Brand Strategy

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What comes first the brand strategy or the egg?  The question is particularly germane when brand planning for a service company whose deliverables are people, paper, process and transaction.  Does the strategy inform the service or the service inform the strategy? Almost always the answer is the latter.

When you work on this kind branding initiative the care-abouts and good-ats are numerous and varied – way more so than with a packaged good.  One of the areas I like to delve into with service companies is “tradition.” Not something you can do a deep dive on with  start-ups by the way. Borrowed from my early days in cultural anthropology, “custom and tradition” are fertile areas of study and important brand contributors. When there are none, things get tricky but you must push forward. Even into aspiration land. Projection techniques can provide unrealistic results but the learning is important.

I don’t currently have a “tradition” question in my discovery rigor, though there is one in the neighborhood. Definitely time to add tradition to the mix.

Peace…in Syria.

 

 

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Tools and Rules.

Yesterday I was watching a video entitled “How to Use Periscope Like A Pro” and about 3 minutes in the speaker mentioned the #1 rule for success: “Know your brand.”  Good advice. “Think about your brand, your message, your topic, your expertise,” was the speaker’s advice.

Know your brand (strategy) is how all brands must operate, be they on Periscope, 60 Minutes or Instagram.  The “B” word is easy to talk about in theory but not so much in practice. 90 out of 100 times the brand has no plan.  

Thanks to marketing’s social media and digital avalanche, we have tons of new tools and tool vendors. Read Twitter some time and see home many rule and tool providers are out there. Their Tweets all have numbers in the first sentence. “7 ways to..” and “15 surefire tactics to…”

Know your brand is good advice, being able to articulate it clearly, succinctly and in a meaningful way, is hard.  Brand architecture is the provenance of business people. Creating meaningful delivery is that of creative people.  A brand strategy (one claim and three proof planks) bridges the gap.

Only with a tight brand strategy in hand can the tools and rules take on true value.  

Peace.                         

 

 

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In my brand strategy presentation I share real examples. The first couple of minutes are about theory and process then I trot out real client strategies, sans brand name, as they are proprietary.

The first examples, which everyone sees, is wonderfully tight, uncomplicated and easy to reckon. It’s for a commercial maintenance company – the people who keep buildings clean and operational: vacuuming, washing windows, emptying garbage and keeping the grounds in order. This particular commercial maintenance company had no brand. It had a logo, invoices, website and a strong owner.

When all the care-abouts and good-ats were understood and assembled, and the boil down complete, the brand strategy became quite obvious: “The navy seals of commercial maintenance.” The claim was supported by proof planks: fast, fastidious and preemptive.

As brand strategies go – and they are always 1 claim and 3 proof planks – this was a particularly easy metaphor. Not all are this easy. Done well, all brand strategies have a mellifluous quality to them. Almost like a song or hook, constructed out of product or company notes that create pride and desire.

Peace.

PS.  If you’d like to see the presentation, please write Steve@WhatsTheIdea.com

 

 

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I’ve met some unusually powerful brand advocates over the years. And some not so much. Both are approvers and deniers of advertising and messaging.  One advocate, a telephone company president, killed a Wall Street Journal ad containing a visual of 10 adorable puppies because “Our customers aren’t dogs.” The bad ones approve or deny ads because they like or dislike them. When a client breaks out the like-ometer, the agency is in trouble.  

And then there are clients who kills or approve and ad because they supports generic business or messaging goals such as it generates leads, get more “likes,” or offers ad memorability.  This is better but still poor brand craft.

When a product or service has an active and strong brand strategy, all the yeses and noes are grounded. They’re all strategic. A brand strategy (one claim, three proof planks) gives form and reason to advertising. I’ve never felt bad losing an ad when the brand strategy card was played. Ever.

Brand strategy makes ad craft and brand craft scientific.

Peace.          

 

 

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I work with a kitchen remodeling company, Kitchen Magic, that has built a huge business offering something called cabinet refacing. Refacing is half the price of new cabinets because the old cabinet box is kept and a new “face” of wood and doors are attached to the outside.  In an unrelated example, Architectural Record, a venerable consumer and trade magazine, recently underwent a facelift of its own — new design, new cover, new masthead and logo. A rebrand or facelift, as it were.

Rebrands are all about taking something old and updating it. Sometimes it’s cosmetic. Sometimes it’s structural.

In the business of brand strategy, cosmetics and structure are secondary. At least they are at What’s the Idea? The process starts without an endgame in sight.  No architects plans, no site maps. Brand strategy is about as organic and alive as words and idea can be.

Working with a brand, I certainly understand business objectives and sales goals. But what the brand strategy will look like is a complete unknown at the beginning of the project.  The direction and science are not sealed until the paper strategy is complete.

Maybe, that’s why some companies are nervous about brand strategy. And why they prefer facelifts. They want to see what the finished product will look like before they begin.

Peace.

 

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Probably the most overused work in marketing the last 5 years is disruption. Maybe the last 10 years.  If you were to put all the marketing conference speeches given since 2010 into a cull rack and block from falling through the ones with “disruption” in the title, you’d have a stack a mile high. Google SXSW speeches, book titles or blog posts.

Do you want to know something that is truly disruptive? Brand strategy. Huh?  Brand strategy.  Everybody has one they’ll tell you, but no one can articulate it. Not clearly.  Because brand strategy means so many things to so many people, it has become a nonentity. A quagmire within a morass.

Here’s the deal: A brand strategy is an “Organizing principle for product, experience and messaging.” Nothing less. The framework for such is “One Claim and Three Proof Planks.” Nothing less. And certainly, nothing more.

If you’d like to truly disrupt your business. If you’d like to make clear and easy marketing decisions. If you’d like to measure effectiveness with almost binary simplicity, consider a brand strategy. (And this is not a packaged goods thing. It’s a marketing thing.)

Peace.

 

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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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