care-abouts

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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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In my lifetime and the lifetime of What’s The Idea?, I’ve probably written 50 marketing plans.  Their formats are all pretty much the same: market situation, key issues, objectives, strategies, targets and messages, tactics, budget and timeline.  To the uninitiated who might read one of these plans, once past the up-front market review and obs and strats, the tactics of one plan might look like the others. Interchangeable almost. probably containing ads, PR, direct, web, promotion and social. Simple, undifferentiated line items on an excel chart.

The fact is, it’s the brand strategy that really sets one plan apart from the next. Every dollar spent is guided by a brand claim and three proof planks – or supports.  The tactics aren’t just random copy with fill in the blank marketing claims. Every piece of external and internal communications, meant to position and sell, is scripted. Well not scripted, but guided.

Branding strategy is an organized principle for building brand value and sales, based on consumer care-abouts and brand good-ats.

Brand strategy is the secret sauce to every marketing plan.

Peace.

 

 

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I was just reading an article on the correlation of mass attacks and spousal abuse citing examples from years ago and continents afar — stories about which I’d never heard — and it dawned on me that with a few clicks of a keypad and the help of Google a reporter can do months of homework in minutes. Google is a freaking crazy research utility. Journalists use Facebook and Twitter to quickly source people for stories.

When in college I read The Modern Researcher by Jacques Barzun to help navigate libraries, newspaper and magazine archives to learn effective research methods. Today, with Google and Wikipedia you can be done before getting half way to the local library.

sitting at deskAs a brand strategist, Google offers immeasurable advantage. But there’s a term I’ve come across “Google planners” and it’s not a very attractive descriptor. It refers to brand planners who never leave their desk.  

Even if they use videoconferencing to conduct discovery interviews (another cool tool), Google Planners need to sit next to their interviewees to get higher def reactions. And emotions. Google is a wonderful assist, but Care-abouts and Good-ats are best mined in person, in situ, on prem, and up close. You gots (sic) to get out of the building boys and girls. Stim is the key to great ideas. And stim is multi-dimensional.

Peace.         

 

 

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stitchfix

I’ve been writing a lot lately about how brand strategy is the perfect intersection of customer care-abouts and brand good-ats. Earlier this week I posted that it’s best to have good-ats as part of company DNA rather than just build them based on customer needs research.

Enter Stitch Fix, a very cool clothing start up that melds the best of the online web retailing with features of brick and mortar clothing stores. Stitchfix has built its business around convenience, surprise and renewal. It’s genius. And addictive.

The brand planner in me loves what I interpret as the company’s three brand planks: “personalized,” “better every time,” and “on your time.” This organizing principle for product, experience and messaging is unique and, if done well, highly defensible.

The website lists these three things as benefits, which is another word for care-abouts.  They are presumably brand good-ats but time will tell. This is a case where a start-up has to build the good-ats as the business matures. And course-correct in real time.  But you can see how having a plan, an organizing principle and commitment to brand strategy can make it work.

If Stitch Fix gets benefit delivery right it is going be a high-flier.

Peace.

 

 

 

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Growth Hacking is an idea for the times.  I’m kind of sure it’s a bad idea.

Here’s a definition from Wikipedia:  

Growth hacking is a process of rapid experimentation across marketing channels and product development to identify the most effective, efficient ways to grow a business. Growth hackers are marketers, engineers and product managers that specifically focus on building and engaging the user base of a business. Growth hackers often focus on low-cost alternatives to traditional marketing, e.g. using social media, viral marketing or targeted advertising[2] instead of buying advertising through more traditional media such as radio, newspaper, and television.[3]

I don’t take issue with rapid experimentation across marketing channels. I do believe, though, product development as a hack is a little iffy. If growth hacking is a synonym for research and development (R&D) that’s fine. But using the web to randomly and quickly build a business case is goofy.

When it comes to growth hacking, start-ups or recalibrating business better know their good-ats. They shouldn’t look to the web to find out what people want. Brand planning is about good-ats and care-abouts. At What’s The Idea? brand strategy is an organizing principle for product, experience and messaging.  It’s business strategy writ small.  Too much focus on care-abouts and not enough focus on good-ats is an extensible recipe for business failure. You may want to look like Cinderella but you are who you are.

Growth is what businesses aspire to. How they get there and how they get to success is a result of planning, learning and commitment. An hour-long presentation on growth hacking may make you feel all warm inside, but it’s not a sustainable business approach.

Peace.          

 

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I learned a trick from ad agency president Brendan Ryan many moons ago that has contributed mightily to my brand planning framework.  Mr. Ryan, who ran FCB New York, would ask for a print campaign to be tacked to the wall. And sans any briefs or account foreplay he’d review what he saw, explain the “idea,” and identify which ads fit.  It was after-the-fact ad forensics.

This approach also works in brand planning.

I did some work for an agency that handles a top 5 financial institution. I was helping the agency create a strategy for the holding company brand (sitting atop the retail and commercial bank, personal wealth group, and investor relations). Our strategy wasn’t being served up as a corporate branding assignment per se, just an organizing principle for delivery of the brand online (wink wink).

Anyway, one of the tools we used was borrowed from Mr. Ryan – we reviewed all the content on the site (stories, copy and videos) and pasted them up on a wall. Our team was then to cluster the content into discreet, organic segments. If we couldn’t find a segment, we were to move outliers off to the side.

I can’t share business secrets but this forensic approach helped show us where the centers of gravity were. Our next step was to make sure these clusters were customer “care-abouts” and brand “good-ats.” If they weren’t, we needed to make corrections.

It’s a wonderful brand planning exercise and one I must say was borrowed from another. Peace.

 

 

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The hardest part of quantifying the success of brand strategy (1 claim, 3 proof planks) is the act of tying measurement of “care-abouts” and “good-ats” (the proofs upon which brand value are built) to sales. I call this pursuit: Return On Strategy (ROS).

Back in the 90s while working on AT&T Business Communications Services, fighting off MCI (a smart competitors buying share with discount prices), we knew that messaging the right combination of “competitive price” (within 10% of MCI), “network reliability” and “innovative telecom tools” (the 3 planks) would result in added business users. If market perceptions of this trifecta were offset by MCI, they started winning new account “adds.” The trick was meting out the right combination of planks with our media budget.  We were using quantitative research to gauge attitudes and tie them to actions/sales.

This is the way one does ROS.  But numbers about attitudes can lie. Nate Cohn, The New York Times version of Nate Silver, mea culpa’ed today about Donald Trump. He spent a 1,000 words explaining why the numbers lied and Trump beat the odds.

I often write about “proof” in my blog posts. And about “deeds” — the actual activities that feed the care-about and good-ats. This line of thinking and study is where I need to spend more time. As was the case in Mr. Cohn’s explanation of Mr. Trump, attitudes and numbers can mislead. So I’m off to look beyond attitudes and on to awareness of deeds tied to sales. Should be interesting.

Peace.                         

 

 

 

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