Brand Planning

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I’ve been thinking about the difference between apps and experiences.  It seems experiences are the topic of the day when listening to the purveyors of new social media applications. Facebook is buying experience companies, copying others and introducing then to the platform at record speed. And it’s working.

Some rue that Facebook isn’t innovating any more, too slow to develop its own experiences, but that’s not the point. The point is, “What do people care about and use?”  And experience based software is key.  The hot bed now is mobile phones. Pokemon Go was an augmented reality experience and it spread like a good plague. Sure it was an app, but it wasn’t just a database tapping info sources and serving it up as newer data, e.g., weather, ratings, geography, (well it was kinda), but it was much more experiential in nature. Not a static, paused moment, but an ongoing, live moment.  Think of it as a real life versus a screen grab.   

In brand strategy, many planners overlook the experiential side of things. They focus on the static. Is this “thing” on strategy?  Is this “communication” on strategy. This “visual?”  Brand planning and brand strategy are best when they also deal in the experience. The Megan Kent Branding Group. And Starfish Brand Experience get this.

So just as billions are now being made by focusing on experience software, so must billions be made doing the same in brand planning.

Peace.

 

 

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Many brand planners, by title, do the daily strategic work of advertising agencies: “Let’s write a brief for a new customer acquisition program,” for instance.  At What’s The Idea?, I concern myself with work at the root level.   I work on the master brand strategy; the brand “claim and proof planks” that drive all aspects of marketing.  Important as tactics are, they only support and bring to life the master strategy.

Master strategy is brand planning at is most scientific. Done right, it is measurable and predictive of results. But, I’ve just come to learn planning is just that – planning. Only when the plan is followed, activated and enculturated can it work. When not followed, when not complied with, it lays fallow.

Hence “Brand Engineering.”  Brand engineering goes beyond planning. It take a plan through to implementation.  Brand engineering rolls out the plan – insuring understanding and adherence.  When a brand strategy is understood it frees brand managers, agents and consumers alike to participate.

Smart brand consultants get this.  Landor and Interbrand make brand books about this – textbooks really — to explain how to live by the brand. But, sadly, they sit on selves more often than not.

Stay tuned from more thinking on brand engineering. It’s going to be a thing.

Peace.

 

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The difference between brand planners can be found in their respective abilities to do something “smart” with the info and data they collect during discovery. One planner’s questions will differ from then next, as will their observation techniques and data sources. Yet once all the hunting and gathering is done, it’s time for all planners to think. And apply. To fill out the brief, as it were.

My framework is different than that of some brand planners and the same as others. I use one claim and three proof planks as the organizing principle.  How I get to the one and three model, however, is through an exploration of “evidence.”  Evidence is not hearsay. It’s not marko-babble. It stuff. Actions.  Existential results. Proof.

When Eva Moskowitz stands on the steps of city hall, alone or with thousands, that’s evidence. When a prepubescent cancer patient has part of her ovary preserved in liquid nitrogen at age 9 so that 15 years later she can gave birth, that’s evidence.

I’ve read hundreds of brand strategy documents from so-called brand planners and am appalled by how few are evidence based. Tring to change that one brand at a time.

Peace.                 

 

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The Unknown.

It sounds like an AMC cable drama, The Unknown. But it’s the best way to look at any new branding assignment. Go in cold. Everybody wants someone with experience. But they really don’t. They should want someone who can come in and understand the business and brand, seeing them in a new light. 

The unknown can be scary. In the last couple of years, I’ve worked on assignments in cyber security, global health and security consulting, Accountable Care and web accessibility (making websites and apps usable by those with disabilities). Going in, scary. Coming out, not so much.  When you have no category experience it’s like walking into a dark cave. And that’s a good thing. If you have too much category experience you walk into that cave faster. Not paying as much attention. You can miss stuff. 

Dump the cache planners. Go tabula rasa researchers. Come to each project anew and clear headed.  You need to feel scared at the beginning of an assignment. It’s a good thing. A productive feeling. It helps you know when you are getting close.

Peace.  

 

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Truffle Insights

Brand planning insights are a dime a dozen.  Upper echelon planners know which insights are the truly special ones. They know which to chase and which to leave alone. Insights that change markets are like truffles. Truffle Insights make you sweat. They set off the galvanic skin response.  Truffle insights spark what Maslow referred to as a peak experiences.

I once did a deck while freelancing at JWT on the Microsoft Office business, containing 7 or 8 truffle insights. There were so many the deck got filed.  It impressed but was hard to deal with. Too many truffle insights creates the “fruit cocktail effect,” it tastes good but leaves no visceral differentiation. So savor your truffle insights. Don’t re-bury them.

I’m reading David Brooks’ NYT Op-Ed piece today in which he discusses the 10,000 hour rule researched by Anders Ericsson and written about by Malcolm Gladwell. It suggests 10,000 hours of practice can trump innate intelligence.  Do 10,000 hours make you a truffle insight digger? Not necessarily. But it certainly helps.

If you put in the work and burnish your instincts, you may just becomes an effective truffle insight hunter.

Peace.

