brand planks

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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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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.

Peace.

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Insight Diving.

dive

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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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 www.Knock2x.com 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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I posted a couple of years ago that all large brands should have departments dedicated to social media. Any smart company with 1,000 people will have a social media group. It’s not the case now but you see signs of it. The department will have a writer, videographer, photographer and coder at the very least.

Shane Snow, co-founder of Contently, published a very strong piece on Poytner.org referring to this phenomenon as “brand journalism.” There are lots of good obs and strats in the piece, yet I will take issue with one thought — and that is the use of the word “newsroom.”

He cites Mashable and the Verge as examples of newsrooms and he is correct. But large companies that sell product and services should not follow this newsroom model. Just as in-house advertising departments fall short in creating quality work, so will in-house news orgs; partly because of talent, partly because of mission.

Brand journalists need an editorial plan to excel and that plan must tie to the brand plan. The claim and the planks. Adam Ostrow, who knows a thing about this topic says:

“I think the biggest things that brands need to think about are the topics and themes that matter to their customers and how can they be a valuable member of that conversation – not just the conversation that is trending at any given moment in time on social media.”

This is how we develop band plans, by prioritizing things customer care about. Then we prioritize things the company is good at.

Newsroom is misleading. News is rarely organized. Brands need a plan. Social media departments need a plan. Consumers purchase based upon your plan – not based upon news. It’s probably semantics, but words matter. (I absolutely love this topic. It is an important part of the future of marketing.)

Peace!  

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When a group of CMOs on LinkedIn has to ask the question “What is a brand?” (Or was it a bunch of brand planners?)  The fact that the question is asked is damning.  I’m a big Noah Brier fan – he of Percolate – and even he asked me once “How do you define a brand plan?” His question was meant to see if I was all dreads and no cattle. There are so many a practitioners out there who don’t have a clue.

Many rubber-meets-the-road marketing types want to know “How do I measure a brand plan?”  “How do I measure the sales return of a brand plan?”  The answer is easy.  First, have one.

Assuming your brand plans are like mine: one claim and 3 support planks, the measures are easy. If one plank is about being fastidious, you can ask your customers to rank you on fastidiousness.  You can ask general consumers to rate you as well, that will tell you how well the story is getting out. You can rate yourself on fastidiousness – doing spot checks on personnel performance. On a macro level, you then tie sales, margins, or stock performance to the rise and fall of these brand plan metrics.  This is where the rubber meets the road.  This is the part of the dashboard you get to present upstairs at headquarters, while the cost-per-click and coupon redemption people remain waiting in the lobby.  Along with the people polishing that gleaming Cannes Lion.

(The headline for this post is for you to interpret.  It’s part George W. part morning coffee. Hee hee.) Peace!

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I wrote a brand plan for a friend who owns a commercial maintenance company. He came to me for some help redoing his website, and I told him the project required a brand brief before I could start.  His company does a couple million a year in office cleaning, snow removal, landscaping, painting, etc. He didn’t know what a brand plan or brand strategy was, but shined me on and let me do my thing. Even if it delayed his website dev.

archeology

The brand plan was ridiculous (kid version). The idea active, exciting and a perfect reflection of his company at its best. The planks were pristine, clean and oh so memorable. Back pat, back pat. I often use this plan as an example when talking to clients and prospects. The idea, for this plan came from the CEO. He’s a unique dude.  His approach to business and his company is pretty close to perfect. I followed his lead and packaged it in a way that consumers could remember and repeat.  But what would happen if given the same challenge and a different CEO?  Someone with less business acumen? Someone with a little lazy bone in their make-up? 

Well, it would clearly have changed the idea.  It would have required more digging and sifting. Ultimately if may have made a case for less lazy, more active. If lazy CEO needed to do something differently as a business winning proposition, it would have to be figured into the equation. Mildy. Socratically. (Remember, the person may really have just wanted a website.) The idea must fit the business and all businesses are different. Some are harder than others and require a deep dig. Every brand has an answer and a solution.  Peace. 

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immune system

Always on the lookout for metaphors that help marketers understand branding, I’ve come upon a new one: the immune system.  When a marketing entity has a brand plan (defined in my practice as one claim and three support planks) it has created an immune system designed to deflect all non-essential forces. Maintaining a healthy immune system takes work. It must be cared for and fed.  If the immune system has to work overtime, because the brand is constantly being attacked by outside forces, or it is spending time on off-plan activities, it weakens the immune system.

And let us not forget the immune system is a system. It is not separate unrelated functions or activities. Brand planks, discrete parts of the value proposition working together to increase brand meaning and loyalty, are not always organically aligned. Too much price message might negatively impact the quality message, say. Too much focus on tasty, may impact the healthy message.  Each brand needs its own balance because every brand is different.  But the quick story here is that “a tight, focused organizing principle for product, product experience and messaging” can create an impervious barrier for your brand to ward off evil.  

What are the parts of your brand’s immune system? Peace.   

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One thing that seems to be a norm for my consulting business is what happens when I present the brand strategy.  (A brand plan is made up of one strategy statement and three support planks.)  Almost always there is one word in the strategy that makes the client uncomfortable.  Until recently whenever I remark about this phenomenon to clients, I feel a little defensive about it – almost apologetically so. Not anymore. I’ve grown up.  The objectionable word is usually the strength of the brand plan. The ballast (which is long for another word).

This “one objectionable word” notion echos things I’ve heard creative people say to clients about advertising.  “If it makes you feel a little uncomfortable, it is good creative.  It will be noticed and remembered” they say. 

The discomfort clients’ feel is because a good brand plan is not easy. It’s work. Born of the category, target consumers and the company DNA (sorry about the markobabble, but is is a good work sometimes), a brand plan is only a beginning.

Clients that want to slide into a brand plan with great ease and a sense of constant well-being are not ready to work. To innovate. To sweat the wins and losses. Those who are ready are prepared to live the strategy, to toil and feed it. To create life around the brand.  If your brand is a name, color palette and the ad agency’s new campaign, your brand is not alive. It’s not pulsing.  You don’t have a brand, you have a product. Peace.

 

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Stuart Elliott did a great and interesting article in The New York Times today on Nike. He points out the difficulty they’re having staying more relevant in the footwear category. The oft-quoted Allan Adamson of Landor, a NY brand consultancy, suggested “The bigger the brand, the harder it is to stay trendy and current. It’s hard to be cutting edge when you are established.”  And Davide Grasso, VP for global brand management at Nike added “As we continue to grow in size, it’s important we stay connected. If you take away the toys and the noise, it’s all about having a relationship.”

What both of the gentlemen are not talking about is the brand itself.  Mr. Adamson wants Nike to stay trendy. A tight brand plan would have the company create what is trendy. And Mr. Grasso talks about the consumer relationship. Every pizza parlor, dentist and global marketer cares about the relationship.  This is a tactic.

Red Bull’s sponsorship of Felix Baumgartner parachuting from space is lauded for its 33.5 million YouTube views.  Not many talk about the brand strategy of exhilaration – the demonstration of exhilaration – that will live long after click counts.

Nike is a not a string of marketing tactics and ads delivered by Wieden +Kennedy; it’s a brand continuing to carve out a place in consumers’ minds. And closets.  Every brand needs a brand plan (one claim, three support planks). Without a plan we deliver and are interviewed about tactics. Yawn. Peace.  

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