care-abouts

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Someone recently posted this question to Quora “What’s the fastest way to build a brand?”  The answer is and always has been, through heavy doses of good network television advertising.  It provides sight and sound of a controlled message, broadcast to millions of people, millions of times.  Some cord cutting millennials might build a case they only watch Netflix and Hulu, but they still watch sports and news. Ish.

The slowest way to build a brand is without a meaningful brand strategy to guide product, experience and messaging. Those who study brand building, who study customers, sales and marketing, understand brand strategy as an organizing principle. An organizing principle that aligns brand values and good-ats with customer care-abouts.

Good things happen to products and bad things happen to products. Hacks, if you will. Well, you can hack a product but you can’t hack a brand. Because brand strategies are principle-based.  It’s impossible to hack a principle. The people who manage the principle can be hacked, but not the principle itself.

Get yourself a brand strategy and start building!

Peace.

 

 

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Proof Pulling.

You ever sit in the yard and pull weeds?  It’s a horrible job and even worse metaphor for what I’m about to share. My job is not pulling weeds but “pulling proof.”  Brand discovery is all about the search for proof points.  What is a proof point? It’s evidence. It may be an action. A practice. Perhaps a milestone. A result.  Proof is existential.  Why is proof in branding so important? Because 90% of all consumer facing advertising, packaging and promotion is sizzle. It’s claim, claim, claim. A promise without any foundation.

If an ad makes a claim about a product or service and the consumer asks “Why?” or says “Prove it,” is there a suitable response? Is there proof? Almost always there is not. That’s why brands today are media driven not idea driven.

Proof is what you use in a debate to make your point. Proof well told (McCann-Erickson’s mantra is Truth Well Told) makes a superior debater.

The process of brand discovery begins with proof pulling. Then organizing the proof into care-abouts and good-ats. Then, if you learn the language of the consumer, overlay some category culture, and organize your findings, you may have yourself a brand strategy.

Peace.

 

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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?

Peace.

 

 

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Choices.

As a kid in the business I read a great book on business to business advertising. It gave an example of what a purchasing agent is up against when buying an expensive piece of industrial equipment. The agent puts together a side-by-side chart of all the specs and benefit statements for the two final vendors under consideration.  More often than not, commerce being what it is, it’s a draw. The book suggested, absent a clear winner, the logical mind takes over. The personal logical mind, that is. In order to make a decision with so many variables, the purchaser decides which of the variables is most important. Which of the 20-30 variables is the one upon a which the decision will be made.

I was reading about Harvard’s selection process yesterday and it’s pretty complicated.  SAT scores, other testing scores, GPA, ethnicity, alumni parents, future ability to donate, interview performance essay, geo-social background are all evaluated. Not unlike the chart from the book. Choices.

Brand strategy development is not dissimilar. We look at a multitude of “care-abouts” and “good-ats” and decide how to best organize the selling principle. Brand strategy helps marketers make the tough choices. It helps brands make the right choices.

Peace.

 

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Here’s an exercise for brand planners.

I read this morning that when president Richard Nixon prepared for a summit in China to meet Mao Zedong, he created a checklist. What do we want?  What does China want? And what do we both want? Each question had three answers.

Brand planners should ask themselves the same questions only with a slight modification at the end.  What does the company want? What do the consumers want? And what does the brand want?  The brand’s desires may not align with that of the company and could be a healthy source of exploratory tension.

The What’s The Idea? the brand strategy process plumbs consumer “care-abouts” and brand “good-ats.”  The nexus of these qualities decides the brand claim and proof planks. But with the tripartite “What want?” approach, it may make the planner look at a new dimension.  May.

Might be worth a try.

Peace.

 

 

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Brand strategy is an organizing principle that gives brand managers a “go-no go” guide for product, experience and messaging. It makes branding easy.

Nicholas Kristof in the NYT today was talking about the social entrepreneurs attending Davos and how refreshing they were to have around.  He was poo-pooing consumerists who are all about the money.

Doing “good” in a commercial sense is smart strategy.  In my practice, when I’m looking at care-abouts and god-ats, I try to plot and push brand planks that are socially positive. It’s not hard to do, and it can’t be forced, but it butts up against the nature of what makes humans humans.  

