brand planks

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I have borrowed heavily from the political ranks for my brand strategy framework – referring to brand support as “planks.”  Planks are the keys to the organizing principle that is What’s The Idea’s secret sauce.

Smart politicians understand that their day job is to be all things to all people, but brilliant politicians know they must be a few big things to all people.  “It’s the economy stupid,” was one such plank of Bill Clinton’s 1992 election, coined by James Carville.

Ask most politicians or political runners today for their key messages, I’m sure you will get back at least one generic statement like “serving our constituents to make their lives better.”  As well-intended as this may be, it’s not a discrete plank.

Politicians and brand runners need to focus. Find a claim, find your three proof planks, then live your life in their duty.

Peace.

 

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Some brands don’t have to work hard. Their product is their brand strategy — and deeply embedded in their DNA. It comes easy because employees know what the product is, what the product does (Is-Does) and why it’s needed.  When that happens consumers/buyers can’t help but parrot that value.

Helly Hansen is one such brand. For them, life is easy.

I’m not exactly sure what the Helly “claim” is, but I can certainly articulate its 3 “brand planks.” They are “warm,” “dry” and “protected.”  These good-ats and the customer care-abouts and both powerful and nicely aligned. A perfect fit.

So long as Helly Hanson spends its marketing money demonstrating warm, dry and protected, the brand can’t help but be strengthen.

This is a great example of product and marketing working closely together. All companies should aspire to this type of relationship.

Peace.    

 

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In my two previous posts we outlined “proof gathering” and the creation of “brand planks.” Now comes the hard part. The Idea. As in What’s The Idea?  The idea is actually a claim. A claim of something offered or gained. It must be consumer-valuable. Good claims often contain a little poetry. Perhaps some fun and timely culture or metaphor.  That way they’re pregnant with meaning.

claim-and-proof-plank-visual

The claim must be single-minded. No commas, conjunctions or run on thoughts. A simple lone statement. It must be tied to the 3 brand planks. Since planks are proof of the claim, you’re really working backwards. Be careful not to use common marketing words in your claim. Spice them up. “Low cost,” for instance, isn’t very exciting. Lastly, the claim must spark creativity among the art directors, writers and designers assigned to handle the buildable.

Part 3 of the workshop will be assigned as homework. You can’t force an idea. But since all attendees will be working from the same briefing documents, we will entertain “ideas” from the group. Over the last 45 minutes we’ll paper the walls with claims and attempt to tie them to the planks as a group.

Attendees will be given 48 hours to submit their final claim and proof planks via email at which time a winner will be announced. It should be a blast.

If your organization would be willing to act as a trial balloon for this new workshop, please write Steve@whatstheidea.com.

Peace.

 

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So yesterday I outlined part one of my (in-development) brand strategy workshop. In it I’ll provide a data and information dump to attendees and have them underline all the “proofs” of marketing success they come across. Part two will see them take the 30 or so pages of proof and do something smart with it. 

For the allotted 30 minutes, attendees will be instructed to read and reread the underlined items.  The goal of this “reading of proofs” is to begin to organize them into groupings.  Ideally at the end of the exercise, I’m going to see it they can find 3 discrete groupings. There may be two or four and there will certainly be some outliers, but three is the goal. This is the beginning of brand planks.  The groupings we’re looking for are extreme customer care-abouts or brand good-ats.  At the really expensive business consulting companies these groupings are called clusters. Clusters that computers and data analysts array.  In our workshop, the brains of attendees will do the work.  

Tune in Monday for Part 3. The Claim.

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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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A brand strategy done well encompasses the marketing strategy and is the business strategy. Why? Because it’s active. I define brand strategy as an “organizing principle that drives product, experience and messaging.” Messaging is last…because a message that doesn’t reflect product and experience is simply copy.

Ask any successful business leader to identify their company’s “one claim” (consumer promise) and three “support planks,” and they’ll be hard-pressed to do it. That is why brand strategy is so tough. A single claim and three product or service values, many will tell you, is too limiting. Until you see it on paper. On business stationery. A good brand strategy is not filled with marko-babble, it contains business-winning evidence. Business-winning behaviors and business-winning strategy.

I call it brand strategy and contrary to what some consultants will peddle, it is way more than a loose federation of tactics, metrics and tagline.

For real life examples, please write Steve at WhatsTheIdea.

Peace.               

