Strategists often view the creative product as master. It’s why strategists will allow good work through when it is off plan. Because it is good work. And it will get noticed, and talked about, and may even spike sales.

It is this dual marketing planning reality that drives Naked Communications.  Naked is a brand planning organization. As the marketing business gets more exciting, granular and complicated, the need for more Nakeds will emerge. Bright Sun in the 90s understood this…they were first. Peace.  

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I say brand plan you say________? Right.  No one really knows what a brand plan looks like.  That’s not to say Proctor and Gamble and L’Oreal don’t have brand plans. Or that Publicis, Ogilvy or Crispin Porter don’t have them. They do. But what they’re called and how they are organized are all quite different. 

Brand Strategy Statement.

My brand plans are simple to understand.  They contain a brand strategy statement which I tell clients is a suit strategy.  It’s not very catchy, not creative or tagline-worthy, but it tends to hit the CMO and CEO right in the solar plexus.  It may be contextual and/or contain metaphor but it’s certainly a quick, decisive statement of the brand value. 

Brand Planks.

Beneath this simple statement are three planks. Brand planks. Borrowed from Bill Clinton’s first election campaign when the mantra was “It’s the economy stupid,” a brand plank is a product development and messaging directive.  My planning process begins with the gathering of formation. Then I boil it down into its most powerful, tasty flavors and those flavors became the planks.  Of course, I make sure the planks are key consumer care-abouts and key company strengths (or potential, attainable strengths). 

But lately I’ve been analyzing the planks to see if they share any formula for success.  Thinking about what makes good brand planks before I fill the stock pot with data and get sidetracked is (sorry Bud Cadell) what consumes me. 

I haven’t gotten there yet but here’s a quick start: 

One plank should educate (it’s what leaders do). One plank should engage (motivate preference).  And one plank should personalize (create a personally meaningful connection between the brand and consumer — bring the consumer closer to the brand). 

This stuff is mapping the branding genome hard. Or not. But when I finish, it’s going to be exciting.  Peace!

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Brand Planks

I wrote about brand architecture last week and mentioned that a good one includes a powerful branding idea supported by three brand planks. The planks — discrete reasons to believe — when combined, tell a story only your band can tell.


Interestingly, some planks may be at odds with one another and need to be carefully managed. Let’s say cost-competitiveness and product innovation are key planks.  The more messages you pump into the market about your leading edge products the more likely the market will be to think you are high-priced.  Conversely, the more low price advertising you do, the less you will be seen as an innovator.  A number of years ago AT&T used these two planks as part of the architecture for its B2B services. Though the planks were at odds, the research nerds figured out how to modulate them to the point where they could almost predict market share gains based upon the spending allocation. Who says you shouldn’t take statistics at college? Peace!




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Many people in the business talk about brand architecture but I wonder how many actually think of it in finite terms. Could they put their brand architecture into a wireframe for instance?   Or a 140 word Tweet?


The brand architecture process starts with information gathering and the interview of company executives and employees, category pundits, and customers. Lately, I’ve found it effective to troll the blogosphere for insights from customers and competitors’ customers. A review of the business fundamentals, i.e., “Where’s the money?” and an assessment of primary market research is also important. When all the info is gathered and “boiled down,” what remains is fit into 4 nice boxes which constitute the branding architecture: One branding idea atop three support planks.


The branding idea is really a promise to the consumer that fulfills a need. The need can’t be something goofy and ephemeral, though, like “happiness” (listening Coke?) and must be product-rooted. The support planks have to be logically tied to the branding idea; they have to be reasons to believe. Also, brand planks are best when they flow organically from the product – when they are truths. They then become easier to sell.

One promise, three planks. Sound easy? Have at it. Peace!

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