Brand Strategy

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In my pre-career as a brand planner I met with then head of NY planning at BBH, Paul Matheson. BBH was on a side street in Chelsea, in a little commercial walk up, trying to find its footing in NY. As someone with little formal brand strategy training, apparently I did a rather good job of talking trade craft.  I recall Mr. Matheson saying of the 7 or so critical factors in a BBH brand strategy I mentioned 6.  Most people got 3, he offered.  Culture everyone missed, but not I — with an Anthroplogy background.

Today I’m thinking of revisiting my critical factors and adding a new one: Provenance.

A neat word provenance. It means where something comes from. Coors beer comes from the Rockies, brewed with Rocky Mountain water. Farm to table restaurant brands rely on provenance. Maine lobsters. Muscle Shoals musicians. That kind of thing. Understanding where brands physically come from is important. The people that make the brands. The materials. The design intent — Greene and Greene furniture, for instance. Endemic brand qualities are embedded in where and why products and services are made. Is an Austin app different from a Stanford app?

As my Norwegian aunt would say “Tink about it.” Think about provenance.

Peace.

 

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A number of years ago, while with McCann-Erickson, I was on the new business team that pitched and won the worldwide Motorola account – at the time one of the world’s premier technology corporations. Someone smart upstairs decided it would be a good idea to put a global research project in play to tout the scale and utility of McCann’s global network. I wasn’t the developer of the research questionnaire, fielded by 10 plus offices around the globe, but the data was given to me to interpret. A tactic in search of an insight.

My insight, which we embedded into the presentation in an uneven way, was that the world was made up of 3 different segments of wireless adoption. All based on teledensity – the quantification of communications devices per person.
The creative was great, (we used a Rolling Stones song as an idea bed), there was no time left for the media portion of the presentation (common in new business at the time) and the chemistry was lovely. No one ever came out and said the segmentation insight was the deal-breaker, but all creative being equal-ish (and it never is), I’m pretty sure the Moto team from Atlanta felt a marketing depth to our pitch others lacked.

A tactic in search of an insight can work. Can be worth millions.

Peace.

 

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I’m not sure when it happened, but at some time during brand planning career I began looking at assignments with the glass half full. Prior, there were a number of categories I walked into and start to twitch. “How am I going to learn this stuff? It’s too complicated.  It’s dense and unappealing.  Healthcare was one such category. Financial another. Digital Signal Processors and end-of-life also come to mind.

Maybe I just thought I wasn’t smart enough to learn a new technical language. Or I would be bored to death. I don’t have that problem anymore. I’ve chilled. And I’ve been able to find light in every product or service.

When you read decks and white papers on engineering projects in Africa or river blindness in Asia, it can be daunting. But when you interview the subject matter experts – the owners of the info and insights — it’s a different ballgame. You are in control. You make it interesting. People are people. People innately want to help.  So then it’s all about the questions.

As they teach you they get excited. As they see you gain category insight they start to perk up. Then they put some of the marketing pieces together. They become marketers. There is no more exciting human pursuit than learning. Plan to learn, plan to let your SME learn, and the activity rewards.

Love this job. Peace.

 

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If you read the previous What’s The Idea? post you’ll know I’m thinking about building an implementation phase into my brand planning engagement process. The idea is to become a brand supervisor at the client company for a couple of months to manage adherence. This, I know, is likely to go poorly unless handled with care.

Some people see strategy as constricting. Others see it as freeing.  I sit in the middle.  I certainly don’t want marketers to spend effort and money on “off message” activity. Bad for the brand and not great at building muscle. But I do want them to be as creative and exhilarated as possible when it comes to ideation. Not looking at a blank sheet of paper saves time. Having a jump start on marketing efforts is also an energy saver. And it creates focused, fertile ground for the work.

In the middle is where the on-prem brand supervisor will sit. Coaxing and charming good ideas and work that toes the strategy line. But also creating a new lens through which to see marketing that adds value to the brand, company and one’s carrer.

Ima need a syllabus.

Peace.

 

 

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One the fallacies of the brand planning business is that everything will change when the engagement is over. I’ve presented and sold brand strategy (an organizing principle for product, experience and messaging) to numerous clients, only to see it used to launch a tagline, logo, new website or ad campaign. And then little else.

In those cases it simply became stim for a top drawer tactic, not a strategy to work by. Not a strategy to build a brand.  

I’m beginning to rethink my offering. I’m beginning to see the value of packaging a 3-month on-prem implementation phase. One whereby I supervise the marketing department and help to fit any and all marketing activities and outputs to the newly purchased brand strategy. It’s only when marketing stuff is made that the strategy takes hold.  Brand strategy is not some ephemeral, cultural construct of the marketing department. It’s an activity guide.        

When you have a brand claim and three proof planks to guide the work, everything has a purpose. Everything is either on or off.  

(By the end of the day, I expect to be the owner of a little red house in Asheville, NC.)

Peace.                      

 

 

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How do you build a brand?  It’s an easy question. Sadly, it has a thousand answers.