 

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Brand Conservation

I was reading this morning about Australia’s 35 year plan to preserve the Great Barrier Reef. Global warming, coastal development, poor water quality, excessive coal commerce and general nastiness are contributing to the reef’s demise. As with many natural wonders of the world, I often ask what it will take for denizens of the planet to stop withdrawing from the natural ecology of the planet and start giving back. In the United States there is a lot of talk about removing electrical dams, for instance, to put rivers back in sync with the natural order, but the talk an action are out of step.

Brands are also at risk these days. Poor brand management, high rates of employee turnover, new media channels, mergers and acquisitions and technological innovations are draining the meaning and perceived value of many brands. Marilyn Laurie, an AT&T brand executive from the 80-90s, used to preach about making deposits in the brand bank, not making withdrawals. When advertising and marketing make deposits the brand gets stronger. Withdrawals make a brand weaker. In this metaphor the brand currency is brand strategy (one claim, three support planks). Without a strategy it’s hard to know the difference between a deposit and withdrawal.

As is the case with planet, large mature brands need to practice conservation to stem loss. Sadly, brands aren’t focusing enough on what they have and what they are diluting — they are simply planting new ideas then checking the dashboard for signs of life.

I was watching a webinar yesterday put on by The Knowledge Engineers, Brand Republic and ABV/BBDO. One slide in particular was telling. It suggested strategy in innovation planning is too focused on the solutions — paying little attention to understanding the problem. We need to fix that. A conservationist approach.  Peace.

 

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Yesterday’s brand planning piece was on the difference between technique and ingredients. Today I’m focusing on evidence and story. Evidence and story are inseparable in good brand strategy.

Claim and Proof are key outputs of a brand plan. Once you get the claim right you need to use your marketing and sales dollars to prove it every day. And you prove with evidence. And just so you’re not a one-trick pony, we use three proof planks to support a brand claim. Proof, defined as deeds, experiences, and actions, are the bedrock of the strategy. In the brand planning rigor proof or evidence is actually mined first, giving form to the claim.

But evidence is just artifacts. In my archaeology days, digging up things was easy — trying to figure out how they were used and the cultural context was hard. So an array of organized proof/evidence is not likely to inspire creative people or consumers without a nice narrative or story.

Get good at evidence collecting and storytelling and you are well on your way to becoming a talented brand planner.  Peace.

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Brand Planks

Brand planks are business-building supports for the brand claim. (A brand strategy contains one claim, three supports.) With a brand claim in hand, in order for it to become real, remembered and practiced it needs to be proved. All claim and no proof is what befalls most poor marketing and advertising programs today. That’s where the planks come in. Combined, the 3 planks create an impenetrable barrier for brand success.

You can do all the quantitative research in the world to find out what consumers want in your product or service — but changing your business to deliver those things does not translate into success.   This is a perspective difference between a marketing strategy and a brand strategy. The brand strategy also factors in what the company is good at and famous for.

Brand planks don’t always fall into nice little containers either.  They can be features, benefits, qualities, behaviors, or functions. For an all-natural cookie, I once used “moisture” as a plank.  For a health system “community integration.”  For a commercial maintenance company “preemptive.”  

When I talk with clients about brand plan as an organizing principle, the claim gets all the glory but the planks do the work. Peace.

 

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One of the hardest jobs in the world, I suspect, is teaching special needs children. Spec Ed, insiders call it. I am no expert but I do know there are certain stimuli that get through to special needs kids. They like to touch. They like the color purple. Certain sounds and instruments are soothing. Special needs children learn better when distractions are minimized and their individual leaning sweet spot found.  This individualized learning modus extends to non-special needs children. Children learn at different paces because they are like snowflakes.

In marketing, there are some similarities. Predisposing a consumer to your product and pitch does not benefit from a cookie cutter approach. Brand planners who understand buying behavior, context and psychology have a leg up when avoiding the cookie cutter approach. This deeper understanding can give form to the organizing principle that is the brand plan (here defined as 1 Claim, 3 Support Planks). This organizing principle offers flexibility to teach consumers in different learning places, yet enough control for brand managers to stay focused.

Consumers are so overwhelmed by marketing, unsupported claims, imagery, song and marko-babble, they can’t concentrate. We need to create a distraction-less, replicable selling schemes that are indelible. With a tight brand plan we can impact product, experience, benefit set, and most importantly muscle memory. Marketing is about creating behavior or changing behavior. The pedagogy of marketing. Peace.

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