brans strategy

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Bipolar Brands

I say bipolar brands and you say “not good.” When doing discovery on a branding assignment, I’d love to ladder down to a bipolar brand dealing with only two care-abouts or good-ats. Most of the time, I’m dealing with 15 plus.

Who would start a business with a product or service that was only good at one thing?  I walked into the corporate headquarters of advertising client Adecco a number of years ago and on the reception wall was a canvas touting 40 or so mission words. The written strategy diaspora for Adecco. It’s amazing we were able to get an ad approved.

Brand strategy is an organizing principle anchored to an idea. Bipolar brands, tripolar brand, quadripolar brands don’t have an idea.

Staking your claim to an idea is freeing. Cathartic. A big exhale moment.

What’s your brand idea. What’s the idea?




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Here’s the unbridled truth about brand strategy.  Brand strategy is not easy to implement. And oddly, many marketing directors don’t know how to do it.  Brand strategies are more apt to be employed by CEOs. They get strategy.  

My framework for brand strategy — one claim and three proof planks — is brain dead simple to employ. But it has to be shared and enculturated throughout the company. When well crafted there are already major hints of the strategy within the company. But there are also hints of many other things – too many things. Brand strategy culls out the non-essentials.

If brand strategy is hard to operationalize at a large company, what’s the point?  Here’s the point: Think of the output of brand strategy as a song – a song made up of notes, phrases and riffs.  Brand strategy, even at less than 100% compliance, still offers riffs that can improve company performance. Elements of the brand brief, understood and implemented can make a huge difference.  

I developed a target in a brand brief for a high-end Northwell Health home care company. I called the target “Kings of the Castle.” These so-called kings were rich males who used to be captains of industry, but now were infirm of body…not mind. They were actually still owners of the family purse strings.  This one element of the strategy, by itself, was enough to propel powerful “product, experience and messaging.” It was not the full strategy, just a few notes. A riff.

The best brand strategies are all or nothing. But this is the real world. So every riff matters.



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pregnant-red-apeWhenever I try to explain to business people what a brand strategy is, I find it often better to just show them a few strategies. When I go on about “an organizing principle for product, experience and messaging” eyes glaze over and I fall into the marko-babble trap. But when I display the brand idea and 3 proof planks, the synapses start to fire and they begin thinking about their own business.  Practice and a modeling (as they say in .edu) are brain sparking. Theory not so much.  

Then I typically walk prospects through the hard part of brand strategy: what we need to throw out. As in, what we needn’t say. The iPhone was positioned as a phone, not a camera-email-text-app device. The “i” carried all of that. The “i” was pregnant with all innovative things Apple.  

Pregnant context is what you get credit for even when you don’t say it.  Select your brand strategy words with precision and you’ll get way more than you ask for. In the recent tyro brand planner event at BBH, celebrating the life of Griffin Farley, the winning idea for the Citibike assignment was “Bikes with Benefits.”  The idea was pregnant with target information, aspiration, vitality and value.  The best brand strategies live a long, long time. First they borrow context then they create their own.  Peace in The House (of Representatives). 


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