care-abouts

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Not enough credit has been giving to the name of my business in this blog. What’s The Idea? is the name of the blog and the business. People think is a cool name even though the URL requires explanation: “Not what is the idea, what’s the idea dot com, sans apostrophe.”

What’s The Idea? perfectly describes my brand consultancy. The search for a fitting and motivating brand idea consumes me. A single idea that captures what consumers care about and what brands are good at. (Care-abouts and good-ats.)

Not every marketer thinks they need an “idea.”  It’s not top of mind. But a sound brand idea helps position, sell and defend against competitors. If you market and don’t brand, you’re apt to struggle.

The funny thing is, the “ideas” I come up with are almost never mine. Sure I put the words together. I may even add some poetry. But the ideas come from others: from buyers, and sellers, and influencers. I’m actually just the curator. The prioritizer. I decide which idea best motivates selling and buying of a particular brand. The I organize under that idea, three proof planks to guide the way.

So when I say “What’s The Idea?” to a marketer, I’m not just branding, I’m asking a fundamental marketing question.

What is your brand idea?

Peace.

  

 

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Foster Bias & Sales is an imaginary ad agency name I came up with that offers a trifecta of marketing success. These steps to a sale apply to marketing, advertising, even memo writing.

It starts by fostering a positive and receptive environment in which to communicate with customers. Product context, entertainment and/or education are all tools used to foster interest. Gather attention and predispose consumers to listen….that’s Mr. Foster.

Create bias toward your product or against a key competitor is step two. This is where marketers become competitors. Care-abouts and good-ats are what the brand planner mines and the communicator deals in here. Creating bias is not nuanced. It’s hardball.   

Sales obviously refers to action. Real purchase, decision to purchase, or predisposition to purchase. In the sales trade this is called “asking for the order.” Even if implicit. Being too pushy is not attractive, however.  You have to know how and when to ask. If you cross the line you may damage to your ability to foster a proper selling environment. Know when to walk away. Customers appreciate commitment sans the pushy hand. They may come back.        

Peace. 

 

 

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At What’s The Idea? clients pay the bills. They do the hiring, provide the homegrown insights and share business data. Without clients there would be no brand consultancy.  But clients are not my customer. My customer is the brand. It is the brand to which I pay allegiance. It is the brand that is the object of my strategic desire. By being so focused it helps remediate politics from the equation.  

By putting the brand first and the people and clients second, it cleanses the process. Brands have no egos.  They just sit at the nexus of good-ats and care-abouts.  A brand doesn’t look to be promoted or aspire to Ad Age Marketer Of The Year. You can’t artificial intelligence your way around a brand. It’s a thing or service.

Don’t get me wrong, I need people to help navigate insight work. The stories, the human impact of purchase and use, the role of the product, can never be ably understood without people — be they brand and product manager or consumer and influencer.

But when all is said and done the brand must be the customer. At What’s The Idea? that pays the bills and provides the dividends.

Peace.

 

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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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The company Reputation Management has asked me to comment on how a brand can bounce back from poor online reviews.

I believe it’s best to leave them up. As hard and painful as it is, it’s “real world” online commerce. Not everyone is a super model. Not everyone bats .400. To err is human.  How you overcome quality or service problems dictates how you improve. If a product has flaws, fix them. Or acknowledge why they happen. When Chipotle made people sick, it acknowledged “farm to table” is not easy. Healthier is not easy. And they changed.

When Marmot, known for quality in winter gear, gets a bad review, it isn’t defensive, it works even harder to make better product.

Today, if an e-commerce site doesn’t have poor reviews people know it’s been cleaned.

Also, a strong brand strategy (one claim, three proof planks) is also a good way to maintain reputation.  Using an organizing principle for product, experience and messaging feeds the market the information it needs to understand your product. When care-about and good-ats align, brands are hard to tear down. When you simplify and strengthen your value, a few disorganized comments won’t hurt. They just make you real.

Peace.

 

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So yesterday I outlined part one of my (in-development) brand strategy workshop. In it I’ll provide a data and information dump to attendees and have them underline all the “proofs” of marketing success they come across. Part two will see them take the 30 or so pages of proof and do something smart with it. 

