Brand Strategy

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In the toast at my daughter’s wedding I plan on sharing a smidgeon of marital and parenting advice. A brand planner by trade, I make a living observing behavior then packaging it into small, memorable bits of advice.

Toast advice number 1. Don’t use the “H” word.  Both my kids should remember this one; it’s good counsel for marriage and parenting. The “H” word is the ugliest of words. More harmful than the “F” bomb and all of its scatological allies. The “H” word is the root of the word hatred… and no good comes of it. Even if you don’t like peanut butter – perhaps it causes a physical reaction – it’s not worthy of hatred.  Nor is a poor movie or book. Nor a villain. These are things one might not like, but certainly don’t merit hatred. (How many Eskimo words are there for snow?) 

Hatred and the “H” word are a blight on humanity. Yes, humanity kills. Yes, we destroy mother earth. We are jealous, we are covetous. But we needn’t minimize the root cause — using the word in our everyday language.

Start fixing ourselves. Stop using the “H” word.

Peace.

 

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Google is an interested animal.  I play it like a violin, but it takes practice.  The key to using Google to your advantage lies in selecting and posting phrases. Unique phrases. Ehr-ee-body plays in keywords. Phrases, however, are ownable. To start, find what you feel is a meme-able phrase and post it to your site.  Then post it again at a later date. Basically, plant it in web soil.

The longer the phrase the better, but you can accomplish success with even a few words.

Google the phrase one claim three proof planks, it comes up What’s The Idea?. Before the phrase resolved to me. I’d have to put it in quotes: “One claim three proof planks.”  Before creating gravitational (Googitational?) pull on the phrase, it was likely highjacked by the term “planking,” the core exercise that was so hot for a while. Today the phrase is mine sans quotes.

The more obscure the phrase, the more likely it will come to you. It can even resolve to you very quickly.

Google Campaigns come and go a powerful brand idea is indelible.  See?

Now meme on. Peace.

 

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Here’s an exercise for brand planners.

I read this morning that when president Richard Nixon prepared for a summit in China to meet Mao Zedong, he created a checklist. What do we want?  What does China want? And what do we both want? Each question had three answers.

Brand planners should ask themselves the same questions only with a slight modification at the end.  What does the company want? What do the consumers want? And what does the brand want?  The brand’s desires may not align with that of the company and could be a healthy source of exploratory tension.

The What’s The Idea? the brand strategy process plumbs consumer “care-abouts” and brand “good-ats.”  The nexus of these qualities decides the brand claim and proof planks. But with the tripartite “What want?” approach, it may make the planner look at a new dimension.  May.

Might be worth a try.

Peace.

 

 

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I write a lot about “We’re Here” advertising.  Typically these ads do little more than tell readers a product names, maybe what it does, and where to find it.  It is the lowest form of advertising.

Yesterday, I watched a video that lasted maybe :90 and it reminded me of We’re Here advertising.  Fairly well produced, it lacked a stout claim and, more importantly, it lacked proof. Effectively, it was a We’re Here video. 

What did the video convey? It explained a particular part of the health care industry today. It shared some trends in healthcare. And a few problems providers are facing related to shrinking fees. Then, in the selling portion of the video, it talked about services provided and benefits resulting from those services, e.g., make more money, improve efficiency.

If “make more money” was the claim, then what the video lacked was “proof” of that claim. There was no evidence. Nothing tangible. You can’t tell a story that is all promise and no substance. All the video had to do was identity one problem, an actionable insight and an outcome.

Consumers are tired of promise. They want proof.

Peace.

 

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In a nutshell, my framework for brand strategy can be described as “one claims and three proof planks.”  What’s a proof plank?  It’s a series of like-minded examples or proofs. Tangible, intelligible evidence. If I make a claim I am strong, proof of that claim is me picking up 300 pounds.  When a restaurant says the food tastes good, you trot out the James Beard Award of its chef. A proof plank is tied inexorably to the brand claim and contains a list of proofs.

This is where most brand building falls down. Lack of proof.

Many brand nerds will tell you that brand success lies in understanding and promoting brand “Values” and/or “Attributes.”  Values and attributes are the false Gods of branding.  They sound good in meetings. Present well in analytics presentations. They are even measurable for infatuated data heads.  Don’t get me wrong, I’ve build brands by doting on research report attributes. But the fastest way to positive attribute movement is through proof. The advertising business is infected with copy that is insubstantial. Copy filled with sing-songy value blather. Filled with empty adjectives.

Stick to proof, find your claim and proof array, and then you will have a real marketing job.

Peace.

 

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When I ask new clients “What is your product strategy?” I get a funny look. Typically, they respond with something like “Make the best possible product, meet the specific needs of the customer, and provide it with a level of service the exceeds their expectation.” Or some such goulash.

Even service companies will use similar words.

