Brand Planning

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Ten percent more US citizens died of drug overdoses last year than did the year before.  Drug manufacturers in the opioid and Fentanyl businesses are making money. I’m planning on swimming in the Maggie Fischer Cross Bay Swim next summer.  It’s 5.25 miles and starts at slack tide — just before incoming tide. Were a leaf sitting on the water that time, the Great South Bay would do a bit of the heavy lifting, perhaps cutting off a half mile or so or effort. (I hope.)

Trends and momentum are good things; especially in the science of marketing.  It’s hard to start a trend, ask most no-name or startup products. People aren’t Googling for trends that haven’t yet happened.  That’s why advertising is still important; it can help to create trends.

Reversing trends is even harder.  Young mothers in America are buying diapers in record numbers. Getting them to potty train earlier, for instance, is swimming against the tide.  

All marketers need to know where they are on the trend-ometer and plan accordingly.

Brand planners need to be trendsetters and trend stoppers.

Peace.  

 

 

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An entertainer contacted me about a year ago, inquiring about branding. Pretty smart inquiry. 

I remember pushing back when Kim Kardashian and others referred to themselves as brands – and I’m still a little leery. That said, this entertainer did need some help. As I thought more about it, the job really is about packaging. He had a stage act and from what I was told it was quite good. So what kind of packaging would set this act apart?  If we delved into “good-ats” and “care-abouts,” as we would with any brand strategy, we could certainly craft a name.  We’d obviously need a brief for that, buoyed by a claim.  (I thought of James Brown’s claim “The hardest working man ins show business.”) Then we’d define his proof planks – another part of the personal brand strategy to help organize everything – act included.

Lastly, we could dabble in his stage clothing (costume?), intro music, color palette and persona.  Have you ever seen Sebastian Maniscalco? That’s a persona. 

I’ve never done a brand strategy for a person. For a product, service, company — sure. But a  person, no. Looks like I might get a chance.  He called yesterday.  

Peace.

 

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My brand briefs are filled with heart-warming, heart wrenching twists of a phrase. They are meant to engage the Amygdala.  Trust me, they work when it comes to selling brand strategy (one claim, three proof planks.) But unless you are Bob Dylan no consumer is going to remember your poetic brand claim and proof array. They may remember a song from an ad. They may remember a tagline plastered everywhere locked up with your logo. But for lasting impact and indelible brand strategy, choose deeds over words.  Deeds and evidence.

The New York Yankees are a premier sports franchise because of their 27 world championships. Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center is “the best cancer care anywhere” (words) because its physicians have more experience treating cancer (deeds).

When companies bring their brands to me for help positioning, I look for deeds, evidence and proof. That’s the ore that precedes the jewelry.

Peace.  

 

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I’d like to say when it comes to brand planning my philosophy is “listening” but it’s not. Many will tell you the best cultural anthropologists are listeners, observers and silent recorders of behavior. They are.

Many brand planners today are expert listeners but not all see. Watching confirms what the ears hear. Observing can add great texture to the person interviewed.  One question I used to ask job seekers when interviewing in the ad business — after a few minutes of the interview — was, “Tell me about me.” (I almost invented the “me too” movement with the question one time, but that’s a story for another day.) The intent was to see if the candidate had any observations about my office, tidiness, books I read, etc. Non-verbal learning.

Anyway, I’ve found that the quietude that happens when one only asks a question and listens can suck the air out of an interview. A good brand planner animates. Laughs out loud. Play acts what a consumer might say or do.  It’s okay to interrupt and interject. Most of all a good interviewer shows interest. Makes the candidate some alive. Adding a pulse to a convo can move things in new directions. Also share from your own life, even things a little personal; it peels away some layers.

Listen for sure. But probe and bait for surer.

Peace.

 

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The problem with most brands is that they are skin deep. Products and services with derma measured only in millimeters. No  depth. No real rational and emotional meaning. Why is that?  Because brand building today is too randomized. No real brand plan.  No organizing principle driving long term, meaningful KPIs.

Sales and revenue are all that matters. Sales teams are motivated by commissions. Retail buyers are motivated by bonuses. Ad agents make money off of fee hours and volume.  And media is paid by the media transaction, not the result.

It makes me think of healthcare – where docs and hospitals are compensated for helping the sick, not preserving the healthy.

Brand planners dig beneath the skin. We get down to the organs. When we organize the selling principles, it’s not a Colorforms project, based on cut-and-paste tactics and theatrics. It’s a plan to build value leveraging what a brand is good-at and what consumers care-about. A plan driven by a deeply seeded claim, one that warms the hearts of brand employees and customers.

