Brand Strategy

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Inexpensive and Easy.

A quote from The New York Times today points to market forces that have made Jeff Bezo the richest man in the world.

“One is the unequal impact of digital technology, which has reduced costs and brought convenience to many.”  

Digital technology has allowed Mr. Bezos to gather $160B in personal wealth, simply by making shopping less expensive and easier.  Less expensive and easy are, not surprisingly, money-makers.

Brand strategy makes marketing less expensive and easier.  It does so by pointing all company actors in a similar direction. It gives them direction for their innovations. It corrals vendors. And it programs consumers to understand quite clearly the value of a product or service.

Marketing is strengthened by strong blocking and tackling. But it needs creativity. Some on the creative side view brand strategy as limiting; as creating limits to creative outputs. Nothing could be further from the truth. Brand strategy sustains creativity. It gives creativity a reason for being. A goal.

Peace|

 

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A brand is an empty vessel into which we pour meaning, someone smart once told me.  But products and services often exist before the name is created. So the vessel isn’t quite empty, is it?

Have you ever named a child? Empty vessel. Or is it?  The parent’s backgrounds are often contributors: family names, favorite bands, etc. (A couple of hippies I knew in college named their kids Dylan and Hendrix.) Were those kids empty vessels? You decide. 

Totally empty or partially full, the name of a vessel is an important brand component. In all three of my discovery questions sets, though, never has there been a question about the name. There will be moving forward. A brand name, done well, will say volumes about the product. But it may also can say a lot about the founders.  A startup founder I worked for picked the product name Zude because “Oh, and it rhymes with dude.”

Brand strategy organizes the all activities associated with building a brand. It is the life blood. But that strategy, has to come from organic material, and understanding a name is rich start.

Peace.

 

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Whither Noah?

Noah Brier was one of my earlier poster favorites.  Unlike a paster, a poster is an original content creator and influencer. An active thought provoker in branding and digital business, Noah blogged like a dookie. Alas, during his early years he got bitten by the start-up bug and co-founded content marketing platform Percolate.  I say alas, not because Percolate isn’t a great software technology, it is I’m sure.  I say alas because Noah and his brain could have been so much more transformational for our business. Before coat, suit and tie (Jefferson Airplane reference) he was the trailblazer, maker, and idealizer our business lacks today.

Strategy is still the stepchild of ad makers, website makers, and content creators.  It is not the commerce fulcrum it will eventually become. Noah is a strategist. A market changer.

Today, collapsing the steps to a sale (awareness to transaction) is a tactical job. A network job.   When it becomes strategic, we’ll see breakthroughs. Breakthroughs supported by technology. And on that day sell your Alphabet sock. Hee hee. That’s when we’ll start to see some Mars shots.  And Mars shots are what we missed when “Hey, It’s Noah” went to ground.

Peace.

 

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Proof Pulling.

You ever sit in the yard and pull weeds?  It’s a horrible job and even worse metaphor for what I’m about to share. My job is not pulling weeds but “pulling proof.”  Brand discovery is all about the search for proof points.  What is a proof point? It’s evidence. It may be an action. A practice. Perhaps a milestone. A result.  Proof is existential.  Why is proof in branding so important? Because 90% of all consumer facing advertising, packaging and promotion is sizzle. It’s claim, claim, claim. A promise without any foundation.

If an ad makes a claim about a product or service and the consumer asks “Why?” or says “Prove it,” is there a suitable response? Is there proof? Almost always there is not. That’s why brands today are media driven not idea driven.

Proof is what you use in a debate to make your point. Proof well told (McCann-Erickson’s mantra is Truth Well Told) makes a superior debater.

The process of brand discovery begins with proof pulling. Then organizing the proof into care-abouts and good-ats. Then, if you learn the language of the consumer, overlay some category culture, and organize your findings, you may have yourself a brand strategy.

Peace.

 

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TriNet TriNet Again.

As a person in the brand building business, outsourcing has never been a favorite business practice. Companies that have a powerful brand strategy can only make it more so by letting that strategy infuse throughout every department, touching every function.  That said, I do see how agile companies, especially startups and fast growers, can benefit by keeping their eyes on the prize

It is for this reason that I have been a fan of TriNet, a proud and accomplished provider of administrative and HR function as an outsourced offering.  These guys do chicken right.

Except for advertising. 

This weekend they broke a big ad in The New York Times. “Incredible starts here” is the new company tagline. The headline spans 2-pages in the form of a neon sign spelling the word “incredible.”  The copy offers time tested generic claims such as “tailor the right solution that fits your industry needs” and lots of other junior copywriter text.

This is an example of a smart company making ads sans brand strategy. Ads without brand strategy are dangerous. Incredible this effort isn’t.

Quick, close your eyes and think of incredible companies. Who comes to mind? Apple? Google? Claim and proof build brands. Where’s the proof?

Peace.

 

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Fly Paper Strategy

My first brand strategy was a career changer. I was at technology boutique called Welch Nehlen Groome, in Garden City, NY trying to introduce account planning to the advertising rigor. The client we were going after was ZDNet, a Ziff Davis property in the tech space. It began as a portal of all the Ziff Davis technology publications with a few interactive bells and whistles.

