claim and proof

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When I interview people at a company to learn more about it during my discovery process I have a set piece of questions. If working in a category with which I’m unfamiliar I often create a new questions to level set me. Learning the language of the category is an important first step. Before I start questioning I tell the interviewee to please tell stories to make your point. It helps me better and more quickly understand. Stories provide texture, importance and ballast from the teller’s point of view.  Data and information are just tracks to be trod over. Data and information are the CV of the business. Important and crucial stuff yes, but they don’t reveal “soul” the way stories do.

I never closed a deal during a brand strategy without stories. Never. If you have stories, when presenting to decision-makers, you are a brother/sister. People don’t have a hard time disagreeing with you if you have a story. They’ve more open and real in their objection…often sharing a contrary story.

I loves me some data in brand planning. But stories feed the brief. They give heart to the claim and proof planks.

Peace.

 

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I’ve been thinking about two brand strategies lately. One for the Madison Square Garden the other for James Brown. Madison Square Garden’s is “The World’s Most Famous Arena.” James Brown was “The Hardest Working Man in Show Business.”  These two sentences are brand claims.

A claim is only good when it’s believable. If you’ve ever seen James Brown, you know his claim to be true. As for MSG, the same, but you may have to take their word for it to a degree.  There have been 4 Madison Square Garden’s and none in Madison Square since 1925. There have, indeed, been some amazing events in the 4 gardens, but it’s no Roman Coliseum. What The Garden is is a well-tended brand. At every major sports event the announcer welcomes one and all with “Welcome to Madison Square Garden, the world’s most famous arena.” The halls are bedazzled with black and whites of Ali-Frazier, George Harrison, and Mark Messier.   Hanging from the rafters are aging championship banners from the NY Rangers.

MSG works hard to prove its claim. James Brown used to sweat his claim.

Claims are the basis of brand strategy. With claim in hand, all that is left are the deeds and the proof. Peace.

 

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If asked to provide one word that defines my business practice – one word that drives my philosophy of brand planning it would have to be “proof.”

Proof is the most tangible of marketing words. And the most tangible building block in brand strategy.

Proof trumps subjective opinion. It overrides marketing insouciance. It answers that age-old creative brief question “What is the reason to believe?”.  Teach a man to prove and you build a brand for a lifetime. In brand strategy, of course, you need to organize your proof;  into no more than three proof planks. Random proof becomes a grade school science fair.

The best framework for brand strategy is one claim and three proof planks. Get the claim right then make the proof fit like a glove.

Here’s an exercise: Spend time studying your marketing materials. See if you can discern the proof from the blather. From the self-interest babble. Underline or highlight the proof. See what you’ve got. Does it focus you?

Peace.

 

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I’m not against storytelling. It’s an important part of my business. When collecting information to build brand strategy I hunt for stories and often tell stories to get others to open up. But in and of itself, a story won’t do shit for a brand. Especially, if it’s off-piste.

Storytelling is a pop marketing topic many brand consultants rest upon.  My “brand-ar” goes off when I hear someone use the term; it suggests they’re blowing marko-babble smoke.

Think of storytelling as the code and brand strategy as the app. The app being the meaningful, useful tool.

Brand strategy done right is about claim and proof — packaged into a discrete organizing principle for product, experience and messaging.

Stories and storytelling are communications tools, not strategy tools.

Peace.

 

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Here’s the thing. Hyundai did an amazing job in America with its long game of winning minds and market share. The low price point, 10-year warranty is the stuff of which Harvard Business School cases are made. I say long term, because that’s how you build a car brand – over time.  It’s a considered purchase, an expensive purchase. Hyundai did it the right way and consumer perceptions of quality and value were growing more and more positive.

Then came Genesis. The car designs were amazing. The ads, off-the-charts well-conceived. But the brand strategy was lacking. America wasn’t ready for a luxury brand from Hyundai. Just wasn’t. (And don’t go all focus group defensive on me.)     

When Peter Arnell did a branding assignment to make Samsung more a mainstream electronics brand 30+ years ago, it felt wrong. But it worked. The timing was right. The proofs were baked. Today Samsung rocks.