 

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I’ve been thinking a good deal about prevention this morning. There’s an exciting article in the NYT on some Medicare trials to prevent diabetes among at risk populations.  Another article on the bombings in Brussels had be wondering how we can prevent the kind of hatred that causes people to blow themselves taking fellow citizens with them.  

Much of what modern societies do when faced with ills, illness and hatred focuses on curative or  after-the-fact action. Not root cause prevention.  

Yesterday’s What’s the Idea? blog post was about articulating positive “care-abouts” and “good-ats.”  By highlighting positives, the logic went, one can trump positioning around negatives.  So I’m asking myself today if I should be thinking about including a preventative plank in my strategies; rather than trump an existing brand or category negative, what if we look at ways to prevent them?

It may be a poor example but in a brand strategy I wrote a few years ago for a “healthier-for-you cookie,” I realized most cookies in the space were perceived as “dry.”  Rather than build a plank around moisture, which I did, perhaps I should have taken a preventative approach — highlighting the use of coconut oil as a key product additive. Coconut oil smacks of moisture.

As you can see, it’s not a full baked idea but you have to start somewhere.  And my gut tells me prevention and the education around it, is a def worth a strong look.

Peace.   

 

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A critical component of brand planning is understanding the special language of the seller and buyer. In the tech sector, the language can be quite unique, with many words to learn. As a young strategist working with AT&T’s Business Communications Services, I developed an acronym dictionary I kept with me every day. One could sit in a technical marketing meeting at AT&T back then and hear 10 acronyms in 10 minutes. In other technical businesses, e.g., healthcare, finance, and insurance learning the seller language is equally important. On the buyer side it isn’t as critical because the technical stuff goes thought a translation filter before it hits a consumer. (But if language is dumbed down too much, it comes out as marko-babble.)

When you learn the language of the seller, you hear things you couldn’t otherwise. Nuance. Emotion. It makes it so the sellers don’t have to teach, they can communicate. If you speak their language you also become more trusted.

Consultants and freelancers who don’t have a lot of time to learn the language are handicapped. It’s the first thing one needs to do on a new assignment. You need a good ear. No foreign word is unimportant. Study the language by reading trades magazines. Learning the language makes the first few meetings a bit clunky, but it’s necessary.

Peace.

 

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Brand Planning Tip.

All brand planners have their tools. We use them to corral insights and generate ideas we can sell as organizing principles for the work other will do. My go-to tools are the 24 Questions, my Executive and Sales Team Questionnaire, and a Brand Brief. From time to time I’ve used a presentation format sharing “Insights, Implications and Recommendations” as well.

Here’s a new ditty I came up with for an art start-up a few years ago. I call it the 10 conundrums. I use it as an interim step before crafting the brand brief. After doing all my exploratory work, quant research and interviews, I cobble together a number of market, consumer and company contradiction. Perplexing contradictions or true conundrums. These I share with the client work team to see how they feel about them. How they deal with them. The dialogue about these points if often quite important. Here’s an example from my art start-up project:

Art appreciation is personal and subjective. Yet having a trusted art-savvy acquaintance to call upon can influence that subjectivity – adding dimension and a level of comfort.

Toolkits are nice to have. Reinventing them, adding to them and evolving them are how we get better at what we do.

Peace.

 

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lucy skeletonWhen brand planning I like to see the product and brand strategy in historical perspective. It’s what I strive for. Big thinking requires looking at problems not of the moment, but from a higher, longer-term perspective. Marketers are paid to ring the cash register. Paid to transact business. Brand planners are paid to position products and services long term. Seeing what Al Reis calls the “position” requires viewing a product not up close but from afar.  So far, you may have to squint to see it. What is visible from afar is most visible.

This thinking is often what creates tension in a presentation of brand strategy to a CEO. S/he thinks of brand strategy as a tactic done once every few years prior to a new ad campaign exploratory. The tension comes from being asked to look at a brand long term, yet with a tightened focus. CEOs are great with stretch goals, but not with stretch strategies. They find them confining. Stretch strategies are only evident when looking long term.

If you were to ask Tim Cook to see his brand through a historical lens, he could do it easily. Ask the CEO of HTC and you’d get the dog’s “ball behind the back look.”

I can think of only one brand strategy I’ve worked on that has not lasted the test of time. The rest were built to last. See history me droogies.

Peace!

PS. An example: Regardless of where you stand on president Obama now, his presidency viewed from a historical perspective – policy wise – will be viewed as momentous.

 

 

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Context Matters.

broadway boogie woogie

Look at the picture above. It is one of the most famous paintings in the world.  To some, however, it is a simplistic primary color pattern of boxes;  childlike in its construction. To art connoisseurs it is rapture. When I saw it in art class in college I fell into the former category. Today, though no connoisseur, I tend to see its virtue. Why?

Context.

This paint by Piet Mondrian is titled “Broadway Boogie Woogie.” Now, I am able to get it. Finally, I understand the painting. My years on the planet have allowed me to see the painting with a new familiarity thanks to the title.  The title, for me, makes this painting. Setting my mind afire.

This may not sound like a branding observation; it is. Context matters. Oh does context matter.

Peace.

 

 

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