Salespeople can “sell anything,” they will tell you. Brand planners only want to sell one thing. Tink about it, as my Norwegian Aunt would say.

Peace.

 

 

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I was reading a recipe this weekend for chick pea chili (don’t judge) and decided right off the bat I’d never make it. Not for the chick peas, not for the drive to the grocery store(s), but for the over complication of ingredients.  I favor minimalism in my cooking. It’s easier to taste a few ingredients. (Google “Fruit Cocktail Effect.”)

My framework for brand strategy reflects this sensibility: One claim, three proof planks.  That’s how you build a brand. One and three.

Getting to one and three isn’t easy though. Trust me. You have to go through hundreds of ingredients to get to the one claim and three planks. When looking for brand good-ats and customer care-abouts, you’ll find many. But when forming brand strategy, don’t just look at the most common ingredients or the most abundant; this job is all about finesse.

For you tyro brand planners out there, use your palette when considering all the ingredients, but use your heart and brain when selecting the true flavors.

Peace.   

 

 

 

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Things we remember.

We remember beauty.

We remember new.

We remember rich.

We remember melody.

We remember funny.

We remember nature.

We remember poetry.

We remember pain.

We remember educators.

We remember warmth.

We remember charity.

We remember happy.

We remember love.

We remember triumph.

These are the things we remember.

These are the things consumers remember.

(I post this brand planning “prayer” once a year…as a reminder.)

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It seems that what I do for a living as a brand planner is similar to what I’d do were I a journalist. I interview lots of people to see where it takes me before culling the information and shaping the findings into a piece of writing. In my case the writing leads to a directive for a marketing team – a boil down – in the form of a brand brief. In the case of the journalist it leads to a fluid story meant to inform, educate and, perhaps, motivate.

I suspect journalists have a direction in mind before they start, either at the behest of an editor or an expected reader interest angle. Maybe that’s where the journalist differs from the brand planner. As a brand planner I have no going-in direction. My hope it to learn at the knees of consumers and product builders and let direction emerge. If my learning suggests the builders need to make changes, I share that. If it suggests consumers need to make changes, I share that too.

The process used by journalists and the brand planners may be similar, but the outputs are way different. In both cases, outputs need to be compelling. But for brand planner the rewards are etched in the tabula much longer.

Peace.   

 

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Before I became a brand planner I was a writer of creative briefs at an ad agency. One of the bigger refinements of my learning came at the hand of Peter Kim, McCann-Erickson NY’s the strategy officer.  He designed (or repackaged) the McCann creative brief to include what he called the Key Thought. The Key Thought was the “spark that propels the brand toward its objective.”  The word spark is what I preserved for my branding practice. I morphed Key Thought into “Claim” a more focused branding label but both are cultivated from and beholden to the word spark.

At an ad agency, a spark is the direction that gets the creative team excited about an ad.  In brand planning, the spark is the claim under which all marketing work is organized.  

When I wrote crappy briefs, before spark, they were lifeless sentences devoid of personality, culture and intrigue. Post Spark, they were strategic but poetic. More pregnant with possibility.  As a brand claim, a spark is strategic but also more interpretative.

One of my first claims with a spark was for ZDNet. Written in the 90s, the brand strategy was “For doers not browsers.” Still holds today.

Spark it up! Peace.

 

 

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I’m not sure when it happened, but at some time during brand planning career I began looking at assignments with the glass half full. Prior, there were a number of categories I walked into and start to twitch. “How am I going to learn this stuff? It’s too complicated.  It’s dense and unappealing.  Healthcare was one such category. Financial another. Digital Signal Processors and end-of-life also come to mind.

Maybe I just thought I wasn’t smart enough to learn a new technical language. Or I would be bored to death. I don’t have that problem anymore. I’ve chilled. And I’ve been able to find light in every product or service.

When you read decks and white papers on engineering projects in Africa or river blindness in Asia, it can be daunting. But when you interview the subject matter experts – the owners of the info and insights — it’s a different ballgame. You are in control. You make it interesting. People are people. People innately want to help.  So then it’s all about the questions.

As they teach you they get excited. As they see you gain category insight they start to perk up. Then they put some of the marketing pieces together. They become marketers. There is no more exciting human pursuit than learning. Plan to learn, plan to let your SME learn, and the activity rewards.

Love this job. Peace.

 

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