brand good-ats

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There are a couple of start-up companies founded by advertising ex-pats focusing on organizational design and strategy.  These companies are convinced the digital economy and digital tools are being overlooked when it comes to evolving organizational efficiency. They are not wrong.

NOBL and The Ready are two such companies whose missions are to assist legacy orgs transition to newer models, the goals being improved agility, aggressiveness, accountability and profit. (The Dachis Group operated in this space 10 years ago, but became a software company.)

I need to study some of these methodologies more before fully commenting, but here’s a quick observation. The going in premise is “the organization is the enemy.” The framework, as I understand it, begins with executive and stakeholder interviews, team workshops, feedback studies and lots of charts. No doubt, if you rub some stem cells on it, I mean add some digital productivity tools, you can move any organization forward. It’s no hocus pocus, it’s a real business and the advice is good.

But, I am a brand planner and for me brand strategy is like penicillin. A cure all. I am of the mind a well-constructed brand strategy can solve organizational problems; perhaps even better than rote org design.

An organizational design framework, can be generic. A templated approach to solving inefficiency. A brand strategy approach, though, does not view organizational structure as the problem. Rather, it studies the disconnects between customer care-abouts and brand good-ats. Organizations can and must change to remove these impediments but those changes are less about pathways and communications occlusions and more about strategy tied to brand value.

No one is arguing organizational delivery can be improved. I am just suggesting it’s better to make a cookie more moist and healthy, than making the formulary more efficient. One can do both…starting from the brand POV is all I am advocating.

Peace.

 

 

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Fred Wilson is a blogger (www.avc.com) and businessman I admire greatly. He blogs daily and share his knowledge without second thought.  He’s probably the most prominent VC on the east coast if not the county.  In a recent speech given at MIT, he mentioned that on his first ever test there he had gotten a zero.  About MIT he said, and I paraphrase, “When you go to MIT to go from being the smartest kid at your school to being the dumbest.” Anyway when asked about his nil test score his professor the response was “You didn’t understand the question.”

Here’s the thing about brand planning. The ones who get it right aren’t the ones with the best methodology or framework. They are the ones who understand the question. The problem is that question always changes. Yesterday I posted brand strategy is not Chaos Theory.  But if the question changes for every brand strategy, isn’t that a bit chaotic?

A generic question for all brands might be “What value or behavior does the brand provide that best meets the needs of the customer?”  Doesn’t seem like a bad question. But, per Fred Wilson’s professor, it’s the wrong one. Only when you are waist deep in a brand, customer care-abouts and brand good-ats can one ask the real question. It will be a business question, tempered by consumer insight, and help you pass that first and last test.

Happy hunting!

Peace.

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Following is a mission statement from food start-up Smart Mills.

“We exist to positively impact the way food is made, enriching lives and bodies through delicious, convenient foods made from clean nutritious ingredients.” 

Mission statements often contain multiple commas and conjunctions; they tend to cast a wide net. As mission statements go, this one is actually modest. It doesn’t try to do too, too much.

Here is a brand strategy claim developed for a cookie start-up:

“Craft cookies, au naturel.”

Almost everything said about Smart Mills could be said about the cookie start-up, but with way fewer words. A powerful brand strategy is indelible. Why is that? Because it’s focused. It is not six things or four things.  It’s one big idea. An idea that is a customer care-about and a brand good-at. A brand strategy is comprised of one claim and three proof planks.

The human memory can remember one big idea. And it will believe that idea if proven in an efficient, impactful fashion. So by all means marketers write your mission statements. But when it comes time to selling, blow them up and create the most important selling tool you have at your disposal. A brand strategy.

Peace.

 

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How do you make something out of nothing?  That’s the question for the brand planner when working on a startup. 

When I was hire #1 at Zude as marketing director, brand strategy was one of my jobs.  I didn’t start brand planning in earnest for months while the CTO and CEO were building, raising and creating the physical business.  In previous blog posts I’ve suggested the first thing one must do when developing brand strategy for a start-up is “follow the patent.”  I stand by that. 

