Brand Strategy

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I offer a fun brand exploratory to client prospects of a certain size called “Brand Strategy Tarot Cards,” in which I turn over 5 pieces of company/product content and do a reading. One such piece is the boilerplate – the copy on the About section of the website.

Here is a sample from a successful insurance software company, with the name changed to protect the innocent:

At Insurance Plus, we specialize in Property & Casualty software and services. It’s our focus and our passion. We’ve been doing it for over 25 years and we do it really well.

Over the years, we have used our deep insurance industry experience and sophisticated technology expertise to envision, develop, and deliver the most comprehensive core systems and data solutions devoted exclusively to commercial, personal and specialty lines of business.

We continually bring new thinking and new functionality to the market. We’ve forged deep relationships with our customers and keep them ahead of the technology curve with innovative solutions and a content library that has no equal. Over the past years, we’ve acquired companies to add to the list of solutions to better serve the market and our customers.

The lede of this About section boilerplate can be found in quote marks in the post headline. (The Really is mine.)

Beyond the fact that they are in the property and casualty software business, the only real information here is they are 25 years old and have bought other companies.  That’s it. The rest is marko-babble.

Branding is about pouring value into a product or service vessel. And doing so in a way that consumers can play back.

Many companies are starved for brand strategy. It’s tragic.

Peace.

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Ten percent more US citizens died of drug overdoses last year than did the year before.  Drug manufacturers in the opioid and Fentanyl businesses are making money. I’m planning on swimming in the Maggie Fischer Cross Bay Swim next summer.  It’s 5.25 miles and starts at slack tide — just before incoming tide. Were a leaf sitting on the water that time, the Great South Bay would do a bit of the heavy lifting, perhaps cutting off a half mile or so or effort. (I hope.)

Trends and momentum are good things; especially in the science of marketing.  It’s hard to start a trend, ask most no-name or startup products. People aren’t Googling for trends that haven’t yet happened.  That’s why advertising is still important; it can help to create trends.

Reversing trends is even harder.  Young mothers in America are buying diapers in record numbers. Getting them to potty train earlier, for instance, is swimming against the tide.  

All marketers need to know where they are on the trend-ometer and plan accordingly.

Brand planners need to be trendsetters and trend stoppers.

Peace.  

 

 

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The New York Times reported today that the top social media platforms are either flat or declining in users.  For the first time in its young life Snap is down daily active users — 3 million this quarter compared to same qtr. last year.

This news causes bosses to call marketing brainstorm sessions about adding users.  Often these meeting feel tactical and not strategic. Were I in one of these brainstorming meetings, I’d suggest the platform encourage current users to add additional accounts.  

I’ve long supported the notion that each social platform has a different reason for being, with discrete lines between them. Facebook is for friends and friendship. LinkedIn for work. Instagram for the pictorial, artistic self. And Twitter for the individual, real-time persona. Your personality writ large. If social platforms get users to dig a little deeper into themselves, and expressions of themselves, they might find individuals will open additional accounts, e.g. Steve Poppe archeologist, Steve Poppe punk rock musings. The bosses might say, “Those aren’t new user.” And the bosses would be right.  But these multiple accounts would be adding incremental interest to the platform and fuel greater overall interest and, more importantly, time on site. And isn’t that a strategy requirement?

Peace.

 

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I’m not much of a cook but I’m certainly a student. What’s The Idea? uses a number of cooking metaphors in its daily operation. Many of the tenets of good cooking are also valuable in brand strategy. One such tenet is “Don’t use too many ingredients.”  The more ingredients used, the more likely the main component of the dish becomes obscured.

My uncle Carl taught me the best baked clams are the ones with the least amount of flavor enhancers. See the clam. The same for chicken parmesan. No sauce, just a brilliant tomato slice or two atop the golden brown cutlet.

Brand strategy development is about evaluating customer care-abouts and brand good-ats and selecting only the top three — the three with the most flavor (or most complementary flavors).  Most importantly, these three brand planks must support the brand claim, or, following the metaphor, the main protein.

Brand strategy is best served with one claim and three proof planks. It’s not over-complicated. It’s easy on the senses. And the consumer palate is very understanding.

Leave Michelin stars for the true chefs. Complexity in brand strategy rarely works.

Peace.

 

 

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Starbucks idea to deliver coffee (in China) is a bad one. I’m no economist but adding overhead to the business by way of delivery personnel, equipment, insurance (ish), and degradation of product (e.g., cold coffee) is a lose-lose.  But more importantly, if you make the coffee and tea more available during different dayparts in an “always-on” fashion, you dilute the special coffee reboot moments for which Starbucks is famous.

A mid-afternoon coffee run during a particularly in extremis day at work is a wonderful treat. Starbucks can and should be a daily morning occurrence but overdoing it can make it less of a delight. This was the problem with high-flying Krispy Kreme Donuts. On or about the time the stock went public, Krispy Kreme turned on the water hose and made the donuts too available. Expanding retail distribution with little brand experience forethought. You could fill up your gas tank and get a dozen. They oversaturated the market and our sweet tooth for the special treat lost its allure.

