brand idea

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Yesterday I wrote about the power of a clear brand idea. In closing I mentioned it only works if adhered to.  Smart people in the brand consulting business do training.  After the idea and architecture are sold to senior management, the consultant goes in and trains stakeholders in its proper use and care. A good practice.

I worked at McCann when they launched the new Lucent Technologies brand and the agency created a wonderful brand book that would live on office bookshelves for years, explaining the proper use and care of the brand — well after training faded. Training plus a brand book has a better chance of working. But there is an even better way.

Who is to be the steward of the brand idea? Usually it falls to the CMO and/or brand manager. But for most companies the task is back-burnered. They are too busy. So the position of “brand steward” needs to be created. A chief brand officer, if you will, but really only at a director level.  Just as legal counsel needs to keep the law in mind, a brand steward needs to own brand strategy adherence. Someone to ask “Does this work deliver our brand claim and proof array?”  

It’s not a hard job. It’s an important job. No one ever got sued for nonadherence to brand strategy. And that’s why there is so much sloppy brand craft.

Peace.

 

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Though I am of the belief that political strategists have a lot to learn from brand planners, I do acknowledge borrowing some tools from politics; for instance, the nomenclature for my “brand plank” framework comes from the political arena.  Reading a political story yesterday, in which the word “agenda” came up, I immediately wondered how to use brand agenda in my practice. Clearly a plan needs an agenda. A strategy needs an agenda. But admittedly, an agenda is for a strategist not a consumer. So let’s think this through.

The brand planners adheres to an agenda.

The brand managers adheres to the planks.

And consumers? Consumers adhere to the (brand) idea.

As I think about incorporating a brand agenda into my process, where does it fit?

Does it sit at the beginning of the brief along with Brand Position and Brand Objective? Should it come in at the end after the idea is born. After the planks are scribed and the target parsed?

And what should a brand agenda look like? Is it single-minded? Longer form? Short and pithy?

Let me sleep on it, but I think it should be the last thing on the brief. And in answer to what it should look like, I’m leaning toward “yes, yes and yes, yes.”)

Peace.

 

 

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In my brand strategy presentation I share real examples. The first couple of minutes are about theory and process then I trot out real client strategies, sans brand name, as they are proprietary.

The first examples, which everyone sees, is wonderfully tight, uncomplicated and easy to reckon. It’s for a commercial maintenance company – the people who keep buildings clean and operational: vacuuming, washing windows, emptying garbage and keeping the grounds in order. This particular commercial maintenance company had no brand. It had a logo, invoices, website and a strong owner.

When all the care-abouts and good-ats were understood and assembled, and the boil down complete, the brand strategy became quite obvious: “The navy seals of commercial maintenance.” The claim was supported by proof planks: fast, fastidious and preemptive.

As brand strategies go – and they are always 1 claim and 3 proof planks – this was a particularly easy metaphor. Not all are this easy. Done well, all brand strategies have a mellifluous quality to them. Almost like a song or hook, constructed out of product or company notes that create pride and desire.

Peace.

PS.  If you’d like to see the presentation, please write Steve@WhatsTheIdea.com

 

 

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Positioning Roulette

I came across a brand position tool today called Positioning Roulette. It’s a lovely (sometimes I like to sound British) business idea by a couple of commercially minded planners Ulli Appelbaum and Vincent Schmidlin. Designed to make brand discovery easier. it comprises 29 questions, many with multiple parts, that when answered will give the strategy runner enough information to make smart brand strategy decisions. And ultimately lead one to the strategy itself.

I love this thinking. Positioning Roulette is complex, a bit like DNA mapping, and will certainly provide enough grist to build a brand idea.  And even more fun, especially for DIYers, they’ve productized the idea into flashcards which you can buy on the web.

I’m not sure I’d use the word roulette in the name as it feels very game-of-chancey, but let’s not fuss. Frankly, that’s the point of this post. It is game of chance. With 29 brand related outputs, how do you build the idea?  Ahhh, that’s why you need the experts. It’s the cull-through or what I call the boil-down that’s the hard work. This tool or tool kit will make that very obvious to those in need of brand strategy help. Don’t try this at home. Brilliant execution. Smart men.

Peace.

 

 

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Insights and Briefs.

tighty-whitiesI love my briefs.  Not tighty whities  or bike shorts. Brand briefs.  I’ve got a million of them on the hard drive. What gets my engine going when reading old briefs are the insights.  Insights about targets, consumer desires, claims and proof arrays.  Insights are the stim creative people crave.  When well done, insights wrapped in a poetic, meme-able packages, light fires under art directors, copywriters and creative directors.  

Insights are catalysts supporting the brand idea. A good brief will offer up multiple insights – but it’s the creatives who figure out which are most actionable, motivating and fanciful. 

Early on I recognized I’m only about 15% creative. I’ve worked with, studied, and stalked some of the great creative minds in the business. I’m not them and never will be. Being a diagnostician and insight doctor is the next best thing.

My old briefs remind me of the love. Campaigns come and go, a powerful brand idea is indelible.

Peace, in this “post truth” campaign world.

 

 

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I manufacture brand ideas for a living. But each client that signs me on is only looking for one idea. A brand claim.

secret sauce

A lot goes into that claim. Hours of interviews. Days of observation. Book learning, article reading, blog scouring and research development. There comes a point during all of this discovery when I must start to boil down the learning and gleanings and circle the idea.  It’s a little Sherlock Holmes-esque, frankly, with deduction and gut instinct – but it’s the money making part of the business.

So how do 60 pages of typed and mistyped notes,  5 yards of OneNote links, copy, pictures and videos and a brain filled with stories, emotions and competitive brand noise reduce itself to one claim? Via two roads.

