Brand Strategy

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Harmonious Brands.

The second most important and difficult task in brand building is adherence. The most important task is actually developing a brand strategy.  I’ve written about adherence before, a borrow from the medical community, because it is so, so important.  The initial adherence task for the marketing and brand team is to get senior management on board.  A marketing team who feels others in the company won’t understand brand strategy, who thinks it’s too inside baseball, is setting itself up for failure. It’s not that complicated.  (FYI, a brand strategy comprises one claim, three proof planks.)  

Once company owners and c-levels are behind the brand strategy (not the ad campaign, not the website redesign, they are different), then the heavy lifting can begin: getting all company stakeholders into the fold.  You can opertionalize this through a training class, educational material, a video, an annual CEO address…there are many ways. But commitment to sharing with all employees is key.

What results is a wonderful harmony throughout the company. There are few things more beautiful than perfect harmony. You don’t need instruments, you needed even understand the words to the song. When you hear voices in perfect pitch, tone and harmony it is mesmerizing.

Mesmerize your employees and you can mesmerize your consuming publics. 
Peace.  

 

 

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Brand Leaders Educate.

A couple of years ago I wrote a brand strategy for an accountable care organization. An ACO is a physician group, the rules for which are shaped by the Affordable Care Act.  It was an exciting project and one I felt was quite political in nature. The brand strategy captured and celebrated the best of the Affordable Care Act – turning the systems from curative (treating sick patients) to preventative (prior to sick) a la well-baby.

Disclosure: The ACA built financial incentives into the system so that docs are paid to keep us well – sharing with the insurance companies the savings accrued thanks to wellness.

The Claim for the brand strategy was “Intensive Primary Care.” By telling targets (patients, physicians and payers) the primary care physicians or general practitioners (GP), as some know them, are going to treat patients more preemptively and exhaustively, rather than turning them over to specialists when really sick, it changes the calculus of medicine.

Managing healthy people is less costly than treating sick people.

This brand claim was a first to market claim. It sold the accountable care organization category. Being first to market is a leadership position. And leaders educate, someone smart once told me.

Peace.

 

 

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There’s a chain of fast food chicken restaurants in NC called Zaxby’s.  I’ve yet to eat there but am sure it’s competitive with others in the space. I’ll have to do some research. Yesterday I had a couple of meetings and presentations in which I discussed the “Fruit Cocktail Effect.” When a brand tries to be too many things, goes the theory, it becomes none. Fruit cocktail, is a sweet sugary mess rather than a mélange of grapes, peaches, pear and cherries.

I watched a Zaxby’s TV spot last night and noted how very plain it was. Pictures of human beings, chicken shots, nature, nurture – the ad could have been for any product. The culprit? Fruit Cocktail.  

Zaxby’s tagline (de facto brand strategy) is “Friends. Family. Flavor.”  That’s three claims – if they can even be called claims. Flavor might be the closest thing to a claim.

No doubt Zaxby’s gets the chicken right — because they are a successful business.  Now they need to get the brand right. Zaxby’s needs a single claim behind which it can load up its proof. Make a claim…and prove it every day.

Peace.

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Yesterday I went off a bit on Trout and Ries, saying a brand Claim is akin to a brand Position, but the process, pre-idea and post-idea are different. You can plot a position. You can only cultivate a claim. A claim requires care and feeding. Marketing either strengthens or weakens a claim. A position is less animate.

When Marilyn Laurie a famous AT&T marketer used to say advertising either put a “deposit in the brand bank or a “withdrawal,” she was referring to an animated process.

Branding is simple. Don’t let brand nerds marko-babble you into thinking it’s this complex “only we understand” science.  If you land on the right “Claim” and support it with the right “Proof” planks (3), you can easily build your brand — knowing when you’re making deposits and withdrawals.  

Claim gets the branding glory but Proof is the work horse. Proof is the day job of a brand strategy. Proof is the day job of brand managers. And agents. (The guys hanging off the I-beam with his helmet attached by Super Glue is Proof.) Proof is what convinces consumers. Bluff and bluster do not.

Peace.  

 

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In my pre-career as a brand planner I met with then head of NY planning at BBH, Paul Matheson. BBH was on a side street in Chelsea, in a little commercial walk up, trying to find its footing in NY. As someone with little formal brand strategy training, apparently I did a rather good job of talking trade craft.  I recall Mr. Matheson saying of the 7 or so critical factors in a BBH brand strategy I mentioned 6.  Most people got 3, he offered.  Culture everyone missed, but not I — with an Anthroplogy background.