Genesis might have worked had it not been a Hyundai brand. Or if introduced 10 years down the road. But Alas, Poor Yorik, it was not.

Peace.

 

 

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Branding Polemics.

I saw the word polemic in an article about the alt-right and had to use it in a post. I’m a brand polemist. At What’s The Idea? brand strategy is defined as an “organizing principle for product, experience and messaging.”  In and of itself, that is controversial. Many brand agencies don’t consider product or experience in their work, they cut straight to messaging. 

When brand strategy involves product it means the claim and proof planks inform product features, composition, even formula. When brand strategy relates to experience, it informs in-store, customer journey, website content and usability. It may involve media usage, e.g., Twitch Points (Google it). But mostly, brand strategy is about messaging, advertising, campaigns and communications.   The comms and graphic presentation of a brand being the bread and butter of the branding business.

The contrarian polemic is one that puts product and experience on par, or even ahead, of messaging. Get the first two right and the last one has to follow.

Peace.

 

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The foundation of the What’s The Idea? brand strategy framework is “claim and proof.” Say what you are good at and what consumers want, then prove it every day. Get the claim and proof right and you won’t have to reinvent the marketing wheel every year.

I don’t mean to pick on Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center whose claim “More Science (actual claim), Less Fear (marketing benefit)” is terrific, but they provide a good example of my dumbing down the proof point. In a print ad that ran this weekend, MSKCC supported its claim with their history of breaking new ground in immunotherapy. But then they dropped the ball in providing proof of how it works. Perhaps they thought we weren’t smart enough to read longer copy. (“People don’t read copy,” I’ve heard more than once.) I am aware of a home improvement company who cautions field reps to “keep it simple.” “Don’t give consumers too much to think about, you may talk them out of an appointment.”

Whether MSKCC or a home remodeler, it’s important to find proof that allows consumers to believe you. To trust you. To remember you. Good proof (read yesterday’s post for an example) is the fastest way to sales conviction.

Peace.

 

 

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One of the challenges when writing a brand brief is knowing which insight to use to fuel the claim. (The claim is the idea at the top of the brand strategy, supported by 3 proof planks.) Often in a brief there are 2 or 3 really exciting insights, all of which offer enough power to motivate brand predisposition. But which to pick, that’s the question.

What I love about the brief I use, borrowed from McCann-Erickson’s Peter Kim 2 decades ago, is that it has a serial framework. One section leads to the next. Like puzzle pieces, they don’t always fit, but fit they must. Until they fit, you need to keep working. Until there is a linear story you are only bumping along the cobble stones. Chank a chank.

As I work the brief, key insights find their way into the story. But some must be let go. What’s funny is the outcome of the story – the claim – is often not known until the story plays out. Insights float in the back of the mind as you work toward the end, some more strongly than others, but the big finish is often a bit of a surprise.

There can’t be two endings. Enjoy the ride.

Peace.

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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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Consumers are smart. And inured to marketing claims. Advertising, the home of the marketing claim, has become that guy at the party who talks about himself in glowing terms in order to get the girl. Full of himself, boastful and proud. But consumers have seen so many of these f shallow claims they shut them off.  That’s why good brand planning uses proof as its foundation. Proof is what people remember.

I have a past client in the healthcare space who has decided to move into the health insurance business. He begins as the rest of the industry is consolidating or retreating. A number of insurers today are pulling out of insurance exchanges fueling the Affordable Care Act. So, the big guys are complaining they’re not making money and one little guy is starting anew.  I like it.

The CEO is a physician, so I know he’ll take the physicians view of the business. This could very easily be a premium price play, but rather doubt it. The CEO is knows for efficiency, technology and driving cost out of the business (while improving outcomes). So I’m eager to see what he has up his sleeve. I’m eager to see the proof.

There is a health system insurance program called CareConnect in the NY market with a 10-15% price advantage. Proof or reason to believe that advantage comes from its parent Northwell Health. He will have a tough row to hoe but I’m betting on him. As a physician, he understands proof.

You have to get the claim right but you have to get the proofs righter.

Peace.

 

 

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