Brand Planning

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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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Fred Wilson is a blogger (www.avc.com) and businessman I admire greatly. He blogs daily and share his knowledge without second thought.  He’s probably the most prominent VC on the east coast if not the county.  In a recent speech given at MIT, he mentioned that on his first ever test there he had gotten a zero.  About MIT he said, and I paraphrase, “When you go to MIT to go from being the smartest kid at your school to being the dumbest.” Anyway when asked about his nil test score his professor the response was “You didn’t understand the question.”

Here’s the thing about brand planning. The ones who get it right aren’t the ones with the best methodology or framework. They are the ones who understand the question. The problem is that question always changes. Yesterday I posted brand strategy is not Chaos Theory.  But if the question changes for every brand strategy, isn’t that a bit chaotic?

A generic question for all brands might be “What value or behavior does the brand provide that best meets the needs of the customer?”  Doesn’t seem like a bad question. But, per Fred Wilson’s professor, it’s the wrong one. Only when you are waist deep in a brand, customer care-abouts and brand good-ats can one ask the real question. It will be a business question, tempered by consumer insight, and help you pass that first and last test.

Happy hunting!

Peace.

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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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