Brand Strategy

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As a kid who grew up in the ad business, I’ve seen a lot of ad craft. Today, as a brand planner it’s hard for me to look at advertising without a jaundiced eye. When I see ink and words and picture, but not strategy, I cringe. Worse when I see an ad with 7 strategies.

Who is approving this stuff?

The best advice I learned in the ad business was “focus.” There is a research convention in advertising called “Day After Recall Testing,” in which a magazine is sent to a consumer paid to read it. A day later they are called and questioned about the ad content.  Most common recall is tied to the pictures; rarely the words. If the words relate to the pictures all the better. It’s a great litmus for effective advertising.

Trinet is a smart benefits and HR outsourcing company. Sorry to pick on them again. But I read and expensive ad they published today, delivering what they feel it their brand claim: Incredible.  That’s an ad claim, not a brand claim, by the way.  The ad suffers from the “fruit cocktail effect” in that it is pushing 6 corporate good-ats: Expertise (oy), Access, Benefits, Guidance, Technology and Freedom.  All under the “Incredible” umbrella. James Joyce would be proud.

If this ad campaign is not done in-house I’d be surprised. If done by an agency, I’d be ashamed.

Smart marketing starts with a smart, actionable, endemic brand strategy.

Peace|

 

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A brand strategy brief, at its very best, is a story. A story with beginning, middle and end. Like good entertainment it contains a problem, solution(s), tension and resolution. Most importantly, it needs to appeal to the reader/viewer (aka the consumer) in order to take hold.

I write brand briefs for a living.  In each and every one, the story has to flow.  If the flow is interrupted by some structural anomaly, the brief will confuse.  The money part of the brief is the finish — the claim and proof array. (Once claim, three proof planks.)  It is the organizing principle for product, experience and messaging.  If the claim does not fit the rest of the story like a glove, something is wrong with the story.

The brand brief story is written for the brand marketing lead. Once the claim and proof array are approved, and immutable, the brief is just a tool for brand managers and agents. Then the storytelling or as Co:Collective calls it Story Doing, is in the hands of the marketing team and creative people. And I am on the my next assignment.

In branding the brand brief is the greatest story ever told.

Peace!

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“Hope is unfortunately a terrible marketing plan” is a lovely quote from Nancy Johnson, of the North Dakota Soy Bean Growers Association.  Another terrible marketing plan is “stasis” — taking out last year’s marketing plan and adjusting the line items for inflation.  A marketing plan needs to move to stay alive. Just like sharks.

Hope springs eternal, but marketing is about control. Controlling the product or service. Controlling the price. The distribution. And the promotion. If you are not monitoring and affecting all four annually, you are living in Hopesville.

I would also add to that, if you are not tracking all four Ps (product, place, price and promotion) vis a vis a brand strategy, you are skiing in untracked snow without a destination. You are skiing yes. But you are not organized in your efforts.

If you’d like to see where your brand tracks are leading, take me up on my Brand Strategy Tarot Cards offer. 

Peace|

 

 

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My branding practice owes a tip-of-the-hat to politics. I borrowed the word planks from politics, incorporating them into my framework. At What’s The Idea?, brand strategy comprises “one claim and three proof planks.” Organizing brand value around three proof areas focuses content makers and the consumer minds — the rule of three.

This morning I was reading a NYT article on political strategy and came upon an analysis of political memes. Cartoonist Scott Adams who developed Dilbert said something about political memes that really rang true to me as a brand planner.  The meme rhymed, he offered, and provided “brain glue plus framing and contrast.”

Whoa! Trifecta.

Rhyming always helps with memorability. Brain glue refers to the creative quotient. Do you want to remember it? Framing speaks to positioning and clarity of purpose. And contrast is all about differentiation and uniqueness. Much work today, brand and content-wise, does not differentiate.  If you hit all three of these strategy qualities, you have a good meme. Brand planners, much can be learned from this cartoonist’s advice.

Peace|

 

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The short answer is about 45 minutes. The long answer is maybe 100 hours.  Someone once asked Picasso how could he charge tens of thousands of dollars for a sketch that took him only 10 minutes to draw.  His response was “That sketch took me a lifetime to draw.”  I paraphrase.

I’m no Picasso. Plus any cache in the brain, save some technique and linguistic phrasing, stays in the brain.  Every brand brief is a like snow flake. Each brand brief is built from scratch; leaning heavily on customer care-abouts and brand good-ats. All that information takes time to amass. I’ve taken months to write a brand brief. I’ve taken weeks.

In some cases multivariate statistical analyses were used. And slopes were plotted. Findings clustered. Interviews by the hundreds. Others have been developed on a shoe-string. 

