brand planners

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Branding is Tangible.

One of the things I dislike about advertising can be summed up by the words of an ex-client many years ago. He killed an ad made by some reasonable craftsman at FCB/Leber Katz saying “It just doesn’t do it for me.” Client’s prerogative, but not helpful. I coined the term “like-ometer” after that meeting.

Judgmental responses don’t help. They aren’t constructive.

When I speak to marketers and some of their paid agents I often get the feeling they think branding is a judgmental business — where color, name, shape and package are all easements to purchase. Where arts and crafts people make a likeable product visage.

To these people, I say no. No-no-no.

In brand strategy everything is tangible. The What’s The Idea? framework is based on claim and proof. Claim is the promise. Proof is why a sane mind can believe it.  It is proof that makes branding work and it is proof that supports the tangible claim. (You can’t support a claim with another claim. Sadly, many practitioners don’t adhere.)

With claim and proof there is no blow hole advertising. No off-kilter design. No hollow, fuzzy copy. No approvals solely tied to the like-ometer.

And for brand planners who say brand managers aren’t the brand police, I feel you. They are instructors. If brand managers convey the need for proper proof of brand claim they’ve flipped their job calculus…and the likelihood of brand success.




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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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The advertising business, for years, has been a content assembly line manned by people expert in creating and polishing ads — experts, who are typically white, college educated, in their 30s, and lived in big urban centers. Some have emigrated from the burbs. Not a particularly heterogeneous group.

Brand planners and strategists suffer similar backgrounds, though suffer may be the wrong word. Unfortunately, these 5,000 or so well-paid people don’t really represent those to whom they’re selling. This group of ad men and women don’t look like the 300 million consumers targeted with doing the buying. These creators try to pretend they understand the targets, while really only understanding storytelling and ad production.

It is my view that content creation can best be done, most effectively done, using more creators who are part of the demographic and psychographic. Think about the best blogs. They speak to their targets by being part of the target. Let’s get more ads into the hands of people who really understand those they’e talking to. Not into the hands of a small class of interpreters.




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I was reading an ad this morning with the headline “Deeds not words.” If any words define What’s The Idea?, they are these. Alas, it is “words” that I sell. I sell brand briefs. I sell strategic plans. Words on paper. But…

My brand planning due diligence is all about “deeds.” Deeds are the actions that yield outcomes. Outcomes are where many planners spend their time. “We’re number 1. Low cost provider. In business for 35 years.” Outcomes are fine but they are the result of deeds. Once I’ve collected enough deeds, the claim (brand promise) begins to emerge.

I’ve written before about getting to the claim by first finding the proof.  Or assembling proof clusters first. But proof can be a step removed from a deed. Proof can be an outcome or a result.  It’s better to start with deeds. Nothing in marketing (or life) starts without deeds. Physical actions, investments, actualized promises from a brand put money and psychic investment in play. It’s existential.

This is where words stop and how brands are built. Peace.


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houzz homepage

Came across a cool new website called Houzz. It’s also an app on the iPhone. Someone showed me the app on the iPhone (my first user experience or FUE) where it displayed a picture of a kitchen with lots of scroll over call-outs. You scrolled over a countertop and lots of little bubbles (way too many) popped up – I assumed they were prices, or comments. For the life of me I couldn’t figure the app out. I later went to the website and subscribed and started receiving emails, which I didn’t open. Until today.

It’s a real nice website. Lots of bleed pictures, little text on the homepage, the way I like it. But I still couldn’t tell what the site was about other than home stuff so I dug in and visited the About Page. Here’s what they say:

“We are a platform for home remodeling and design, bringing homeowners and home professionals together in a uniquely visual community.”

Now that made sense. My FUE with the app did not.

The Houzz site (not the app) is an awesome resource. Power kitchen and remodeling users (people with leisure time?) spend a nice amount of energy here. This is exactly the kind of place a brand planner wants to do research. It’s the kind of place where thoughtful helpers, info seekers, and smart sellers spend time sharing. All in one location. Brand planners with ample asses (impolitic, I know) can learn a lot – sans fieldwork – on a site like this. I love finding gems like this in every category.  It’s where Posters go. (Google “Posters versus Pasters”.) Peace.


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This is a blog about brand planning and marketing. There are millions of marketers in the world and only a thousand or so brand planners. Most brand planners also known as account planners work at ad agencies. The rest are consultants like me, hiring themselves out to agencies or working directly with marketers.

A brand planner is a strategist. In my case, I am an up stream strategist who helps organize product, experience and messaging. My tool is a specialized brand plan, consisting of one claim and 3 proof planks. The word plank was borrowed the political world. Each brand plan has three key planks, all of which support the claim. It’s a family.

What resides in a proof plank? Real examples. Evidence. Existential proof of the brand claim. No platitudes. No marko-babble. No blather or bluster. Just proof.  People remember proof. They remember it before claim.  In healthcare there is lots of talk today about “evidence-based” medicine. That’s what makes a great brand plan. Proof and evidence.

