brand consulting

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I read a lot about leadership and one word seems to pop up a great deal is passion.  Leaders want passion in their companies and hiring agents want it in their hires. Employees when asked about personal traits often play the passion card. It’s kind of an over-used word in my opinion.

In my business practice I use the word love a great deal, telling customers and prospects I must learn to love their product to be an effective advocate. But how does one love JPMorgan Chase? How does one love Hospice Care Network? Or PwC? It takes some doing.  

Passion and love may be allies yet they are really two different things. Don’t mix them up.

As a brand planner – someone who mines care-abouts and good-ats – I try to remove passion. It is the dispassionate planner who has the best ear. Removing passion for an idea or insight is not easy, especially if you hit it early on, but it’s a necessary.  Brand planners need to keep an open door policy throughout the gleaning process. Om. It keeps a clear heart while you flesh out and prioritize all the values you need to consider.

Selling can be passionate, planning must be the opposite.



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A lot of my hours at What’s The Idea? involve networking and business development. When not being paid for brand and marketing consultation, I’m on the lookout for brand and marketing opportunities to share with prospects. Business development can be a dirty word from the prospect’s viewpoint, however. It has to be meaningful, not salesy. 

Ten plus years ago someone published a sales book about “solution selling,” a technique whereby a salesperson meets a prospect and asks about their “pain points.” This is supposed to fast track the sellers approach. Done well it has worked. Done poorly, it’s like asking a patient “How’s your cancer?”

Consultants in the brand business use a promotion called the “communications audit,” where they go into a company and look at the totality of communications. When arrayed, they then point out all the contradictions, mistakes, inconsistencies and meaningless flah-flah-flah – hoping to embarrass the business into an engagement. I’m thinking of a promotion which is the obverse of the communications audit. Perhaps I’ll call it a “marketing high points audit.” Rather than all negative, I’ll only identify the things done well. Proponents of political advertising may disagree with the approach but then I’m not looking to get elected. I’m looking to create meaningful dialogue.

Tink about it (as my Norwegian aunt might say).




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Lots of consultants write about the discovery process in their proposals. The part of the assignment when one gathers lots of information. Discovery looks slightly different from one consultant practice to the next, yet it’s all about interviews, research, data gathering, and deep study. Let’s just say there are a lot more “ins” than “outs” going on in discovery.

I use a stock pot metaphor in describing discovery: fill the stock pot us with lots of ingredients.

The real work, the “money shot” if you will, takes place when the consultant has to reveal the “outs” — the important stuff that needs to be revealed, addressed and acted upon. This is the point where the discovery is boiled down and decisions are made as to what not to act upon. What not to change. What not to highlight.  I show a slide in my brand strategy presentation of a glass bowl filled with fruit cocktail. The Fruit Cocktail Affect happens when too many things turn into one thing. In the case of this sugary concoction, the grape tastes like the cherry tastes like the pear tastes like the peach.

Most consultants do discovery; select your consultant based upon the key findings…the most important outs. Peace.


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I consult with a lot of companies, especially start-ups and those in emerging markets, that have a hard time articulating their Is-Does: What a brand Is and what it Does.   The reality is, I have a hard time with the Is-Does in my own humble practice.  My logo says I’m a “brand consultancy.”  Everyone knows what a consultancy is but when the word brand is added, understanding goes out the window.   

Marketing insiders and those in the branding business know what I mean, but they’re not the target. (Not unless I’m looking to get hired or freelance.) Most of my customers are marketers.  And most marketers don’t wake up every day sweating a hostile business environment saying “I need to invest a few thousand dollars in brand consultation.” They might say “I need some sales,” or “I wish I understood why my customers are leaving,” or “Are there segments I am overlooking?”

The word these people understand is strategy. Slap the word brand next to it and it loses meaning – losing the ability to answer the aforementioned questions. (My explanation of brand planning and the brand strategy rigor clears up the misunderstanding, but at face value, contextually, the business value is not obvious.) 

Were I to position myself as a marketing consultant rather than a brand consultant, I would reduce any Is-Does issues. I, too, have an Is-Does issue. Stay tuned for the deconstruction of the problem and the solution. Peace.

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Last year, I did some consulting for a really smart athletic wear company. The CEO grew up in a niche, understood the market opening and built a company to fill that opening. Focus is a critical component of marketing and this CEO had it. Brand planners and brand experience consultants are always on the lookout for focus.  

Marketers sometimes fall into a trap to expand that focus beyond what they know (and love) which can be the beginning of the end.  Line extensions – endemic line extensions, that is – are okay, but things like sales growth numbers and market growth data can intoxicate a leader.

During this consulting gig the company owner brought me in to help create an “insanely great” retail shopping experience.  Since the owner already had the focus down, this “ask” was a brilliant next step. As brand experts Megan Kent and David Kessler would tell you, building a strong brand is not about just about the creative, it’s about the total experience.  And that’s execution.  That’s deeds not messages.  

One is most likely to build an insanely great retail brand experience if s/he follows the brand idea. Go generic, e.g., customer care above and beyond, and you have no muscle memory.  Or you are compared to Nordstrom.

Of course, production and pricing must also come in to play but they, too, are decisions informed by the brand plan.  Peace.

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