brand planning tips

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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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In my ongoing effort to define brand planning and share my framework for building strong brands, the word “proof” comes up a lot. No matter what type of brand I study, no matter how many insights rise to the top of the discovery effluvia, proof provides path to a successful strategy. “Proof of what?” you ask. That’s not only the question, it’s the answer.

pick axe

As a student of brands, marketing and advertising I’ve decided that 80% of the promotional side of marketing is baseless claim. Generic terms like “reliable,” “great taste,” “low cost,” and “best service” are ported to market by every marketer on the block. Listen to the claims in a pod of TV advertising and the claims are the same from one brand to the next. So consumers shut them down.

That said, it’s the “proof” of those claim that we hear. The evidence of those claims. Vestiges and residue of the claims is what remains. What is left for the mind to grasp after we’ve told people how great our product or service is.

PROOF is everything is brand planning. Insights may be the sexy side of planning, but mining and organizing proof toward a brand claim is how you build a brand.

Peace.

 

 

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om

I read a lot about leadership and one word seems to pop up a great deal is passion.  Leaders want passion in their companies and hiring agents want it in their hires. Employees when asked about personal traits often play the passion card. It’s kind of an over-used word in my opinion.

In my business practice I use the word love a great deal, telling customers and prospects I must learn to love their product to be an effective advocate. But how does one love JPMorgan Chase? How does one love Hospice Care Network? Or PwC? It takes some doing.  

Passion and love may be allies yet they are really two different things. Don’t mix them up.

As a brand planner – someone who mines care-abouts and good-ats – I try to remove passion. It is the dispassionate planner who has the best ear. Removing passion for an idea or insight is not easy, especially if you hit it early on, but it’s a necessary.  Brand planners need to keep an open door policy throughout the gleaning process. Om. It keeps a clear heart while you flesh out and prioritize all the values you need to consider.

Selling can be passionate, planning must be the opposite.

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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Part of the secret sauce of brand planning is the interview; be it of customers, prospects, partners, sales people or company management. And the art of the question is in the ability to ask and extract rational information that helps “follow the money” and “follow the preference,” but also emotional interests. Emotional connections with the product, brand or category.

The art of the question also lies in listening and the redirect…taking a path the interviewee establishes and working it is where contextual serendipity takes over. Don’t get me wrong, I have a battery of questions I use as thought starters, but the riffing is always good. It shows the interviewee is interested.

Questions that get people to warm up and open up tend to be less rational. I use one question with company management that goes something like this, “Fast forward one year, after we’ve worked together, and everything has gone beyond your wildest expectation, tell me what we’ve accomplished?”  Here’s a new one I came up with while reading the paper today. It sounds a little goofy and simple but I’m going to try it.  “What are your dreams for this company?” It may be one of those “idea to have an idea” prompts, but in the c-suite, with different department leaders answering, it may prove telling. Stay tuned.

Peace.            

 

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Value-Loading.

The human mind does the work of the brand planner on a daily basis. We experience people, places and things, a multiplicity of experiences, and boil them down to their essence — retaining a fairly single minded impression. Or we don’t, because we are confused and no single quality sticks out. I refer to this inability to land on an impression as the “fruit cocktail effect.”

Great brand managers understand this. They get how the “cull” of product and service values is one of the most important parts of their job. They understand you can’t be all things to all people. Sadly, many marketers don’t get it. They “value-load” to the point where consumers don’t know what to think.

Yesterday I was reading a point of purchase display for a remodeling company and they listed 10 different values or claims.  All were good claims but created quite a cacophony. What about this display would the consumer remember in day after recall testing? Probably the main picture used.  If really lucky they might remember the value most important dear to them, buried among the others…their key care-about. Most likely they’ll remember fruit cocktail.

Peace.

 

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I scraped this screen grab from Jen van der Meer’s website.

van der meer slide

 

I’ve never met Jen but after reading these two quotes feel we’re sibs from another mother.

