brand plan

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One of the 24 Questions I use in my deep dive brand planning rigor is “How much company revenue comes from existing or repeat customers?” When I compare this figure with lost customer and new customer revenue I get a sense of a company’s loyalty, loss and business development focus.

If you look at marketing job boards today you will notice a great deal of acquisition activity.  The majority of marketers are absolutely smitten by new customers; it’s akin to generals in battle who need to take new territory. Loyalty marketers, on the other hand, know it is the back door, the door customers leave by, that is most critical. 


Loyalty is engendered when customers are not overlooked. Everyone knows a broken family where mommy or daddy found s new partner because back at home they felt underappreciated. This behavior not only breaks up families, it drives wedges between parents and children. Loyalty, love, under-appreciation and inquisitiveness are human traits. Marketers try to build love through the AIDA principle: Awareness, Interest, Desire and Action, often forgetting Loyalty until it’s too late. Until the back door has been open too long.

Coupons (sorry honey flowers), shallow thank yous, and automated responses do not loyalty make. Understanding yourself and your customers through a well-principled brand plan, is the place to start. Otherwise, it’s off to the loyalty store for some quick fix tactics.  Peace.


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In Spike Jonze new film “Her” in which a man falls in love with his operating system, there is a wonderful example of the power and influence of branding.

Having seen the trailer, I immediately put the movie into the “goofy, not going to see it” category, yet there was something familiar and alluring about the voice of the operating system.  It wasn’t until the reviews started rolling in that I found out it was Scarlett Johansson’s voice. Hmmm.

Manohla Dargis wrote in The New York Times today “It’s crucial that each time you hear Ms. Johansson in Her, you can’t help but flash on her lush physicality, which helps fill in Samantha (OS) and give this ghostlike presence a vibrant, palpable form.” It is this muscle memory associated with Scarlett Johansson’s voice – this Pablovian response — that smart brands attempt to build.  The frosty Coke bottle image on a hot day. The sweet pillowy taste and texture of a Krispie Kreme donut. The olfactory-palooza of a Peter Luger porterhouse.  

When you have a brand plan, complete with promise and support planks, the casting becomes easy. Rich. And powerful. Peace.  


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Coen Brothers.

A.O. Scott in his New York Times review of the new movie “Inside Llewyn Davis” today nicely captures what makes a Coen Brothers movie a Coen Brothers movie. Says Scott, they offer a “brilliant magpie’s nest of surrealism, period detail and pop-culture scholarship.” To me this description means their work a magnetic, unusual and blasting through context. The Coen’s attention to period detail is another reason I love these guys. Como se “True Grit?”  And pop-culture scholarship just suggests their storytelling is human and humane(ish).

It strikes me that these are qualities that also make for a great brand strategy.  

I often find a little tension when presenting brand strategy… and it tells me I’ve done a good job.  

  • “We know where you live” a brand strategy for Newsday, was a thought a little creepy.
  • “A systematized approach to improving healthcare” for North Shore-LIJ, a bit cold.
  • “We crave attention” for a women-owned PR firm, a smidgen gender-sensitive.

Just as good advertising creative makes you think, feel and do something, so should a strategy. Sometimes, for the squeamish, the do something is ask me “Do we have to use that one word?”  My answer is always “No, it’s a strategy, not a tagline.”

I’m no Ethan and I’m no Joel yet my work aspires to staying power. To muscle memory served up as product value. A great brand plan is an organizing principle that sticks to your ribs.   Peace.


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I often use an example of my brand planning rigor when explaining to prospects how I work and what I create. Brand plans are many things to many different people. Mine contain one claim and three support planks. The example:

For a commercial maintenance company, one that does office cleaning, building upkeep, snow removal and lawn service among other things, the claim is “the navy seals of commercial maintenance.” This is strategy remember, not a tagline or creative. The support planks are: fast, fastidious and preemptive. These are qualities buyers want. These are also things the company is good at.

navy seal

Clients, big and small, often get the outbound nature of the plan, seeing how this organizing principle can drive communications. Yet sometimes they have a hard time seeing how it can influence the company internally. For a C-level executive or a marketing person who is truly influencial in the product, the internal part of the equation is easily understood. For this level thinker it’s easy to see how one can productize and build experiences around the brand planks — that’s what they are for.

Back to the example — anyone can say they are fast, and in commercial maintenance most do. Anyone can say they are fastidious and many do, using words like “attention to detail.” But preemptive, that’s not so common. Taken together this value prop is unbeatable. And by proving these qualities every day, not just saying or printing them on a website, it is business-winning. Claim and proof…ladies and gentlemen I give you a brand plan.


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I wrote a brief for a top 10 daily newspaper which, at its very core, contained an organizing principle that grew paper subscriptions and newsstand business.  The idea was intended to grow share at the expense of a much larger competitor with a grand national reputation.

The brief was presented and so well received that the paper’s marketing officer decided to use the brand strategy (with one word omitted) as the newspaper’s tagline. The omitted word was important (to me), but overall the integrity or ballast of the idea was maintained even with its absense.

