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How can an consultant come into a company, study data, ask 200 questions, drive around with salespeople, and begin to think s/he can tell a CEO or C (fill in the letters) about the heart and soul of that company?  Or tell the CEO what will make the company grow at an out-pace rate. What customers want — and the best way to sell them.   It’s ridiculous to think a consultant can do that. But that’s what brand planning consultants do.

So how does a brand planner present findings in such an uphill setting?

First, the planner shares data the C-level can’t disagree with. Data doesn’t lie.  Plus, the data often comes from the same executives to whom the planner is presenting. Second, present observations. Who can argue with an observation?  It’s not a recommendation, it’s a carefully selected, important piece of field work. And, if spun with elan and poetry it can become powerful and memorable. “Peter Pan Syndrome,” for instance, is something I shared while working on Microsoft. Not really forgettable.

Third, organize the big picture stuff in a way that allows for leaning moments driving Cs toward a POV or conclusion. A conclusion they will get to before it is presented.

Forth, remove the complexity and contradictions. Oh, and there will be contradictions. (Deciding what not to present is often the hardest part of brand planning.)

Fifth, give them a brand strategy that is brand-familiar, competitive, and with eyes up — toward the horizon. Also, one that makes the Cs feel a little uncomfortable. More often than not, in a great brand strategy there will be a word with which they disagree. The beauty of the word is that is can be changed – by the creative team. The brand strategy is a strategy, not the creative. And even if the “word” is pregnant with creative meaning like, say, the word “reboot,” it is really just stimulus for the creative team. (That’s why Campaigns come and go but a powerful brand strategy is indelible.)  In step five, the C gets to exhibit strength, power and insight (and have the last word) and yet idea détente is still achieved.  We have lift off. Peace!

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The two most important titles at any large public company are CEO and CMO.  The former is the owner of “now” and all business metrics.  The latter owns the future and the money making machinery. When these two positions are in alignment and share a challenge, things should work wonderfully.  When at odds or working cross purposes, things become interesting, exciting and pregnant with possibility. If there is respect, this is a good situation. But when the two titles are ships passing in the night, the company is either lazy, lopsided or in danger.

Operations, HR, finance, customer, sales are all vital to a company success, but they feed at the trough of leadership and product strategy.  That comes from the CEO and the CMO.  In my mind, Yahoo’s problem in the C-level suite is tied to a weakness in the marketing area.  Yahoo doesn’t have an Is-Does. Yahoo is a company of lots of Ises and lots of Doeses. The way out of the problem at this point is to find two people who can work together to solve this thing.  A tandem hire is needed. Peace!


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Inside every huge piece of stone is a beautiful sculpture.  Or not.  Upon every blueprint is an architect’s rendering of an amazing building. Or not. On every canvas… okay, you get the idea.

It’s the same way with brand planning.  Any knucklehead with a pencil or keyboard can ask executives, customers and thought-leaders questions. Anyone can fill up a OneNote document (cool Microsoft product) with lots of words, links, quotes and data.  But what makes a great brand plan is what is left at the end.  And how it is organized and integrated. And what can be acted upon for the good of the brand. 

I call this process the boil down.  I like to cook and the metaphor about making a rich sauce through the reduction process works for me.  No matter what you name your process, when going from the massive (discovery) to the reduced and pungent, it is the final product that makes the successful brand planner. Branding is an organizing principle. Most CEOs, CFOs and CMOs know what makes a brand tick; they just can’t always decipher or decode the promise. Not in words consumers can hold dear. Or that employees can understand and live by.  But when a brand planner presents the boil down to C-level execs and sees that sparkle in their eyes — the sculpture is done. And properly conveyed and packaged a brand plan can work for consumers and employees.  This isn’t like approving an ad campaign, this is business strategy… in poetry.  Peace



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