Customer care-abouts

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The short answer is about 45 minutes. The long answer is maybe 100 hours.  Someone once asked Picasso how could he charge tens of thousands of dollars for a sketch that took him only 10 minutes to draw.  His response was “That sketch took me a lifetime to draw.”  I paraphrase.

I’m no Picasso. Plus any cache in the brain, save some technique and linguistic phrasing, stays in the brain.  Every brand brief is a like snow flake. Each brand brief is built from scratch; leaning heavily on customer care-abouts and brand good-ats. All that information takes time to amass. I’ve taken months to write a brand brief. I’ve taken weeks.

In some cases multivariate statistical analyses were used. And slopes were plotted. Findings clustered. Interviews by the hundreds. Others have been developed on a shoe-string. 

On most proposals I say it takes a month to write a brand strategy brief.

Now, to the next question: How long is a piece of string?

Peace|

 

 

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Small companies are the least likely to talk about brand strategy.  That’s because, for the most part, they don’t have people “dedicated” to marketing. They can’t afford them. So marketing falls to the founders and owners. In such cases, marketing becomes tactical: Make the phone ring. Get leads. Generate floor traffic. Build a website so Google can find us.

In each of these scenarios, small companies often turn to outside content creators. Designers. Coders. Writers. Media companies.  But what do they tell these outside agents? They certainly don’t provide them with brand strategy — a boil down of customer care-abouts and brand good-ats. A brand strategy boil down is a specialized piece of work; work smaller companies would be smart to invest in.  When tactical work is given to outside content creators, it has the benefit of governance and focus.

Small companies can save thousands of dollars and scores of hours with a simple investment in brand strategy.

Peace|

 

 

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I’m not much of a cook but I’m certainly a student. What’s The Idea? uses a number of cooking metaphors in its daily operation. Many of the tenets of good cooking are also valuable in brand strategy. One such tenet is “Don’t use too many ingredients.”  The more ingredients used, the more likely the main component of the dish becomes obscured.

My uncle Carl taught me the best baked clams are the ones with the least amount of flavor enhancers. See the clam. The same for chicken parmesan. No sauce, just a brilliant tomato slice or two atop the golden brown cutlet.

Brand strategy development is about evaluating customer care-abouts and brand good-ats and selecting only the top three — the three with the most flavor (or most complementary flavors).  Most importantly, these three brand planks must support the brand claim, or, following the metaphor, the main protein.

Brand strategy is best served with one claim and three proof planks. It’s not over-complicated. It’s easy on the senses. And the consumer palate is very understanding.

Leave Michelin stars for the true chefs. Complexity in brand strategy rarely works.

Peace.

 

 

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The problem with most brands is that they are skin deep. Products and services with derma measured only in millimeters. No  depth. No real rational and emotional meaning. Why is that?  Because brand building today is too randomized. No real brand plan.  No organizing principle driving long term, meaningful KPIs.

Sales and revenue are all that matters. Sales teams are motivated by commissions. Retail buyers are motivated by bonuses. Ad agents make money off of fee hours and volume.  And media is paid by the media transaction, not the result.

It makes me think of healthcare – where docs and hospitals are compensated for helping the sick, not preserving the healthy.

Brand planners dig beneath the skin. We get down to the organs. When we organize the selling principles, it’s not a Colorforms project, based on cut-and-paste tactics and theatrics. It’s a plan to build value leveraging what a brand is good-at and what consumers care-about. A plan driven by a deeply seeded claim, one that warms the hearts of brand employees and customers.

Salespeople can “sell anything,” they will tell you. Brand planners only want to sell one thing. Tink about it, as my Norwegian Aunt would say.

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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There are a couple of start-up companies founded by advertising ex-pats focusing on organizational design and strategy.  These companies are convinced the digital economy and digital tools are being overlooked when it comes to evolving organizational efficiency. They are not wrong.

NOBL and The Ready are two such companies whose missions are to assist legacy orgs transition to newer models, the goals being improved agility, aggressiveness, accountability and profit. (The Dachis Group operated in this space 10 years ago, but became a software company.)

I need to study some of these methodologies more before fully commenting, but here’s a quick observation. The going in premise is “the organization is the enemy.” The framework, as I understand it, begins with executive and stakeholder interviews, team workshops, feedback studies and lots of charts. No doubt, if you rub some stem cells on it, I mean add some digital productivity tools, you can move any organization forward. It’s no hocus pocus, it’s a real business and the advice is good.

But, I am a brand planner and for me brand strategy is like penicillin. A cure all. I am of the mind a well-constructed brand strategy can solve organizational problems; perhaps even better than rote org design.

