brand manager

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Before there was Google Maps, before there was Waze, before Siri, we used to be get into cars and drive to places we had never been before, without software.  Only a couple hundred years ago we navigated by trails, celestial guides and landmarks.

Branding is a little old school like this. We create trails that over time become worn and easy to follow.  We branders provide general direction that with navigational tools-of-the-day help move individuals and masses toward our objective, e.g., sight, sounds, smell and other replicable assists.

When there were fewer products and less media choices branding was easier. Less clutter. Also less people touching and managing the sales channel.

Eight to ten years ago I used to rail against pop marketers who boasted how consumers were in control of brands. Not brand managers. Marketing pundits made millions touting this drivel. But consumers can only plot a map to themselves. “Follow me.” Not toward a brand.

Brand planners study consumers, landscapes, general directions and landmarks, then put on their big boy/girl pants and set the trail. A trail that is easy to follow.

Life and branding ain’t a grid. And in today’s digital world it can be even messier.




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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.”)




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At What’s The Idea? clients pay the bills. They do the hiring, provide the homegrown insights and share business data. Without clients there would be no brand consultancy.  But clients are not my customer. My customer is the brand. It is the brand to which I pay allegiance. It is the brand that is the object of my strategic desire. By being so focused it helps remediate politics from the equation.  

By putting the brand first and the people and clients second, it cleanses the process. Brands have no egos.  They just sit at the nexus of good-ats and care-abouts.  A brand doesn’t look to be promoted or aspire to Ad Age Marketer Of The Year. You can’t artificial intelligence your way around a brand. It’s a thing or service.

Don’t get me wrong, I need people to help navigate insight work. The stories, the human impact of purchase and use, the role of the product, can never be ably understood without people — be they brand and product manager or consumer and influencer.

But when all is said and done the brand must be the customer. At What’s The Idea? that pays the bills and provides the dividends.



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Compliance is a medical term with huge impact on patient outcomes. Patients who comply with prescription drug plans, treatment modalities and lifestyle changes live healthier lives.  

Compliance is also a word that comes up in brand strategy discussions. Brand strategy, an organizing principle for product, experience and messaging, guides commerce in very predicable ways. And if compliance is high, success is high.

How does a company insure brand strategy compliance? One way is to install a Brand Compliance Office. Typically, this function would lie with the Chief Marketing Officer. But the realities of managing revenue growth, marketing spend, staff and profit don’t really allow time for compliance. The title of brand manager might suggest someone who looks after compliance, but they don’t wield the power. It a “herding cats” type of job. And some cats are way up the corporate ladder.

A Brand Compliance Officer needn’t be a 6 figure job but it’s an important job. Appointing someone to watch over internal stakeholders and make them comply with the plan is a sure-fire way of strengthening brand, sales and margin.




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Claim and proof is a common discussion here at What’s the Idea?  Too much marketing is about claim and not enough about proof.  Get the claim right and prove it in an organized brand-centric manner and you will be a successful brand manager.

If you are a student of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) you know that the claim is “better healthcare for Americans.”  With first year enrollment complete the proof counting has begun. Pro ACA people are looking for positive proof, anti-ACA peeps are looking for proof that care is worse. As we near mid-term elections the dems are going to be looking far and wide to tame all of the anti-sentiment about the roll out and the act itself.

Here are some of the pro proofs shared today:

          8 million Americans have signed up for insurance.

          128 million Americas with pre-existing health conditions are no longer in danger of losing their coverage

          105 million Americans do not have to worry about losing their lifetime cap on benefits

          8 million older Americans have saved $10B because of lower prescription drugs

One could argue that these figures are not explicit examples of healthcare improvement, e.g., lower flu numbers, reduced incidents of diabetes and improved cardiac outcomes, but it certainly implies such.

In the claim and proof marketing world, the ACA has only just begun its proof phase.  The group with the best, most compelling proof will win. Should be interesting.


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Last year I worked with an interesting K12 educational development company called Teq. For a brand planner it provided a perfect storm of stimulating elements: a business with a changing model, tons of humanity (tools to teach children), inner city color, political sturm und drang, and pent-up market demand. Oh, and the market could be measured in billions not millions. In addition to developing a brand plan and marketing communications plan I had my eye on creating a social media dept. – something I’ve long blogged about.

Before I landed at Teq I found a dude on the company site named Jeremy Stiffler. He was one of the reasons I really liked the Teq, site unseen. Every company needs a Jeremy Stiffler.  He was a SME (subject matter expert), who without breaking a sweat could be recorded on video and teach the products and services.  Part actor, part teacher, part digital usability savant, Jeremy could look the camera in the eye and walk you through a product or topic tutorial (tute) with flawless effectiveness. Good teachers know when a student doesn’t get something by looking at their expression. Jeremy, intuitively knew it, even from behind the camera.

