brand briefs

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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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One of the challenges when writing a brand brief is knowing which insight to use to fuel the claim. (The claim is the idea at the top of the brand strategy, supported by 3 proof planks.) Often in a brief there are 2 or 3 really exciting insights, all of which offer enough power to motivate brand predisposition. But which to pick, that’s the question.

What I love about the brief I use, borrowed from McCann-Erickson’s Peter Kim 2 decades ago, is that it has a serial framework. One section leads to the next. Like puzzle pieces, they don’t always fit, but fit they must. Until they fit, you need to keep working. Until there is a linear story you are only bumping along the cobble stones. Chank a chank.

As I work the brief, key insights find their way into the story. But some must be let go. What’s funny is the outcome of the story – the claim – is often not known until the story plays out. Insights float in the back of the mind as you work toward the end, some more strongly than others, but the big finish is often a bit of a surprise.

There can’t be two endings. Enjoy the ride.

Peace.

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When I was a kid in the business the worst thing a supervisor could say to you — and it happened to me — was “you need to be more strategic.” Ouch. So I worked on my strategy chops. I read Peter Drucker, marketing manuals and texts, participated in corporate task forces. I sponged up strategy and I did fieldwork.

Today, as a consultant, I offer two outputs: brand briefs and marketing plans. The latter provides obs, strats, targets and tactics and is critical for successful business…at least the obs and strats are. The marketing plan is what builders need before that start assembling things. It’s the bread and butter of my consulting practice. People can execute, given a plan.

But the real magic is in the brand brief. It conditions employees to sell and position. It boils down the marko-babble into an easy-to-understand, differentiated, business winning value proposition. Brand briefs are the elixir of success. Yet some clients and minions nod their heads toward the brand strategy (one claim, 3 proof planks) but don’t really live it. Whenever I see this at an ex-client it hurts. BrandTuitive, brand planning friends in the city, do a whole training session, post strategy, to insure unrequited brand strategy doesn’t happen. I think I may try putting training into my next proposal. Unrequited strategy is too painful. It hurts too deeply. Away unrequited strategy!

Peace.

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Red Blooded Target.

blood

LBT stands for living breathing target. (You were thinking lesbian, bi-, trans weren’t you?) This is a classification I use in my brand and creative briefs. It’s not particularly brilliant or anything, but it is one element of my secret sauce. Most briefs contain a target, a key insight, a prevailing attitude and a reason to believe on their way to the big idea. Mine do too. But often, in this “I want a short brief” creative atmosphere, these inputs are combined. Me? I like a living breathing target. Not a demographic descriptor, not a customer journey, not an archetype – a target that has blood pumping through his/her veins. One that feels and does. A target with a conscience. I don’t write a book, but do find by going all anthropologist on its ass it gives me a deeper think about purchase context. A deeper think, rich in importance.

So when meeting people, interviewing consumers and doing fieldwork, look past what they say and what they do, look for emotion, mannerisms and feeling. These are the things you can parley into a red blooded target.

Peace-ly.

 

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In the advertising and marketing business thousands of briefs are written every day. 98% of them are tactical.  I was visiting an acquaintance at Wieden and Kennedy and he had to go off to write a couple of ESPN briefs for women’s tennis, or some such.  Sounded like a cool job. Briefs are what planners do. Planners also fill the holes in their day with insight decks.  I’ve done quite a few. 

The other 2% of briefs written are brand briefs the briefs under which all insight deck and tactics briefs will magnetically hover. These are the most important. Frankly, with a great brand brief, many of the other briefs need not be written at all. With one good idea (claim) and three planks (proof of claim), the organizing principle is set and the creative teams prepared.

Sure, specific tactics with unique goals may require a new lens through which to look at a program. A tighter target segment. A new product feature. Yet the organizing principle that is the brand plan is the default marching order. The reality is, many, many companies don’t have a brand brief, just digital folders with scads of the tactical variety. It’s sad and inefficient.

Tactical briefs are for now. Brand briefs are for when. Or better put, for ever. Campaigns and agencies come and go, a powerful brand idea is indelible.  Peace on Monday!

PS.  I am not suggesting here that W+K does not do brand briefs. The shop is too good not to.

 

 

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I was reading today about Robert Rauschenberg’s mixed media piece of art, entitled “Canyon”, and its donation to the MoMA.  One of the arguments by MoMA to the donor family for putting it there vs. The Met was that ther Rauschenberg “combines” were on display there along with combines by other important artists of the period. The logic being MoMA would provide a more contextual setting.

Context is a keyword for brand planners. We use it when budgets are low. We use it when it’s pregnant with emotional meaning. We mold it sometime, just for the poetry.  As a fairly newly minted brand planner, I look at the craft in context. When I think about the pursuit, I muse over its history, its future, the tools and best practitioners.  I’ve been a brand planner at agencies and as a director of marketing. In both situations the job is to create stimulants for selling. Sustained selling. That takes organization, tough decisions and a tight plan. It also takes oversight. At agencies the stim. is the brief,and oversight of the creative product.  (The latter often doesn’t go well.)  Client side, the stim. is the brief, the selling in and oversight of executive management, direct reports and agents (nicer word than vendors). Can you say herding cats in a marble hallway?    

My hope as a brand planner is to alter the context of the discipline in marketing.  Just as Margaret Mead insisted that all of her direct reports at the American Museum of Natural Art had psychotherapy – she argued knowing more about yourself has to be healthy – I believe marketing is healthiest when driven by a brand plan. And evolving the marketing craft in that direction, where brand plans are not an afterthought or side-thought, but the fundamental building block is my mission.  In the historic context that is brand planning, my aim is to make it the major organ in the marketing body. Peace!

PS.  If you don’t comment, I can’t learn.

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In the marketing world there are “approvers” and “inspirers.”  I’ve been both and the latter is a much nicer place to live. Both must teach the people who work for them, but approvers tend to look at work product, evaluate it, then recite the right way or provide principles for good work. More often than not this comes off as preachy and pedantic. Using a pedagogy metaphor, they teach from the front of the class, broadcasting the lessons.  Inspirers, on the other hand, instruct by creating an environment for people to do great work.  It’s not judgmental it’s inspirational. Rather than instruct from the front of the class, continuing the metaphor, inspirers allow for learning through participation, experience and discovery.

When writing creative briefs or insight decks my job is to inform through stories and observations pregnant with possibilities. Telling an art director and copy writer to sell more absorbent paper towels is different than finding a moment when an absorbent paper towel is important. (Baby in arms, new skirt on backwards, presentation in 35 minutes, sitter late, orange juice spill.)

We are all big boys and girls.  Not everyone deserves a trophy. Some work is not good and doesn’t deserve to be approved.  Balancing feedback with inspiration forth can make a world of difference. Find ways to inspire and everyone’s work will improve…including your own. Subtle peace.

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