An organizational design framework, can be generic. A templated approach to solving inefficiency. A brand strategy approach, though, does not view organizational structure as the problem. Rather, it studies the disconnects between customer care-abouts and brand good-ats. Organizations can and must change to remove these impediments but those changes are less about pathways and communications occlusions and more about strategy tied to brand value.

No one is arguing organizational delivery can be improved. I am just suggesting it’s better to make a cookie more moist and healthy, than making the formulary more efficient. One can do both…starting from the brand POV is all I am advocating.

Peace.

 

 

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Fred Wilson is a blogger (www.avc.com) and businessman I admire greatly. He blogs daily and share his knowledge without second thought.  He’s probably the most prominent VC on the east coast if not the county.  In a recent speech given at MIT, he mentioned that on his first ever test there he had gotten a zero.  About MIT he said, and I paraphrase, “When you go to MIT to go from being the smartest kid at your school to being the dumbest.” Anyway when asked about his nil test score his professor the response was “You didn’t understand the question.”

Here’s the thing about brand planning. The ones who get it right aren’t the ones with the best methodology or framework. They are the ones who understand the question. The problem is that question always changes. Yesterday I posted brand strategy is not Chaos Theory.  But if the question changes for every brand strategy, isn’t that a bit chaotic?

A generic question for all brands might be “What value or behavior does the brand provide that best meets the needs of the customer?”  Doesn’t seem like a bad question. But, per Fred Wilson’s professor, it’s the wrong one. Only when you are waist deep in a brand, customer care-abouts and brand good-ats can one ask the real question. It will be a business question, tempered by consumer insight, and help you pass that first and last test.

Happy hunting!

Peace.

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Following is a mission statement from food start-up Smart Mills.

“We exist to positively impact the way food is made, enriching lives and bodies through delicious, convenient foods made from clean nutritious ingredients.” 

Mission statements often contain multiple commas and conjunctions; they tend to cast a wide net. As mission statements go, this one is actually modest. It doesn’t try to do too, too much.

Here is a brand strategy claim developed for a cookie start-up:

“Craft cookies, au naturel.”

Almost everything said about Smart Mills could be said about the cookie start-up, but with way fewer words. A powerful brand strategy is indelible. Why is that? Because it’s focused. It is not six things or four things.  It’s one big idea. An idea that is a customer care-about and a brand good-at. A brand strategy is comprised of one claim and three proof planks.

The human memory can remember one big idea. And it will believe that idea if proven in an efficient, impactful fashion. So by all means marketers write your mission statements. But when it comes time to selling, blow them up and create the most important selling tool you have at your disposal. A brand strategy.

Peace.

 

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How do you make something out of nothing?  That’s the question for the brand planner when working on a startup. 

When I was hire #1 at Zude as marketing director, brand strategy was one of my jobs.  I didn’t start brand planning in earnest for months while the CTO and CEO were building, raising and creating the physical business.  In previous blog posts I’ve suggested the first thing one must do when developing brand strategy for a start-up is “follow the patent.”  I stand by that. 

Startups, as you know, are quite fluid. It’s product and code first, business requirements second. And what the build is one day it may not be the next. So when it comes to customer care-abouts, that’s the easy part – unless you are breaking new functional ground. It’s the brand good-ats that are hard.  There are none.

So what does the brand planner do at this stage? Keep following the patent.  Have daily observation and update sessions with development team, even for a few minutes.  Insinuate yourself into the product development process in a positive way. Offer help as needed. Do not get in the way of the creativity. Provide marketing stim to the team — subconsciously, it can help.  And continue to play back (to the dev team) any recurring patterns that smell like good-ats.

It’s a gnarly time. Work to enjoy it.

Peace.

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Brand eXperience.

X. Where Experience Meets Design is Brian Solis’s new book, one I suspect will be a big seller. Why? Because product and brand experience are critical customer care-abouts. Another reason? Advertising and marketing agencies can bill for it; it’s a business. Brand experience was a smart business the first time I ran into it at Megan Kent and David Kessler’s Starfish Brand Design. They were, and are, big fans of what Mr. Solis is now branding X.

Dare I say brand experience will become the pop marketing term of the 20 teens? Maybe not a whirlwind term such as “transparency” or “authenticity,” but it’ll be a thing. Bet on it.

That said, anyone can talk experience. Anyone can even build an experience. But for it to be meaningful and make deposits in the brand bank, it cannot be random. A brand experience needs to be on brand strategy – defined as an “organizing principle containing a claim and three support planks.”

Experience in brick and mortar and online are manageable, but certainly not easy. Without a brand strategy it will not only be messy — it may be counterproductive. Let’s see where Mr. Solis takes us. Off to order the book.

Peace.

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