Once that gibberish is out of the way, I dig down deep on product (or service) — past the derma to the muscle, the circulatory system and bone. I’m looking for tangibility. What makes your beer taste different? And don’t say the natural ingredients. We always get there, but it takes time. There is always a leverageable differentiator…or four.   

Once the client and I agree on a product strategy, it’s time to ask about the experience strategy. And finally the messaging strategy. Some teeth-pulling may be required to get actual answers, but it’s necessary. When all three strategies are on the table we look to see if there is alignment.

Once misalignment is acknowledged, work can begin. Organization can begin. Brand strategy can begin.

Peace.

 

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Kylie Jenner’s makeup sold $420 million in 18 months with minimal advertising beyond her Instagram posts. Her lip kits and eyeshadow palettes, at one point, retailed for $27 and $42 respectively. At a street fair on Long Island teen girls were falling over themselves to buy the stuff. The police showed up after a while, arrested some entrepreneurial boys hawking the cosmetics, all of which turned out to all be fake. The teens didn’t seem to care.

Kylie got some game. Kylie has a brand. Just ask my SnapChat stock, which lost mega value when she dinged the platform after it updated the interface.

If you are not Kylie Jenner and there is not pent up demand for anything and everything you touch, you need a brand strategy. In fact, in 15 years when Kylie isn’t hot (commercially), she may rue the fact she didn’t establish an organizing principle for her brand. Kids!

Creating brands out of people is hard. Creating brands for companies and products is easy. Claim and proof is the fasted, most enduring way.
If you are interested in some success stories and examples, write Steve@whatstheidea.com

Peace.

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The Masters golf tournament began about 84 years ago. Before Tiger. Before titanium drivers. Before World War II. It has become the most famous golf tournament extant. The brand management of The Masters has been impeccable, with the exception of the diversity issues surrounding membership in the Augusta National Golf Club.  I’m told candy bars have to be packaged in green wrapper in case one accidently blows into the view of TV cameras. All wires are buried underground. Jim Nance. As much as the technology changes, as much as people change, The Masters remains the same: a venerable sports institution.

Consumer products Pilsner Urguell, Coca-Cola, and Tide Detergent have stood the test of time as brands – all through great brand management. It is yet to be seen, however, if tech companies will learn how to last. Bell Labs, perhaps the first (American) tech company, is still around but seems, to me at least, on its last legs. Bell Labs began as AT&T, then went to Lucent, which was bought by Alcatel and is now owned by Nokia. Not great brand management.

If Facebook wants to me more than Netscape and MySpace, it needs to put in play a long-term brand strategy.  People can’t live without Facebook. Now.  Brand strategy is important for service companies and tech companies. Facebook needs to step up.

 

Peace.

 

 

 

 

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Epigrams.

I make paper for a living.  People pay big paper (money) for my paper, brand strategies.  Brand strategy is what my mentor Peter Kim would call a “selling idea,” an idea that predisposes consumers to a product or service, e.g., “the world’s information in one click” (Google), “refreshment” (Coca-Cola), “for doers not browsers” (ZDNet). 

To get to the idea one has to process a lot of information, typically presented on paper in the form of a brief. Briefs are my output to clients. But they are buying an idea. That’s the honeypot.    

I attribute my ability to craft good briefs to the proper creation and use of epigrams.

ˈepəˌɡram/

noun

plural noun: epigrams

  1. a pithy saying or remark expressing an idea in a clever and amusing way.
synonyms: witticism, quip, jest, pun, bon mot; More

saying, maxim, adage, aphorism, apophthegm;

informalone-liner, wisecrack, (old) chestnut

“a collection of humorous epigrams from old gravestones”

o   a short poem, especially a satirical one, having a witty or ingenious ending.

My briefs are filled with them. Hidden in a narrative, serial story. Clients find meaning and inspiration in my epigrams. They are word plays about them, about their products. They are memorable. It’s how I sell the idea. It’s how I come up with the idea.

The secret sauce. Epigrams.

Peace. 

 

 

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Fake Proof.

Fake news has crept into our lives and looks to have altered the landscape of American a politics. This, thanks to some horrid manipulation by politically minded hackers.  Hackers who used a Facebook poll to mine data then serve up false stories that fanned the fires of conservatism. If you were on the fence about whether or not to vote for the first female president ever and read the Pizzagate story, it may have pushed you off that fence.  Even when the story was proven false.

In the advertising business, you couldn’t make a claim on a TV ad without proof. Proof submitted to the network “Standards and Practices” department.  But the web has no such department. You can fake your news all the way into the living room of your most likely-to-be-effected target.

I’d love to be a brand planner who could just make up proof as I went along.  You see proof, 0be it true or false, is what convinces people. It’s how you get people to believe a claim.  Those who have decided to undermine elections understand the role of proof. Beware.

Peace.

 

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