claim and proof planks

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Brand strategy is more effective when understood and acted upon internally. Frankly, it’s the best way to get brand value disseminated externally. But most companies don’t really work this way. Ninety percent of brand word is external. Typically delivered through advertising, PR and promotion. 

Educating every employee in brand strategy, i.e., “claim and proof planks,” is the best and fastest way to have an impact.  It multiplies the power of branding exponentially.

The claim for a healthier-for-you cookie company was “Craft cookies au naturel.” The planks were “naturally moist,” “healthier properties” and “complex flavors.”  By understanding these simple values, every employee at every stage of development, manufacturing, delivery and marketing, can make easier decisions. There are no forks in the road. No room for interpretation. The talking points are set. These aren’t just words on a box but strategic selling points that add value and deflect competition.

Get the strategy right, get your internal house in order, then broadcast the brand value. Don’t ever forget the employees.





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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.



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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.



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I was presenting my strategy framework earlier this week and as part of my preso used examples of actual brand strategies (claim and proof planks). One of the claims presented ended up being a tagline for the company. When I shared this brand claim/tagline with the group a couple of people reacted by saying “That doesn’t sound so differentiated. That feels like other marketing claims.” And they were right.

The reality of brand claims and taglines is they just lie there unless you prove them. Every day. With the brand claim in question, the purchasing CEO and work team loved it because it reflected their key value like nothing they’d ever heard before. Plus it was aligned with a key customer care-about. The 3 proof planks supporting the claim were so business-winning, so strategic, that the claim/tagline struck them like a lightning bolt. They were willing to go to war based on this organizing principle. Were the three words below the logo people have never seen before? Nope. Were they poetic to the masses? Nope. But they struck a chord among the senior team. And motivated that team to new levels of marketing awareness.

We have become inured to marketing lyrics and taglines for tagline’s sake. When taglines are the craft of the ad agency they often fall short. When they come from a deep-dish brand strategy, they can last and last. Peace.



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A brand strategy done well encompasses the marketing strategy and is the business strategy. Why? Because it’s active. I define brand strategy as an “organizing principle that drives product, experience and messaging.” Messaging is last…because a message that doesn’t reflect product and experience is simply copy.

Ask any successful business leader to identify their company’s “one claim” (consumer promise) and three “support planks,” and they’ll be hard-pressed to do it. That is why brand strategy is so tough. A single claim and three product or service values, many will tell you, is too limiting. Until you see it on paper. On business stationery. A good brand strategy is not filled with marko-babble, it contains business-winning evidence. Business-winning behaviors and business-winning strategy.

I call it brand strategy and contrary to what some consultants will peddle, it is way more than a loose federation of tactics, metrics and tagline.

For real life examples, please write Steve at WhatsTheIdea.



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Follow The Patent.

I’ve done brand work on a number of start-ups and it’s hard. Hard, because there is often no product to evaluate pre-launch. No customers to interview. In the tech world you can work off user experience (UE) of the Beta or demo, but that’s not always real world. So how do you mine “care-abouts” and “good-ats”?

You follow the patent.

To receive a patent you must have a product or service that offers something appreciably different from what currently exists in the commercial world. Something worth defending. For most of my clients I like to follow the money but with start-ups, pre-product, it’s the patent. Start with qualitative, move to quantitative, maybe go back to quant, then get the founders to buy in. If they don’t buy in to the claim and proof planks, and I mean totally, you don’t have a brand strategy. Likely, you don’t have a business strategy.





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Brand journalists aren’t for every company. Certainly most small companies can’t afford them. The first brand journalist I ran into worked for JWT, a forward thinking ad agency. He worked on Microsoft and helped the brand do some really smart things in the B2B space. But he worked for the agency. When I moved client side to an educational technology company, I was lucky enough to have a chairman with enough vision to see the value of a brand journalist. We hired a photographer/videographer who was also a wonderful visual storyteller. His ability to make people feel things was amazing and powerful.

Thomas Simonetti was his name and he came to us with a newspaper background. The company we worked for, Teq, had a great brand strategy and I helped Thomas understand it: the claim and the proof planks. The plan was Thomas’s story guide. His mission: Go forth, research, compile and communicate stories that convince consumers that are what we say we are. We do what we say we do. We live how we say we live.

A traditional journalist has no agenda. That’s what makes them good. Brand journalists have an agenda. And that’s what make brands great. And rich. And successful. Peace.


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