brand strategy tools

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Before there was Google Maps, before there was Waze, before Siri, we used to be get into cars and drive to places we had never been before, without software.  Only a couple hundred years ago we navigated by trails, celestial guides and landmarks.

Branding is a little old school like this. We create trails that over time become worn and easy to follow.  We branders provide general direction that with navigational tools-of-the-day help move individuals and masses toward our objective, e.g., sight, sounds, smell and other replicable assists.

When there were fewer products and less media choices branding was easier. Less clutter. Also less people touching and managing the sales channel.

Eight to ten years ago I used to rail against pop marketers who boasted how consumers were in control of brands. Not brand managers. Marketing pundits made millions touting this drivel. But consumers can only plot a map to themselves. “Follow me.” Not toward a brand.

Brand planners study consumers, landscapes, general directions and landmarks, then put on their big boy/girl pants and set the trail. A trail that is easy to follow.

Life and branding ain’t a grid. And in today’s digital world it can be even messier.




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The early Egyptians built with stone and what they built still stands. Shea Stadium was built in the 60s and had to be torn down. It was built with steel and cement. If you were to build a structure today that you wanted to last for 1,000 years what would you use? Perhaps someone will invent a new composite material for building construction that will last 500,000 years.

The materials with which we construct products – sugar in carbonated soft drinks, salt in French fries, silicon in computer chips – are seen as building blocks of brands. Yet, when I develop brand strategy (1 claim, 3 proof planks) the materials are secondary, perhaps tertiary. What the materials deliver is way more important.

During my exploration rigor I use a number of tools to mine insights as to “what customers want most” and what the product or service “does best.” Then with all the learning arrayed, I begin to boil down the elements into groups. The groups cluster and point to a common claim…of brand superiority or customer desire. So proof, in fact, comes before claim.

Rarely are materials the sole heroes of the proof planks; deeds and experiences often are. It may sounds backwards but it works for me.




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Brand planners don’t just deliver the strategy to a marketing department and agents then go away. They stick around and help nurture and manage the strategy. Of, if they can’t stick around, insure proper hand-off and follow-through. In my consulting practice, a brand strategy consists of 1 claim and 3 proof planks. Clients who give the strategy the account executive nod but are not convinced are a problem. Clients who truly believe the plan differentiates them and delivers max value to company and customer are ready to start. This stage is critical. Half assed buy-in never works.

Once the strategy is in place, it needs to be shared throughout the company. (I’m not talking about sharing the ad campaign, I’m talking strategy.)  It needs to be learned and understood by employees — then practiced. A brand strategy that stays in the marketing dept., by definition, is not a strategy. It’s a law. It’s despotic.

Brand planners who set strategy for brands — upstream brand strategy, that is – need to make sure the tools are in place to insure democratization. (The “deck and done” approach never works.) The tools are: 1. Executive buy-in. 2. Marketing dept. willingness to champion the strategy. 3. Constant and unrelenting brand management. 4. Sales training. 5. New employee orientation. 6. Ad agents (vendors) who know what a brand strategy is and that it is sacrosanct.

Learn, understand, practice. Brand building 401. Peace.


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