When a cigarette ad choses to shoot a photo at the top of a mountain on a bluebird day amongst cottony snow drifts, it’s hitting our natural beauty button. When a box of diapers shows an amazing toddler smile, it hits a warm, nurture button. But advertising which use positive imagery to cloud our judgement about what is “good” is disingenuous. And it give marketing a bad name.

A brand strategy, built with brand planks supporting positive social ideals is deeply human. And enduring.

Peace.

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The two fundamental components of strategic marketing are the brand plan and the marketing plan.  Most companies have a marketing plan. They also have brands. Not always to they have both. 

The marketing plan is viewed through a lens of “making money,” as it should be. Each tactic, event or channel strategy is gauged by how it contributes to topline sales and profit. The brand plan, on the other hand, is about creating value in the minds of the seller and buyer. It sets places in the minds of consumers differentiating the product and creating preference. It also creates a roadmap for brand managers and company stakeholders to deliver and create even greater value. Guideposts if you will. 

In all my years doing brand strategy I’ve never included a loci around profit or revenue. The proof array supporting a brand claim results from prioritizing care-abouts and good-ats. While profit is always the goal of the marketing plan, it is never the subject of the brand plan. This Yin and Yang, this republican and democrat balance is what make brands unique and powerful.

If every plank in a brand strategy was about profit and sales, every brand would be the same.

Profits are the motive of the marketing plan. Logical and emotional reasoning are the motives of the brand. Peace.   

 

 

 

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Vision On Paper.

I first heard of Masayoshi Son, head of international conglomerate Softbank, in 2,000 when he purchased Ziff Davis.  Since then he has been quite busy.  His new big care-abouts are  Artificial Intelligence and Robots.

He has always been cutting edge – some hits, some misses – but the man is paying attention. And the man is paying. His investments are legendary.

In today’s New York Times Vijay Sharma, CEO of Paytm, said about Mr. Son “Masa is in a hurry. He sees this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity where everything we touch can become a market, where we’re at the opening up of a new industrial revolution.”  

I love this “always in a hurry” worldview. I’ve never met a successful tech or industrial entrepreneur who wasn’t in a hurry. Andy Grove who drove Intel during its formative years admitted to constant paranoia. He was in a hurry.

Can you guess the best way for people who are in a hurry to be efficient? To make decisions. To learn? Brand strategy.

Brand strategy codifies vision. Ask any VC what they’re looking for in an investment and they will tell you vision. Brand strategy is vision on paper.

Peace.

 

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I was reading an LG ad this morning, the headline for which was the “Customer Satisfaction: The Only Thing That Matters.” It struck me as a typical marketing pander. LG is a South Korean electronics company aggressively pushing into the U.S. market.  My gut tells says the products are competitively priced, elegantly designed, but of just average quality. Again, my brand gut talking.  Not too much different from the position Samsung was in 20 years ago, before Peter Arnell did his brand refresh magic.

Customer satisfaction is never the only thing that matters in manufacturing today. Price matters. Quality matters. (One could rightly argue quality is directly tied to satisfaction.) But materials and planet matter too. Materials that are hard to recycle or that dissipate into the atmosphere as carbons, matter. Even if they make consumers “satisfied.”

So the good people at LG are right to care about customer sat. but they should pay heed to the very American care-abouts that the planet is warming, the climate is growing more squirrely, and electronics manufacturers need to do better. That is something that will make us all satisfied.

Peace.

 

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For the last three days Red Hat software has run fill page ads in The New York Times paper paper. Today I broke down and read one.  I’m not sure if they were three different ads or the same one. Lost opportunity.  Advertising is a funny business; even bad ads work. Sometimes just being there is enough. But I’m not of that school. I dislike “We’re Here” advertising. Ads that do little more than arrive, list services and give contact info.  

What’s the idea Red Hat? It appears, from the headline, that the idea is “Tame Today. Frame Tomorrow.”  If the idea wasn’t so hackneyed I’d mention it’s actually two ideas. Both well-done. (Like a 2 hour Bubba Burger.)

I’ve liked Red Hat, as a brand, from its beginnings many, many moons ago. Famous for open source, famous for dashing tech branding. But come on people! Could you make an ad with some vital organs? With some proof of claim? With a semblance of a brand strategy? You can’t just toss a logo on a page, add a second color, play copywriting scrabble and call it advertising.  

Red Hat needs a brand strategy. Look to your advertising ancestors. Read a book on advertising. Find an idea based on care-abouts and good-ats.

Peace.

 

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