For the allotted 30 minutes, attendees will be instructed to read and reread the underlined items.  The goal of this “reading of proofs” is to begin to organize them into groupings.  Ideally at the end of the exercise, I’m going to see it they can find 3 discrete groupings. There may be two or four and there will certainly be some outliers, but three is the goal. This is the beginning of brand planks.  The groupings we’re looking for are extreme customer care-abouts or brand good-ats.  At the really expensive business consulting companies these groupings are called clusters. Clusters that computers and data analysts array.  In our workshop, the brains of attendees will do the work.  

Tune in Monday for Part 3. The Claim.

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I’m thinking about developing a brand planning workshop around the part of my practice devoted to “proof.”  I’ve spoken before groups on numerous occasions but those speeches tended to about theory.  Presentations include “Social Media Guard Rails,” some others about marketing plan development, and others sharing planning tips and tricks. But I have yet to do a participatory workshop. That’s what people want. A workshop where they learn by participating.

So my idea is to create a big dump of reading, maybe with some picture and video, about a company or product. It might include a piece of topline research and trade some press articles. The lion’s share would be interviews with customers and stakeholders. The dump will offer about 45 minutes worth of reading.

I’ll explain that their task is to underline the proof. Proof of value. Proof of superiority. Proof of “good-ats” and “care-abouts.” Not marko-babble…tangible, understandable value.

Tomorrow, I’ll share with you what we’ll do with that proof.

PEACE in Syria.

 

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“Preservation is one of the highest forms of good citizenship” said the late John Belle, partner at Beyer, Blinder and Belle, the architectural firm that renovated Grand Central Terminal. Words to live by, also, in the branding business.

We want to preserve in the minds of consumers a brand’s “good-ats.” And we want to maintain the linkage of those good-ats to consumers’ most strenuous “care-abouts.”  Good brands start with good products. It’s simple really — build a product that is good at something. Make sure it’s something customers really care about.  Then work your ass off to preserve the product good-ats over time.  

One definition of branding is “identity + reputation.” It’s a nice definition but doesn’t take into account product — or should I say core product value. Good-ats and care-abouts.

So when you are spending a quarter of a million dollars with a big branding firm, make sure your strategy and tagline have a product component to it. Otherwise, your brand strategy firm may not be good-at branding. Peace.

 

 

 

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Were I to conduct discovery on What’s The Idea?, my brand consultancy, and articulate its claim, it would probably be “A powerful brand idea is indelible.”  My email signature and tagline use this statement behind the words “Campaigns Come and go…”

So that a brand strategy isn’t perceived as a one-trick pony, I employ a proof array comprising 3 support planks. This allows for pluralism in the brand story. This allows for a the claim of brand value and, hopefully, superiority to have multiple dimensions. All of which build the case and brand value. (If the claim and proof array theory isn’t working for you, please email for examples. Steve@WhatsTheIdea.com.)

I’ve never written a brief for What’s The Idea? Amazing! It probably would be a good thought. Shoemakers children and all that.  So sans brief, what might my three proof planks be for the “indelible” idea?  Let’s think on the fly:  

  1. Indelible means Memorable. Easy for consumers to play back, either in conversation or visual imagery.
  2. Emotional. Something that is near to the heart of the buyer. I refer to care-abouts often in my blogging but an emotional care-about trumps a wan care-about any day.
  3. Optimistic. A plank should be positive – toward the category, the purchaser and the marketing order supporting the commerce. Leave bad news for the media. Good news is branding’s purview.

There you have it, 3 proof planks for the powerful “indelible” idea. Now, off to work.

Peace.   

 

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I was in a meeting earlier this week with a couple of smart agency guys, explaining the exigencies of being a brand strategist. How nobody wakes up in the morning, yawns, and says “I need a brand plan.” Or how the branding business is filled with a small group of people with a special lexicon of marketing and brand gibberish – I call it marko-babble – filled with words like “authenticity,” “brand voice,” “truths,” “journey,” etc. Lots of brand consultants have a process for doing business, but they don’t actually have a framework for what is delivered. Or, a plan for the future.

I do and I explained it: “One claim, three proof planks. This is the organizing principle for product, experience and messaging. The key to my framework is “proof.” I explained to my agency associates that my discovery, research and strategic development all focus on product proof. Proof of what? Good question. It’s not until the proofs are arrayed that the proof of what raises it head.

Proofs tend to be grounded in customer care-abouts and brand good-ats.

One brand planner’s discovery is often much like the next…lots of reading, interviews, primary and secondary research and cogitation. But at What’s The Idea? It is proof that makes the pudding. It is proof that drives the brand strategy.

Peace.

 

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