brand planning tip

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A lot of brand planners talk about “voice.”  The voice of the brand. It’s a metaphor, of course, and one marketers easily understand. If I close my eyes and listen to Eddie Vedder sing, I know it’s him. Voice is an identifier.

As someone who has run gazillions of dollars of radio and TV ads, I know the power of a distinct voice. It’s smart marketing, if sometimes a crutch.   

The voice metaphor falls apart when the delivery of the message outweighs what’s delivered. In branding what is delivered needs to be the brand strategy (one claim, 3 proof planks).  Brand strategy is content-related not piping or music. Building a brand by organizing a limited number of key values in consumers’ minds (and employees’ minds) is the fastest, most efficient way to marketing success.   

Years ago when a St. Louis focus group attendee looked at an AT&T videoconferencing ad and exclaimed “AT&T would never talk to me like that.” It was a comment about voice. When another said “If it’s from AT&T, I’m sure the videoconferencing quality will be excellent,” that’s brand strategy.





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I learned a trick from ad agency president Brendan Ryan many moons ago that has contributed mightily to my brand planning framework.  Mr. Ryan, who ran FCB New York, would ask for a print campaign to be tacked to the wall. And sans any briefs or account foreplay he’d review what he saw, explain the “idea,” and identify which ads fit.  It was after-the-fact ad forensics.

This approach also works in brand planning.

I did some work for an agency that handles a top 5 financial institution. I was helping the agency create a strategy for the holding company brand (sitting atop the retail and commercial bank, personal wealth group, and investor relations). Our strategy wasn’t being served up as a corporate branding assignment per se, just an organizing principle for delivery of the brand online (wink wink).

Anyway, one of the tools we used was borrowed from Mr. Ryan – we reviewed all the content on the site (stories, copy and videos) and pasted them up on a wall. Our team was then to cluster the content into discreet, organic segments. If we couldn’t find a segment, we were to move outliers off to the side.

I can’t share business secrets but this forensic approach helped show us where the centers of gravity were. Our next step was to make sure these clusters were customer “care-abouts” and brand “good-ats.” If they weren’t, we needed to make corrections.

It’s a wonderful brand planning exercise and one I must say was borrowed from another. Peace.



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I’m always looking for new ways to get smart in my clients’ businesses. I use some old war horse tactics but am ever on the lookout for new stuff. People who follow What’s The Idea? know I’m a fan of “proof.” There’s talk, platitude and proof. On the old stuff side of the proof ledger is “windshield time” — time I spend riding around with salespeople watching them sell and buyers buy. The time in the car between sales calls is valuable learning time. However today, there’s a new flavor of windshield time. It’s called email. Lots of selling takes place in email.

Ask a client executive or senior sales person to send you an email thread of the back and forth with a prospect. Once you weed out the “let’s grab a coffees,” “clients worked with,” and “competitive positioning,” you get to some serious selling grist. It’s also interesting to see how tone in the email thread can change over time. You can almost feel the pulse.

Ask the client for email threads that resulted in business won and also some where they did not gain the business. See if you can understand the differences.

Email threads may be private so you have to be careful. Most selling conversations in email form aren’t identified as private. Just use your head.



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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.



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People like to help.  Ask any mother-in-law.  People also like to be helped, but there is social stigma about being helped too much. Ask a teenager or the under privileged. But helping and being helped are the two most important motivators in marketing. Selling is not helping. Helping is helping.

If a brand planner doing my job from a wheelchair, is it likely I’d be more effective at getting consumers to open up? Yep. It’s human nature. If I was a brand planner suffering from depression, would I have the same chance at getting someone to open up? Not unless I looked particularly sad.  

Overt selling is overtaking helping in marketing and consumers are shutting down.  Why do you think students writing papers can get through on the phone to executives, but researchers can’t? We are a helpful people. Why, in a recent study on homeless in NY (I think ideated by Droga5), did moms and dads walk right by family members on the street dressed as homeless? People want to help but are inured to the scale of the problem.

So as you think about your brand planning rigor for your day, think about helping – bidirectional helping. Not selling. Create an environment where consumers can really hear you and then you can begin the steps to a sale. Peace.


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