In my approach to branding at What’s The Idea? I take these two truths to be self-evident. And many would agree…yet these guiderails are rarely practiced. Was I to add another ingredient it would be “inspiration.” Inspiration creates feelings and action. Ms. Van der Meer is a data analyst.  It seems to me complexity is the domain of the data analyst. And in my mind’s eye they are all a little ADD.  But when Ms. van der Meer speaks of simplicity and “love of craft” it makes me believe she’d be a great marketer to work with. And a great data analyst.

I often tell clients “I’m a simple man.” It’s a way to self-deprecate and also set the stage that this brand strategy stuff, when complete, is organic, understandable and easy to follow. It’s an organizing principle for product, messaging and experience. Done well it is simple, loveable and inspiring.

Peace.

 

 

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Brand planners go about their business in a number of ways. If you’ve planned on 500 brands and identified 1,000 insights, it’s hard to go all tabula rasa on a new assignment. To quote a friend and colleague Faris Yakob of Genius Steals, there’s a lot of recombinant culture invading the planner’s work day. And this can be a bit of a problem.

Etsy is going through a bit of a hub-bub because some artisans are thought to be mass producing products and passing them off as artisanal. When brand planners do this, it also taints the work.

Brand planners look to two places for insights. The product and the consumer.  If we think of the product as comprised of natural resources — all natural, all built with different DNA, different chemicals – it’ hard not to see it as unique. Deconstructed, these unique resources bring forth insights and features from which the brand strategy flows.  A pizza parlor may look like another pizza parlor, an accounting firm may look like another accounting firm, but they really are all different. And by happenstance or design, those differences appeal to consumers in special ways. That’s the big “find” of the brand planner. And never forget we are creating disposition to purchase, not just packaging.

Brand planners find product uniqueness, decide if it is business-winning, then turn it into a brand strategy. (One claim, three proof planks.)

Off the shelf solutions don’t work. Every snow flake is different. Peace.

 

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I was reading the paper this morning on president Obama’s state of the union speech and realized the word “politics” has become a dirty word. “We can get things done so long as politics don’t get in the way,” the speech suggested. When issues are “politicized” there is gridlock.   (I suspect this isn’t too different from the word “religious” or “beliefs” in the Middle East.) In the U.S. the word “diplomacy” is not a dirty word. It still suggests gridlock but in a more positive fashion. Using tools to work together. Compromising. Give and take. The word diplomacy is more leader-friendly. I once read that America Indian chiefs were not the greatest warriors but the ones whose decisions were most likely to help the tribe. (A learning moment when I lost my fraternity election.)

Words are important. How the meaning of a word evolves is also important. Very important. When words are used as weapons, take note. That’s why brand planners make a living listening. Contextualizing. Truly hearing. There are hollow words. Words that mean the opposite, e.g., transparent, return on investment. And there are pregnant words, words layered with meaning — ready to be unleashed. The latter is where we play. Seek them out and let them sell. Peace.

 

 

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I ask a lot of questions. It’s the trait of a brand planner. Questions are always about learning but when all is said and done they resolve into one of two types of strategy: optimistic or pessimistic. Back in the day working in the tech sector there was an acronym FUD which stood for Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt. It drove strategy for IBM and lots of other tech companies selling hard- and software. Pessimism.

For me, positive is the grail in marketing. It may seem Pollyanna-ish but is a quicker way to the heart and mind. That said, it’s not an easy path. A strategy for a home security system might seem most effective when the grim reaper is lurking in the bushes. Conversely, a smiling sleeping face on the pillow doesn’t stand out and it’s poor tradecraft. Positive is hard (unless you’re Corona or a travel marketer.)

For pessimism we have cops shows, thriller novels and news radio. Pessimism is all over the place. “Fail at school and get a bad job.” “Smoke cigarettes, hack up a lung.” “Work in construction, sue the city.”

I’m no Maslow but I think it’s safe to say brand planners who spend time in positive land are more apt to garner favor and loyalty with consumers then are their negative-focused counterpart. So wash your hands and go be positive. Peace (not war).

 

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