Brand Strategy

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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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Meryl Streep closed her Golden Globe acceptance speech with “Take your broken heart, turn it into art,” a borrow from Carrie Fisher. As I dried my tears after watching Ms. Streep I thought about my craft and how important feelings are in brand strategy.  When writing a brand brief, I tend to go long form. Creatives say they don’t like this, but it’s how I work. As I work through it, if my brief is flaccid and too business heavy it goes in the trash.  I know when a brief is working because I start to feel something.  

There’s an old advertising axiom, “Make them feel something then do something.”  It works in strategy too.

Like all good writing a good brief evokes a response. When my blood pressure changes, when I go flush, giggle or smile, I know I’m onto something. In a zone. More importantly, I know my clients and content creators will feel it.

Meryl Streep is more than a great actor she a wonderful evoker.  Brand strategy is meant to package or direct how consumers evoke. Those who purchase while feeling are much more apt to remain loyal.

You feel me?                                                                

Peace.

 

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What I love about the U.S. government is its design. Checks and balances keep governance fluid. Every few years an election comes along that topples the status quo. As a brand planner I’m always the optimist, always looking for the good. The new regime in the US government was a euphoric cleansing for some and a devastating punch in the gut to others.  Let’s hope the euphoric side does smart things.  Because this is America and the gut punch side will be in power again. Once the “guts” get over their anger, sadness and disbelief, they’ll be energized like never before and set the cycle of democracy moving again.

This reminds me a bit of the ad agency business. When business is good everyone is happy. Things purr along and growth begets growth.  Then stasis and comfort set in. People become complacent and losses occur. It’s Darwinian.

Whether government or the ad agency business, we must constantly manage progress. Not take it for granted. Sharks know this. That’s not to say you have to hump 24/7, but you do have to keep moving with an eye toward the future. Otherwise you allow the rhythm or democracy to take its course. It’s not a bad thing, it’s just a thing.

Peace.

 

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Many years ago I learned a trick about advertising from Brendan Ryan, president of FCB/Leber Katz, in NYC. One day he asked the AT&T Network Systems account team to paper the walls with the current campaign. The headline for each as we “Are You Ready.” Network Systems sold the 5E switches to phone companies that powered American communications. So paper the walls we did.

Mr. Ryan walked around the plush conference room reading sub-heads, looking at visual and dashing through copy here and there. He pointed to campaign outliers and confirmed what he thought to be the idea. Neat trick. Neat way to level-set the idea.

Fast forward 25 years to an era when communications manifest across more channels than we ever perceived, some with control, many with none. If you were to paper the walls with the myriad comms we generate today, you’d have a messy, messy room. A walk around that room  would remind you why an “organizing principle for product, experience and messaging” is critical. Otherwise known as a brand strategy.

So me droogies, paper your walls with your internal and external comms and see what-ith you spew-ith into the consumer realm.

Peace.

 

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