It was a pyrrhic victory however, because rather than becoming the brand strategy (one claim, three support planks) it simply became a tagline. Sure the tagline governed communications and did so for many years to come, but I never had the chance to enculturate the planks into the paper’s marketing operations.  I was with an ad agency at the time – paid to deliver of ads.  The agency made lots of TV and print ads. We won awards for ourselves and for the paper. And we changed the market dynamic for a while — the real goal. But by selling a tagline not a strategy, we missed the opportunity to create a powerful brand that lived beyond paper and ink.   A sale that was not a sale, in other words.


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Insight Diving.


Wanna know what I do for a living?  Have you heard of dumpster diving? (Read The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls.) Well, I am an insight diver. I submerge myself into the murky waters of product, competition, product usage, experience, data and consumerism and I hunt for important market and brand building insights. 

What’s the difference between an insight and an observation? The latter leads to the former. Insights are scientific, projectable and actionable patterns that can be manipulated into preference or sale.

Many brand planners focus on finding one key insight around which they build a tactical brief, say for an ad or a digital  campaign.  I do that too, but start a bit earlier in the process, doing more foundational work. My definition of brand plan is and organizing principle that directs all marketing: product, place, price and promotion. One claim, three proof planks. One needs to dive deeply to fill this insight vessel.

Peter Kim (RIP) a brand planning mentor of mine often talked about “massifying” when it came to understanding the target.  That is, gather all possible targets then massify them into one target that shares a common trait related to your brand.  The hardest work at What’s the Idea? is taking all the gathered insights and massifying them into one claim — a claim which can be assiduously supported by three selling planks.   

I blind squirrel can find an insight. Creating an organizing principle for selling and loyalty, after you surface from the insight dive, that’s what I do.  Peace.

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Jeff Bezos visited The Washington Post yesterday and was tweeted as saying “I’ve always felt that the most powerful minds in the world can hold powerful inconsistencies.” Well, if the most powerful minds in the world (Einstein, Franklin, Churchill) offer inconsistencies what can we expect of brands?  Brands need a plan, all the more.

We know when a brand pushes innovation, perception of that brand’s cost goes up. When a brand promotes tasty, it conveys less-than-a-healthy food choice. These values are inconsistent related to a positive consumer value proposition and managing.

A good brand plan offers consistency.  A brand plan and the brand managers who create, support, and follow it are charged with removing as much inconsistency in the brand experience as is humanly possible. Protect the plan and you improve marketing cost-effective.  Those who do, become zealots….my favorite kind of people.

The people at The Washington Post have a brand plan but they know about inconsistency. It fuels their business. Mr. Bezos gets their world (for now) and ours. Peace! 

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The package.

Imagine if you went to the grocery store looking to buy your favorite product and each time you visited the package had changed.  Harder to find and buy, no? Then imagine trying to explain to a friend where to buy that product and what to look for. The shelves aren’t alphabetized and product sets are only known and understood by retailers and category captains, so without packaging its not an easy task. If the only descriptors you have for a product are package size, color, name, and feature, e.g., low fat, mesquite flavor, then changing the packaging every week would be an utter marketing fail.

Poor brand management has the same effect. Mixed messages used in ads, promotion, activation, PR, web will confuse people. Think of your brand plan as packaging. Packaging that is harmonious, organized, easy on the eyes and brain, and consistent.

As Laurel Cutler used to preach, “spend money making deposits in the brand bank.” You can live through some withdrawals but it is best to minimize them. Find your brand plan first then Pass Go. Happy August Friday!

Peace in Syria.

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I’m not a pinner or user of Pinterest (yet), but recently visited the site in an effort to help out a friend with a woodworking business; my intent was to get him to display his amazing work.  Pinterst recognized the fact that I was not an active user and so popped up a quickie tour of new features.  The pop up made it sound as if they were sharing new enhancements, but it could easily have just been their way of reorienting and activating me.

Nice finesse Pinterest.  This is how the web should work.  In my world, where a website should represent the brand plan (one claim, three proof planks), pop-ups or interstitial pages that vary based upon your visiting behavior are refreshing. A return visitor that always heads straight to contacts or about should be offered a quick link there. A first time or lapsed user should be treated with special gloves. A repeat purchaser should get the special treatment — perhaps a surprise every now and again, and other delights.

But this doesn’t happen very often.

We have really kind of forgotten the website these past few years as we go all head down on shiny new social media and moble. And now “content marketing” is the haps. Often unbridled content marketing. Off-piste content marketing.  (That’s why it’s smart to use thought leaders in the practice – see Kyle Monson and for instance.)

Fred Wilson and John Battelle in a recent video chafed at the notion of giving traffic to other’s websites.  I agree. Social and content are kind of like chumming and fishing, but once the fish is on the line it needs to come into the boat.

Websites are the biggest most important development in commerce since the telephone.  Let’s get back to optimizing them. Steve Rubel, you with me on this? Peace.

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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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