Startups, as you know, are quite fluid. It’s product and code first, business requirements second. And what the build is one day it may not be the next. So when it comes to customer care-abouts, that’s the easy part – unless you are breaking new functional ground. It’s the brand good-ats that are hard.  There are none.

So what does the brand planner do at this stage? Keep following the patent.  Have daily observation and update sessions with development team, even for a few minutes.  Insinuate yourself into the product development process in a positive way. Offer help as needed. Do not get in the way of the creativity. Provide marketing stim to the team — subconsciously, it can help.  And continue to play back (to the dev team) any recurring patterns that smell like good-ats.

It’s a gnarly time. Work to enjoy it.

Peace.

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I was in a meeting earlier this week with a couple of smart agency guys, explaining the exigencies of being a brand strategist. How nobody wakes up in the morning, yawns, and says “I need a brand plan.” Or how the branding business is filled with a small group of people with a special lexicon of marketing and brand gibberish – I call it marko-babble – filled with words like “authenticity,” “brand voice,” “truths,” “journey,” etc. Lots of brand consultants have a process for doing business, but they don’t actually have a framework for what is delivered. Or, a plan for the future.

I do and I explained it: “One claim, three proof planks. This is the organizing principle for product, experience and messaging. The key to my framework is “proof.” I explained to my agency associates that my discovery, research and strategic development all focus on product proof. Proof of what? Good question. It’s not until the proofs are arrayed that the proof of what raises it head.

Proofs tend to be grounded in customer care-abouts and brand good-ats.

One brand planner’s discovery is often much like the next…lots of reading, interviews, primary and secondary research and cogitation. But at What’s The Idea? It is proof that makes the pudding. It is proof that drives the brand strategy.

Peace.

 

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In my lifetime and the lifetime of What’s The Idea?, I’ve probably written 50 marketing plans.  Their formats are all pretty much the same: market situation, key issues, objectives, strategies, targets and messages, tactics, budget and timeline.  To the uninitiated who might read one of these plans, once past the up-front market review and obs and strats, the tactics of one plan might look like the others. Interchangeable almost. probably containing ads, PR, direct, web, promotion and social. Simple, undifferentiated line items on an excel chart.

The fact is, it’s the brand strategy that really sets one plan apart from the next. Every dollar spent is guided by a brand claim and three proof planks – or supports.  The tactics aren’t just random copy with fill in the blank marketing claims. Every piece of external and internal communications, meant to position and sell, is scripted. Well not scripted, but guided.

Branding strategy is an organized principle for building brand value and sales, based on consumer care-abouts and brand good-ats.

Brand strategy is the secret sauce to every marketing plan.

Peace.

 

 

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The What’s The Idea? brand strategy framework is simple, 1 claim and 3 proof planks. To get there, the discovery process searches out consumer “care-abouts” and brand “good-ats.”  While exploring these things I’m always looking for positive ways to build strategic values.  For instance, a client launching a healthier-for-you cookie made with all natural ingredients, faced a category perception that products of this nature are often dry with harsh mouth feel. A negative. The brand plan made “moisture” a plank. A positive.

Leveraging negatives is a common marketing practice. But in branding, it’s all about the positives.

On the negative side of the ledger there is actually a continuum.  From most to least strenuous it includes: hatred, anger, annoyance, nuisance, irritation, and dissatisfaction.

When going positive, it’s important to have a sense of where on the continuum consumers lie when evaluating competitor or category negatives. Are dry natural cookies an annoyance or a nuisance? Then when promoting the moist nature of your cookie, you mete your response proportionately.

Today’s newspaper says the negative ads against Donald Trump are in record breaking territory, with $70M spent by fellow republicans alone. I wonder if they are using the negative continuum?

Peace?

 

 

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