Were I to ask how to build a car, the answer would be with an engine, steering, wheels, transmission, chassis, etc.  How do you build a sandwich? How do you make beer? Of course there will be variations in ingredients but the components are pretty static. Not so much in brand building.

If you ask ten brand consultancies you’ll get ten different constructs for what constitutes a brand plan.  Components may include product development guidelines, packaging, a visual identity scheme, (e.g., a logo, style and usage manual) and rough communications guidelines, but for the most part the actors charged with building the brand are a federation of marketing people inside and outside the company (agencies) following a marketing plan, not a brand plan.

Marketing plans are built with line items transferable from one company to then next. Metrics include: unit sales, revenue, market share and profit plan. And lots of tactical cow bell. Brand plans, on the other hand, are devoted to building product and consumer value. Values based on care-abouts and good ats. They are not transferable line items but values endemic to the product.

The best marketers are also great brand advocates. They don’t care only about the plumbing, they care about the product and its unique value to the consumer.

Peace.

 

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Brand strategy is more effective when understood and acted upon internally. Frankly, it’s the best way to get brand value disseminated externally. But most companies don’t really work this way. Ninety percent of brand word is external. Typically delivered through advertising, PR and promotion. 

Educating every employee in brand strategy, i.e., “claim and proof planks,” is the best and fastest way to have an impact.  It multiplies the power of branding exponentially.

The claim for a healthier-for-you cookie company was “Craft cookies au naturel.” The planks were “naturally moist,” “healthier properties” and “complex flavors.”  By understanding these simple values, every employee at every stage of development, manufacturing, delivery and marketing, can make easier decisions. There are no forks in the road. No room for interpretation. The talking points are set. These aren’t just words on a box but strategic selling points that add value and deflect competition.

Get the strategy right, get your internal house in order, then broadcast the brand value. Don’t ever forget the employees.

Peace.

 

 

  

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So I don’t know if you follow Michael Rapaport on Twitter but the actor turned social commentator has used social media to quickly establish his brand. Marketers and brand managers can learn from him. (Save for the F-bomb every six words.) Actors are like tofu. They’re as good as their craft and roles. Mr. Rappaport is best as an actor when doing irascible characters; but because he’s an actor, you expect he can do milk toast if need be. It’s all acting after all.

On Twitter he Real. The real Michael Rapaport, albeit with a fun gangsta flourish.  

I tell clients different social channels are for different things. Facebook’s for friends. LinkedIn’s for work. Instagram for one’s artistic self. And Twitter for the full-on personality. Well Mr. Rapaport uses Twitter right. It has quickly defined him for me. In a week or two.

His Twitter pic is an image of Charles Oakley sporting a crown.  He tweets about St. John’s basketball. He rants in his car about Trump and he hates haters with the best or them. He defends where defense is needed. And he’s funnier than shit.

I learned more about Michael Rapaport in 10 minutes on Twitter than I would in years of watching Access Hollywood or reading journalist magazine accounts.

Brands can establish their personality on Twitter. Fast. They just have to dedicate time and work their brand strategy (one claim, three proof planks,)

Peace.

 

 

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Yesterday’s post was about adherence to the brand strategy. A great brand strategy is the elixir for marketing success but compliance is the key.

In Nicholas Kristof’s Op-Ed piece in the NYT today he suggests paying Congress based upon Americans’ health. If healthcare gets better, they get paid more. The problem with healthcare, however, is also adherence. You can lead a grandpa to the medicine cabinet but you can make him medicate.

The way we mete out medicine and follow up with patients to insure compliance is an important part of the Affordable Care Act. Phone calls from docs, more office visits – a preventative approach – is how the ACA aims to improve compliance.  In brand strategy adherence, as I mentioned yesterday, a brand steward or brand compliance officer is a step in the right direction, but a companywide behavior change is even more profound. For that, as with congress, perhaps financial incentives are required. At least to prime the pump.  Long term, company growth will ultimately be the financial incentive.

Let’s incentivize compliance. It’s the American way.

Peace.

 

 

 

 

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There’s a famous David Belasco quote that goes something like this ‘If you can’t fit your idea on the back of a business card, you don’t have a clear idea.’ David was an impresario of Broadway plays.

A number of years ago I worked at a web start-up run but a mad code scientist. He was a drag-and-drop genius. Like many entrepreneurs he fancied himself the head of marketing (my job). He wrote a draft of the home page copy which my pops would have called a “doggy’s dinner” of claims, goals and marko-babble. Suffice it to say it wouldn’t fit on the back of a business card. That didn’t keep us from winning Robert Scoble’s Demo of the Year.  It did, however, keep us from becoming bah-millionaires (billionaire slash millionaire). due to feature creep and poor consumer usability.

A good brand strategy – defined as an organizing principle for product, experience and messaging – will fit on the back of a business card. It might not make you a millionaire, but it will make you an articulate marketer. And hopefully it will make your customers similarly articulate about the product. Of course that’s in the execution…which will be a topic for another day.

Peace.

 

 

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