Brand Strategy

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Tactics-Palooza.

A growing industry is taking hold in the marketing world fueled by one-off new media helpers.  Packaged as consultants, they offer social media, website, email marketing and online advertising tactics to those interested in spicing up marketing returns.  Check your Twitter feed for 140 character posts that contain primary numbers such as “7 steps to, 5 surefire rules, 3 critical digital mistakes…” to easily identify these tactical helpers.  People crave this stuff and it sells.

But I giggle at these tactically focused sales pitches. Tactics-palooza only works if the basic groundwork of brand strategy is set. Brand strategy must be in place for any tactic to be maximized. It’s my experience, especially with mid-size companies, that this is just not happening.  Mid-size and small businesses are studying content marketing, mobile ad buys, Google AdWords, responsive design and the like, without understanding how best to position their companies for maximum result.

It’s a tactical shit show. A shiny, not-so-new thing that has captured marketing dollars with little, if any, effectiveness. It’s ingredient buying without the recipe.

Peace.

 

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It’s debatable how many companies actually have brand strategies.  They have brands, products, services, mission statements, taglines, marketing plans and ads. But brand strategies? Organizing principles for product, experience and messaging?  No so much. Many marketers have de facto brand strategies, not codified as “one claim and three proof planks.” They may take the form of a big “idea” with some provable supports. Or a de facto brand strategy may come from an ad, or highly effective promotion. Perhaps a marketing document drawn up during a peak sales period. But often, as can be the case with real brand strategies, de facto versions drift away.

I do a lot of training and it’s my belief that the root cause of powerful brands is training. Everyone at the company needs to know the brand strategy. Not just the brand managers. Geo-technical engineers need to know their brand strategies.  Kitchen remodelers need to know it. Truck drivers who deliver the goods, cardiothoracic surgeons who work for the system. Everybody.

When everyone is trained on brand strategy, when management spends time and money reinforcing it, a brand takes on a life of its own.

Peace.

 

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Coca-Cola’s key good-at is “refreshment.” There are few, few things better than a cold Coke on a warm day after a workout.  And when the consumer care-about is refreshment, a great product choice is Coke. Remember, brand strategy is about good-ats and care-abouts. 

Refreshment, rather than, longtime advertising attribute “happiness,” is an experiential, product-based proof. It’s a product reality. Coke’s current advertising tagline (brand line) is “Taste The Feeling.” An amalgam of cheerleading and emotion.   It is not a product based care-about or good-at. It’s advertising based.

Don’t get me wrong, I love advertising. Dave Trott teaches me the way to do it well it to connect. But connecting with the art is not the same as connecting with the product. Of course it’s harder to create compelling stories and poetry around products – but that’s the job.    

Brand planners need to focus the work on product-based care-abouts and good-ats. Coke should know better.

Peace.          

 

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Most brand strategists are insight doctors. Insight detectives.  Consumer behavior and motivation are their daily gruel. It’s a wonderful living. It’s like being a psychotherapist but without all the focus on negatives. I am a brand strategist of a different color. Certainly I can find insights with the best of them. Also I can write actionable projects briefs but my real job is in casting the master brand strategy. I plan the house while most brand strategists decorate the rooms.

A large brand, on any given day, may have 20 assignments in play across 5 agencies. That’s a lot of briefs. It’s not effective to have so many re-inventors and it’s not cost-effective.

I don’t want to put anyone out of work here but with a good master brand brief (aka brand brief) the need for strategy soldiers across agencies is lessened. And the work becomes tighter.

I went to a Conagra meeting on the Banquet brand a few years ago and there were probably 6 different agency strategists in the room. Silly.

Peace.                      

 

 

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Meryl Streep closed her Golden Globe acceptance speech with “Take your broken heart, turn it into art,” a borrow from Carrie Fisher. As I dried my tears after watching Ms. Streep I thought about my craft and how important feelings are in brand strategy.  When writing a brand brief, I tend to go long form. Creatives say they don’t like this, but it’s how I work. As I work through it, if my brief is flaccid and too business heavy it goes in the trash.  I know when a brief is working because I start to feel something.  

There’s an old advertising axiom, “Make them feel something then do something.”  It works in strategy too.

Like all good writing a good brief evokes a response. When my blood pressure changes, when I go flush, giggle or smile, I know I’m onto something. In a zone. More importantly, I know my clients and content creators will feel it.

Meryl Streep is more than a great actor she a wonderful evoker.  Brand strategy is meant to package or direct how consumers evoke. Those who purchase while feeling are much more apt to remain loyal.