Social media departments need a good writer, videographer, editor and still photographer.  Obviously, they all need to be orchestrated at the hands of a brand manager and plan.  But the best departments in their respective business will always have a full or part time Jeremy.  Not a pretty on-camera face or rented talent, an illuminating teaching presence who works for the company and gets people. Peace.

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Office Depot, according to Stuart Elliott the ad writer for The New York Times, will be conducting an anti-bullying, back to school campaign this summer, using a boy band called One Design (or some such, JKJK). The grab-all idea is: “Live. Love. More” — as in “Live kind. Love everyone. Move together against bullying.” I’m not into 3 word taglines or ideas and the ones that require 8 more words to explain are even more perplaxing but I do love causes. Unfortunately, using causes as a way to break through with your advertising is a fairly common mistake.  They are easy to talk about, easy to surround with quotes, advocates and a powerful narrative. Often though, they are off the brand plan and only slightly tethered to sales — if at all. Plus they are kind of transparent.

That said, bullying is bad so let’s hope this campaign works. The creative idea is a montage too far. It’s almost ad-silly. The idea would be best boiled down to “Live Kind.”  I don’t think Lance would mind (not Lance Stephenson).  You see, if you “live kind,” then you probably try to love all and shun bullying. Live kind is memorable. Familiar, yet unique. It’s also a baby step, not the whole enchilada.  

This campaign is more for parents then kids, I get it. And like aroma therapy, it may provide a nice glow for the brand.  Were I the brand manager, however, I’d do this through the PR group and use my ad dollars to de-position Wal-Mart, Office Max and Amazon.  With a kick-ass, 360 retail effort – trotting out some mobile and twitch point planning tricks. Peace.  

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There seems to be a trend in TV programs these days, especially heady police drama imports where directors use a good deal of white space during dialogue.  If a :60 radio spot contains, say, 120 words then a 47 minute TV drama probably contains a 3500 words of dialogue. Some of these new white space shows are quite powerful because of camera work, performance and real acting. What is left unsaid and anticipated can drive the viewing experience.

When it comes to marketing and advertising, there is very little white space.  White space is usually left to the art director – who becomes the only artist (ar-teest) in the room. Everyone else is piling on.  Strategists should be preservers of whitespace.  No unnecessary noise in the message to cover up the key selling points. Brand managers, too, can learn a thing about the power of white space. 

That which we do not say, allows what we do say to have more ballast.

White space.  Tink about it (as my Norwegian aunt Inga might have said.) Peace.

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I’m not saying we are shallow but if you are walking on the street and 4 people stroll by and one is stunningly beautiful – my pal Terrence tells me men are beautiful too – whom do you look at?   If they are all similarly visaged and one has amazing clothes, whom do your eyes go to?  This is the case for advertising.  First impressions are important.  The more beautiful, the more colorful and artful, the more the ad is likely to strike the consumer.

Many, many ads today are plain, especially those of the digital kind. Consumers have trained themselves not to look at ads. We’ve become immune.  But a pretty ad, an incongruous or stylish ad, gets seen. And always will.  Art directors get this more than copy writers. Great copy writers are on board.  (A punk rock aside, did anyone know the Bush Tetras are in town?) Once seen, an ad has to sell.  If an ad is good enough to borrow your interest and register a product name, some say its job is done. That’s lazy ad craft. A great ad attracts interest, makes you feel something, then makes you do something.

A mother and father always think their babies are cute…even if they are not.  Brand planners and brand managers always think their ads are cute, even if they’re not. They feel a love others don’t.

Art, Science and Strategy must come together for an ad to be great. That’s ASS.  Get you some. (See it works.)

Happy Independence Day. Peace.

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A good brand planner has to love his or her brands. With that love in hand the planner can spend enough time and mental capital to really get close.  Past the label. Past the brand manager’s bias.   That means seeing a brands warts. Knowing the warts and working around them are the goal.  Consumers at their very core love patterns and predictability, but they also like new and optimism.  Have you ever tasted lettuce grown in your own garden?  It tastes better, no?  That because you want it to taste better. Optimism.

In the advertising business there are a lot of people who live on snark.  Creatives don’t like clients who don’t buy their work.  Managers don’t like people who can’t make decisions or won’t follow directions. No one likes those who are focused on the broken not the fix.  Have you ever read the comments following an Adweek story?  There is so much envy and loathing it’s scary.  

But brand planners have a nice job. A Zen job. To do it well  they need to like consumers  — to watch and listen. To find the love.  But don’t advertising it.  Are you listening Blackberry and Subaru.  Peace!

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