On most proposals I say it takes a month to write a brand strategy brief.

Now, to the next question: How long is a piece of string?

Peace|

 

 

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Many business and marketing efforts today are focused on “fixing what is broken.” The strategy starts out with:  

“Today’s _________ are broken. They don’t serve the needs of their customers/clients. They’re designed to maximize profit, monopolize industries, and maintain the status quo.”

The words that follow are typically about the product category and the ways it underperforms against customer carte-abouts.  This is marketing 101, traditional blocking and tackling and it’s all about fixing things.

Well the savvy brand planner doesn’t start out as a fixer. S/he starts out looking for the light. Not just the at end of the tunnel light, but light from the past and in the present. People like positive.  Brands are about positive.

What do you think would have happened if Facebook launched the world’s most famous social media brand with “don’t likes” rather than “likes?” Xactly.

Positive isn’t the obverse of negative. It’s just positive.  Be positive when brand planning and you will get to your idea in half the time.

Peace|

 

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I did some advertising for AT&T Network Systems a number of years ago, introducing Systemax CAT 5 computer cable into Asia.  We converted some U.S. ads for local use having IDG Computerworld in-country offices translate them into local languages.  Having worked in B2B advertising for many years, with little success other than an occasional readership award and bingo card report I was thoroughly surprised when people across Thailand picked up their phones and ordered beaucoup feet of cable.  

It was like Sears Roebuck catalog time. The markets were so young.  Local companies needed cable, didn’t know where to get it, and we provided a location and phone number.

In the United States, the advertising market is so mature, so filled with messaging, it’s hard to find the pent-up demand. X, the LA punk band, sings “Now there are seven kinds of Coke, 500 kinds of cigarettes. This freedom of choice in the USA drives everybody crazy.”

Competition in the modern world is rampant. Advertising isn’t just about access anymore, it’s about creating awareness, then interest, trial, and preference. And as technology and service become more in vogue it’s about education. No wonder it’s hard to do advertising well.

That’s why brand strategy is so critical. It feeds and focuses the advertising beast.

Peace|

 

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There are lots of corporate executives out there who believe brands are the provenance of packaged goods companies. And while they will admit to having a brand name and logo, they don’t see the need for a brand strategy.

Service companies are about selling and sales teams. They are about lead generation, acquisition, sales commission, and turnover. Most service companies have directors of marketing but the dept. is little more than sales support and web. At larger companies marketing manages advertising. Sometimes, these marketing directors don’t even appear on the company website.

Service companies need brand strategy as much if not more than packaged good companies. They need an organizing principle for product, experience and messaging. When people are your product — and we all know people are hard to manage, just ask any parent – there is little to direct them. 

When I working at Teq Inc., a reseller of interactive whiteboards to schools, many employees on LinkedIn said they worked in education management.  Others said software and still others said Teq was a hardware company.  (What do you do for a living mommy?)  

If you work at a service company or professional group you can have a competitive advantage – it’s called brand strategy.

Peace|

 

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Lots of people talk about company culture. Like it’s a good thing. I’m not so sure. Culture, of course, is a good thing. But company culture, in and of itself, can be limiting. When you put a bunch of likeminds in a room the tendency is to swim together.  Nothing wrong with a little corporate water ballet, but I’m one that likes things a tad messy — where ideas and ideals are challenged. That’s how innovation happens.

So what’s better than corporate culture? I’m sure you saw this one coming: brand strategy. That so-called “organizing principle for product, experience and messaging.”  

When a commercial maintenance company uses the brand claim “Navy Seals of Commercial Maintenance,” supported by brand planks “fast, fastidious and preemptive,” company employees are able to build a certain, almost predicable value. Unimpeded by a set of cultural beliefs. Brand strategy is freeing not limiting.

It’s okay to study corporate culture but it’s way more productive to study and set brand strategy.

Peace|

 

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Someone recently posted this question to Quora “What’s the fastest way to build a brand?”  The answer is and always has been, through heavy doses of good network television advertising.  It provides sight and sound of a controlled message, broadcast to millions of people, millions of times.  Some cord cutting millennials might build a case they only watch Netflix and Hulu, but they still watch sports and news. Ish.

The slowest way to build a brand is without a meaningful brand strategy to guide product, experience and messaging. Those who study brand building, who study customers, sales and marketing, understand brand strategy as an organizing principle. An organizing principle that aligns brand values and good-ats with customer care-abouts.

Good things happen to products and bad things happen to products. Hacks, if you will. Well, you can hack a product but you can’t hack a brand. Because brand strategies are principle-based.  It’s impossible to hack a principle. The people who manage the principle can be hacked, but not the principle itself.

Get yourself a brand strategy and start building!

Peace.

 

 

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