You feel me?                                                                

Peace.

 

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What I love about the U.S. government is its design. Checks and balances keep governance fluid. Every few years an election comes along that topples the status quo. As a brand planner I’m always the optimist, always looking for the good. The new regime in the US government was a euphoric cleansing for some and a devastating punch in the gut to others.  Let’s hope the euphoric side does smart things.  Because this is America and the gut punch side will be in power again. Once the “guts” get over their anger, sadness and disbelief, they’ll be energized like never before and set the cycle of democracy moving again.

This reminds me a bit of the ad agency business. When business is good everyone is happy. Things purr along and growth begets growth.  Then stasis and comfort set in. People become complacent and losses occur. It’s Darwinian.

Whether government or the ad agency business, we must constantly manage progress. Not take it for granted. Sharks know this. That’s not to say you have to hump 24/7, but you do have to keep moving with an eye toward the future. Otherwise you allow the rhythm or democracy to take its course. It’s not a bad thing, it’s just a thing.

Peace.

 

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Many years ago I learned a trick about advertising from Brendan Ryan, president of FCB/Leber Katz, in NYC. One day he asked the AT&T Network Systems account team to paper the walls with the current campaign. The headline for each as we “Are You Ready.” Network Systems sold the 5E switches to phone companies that powered American communications. So paper the walls we did.

Mr. Ryan walked around the plush conference room reading sub-heads, looking at visual and dashing through copy here and there. He pointed to campaign outliers and confirmed what he thought to be the idea. Neat trick. Neat way to level-set the idea.

Fast forward 25 years to an era when communications manifest across more channels than we ever perceived, some with control, many with none. If you were to paper the walls with the myriad comms we generate today, you’d have a messy, messy room. A walk around that room  would remind you why an “organizing principle for product, experience and messaging” is critical. Otherwise known as a brand strategy.

So me droogies, paper your walls with your internal and external comms and see what-ith you spew-ith into the consumer realm.

Peace.

 

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The tagline for What’s The Idea? is “Campaign’s come and go…a powerful brand idea is indelible.”  Perhaps a little lengthy and the real ballast lies after the ellipses, but it works. And that brings me to taglines; taglines and strategy.

Here’s an admonition to all brand managers and CEOs — Don’t use a campaign line as your tagline. They are communications or ad-focused, not strategic. One that immediately comes to mind, one that hits close to my planning heart, is the tagline for Northwell Health. Their tagline is “Look North.” Other than suggesting one look at Northwell, it doesn’t really have a strategic message. Wasted space, if you ask me.

I wrote a tagline (and brand strategy) for Beacon Health Partners, an accountable care organization that was strategic “Healthier Practices.”  That’s was the claim. It applies to improved physician practices, both economic and in the healthcare delivered. It applies to patient practices, putting more responsibility on people for their own health. And it appeals/applies to payers, the insurance companies who carry much of the reimbursement water.

Strategic taglines come from brand strategy companies. Tactical, flimsy taglines come from ad agency creative departments. Big diff.

Peace.

 

 

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Yesterday I wrote about using memes to drive website traffic and brand interest. Today I’ll build on that with a little search tip.

When I first started What’s The Idea? and blogging about branding, I realized it would be smart to tag my blogs with key content points but also with “Whats the idea” and “whatstheidea,” the actual URL  In a meeting with Faris Yakob, a marketing pal, I mentioned my approach, explaining this activity allowed me to tell people to  Google “whatstheidea+ a brand or marketing topic” and it will likely lead them right to my website.  Faris said I was “indexing” content to my website using Google’s search engine.  Leave it to Faris to find the right words. Love Faris.

By always posting with my brand name — it helps that I have over 2.100 blog posts — it has created breadcrumbs to my site all across the web…wherever Google goes.

Every brand must use this slippery slope to their site. And every brand must post.

Peace.

 

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In a piece of 2014 research conducted by the Economist Intelligence Unit on the subject of customer experience, the top box response to the question below was about message uniformity.

I know to the hammer everything looks like a nail and to the brand planner everything marketing thing looks like brand strategy, but this one made my day. Brand strategy, defined here at  What’s The Idea? as “An organizing principle for product, experience and messaging,” is the key to message uniformity. Sure “voice,” “tone” and “personality” are important (ish) but the substance of the message is how one builds brands.

Find your claim. Identify your three proof planks, make sure they are key care-abouts and brand good-ats, and you have a strategy.

Stick to it and it will stick to your customers. And prospects.  

Happy holidays to all. Peace.

 

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