Good marketers always should leave customer wanting a little more.

Starbucks needs to slow its roll.

Peace.

 

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Product First.

I was doing a little web research on a company yesterday and started looking for signs of a brand strategy on the “About” page. Atop the About page sat this quote.

“Customers are the most important people in any business.”

Many would find it hard to disagree with the statement. When writing market plans I spend a lot of time “following the money.” (If you are interested in such things write me for a copy of my 24 Questions. Steve at WhatsTheIdea dot com.) And money comes from customers.

BUT, a big but…I don’t agree customers are the most important people; product developers earn that mantel. It is the product, you see, that excites customers into action. Sure, product developers need to study customer tastes and proclivities. Sure, they must have a sense of consumer attachments to competitive offering. But when push came to shove, it was the people at Levi’s who designed the copper rivets, the soda formulator who put the Coca in the Cola, and the algorithm jockey who indexed web information that created Google.  Those were the most important people.

Customer are the bees, but sans flowers there ain’t a lot of buzz.

Peace.   

 

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I had a discussion with an Asheville, NC brewer last year who was in the process of doing a brand redesign with a branding shop based in Texas. They did a lovely job, by the way. The topic of taps came up — taps being the long ceramic bar-top devices used to pour beer.

Having poured a little beer at the Bluepoint Brewery taproom back in the day, I recognized up close how tap designs can be a cool branding “thing.”  Bluepoint, I was told, used a California-based tap manufacturer and paid a handsome price per piece. Each tap had a unique grab, including mermaids, monks, Rastafarians, lighthouses, buoys, etc.  All distinct and memorable.  When I shared this with the Asheville brewer, who perhaps had been bitten a little too hard by the branding bug, she suggested the lack of brand continuity was a weakness.  

Out for a quaff last Friday at the Mellow Mushroom, a local joint with over 100 beers on tap, I noticed about 5 or 6 of the local brewer’s beer taps. All had the same logo, all had the same block letter typeface for the beer name, all sporting a different color for package differentiation. Very corporate. Very easy to read. Beer personality: Zero.

Blue Point got it right. Each beer is a brand. Each should be celebrated as such at the local watering hole. Peace.

 

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An entertainer contacted me about a year ago, inquiring about branding. Pretty smart inquiry. 

I remember pushing back when Kim Kardashian and others referred to themselves as brands – and I’m still a little leery. That said, this entertainer did need some help. As I thought more about it, the job really is about packaging. He had a stage act and from what I was told it was quite good. So what kind of packaging would set this act apart?  If we delved into “good-ats” and “care-abouts,” as we would with any brand strategy, we could certainly craft a name.  We’d obviously need a brief for that, buoyed by a claim.  (I thought of James Brown’s claim “The hardest working man ins show business.”) Then we’d define his proof planks – another part of the personal brand strategy to help organize everything – act included.

Lastly, we could dabble in his stage clothing (costume?), intro music, color palette and persona.  Have you ever seen Sebastian Maniscalco? That’s a persona. 

I’ve never done a brand strategy for a person. For a product, service, company — sure. But a  person, no. Looks like I might get a chance.  He called yesterday.  

Peace.

 

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Repetition is an old saw in the advertising business. Reach and frequency being words we grew up on. Reach is the total target you hit with a message and frequency is the number of times it was seen by said target.  If you bonk people on the head enough times with your message, they’ll remember it, the logic goes. “Give us 15 minutes, we’ll save you 15% on your car insurance,” for instance. Repetition.

Education is another way to also gather attention. Tell someone something interesting, something they didn’t know, and they’ll work to retain it. Fill up space in the gray matter cache…it sticks. In brand strategy, I’m a big fan of education.  Remember back in the day when you used to defrag your computer?  Maximizing space by removing empty spots in the drive? Closing up duplicates?  That’s what learning does. Interesting, new information makes the brain work. It makes the brain conclude. That’s how information rises to the top.

If your marketing communications aren’t educating, they’re lazy comms.

Peace.

 

 

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My branding thesis is built upon the idea that 90% of marketing communications is hot air. That leaves only 10% for the good stuff: real selling. Also known as “proof” of value. In an ad brief, this might be referred to as “reasons to believe.”

Listen to a :60 second radio commercial and pull out the words that are real proof of value. A typical :60 has about 150 words. You’ll find a number of few words that purport value, e.g., best service, highest quality, scrumptious taste, but very few words of proof of value. Words that make you believe.

To prove my point, I have decided to offer up for a limited time a “Proof Workshop” to interested marketers and brand managers.  The workshop will be offered free of charge to qualifying marketing organizations. During the workshop we will go through marketing collateral, ads, PR releases, web content and point-of-sale materials to determine what’s proof and whats not. The workshop will last 90 minutes.

Along the way we may even find some proof clusters that point to an actual brand strategy.

The phones are open (516-967-3875.) So is email: steve@whatstheidea.com

Peace.

 

 

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