Brand Strategy

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Every brief is a brand brief…that is, until the brand brief is actually written.  This is my life. A friend asked for some help with his website. I was paralyzed until I wrote a brand brief.  “Can’t you just write copy for the website? Only a couple of pages?” Sorry.  

A brand consultancy asked me to work on an idea for a top six business consulting company – they really wanted a brochure. “Love to help. Gotta do a brand brief first.” Want me to write an ad for your energy drink? Brand brief.

I can’t go tactical — not in good conscience — until I understand the organizing principle aka the brand strategy. I’d have restless leg syndrome. I’d be afraid I would do something to hurt the brand – which would be hard since without a brand brief “Who knew?” what would help the brand. 

So this is my career dilemma. The boulder I must push up the mountain. Wouldn’t have it any other way.

Peace.

 

 

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Though I am of the belief that political strategists have a lot to learn from brand planners, I do acknowledge borrowing some tools from politics; for instance, the nomenclature for my “brand plank” framework comes from the political arena.  Reading a political story yesterday, in which the word “agenda” came up, I immediately wondered how to use brand agenda in my practice. Clearly a plan needs an agenda. A strategy needs an agenda. But admittedly, an agenda is for a strategist not a consumer. So let’s think this through.

The brand planners adheres to an agenda.

The brand managers adheres to the planks.

And consumers? Consumers adhere to the (brand) idea.

As I think about incorporating a brand agenda into my process, where does it fit?

Does it sit at the beginning of the brief along with Brand Position and Brand Objective? Should it come in at the end after the idea is born. After the planks are scribed and the target parsed?

And what should a brand agenda look like? Is it single-minded? Longer form? Short and pithy?

Let me sleep on it, but I think it should be the last thing on the brief. And in answer to what it should look like, I’m leaning toward “yes, yes and yes, yes.”)

Peace.

 

 

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Way at the top of unpaid Google search results on brand strategy is HubSpot’s post “7 Essentials for a Strong Company Brand.”   Point one is about brand purpose and brand promise. Not bad places to start I guess, but a little too soft for me.

Brand strategy is not about a promise. It’s about a claim. A prideful statement of consumer value that “is.” Not a might be, or a try-to-be.  But a fact. A fact found at the nexus consumer care-abouts and brand good-ats.

If you have your brand claim right then everything you do in sales and marketing should be about proving it. Promise and purpose help may get you to your claim, but claim is the quintessential essential.  7 is too many essentials anyway. Water, air and food are essentials.

Peace.

 

 

 

 

 

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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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