Brand Strategy

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When Milos Forman was auditioning Christopher Lloyd and Danny DeVito for One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest, he had them sit in a faux group therapy circle and vamp lines. When something seemed off he repeatedly instructed “That is not natural.” 

At one point in my career, having never, ever had a real sales job, a la David Ogilvy selling vacuum cleaners door-to-door, I decided to make amends.  I had done lots of ride-arounds with salesman, interviewed them ad nauseam, but never felt what it was like to look consumers in the eye and be paid based on my ability to make them buy.  

I did have a little head start in sales having sat through hundreds of hours of consumer focus groups and having read hours and hours of attitude and awareness studies, but looking Mary Q. Public and getting her to unsnap her purse, not so much.

Sales is hard. I learned that whenever I was “selling” and it didn’t sound natural, I wasn’t really selling. I was wasting breath. When I sounded like a commercial or a brochure, I was wasting time. This lesson has served me well as a brand planner. When I use words in strategy that sound like selling, that are off-pitch (music pitch), I have more work to do. If brand strategy isn’t natural, it isn’t effective.

Peace.

 

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At What’s The Idea? clients pay the bills. They do the hiring, provide the homegrown insights and share business data. Without clients there would be no brand consultancy.  But clients are not my customer. My customer is the brand. It is the brand to which I pay allegiance. It is the brand that is the object of my strategic desire. By being so focused it helps remediate politics from the equation.  

By putting the brand first and the people and clients second, it cleanses the process. Brands have no egos.  They just sit at the nexus of good-ats and care-abouts.  A brand doesn’t look to be promoted or aspire to Ad Age Marketer Of The Year. You can’t artificial intelligence your way around a brand. It’s a thing or service.

Don’t get me wrong, I need people to help navigate insight work. The stories, the human impact of purchase and use, the role of the product, can never be ably understood without people — be they brand and product manager or consumer and influencer.

But when all is said and done the brand must be the customer. At What’s The Idea? that pays the bills and provides the dividends.

Peace.

 

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I’ve been talking to a magician about doing some branding work for him. We chatted about the Is-Does – what a brand is and brand a brand does – something that is not as necessary for a magician as it is for, say, a startup. But there are many flavors of magician. So finding your magic sweet spot, is important in so far as positioning. Cards? Illusion? Big stage? Escape?

As we talked, I realized that a performance-based brand (an act really) may require slightly more scope than a company. If a brand strategy is “an organizing principle for product, experience and messaging,” then the proofs of the brand claim may include, things like introductory music. It could also include costume, staging, lighting, and lots of other things I’ve never thought about as elements of a brand plan.  It’s rather exciting, actually. The unknowns are aplenty. Kind of like magic.

Should be fun.  Peace.

 

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I’m going out on a limb here to say the majority of marketing buildables, e.g., ads, websites, PR plans, research studies, and content marketing are created sans a brand brief.

The tendency for agencies to work off a brand brief is much greater than for one-off contractors, but even they tend to use a campaign briefs or tactical briefs.  Whose fault is this? Clients. It’s the client who provides the input…and the approvals. It’s the client who needs to have an organizing principle for product, experience and messaging (aka brand strategy). It is the client who needs to codify it and make it sharable.  

Smart ad agents/contractors ask clients “Do you have a brand brief?,” but know the answer is “no.”  Every company has a website. How many of those writers and coders worked from a brand brief? Every company has an ad. Same question. Every marketer will tell you they have a brand. 95% of those people can’t articulate that brand in a clear, concise way. They don’t have a brief.

Peace.

 

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Brand strategy is a bit like plumbing.  The theory is nice but it’s the real pipes and engineering that carry the water.  I say this because when I read or see many people interviewed about branding they often answer with authority, but generically.  Sure brands need an organizing principle for product, experience and messaging. Sure they need visual and style directives. Of course, they need to promote values that help sell and satisfy. But the real business of branding can only be discussed in depth, with alacrity, when the strategy itself is known. 

To ask a so-called brand expert questions about branding or tactics, sans actual strategy, is like asking president Trump about policy. All you get is “wonderfuls” or “disasters.” You don’t get meaningful, actionable insight. To going back to the original plumbing metaphor, you get discussion about pipes, elbows, resin and leaks.  Brand experts, me included, need to dole out advice citing actual strategic examples. Not generics.

Peace.

 

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I’ve had my NYTVR (New York Times Virtual Reality) cardboard box for months but never used it until I bought an Android Phone two days ago. To say the experience was mind blowing would be an understatement. I watched the beginning of “All who remain” a VR film about the conflict in South Sudan and initially didn’t know what to do.  Watching the screen for a few minutes it seemed just an average movie, albeit with very interesting subject matter and landscapes. Then I turned my head. And realized I could look up down and all around and see my full environment. Talk about Wow out loud.