For examples or just a chat about evidence based brand planning, write Steve at WhatsTheIdea.



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I read an interesting piece of research today, originally published in Science Magazine. The findings suggested a face-to-face talk with someone about a topic in which the conversation initiator has a stake is an effective communications tool. (Sounds like a duh, no?) The poll was conducted with a sample of 972 people and the topic was gay marriage. The methodology was neighborhood canvassing and the targeted people were against marriage equality. It turns out 20% of people who were engaged by canvassers changed their minds. What’s even more interesting is that only those canvassed by gays maintained that changed opinion 9 months later.

A couple of observations:

  • Nobody likes to be sold. Most door knockers are selling and it’s a nuisance. The script in this case called for canvassers to speak, listen, ask questions, show respect and dig deeper. The robotic spew was left at home.
  • Canvassers with skin the game are more believable and more convincing. Personal connection to the topic reduces the “sales” factor. (Non-gay canvassers altered opinion, but not over time.)

The study suggests a tactic that might be more effective than most in dealing with long time, deep seeded conflicts such as Christians-Muslims and Blacks-Whites. Why wouldn’t it work for Red Sox-Yankees or Burger King-McDonald’s. Tink about it (as my Norwegian Aunt might say.) Peace.


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Sorry I missed the Firestarter event for brand planner two nights ago in NYC. Doofus. Sounds like it was a cool event. The topic of interest, as reported today in Ed Cotton’s blog was the Agency Operating System. The traditional operating system is broken was the premise. (Sounds like something Marion Harper might have said in Fortune Magazine in the 60s, actually.) Anyway, as technology takes on more important things than social networking and selfies, attempting to fix education, healthcare and climate, we are beginning to see some very exciting new businesses emerge. And these businesses cannot be sold by ads alone. Or content marketing alone – the things agencies are good at. The things agencies monetize.

So the call to action at Firestarters was to look at problems differently. Deconstruct them into their parts. Understand through functional anthropology how problems might be addressed in new ways. Creative ways. The new agency OS, foreshadowed by the growing number of creative collectives out there today, needs new players: technologists, data geeks, engineers, producers and craftsmen. But which agency is going to have an Etsy department? Just as traditional agencies have TV commercial producers, the new OS need agencies need resource producers or curators. What shall be call these people? Ideas?




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Conde Nast just announced its intention to sell its Fairchild Fashion Media to Penske Media for a $100M so it can focus on its core brands. References to core brands and core business is what you hear from companies under financial pressure or companies with slowed growth. There was a lot of talk about core during the recession. The opposite is growth into new tangential businesses. It is what really profitable companies do. Growth companies are looking for that next big business thing. They are investing in futures. Finding places to write down taxes. Google’s self-driving cars, energy initiatives and hardware escapades are non-core.

Brand planners love the core. It helps them see what a company does really, really well. It helps them articulate and cluster competencies. It allows the planner to plumb the depths of consumer resonance. Understanding the core is important groundwork for beyond the dashboard planners. Those who do planning that is future-based. Before Steve Jobs and team came up with the iPod and iPhone, they had to understand the core. Then translate it into futures.

There are rearview mirror planners, sideview mirror planners, dashboard planners and beyond the dashboard planners. The best are a combination of all 4 — but focus beyond the dash. Peace. 


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A brand plan is an organizing principle for selling. The plan has a claim and three proof-of-claim planks. The claim, the heart of the plan, is something a product or company does well – a synopsis. It is also something the consumer wants or needs. Hopefully, the claim is pregnant with meaning and contextual. (At the Griffin Farley Beautiful Minds event last year, a claim developed by a team of tyro brand planners for CitiBikes was “bicycles with benefits,” a lovely pregnant claim.) Planks, on the other hand, are the proof areas that give consumers reasons to believe the claim. Also, they give employees and marketers content for their little elevator speeches. (Have you ever wondered why we need elevator speeches?)

B2B companies use salesforces to move their products and over the past decade there has been a proliferation of something called “solution selling.” Salesforces are trained to sell only after they’ve engaged prospects about their pain. Once the pain points are found, the seller can put his/her sales spiel together. (I like nothing more than to share my pain with complete strangers.) 80% plus of U.S. sales teams are solution selling these days. They believe it differentiates them. Hee hee.

With a brand plan “what the customer needs” has already been articulated. With a brand plan “what the product is good at” is already understood and provable. With a brand plan and the proper marketing and promotion, “consumers already are predisposed toward the claim and proof” because it has been advertised and promoted. Sales training that is based upon a strategy endemic to the product or service and based upon a consumer need is much stronger than solution selling out of a book. A sales trainer from one company that moves to another company can change the logo at the top of the presentation and make a nice living. That should tell you something.

Powerful, organized selling is based upon a brand plan — not someone’s pain. Peace.

PS. To see examples of brand plans mail

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