Today I’m thinking of revisiting my critical factors and adding a new one: Provenance.

A neat word provenance. It means where something comes from. Coors beer comes from the Rockies, brewed with Rocky Mountain water. Farm to table restaurant brands rely on provenance. Maine lobsters. Muscle Shoals musicians. That kind of thing. Understanding where brands physically come from is important. The people that make the brands. The materials. The design intent — Greene and Greene furniture, for instance. Endemic brand qualities are embedded in where and why products and services are made. Is an Austin app different from a Stanford app?

As my Norwegian aunt would say “Tink about it.” Think about provenance.

Peace.

 

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A number of years ago, while with McCann-Erickson, I was on the new business team that pitched and won the worldwide Motorola account – at the time one of the world’s premier technology corporations. Someone smart upstairs decided it would be a good idea to put a global research project in play to tout the scale and utility of McCann’s global network. I wasn’t the developer of the research questionnaire, fielded by 10 plus offices around the globe, but the data was given to me to interpret. A tactic in search of an insight.

My insight, which we embedded into the presentation in an uneven way, was that the world was made up of 3 different segments of wireless adoption. All based on teledensity – the quantification of communications devices per person.
The creative was great, (we used a Rolling Stones song as an idea bed), there was no time left for the media portion of the presentation (common in new business at the time) and the chemistry was lovely. No one ever came out and said the segmentation insight was the deal-breaker, but all creative being equal-ish (and it never is), I’m pretty sure the Moto team from Atlanta felt a marketing depth to our pitch others lacked.

A tactic in search of an insight can work. Can be worth millions.

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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If you read the previous What’s The Idea? post you’ll know I’m thinking about building an implementation phase into my brand planning engagement process. The idea is to become a brand supervisor at the client company for a couple of months to manage adherence. This, I know, is likely to go poorly unless handled with care.

Some people see strategy as constricting. Others see it as freeing.  I sit in the middle.  I certainly don’t want marketers to spend effort and money on “off message” activity. Bad for the brand and not great at building muscle. But I do want them to be as creative and exhilarated as possible when it comes to ideation. Not looking at a blank sheet of paper saves time. Having a jump start on marketing efforts is also an energy saver. And it creates focused, fertile ground for the work.

In the middle is where the on-prem brand supervisor will sit. Coaxing and charming good ideas and work that toes the strategy line. But also creating a new lens through which to see marketing that adds value to the brand, company and one’s carrer.

Ima need a syllabus.

Peace.

 

 

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One the fallacies of the brand planning business is that everything will change when the engagement is over. I’ve presented and sold brand strategy (an organizing principle for product, experience and messaging) to numerous clients, only to see it used to launch a tagline, logo, new website or ad campaign. And then little else.

In those cases it simply became stim for a top drawer tactic, not a strategy to work by. Not a strategy to build a brand.  

I’m beginning to rethink my offering. I’m beginning to see the value of packaging a 3-month on-prem implementation phase. One whereby I supervise the marketing department and help to fit any and all marketing activities and outputs to the newly purchased brand strategy. It’s only when marketing stuff is made that the strategy takes hold.  Brand strategy is not some ephemeral, cultural construct of the marketing department. It’s an activity guide.        

When you have a brand claim and three proof planks to guide the work, everything has a purpose. Everything is either on or off.  

(By the end of the day, I expect to be the owner of a little red house in Asheville, NC.)

Peace.                      

 

 

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How do you build a brand?  It’s an easy question. Sadly, it has a thousand answers.

Were I to ask how to build a car, the answer would be with an engine, steering, wheels, transmission, chassis, etc.  How do you build a sandwich? How do you make beer? Of course there will be variations in ingredients but the components are pretty static. Not so much in brand building.

If you ask ten brand consultancies you’ll get ten different constructs for what constitutes a brand plan.  Components may include product development guidelines, packaging, a visual identity scheme, (e.g., a logo, style and usage manual) and rough communications guidelines, but for the most part the actors charged with building the brand are a federation of marketing people inside and outside the company (agencies) following a marketing plan, not a brand plan.

Marketing plans are built with line items transferable from one company to then next. Metrics include: unit sales, revenue, market share and profit plan. And lots of tactical cow bell. Brand plans, on the other hand, are devoted to building product and consumer value. Values based on care-abouts and good ats. They are not transferable line items but values endemic to the product.

The best marketers are also great brand advocates. They don’t care only about the plumbing, they care about the product and its unique value to the consumer.

Peace.

 

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