Our contact at ZDNet, Michael Della Penna, passed on a PowerPoint deck from a branding shop in San Francisco. The firm clearly understood branding I thought, because it had a cool name. Dog Bowl or Bath Water or some such. Once past the title page of the deck however, I noticed the group was all hat and no cattle. 80% of the paper was marko-babble. Or more specifically, brand-babble.

I don’t remember writing a deck to win the business. I remembered the brief. ZDNet had a good sense of their proof points; they were smart people, as techies often are.  They just didn’t get the poetry side of strategy – the claim side. Their brand planks were what they called the 3Cs: Content, Community and Commerce. ZDNet’s main competition at the time was C|Net, who matched up pretty well with the 3C.

The Brand Idea from the brief was “For Doers Not Browsers.” A strategic cherry and rational/emotional difference maker. We won the business and the CMO of all of Ziff companies called the paper strategy galvanizing (my word, it was a long tome ago).

I was hooked.

 

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The brand strategy business, at least the way I define it, is not an easy one.  Brand strategy is an organizing principle for product, experience and messaging.  Not a lot of people wake up in the morning asking for an organizing principle. Not a lot of people walk to their car or train after work ruing the lack of an organizing principle.  Sure they want more sales, more efficient sales, and better sales but they’re typically not feeling disorganized.   

The typical brand consulting inquiry goes something like this “Do you redesign logos?” Or, “Do you rename?”  Sometimes they use branding and a verb, “I need to rebrand my website.”  These are not what I do. I create paper strategy. 

Most people want marketing stuff. They don’t want strategy or operating principles. There isn’t a lot of pent up demand for brand strategy. So I often have to come in the side door — find people who are looking for stuff.  Otherwise, I’m left to educate marketers as to the role of brand strategy and that’s a schlepp.

Peace.

 

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I was driving earlier this week and noticed a couple of Yuengling billboard ads.  Billboards are hard to do as the good ones contain 7 words or less.  It seems the Yuengling tagline is “spread your wings,” which until further notice with be their brand strategy claim. (A brand strategy is one claim, three proof planks.)  Yuengling is America’s oldest brewery, but that proof shouldn’t get in the way of a fallow claim like spread your wings. Everyone wants to spread their wings, no?

The “wings” are derived from the eagle on the label — not to be confused with the Anheuser Busch eagle logo. The rational-emotional claim for the beer, has nothing to do with the beer. Just the purchaser.  It’s the same claim used by brands in nearly every category from mobile phones to cars to airlines. (At least airlines have wings.)

Basically, Yuengling has no brand strategy…they have a logo.  That’s how you get headlines line “go big or go bigger.”  This is lazy and poor brand craft. 

Brand strategy is the thoughtful result of consumer care-abouts and brand good-ats.  Where ever the twain shall not meet, we get wings.

Peace.

 

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I offer a fun brand exploratory to client prospects of a certain size called “Brand Strategy Tarot Cards,” in which I turn over 5 pieces of company/product content and do a reading. One such piece is the boilerplate – the copy on the About section of the website.

Here is a sample from a successful insurance software company, with the name changed to protect the innocent:

At Insurance Plus, we specialize in Property & Casualty software and services. It’s our focus and our passion. We’ve been doing it for over 25 years and we do it really well.

Over the years, we have used our deep insurance industry experience and sophisticated technology expertise to envision, develop, and deliver the most comprehensive core systems and data solutions devoted exclusively to commercial, personal and specialty lines of business.

We continually bring new thinking and new functionality to the market. We’ve forged deep relationships with our customers and keep them ahead of the technology curve with innovative solutions and a content library that has no equal. Over the past years, we’ve acquired companies to add to the list of solutions to better serve the market and our customers.

The lede of this About section boilerplate can be found in quote marks in the post headline. (The Really is mine.)

Beyond the fact that they are in the property and casualty software business, the only real information here is they are 25 years old and have bought other companies.  That’s it. The rest is marko-babble.

Branding is about pouring value into a product or service vessel. And doing so in a way that consumers can play back.

Many companies are starved for brand strategy. It’s tragic.

Peace.

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Ten percent more US citizens died of drug overdoses last year than did the year before.  Drug manufacturers in the opioid and Fentanyl businesses are making money. I’m planning on swimming in the Maggie Fischer Cross Bay Swim next summer.  It’s 5.25 miles and starts at slack tide — just before incoming tide. Were a leaf sitting on the water that time, the Great South Bay would do a bit of the heavy lifting, perhaps cutting off a half mile or so or effort. (I hope.)

Trends and momentum are good things; especially in the science of marketing.  It’s hard to start a trend, ask most no-name or startup products. People aren’t Googling for trends that haven’t yet happened.  That’s why advertising is still important; it can help to create trends.

Reversing trends is even harder.  Young mothers in America are buying diapers in record numbers. Getting them to potty train earlier, for instance, is swimming against the tide.  

All marketers need to know where they are on the trend-ometer and plan accordingly.

Brand planners need to be trendsetters and trend stoppers.

Peace.  

 

 

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