care-abouts and good-ats

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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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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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How do you build a brand?  It’s an easy question. Sadly, it has a thousand answers.

Were I to ask how to build a car, the answer would be with an engine, steering, wheels, transmission, chassis, etc.  How do you build a sandwich? How do you make beer? Of course there will be variations in ingredients but the components are pretty static. Not so much in brand building.

If you ask ten brand consultancies you’ll get ten different constructs for what constitutes a brand plan.  Components may include product development guidelines, packaging, a visual identity scheme, (e.g., a logo, style and usage manual) and rough communications guidelines, but for the most part the actors charged with building the brand are a federation of marketing people inside and outside the company (agencies) following a marketing plan, not a brand plan.

Marketing plans are built with line items transferable from one company to then next. Metrics include: unit sales, revenue, market share and profit plan. And lots of tactical cow bell. Brand plans, on the other hand, are devoted to building product and consumer value. Values based on care-abouts and good ats. They are not transferable line items but values endemic to the product.

The best marketers are also great brand advocates. They don’t care only about the plumbing, they care about the product and its unique value to the consumer.

Peace.

 

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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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Way at the top of unpaid Google search results on brand strategy is HubSpot’s post “7 Essentials for a Strong Company Brand.”   Point one is about brand purpose and brand promise. Not bad places to start I guess, but a little too soft for me.

Brand strategy is not about a promise. It’s about a claim. A prideful statement of consumer value that “is.” Not a might be, or a try-to-be.  But a fact. A fact found at the nexus consumer care-abouts and brand good-ats.

If you have your brand claim right then everything you do in sales and marketing should be about proving it. Promise and purpose help may get you to your claim, but claim is the quintessential essential.  7 is too many essentials anyway. Water, air and food are essentials.

Peace.

 

 

 

 

 

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In my brand strategy presentation I share real examples. The first couple of minutes are about theory and process then I trot out real client strategies, sans brand name, as they are proprietary.

The first examples, which everyone sees, is wonderfully tight, uncomplicated and easy to reckon. It’s for a commercial maintenance company – the people who keep buildings clean and operational: vacuuming, washing windows, emptying garbage and keeping the grounds in order. This particular commercial maintenance company had no brand. It had a logo, invoices, website and a strong owner.

When all the care-abouts and good-ats were understood and assembled, and the boil down complete, the brand strategy became quite obvious: “The navy seals of commercial maintenance.” The claim was supported by proof planks: fast, fastidious and preemptive.

As brand strategies go – and they are always 1 claim and 3 proof planks – this was a particularly easy metaphor. Not all are this easy. Done well, all brand strategies have a mellifluous quality to them. Almost like a song or hook, constructed out of product or company notes that create pride and desire.

Peace.

PS.  If you’d like to see the presentation, please write Steve@WhatsTheIdea.com

 

 

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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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My uncle Al Heckel was a great sailor. Renowned along the south shore of Long Island for his sailing prowess, Al used to ask me as a kid to crew with him, something I wasn’t too keen on. Too slow for me. At his funeral, his grandson Hankie mentioned Al used to say “sailing makes the world big again.” Love that quote.

Brand strategy, at a place and time where there are more marketing tools, media options, technologies and measures than even before, does quite the opposite. It makes the world small again. Why? Because a brand’s value proposition is limited to the most essential things. What customers most care about and what the brand is absolutely good at. Care-abouts and Good-ats.

New products, line extensions, customer experience, marketing communications are all easier when following a brand strategy (1 claim, 3 proof planks). That white piece of paper a freelancers looks at when asked to create an ad or brochure is by many measures more quickly done and more powerful, when following a brand strategy. 

An investment in a brand strategy is an investment in business. Peace.

 

 

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