The Planks.

Brand planks for me are areas of proof that stand out for a company, product or service — a marriage of “good ats” and “care abouts.”  As I go through my material, I find “proofs” and highlight them. Proofs are actions, deeds, activities and results.  As these proofs begin to hang together or cluster they become planks. The planks, together, can inform the claim.

The Brief.                                                                

The brand brief is the document — actually a serial story — that explains the product, what it does, for whom, and why. When I write the brief I start at the beginning and, like a form, fill out one section before I move to the next. If there is dissonance in this serial story, it needs to be re-cobbled.  Only when the story hangs together can I write the final chapter: The claim. Once the claim is created, and once it fits like a glove with the three planks we’re done. Sometimes the planks need adjustment. Sometimes the claim. But it all must fit. It must be easy to understand. Contain sound logic. And a bit of artful poetry in the claim doesn’t hurt.

This is how I come up with a brand strategy. This is how I come up with an “organizing principle for product, experience and messaging.”  Peace.

 

 

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BBDO has made a huge impact on advertising and consumerism with its call-to-arms “It’s all about the work.” a reference that explains its constantly superior creative product. There have been creative hot shops over the years, the flavor of the year if you will, but BBDO is always up there. This year it won the Gunn Report’s most creative network for the tenth straight time.

Most agency creative chiefs and executives will tell you it’s about the work. But is it?

In the marketing world there is only one litmus: sales. Sales leadership backed by market share and revenue power. Money creates scale and scope. And advertising. Can’t fund good work without money. Advertising can touch the hearts, minds and souls of consumers but so can a good movie. A great song. What it needs to do is move a consumer closer to a sale.

Advertising is also about being in the right place at the right time. Ask someone in sales. Sure sales surround helps, but nothing says cha-ching like a consumer ready to buy. When ready to buy a consumer who thinks about your brand, prefers your brand, and understands its value is a consumer that buys your brand.

Branding is about ideas that infuse the soul. Ideas that create preference. That’s the work marketers care about. Creating muscle memory for value. Not for an ad. Ads can contribute mightily, but it’s not the beauty pageant some make it out to be.

Peace.

PS. This post is not meant to suggest BBDO’s work is not effective. The post is about redefining what the work is.

 

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Brand Ideas and Words.

Words are to strategy what notes are to music. A great piece of music lays a set of notes into a unique order that can make a song bird take notice. Words by Dickens are constructed differently than those by Dennis Lehane. The words used in a powerful strategy idea (the claim) are powerful and rich but are just words. Does the word “polydimensional” mean the same thing as “multi-channel” or “multifaceted”? Probably. But as part of a brand strategy claim it can take on added ballast.

Poly suggests science and medicine. Also academia. Dimensional suggests 3-D. Linear but vast. As someone once said about brands “they are empty vessels into which we pour meaning.” But a good word can help guide and organize meaning.

Choose your words very carefully. Be sure the context is rich, but do not fall into category babble or nomenclature. It’s okay to use some counterintuitive or incongruous words, so long as human context makes sense. Never confuse. Be artful and find words pregnant with meaning. Malleable meaning that create value for your brand. And, as in music, it doesn’t hurt to offer a bit of poesy or a lyrical feel.

Peace.

 

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When I when I started my blog What’s The Idea? in 2007 I had a tough decision to make. Originally, I wanted to call it What’s The Big Idea?, thinking big ideas were better than regular old ideas. Eight years out, I’m happy with my decision to leave off the “big.”griffin farley beautiful mind logo

The reality is, as much I seek big ideas for my brand strategy clients, sometimes just getting them to agree to an idea is enough. Big, bold, brave ideas are currency of the planning realm these days. According to Suzanne Powers, chief strategy office at McCann-Erickson, it is one reasons Team Catfish won the Griffin Farley Beautiful Minds competition last night at Google. And she wasn’t wrong. But “big” can sometime be a synonym for brazen. (And I get it, most of my brand strategies contain one word that make CEOs and marketing officers uncomfortable.) But brand ideas don’t need to be huge, or poetic, or brilliantly layered — they just need to be clean. More importantly they need to be followed. Enforced. And enculturated.

Coke’s “refreshment” wasn’t a big idea. It was a smooth sailing idea. “We know where you live” for Newsday wasn’t a big idea, it was a comfortable idea.

A brand strategy idea (the claim) doesn’t need to be big to be effective. It must, however, be believable, relevant and easy to understand. Peace!

P.S. Great job last night Sarah Watson, Angela Sun and BBH.

 

 

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I don’t mean to pick on HP or its advertising and marketing again. But I must.  The company is using arguably the world’s best advertising agency (BBDO) and can’t get out of its own way.  They can’t come up with a sustainable brand idea; an idea that marries what they do best with what customers want most. Today’s new idea, as seen in an ad in the NYT, revolves around the notion of “further faster.”  It is all claim, exposition and pedantic nothingness – not a single sign of proof in the copy. Do HP and Meg Whitman really think IT executives and Fortune 2000 leaders don’t know they have to be faster and more informed in their business decisions? OMG. If “further faster” is the idea — at least it is better than “make it matter,” their last strategic foray. You wouldn’t know it from this ad however.

HP has bigger fish to fry than a tagline and brand idea. They are splitting the company and losing small cities worth of money. That said, someone at the top in the marketing dept. should be trying much harder to deliver a clear, meaningful idea.

BBDO is great at selling consumer goods but perhaps doesn’t truly get B2B. (B team?) This whole mess is really hard to believe. If HP wants to get to the future faster, they had better learn a lot more about claim and proof…and find the organizing principle that helps make more money. Peace.

 

 

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