The experience was a bit trippy and the definition far from high, but the marketer in me actually saw what my brain foresaw in theory years ago.

Robert Scoble has been a fan for a while; now I see why.

Brand strategy is about creating an organizing principle for product, experience and messaging. The experience part of the equation just opened up as never before.

This is going to be some ride. Remember when 200 social media agencies open in NYC 5 years ago. We ain’t seen nothing yet.

Peace.  

 

 

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It is tough when you are in a business selling the second thing a customer wants.  That’s my business — the business of branding. 

Not a lot of marketing-savvy people wake up in the morning saying “My brand needs a better strategy.” Most people who find their way to a brand strategy firm understand an “organizing principle for product, experience and messaging” is a good thing to have. Anything that can codify “sales improvement” and “organizational operation” is a plus for business. No one disputes that. BUT. As fiction winter Peter Heller likes to say in his one-word sentences. But, it’s not the first thing marketers crave.

First, they want a website with a customer testimonial from the NY Jets.

Or a radio campaign like Winthrop University Hospital.

Or to be able to buy other physical therapy companies and assimilate them in 3 weeks.

Or to explain the value proposition of the Affordable Care Act and be the hero provider.

Or position competitive cybersecurity companies as device-centric.

If brand design or brand strategy helps them get there, all the better.  But it is the second thing, not the first.

And that’s the bane of brand work. It’s also why I love brand strategy.  Once I find the first thing I can sell the second thing. BAM.

Peace.

 

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What comes first the brand strategy or the egg?  The question is particularly germane when brand planning for a service company whose deliverables are people, paper, process and transaction.  Does the strategy inform the service or the service inform the strategy? Almost always the answer is the latter.

When you work on this kind branding initiative the care-abouts and good-ats are numerous and varied – way more so than with a packaged good.  One of the areas I like to delve into with service companies is “tradition.” Not something you can do a deep dive on with  start-ups by the way. Borrowed from my early days in cultural anthropology, “custom and tradition” are fertile areas of study and important brand contributors. When there are none, things get tricky but you must push forward. Even into aspiration land. Projection techniques can provide unrealistic results but the learning is important.

I don’t currently have a “tradition” question in my discovery rigor, though there is one in the neighborhood. Definitely time to add tradition to the mix.

Peace…in Syria.

 

 

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Tools and Rules.

Yesterday I was watching a video entitled “How to Use Periscope Like A Pro” and about 3 minutes in the speaker mentioned the #1 rule for success: “Know your brand.”  Good advice. “Think about your brand, your message, your topic, your expertise,” was the speaker’s advice.

Know your brand (strategy) is how all brands must operate, be they on Periscope, 60 Minutes or Instagram.  The “B” word is easy to talk about in theory but not so much in practice. 90 out of 100 times the brand has no plan.  

Thanks to marketing’s social media and digital avalanche, we have tons of new tools and tool vendors. Read Twitter some time and see home many rule and tool providers are out there. Their Tweets all have numbers in the first sentence. “7 ways to..” and “15 surefire tactics to…”

Know your brand is good advice, being able to articulate it clearly, succinctly and in a meaningful way, is hard.  Brand architecture is the provenance of business people. Creating meaningful delivery is that of creative people.  A brand strategy (one claim and three proof planks) bridges the gap.

Only with a tight brand strategy in hand can the tools and rules take on true value.  

Peace.                         

 

 

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In my brand strategy presentation I share real examples. The first couple of minutes are about theory and process then I trot out real client strategies, sans brand name, as they are proprietary.

The first examples, which everyone sees, is wonderfully tight, uncomplicated and easy to reckon. It’s for a commercial maintenance company – the people who keep buildings clean and operational: vacuuming, washing windows, emptying garbage and keeping the grounds in order. This particular commercial maintenance company had no brand. It had a logo, invoices, website and a strong owner.

When all the care-abouts and good-ats were understood and assembled, and the boil down complete, the brand strategy became quite obvious: “The navy seals of commercial maintenance.” The claim was supported by proof planks: fast, fastidious and preemptive.

As brand strategies go – and they are always 1 claim and 3 proof planks – this was a particularly easy metaphor. Not all are this easy. Done well, all brand strategies have a mellifluous quality to them. Almost like a song or hook, constructed out of product or company notes that create pride and desire.

Peace.

PS.  If you’d like to see the presentation, please write Steve@WhatsTheIdea.com

 

 

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