good ats

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Proof Pulling.

You ever sit in the yard and pull weeds?  It’s a horrible job and even worse metaphor for what I’m about to share. My job is not pulling weeds but “pulling proof.”  Brand discovery is all about the search for proof points.  What is a proof point? It’s evidence. It may be an action. A practice. Perhaps a milestone. A result.  Proof is existential.  Why is proof in branding so important? Because 90% of all consumer facing advertising, packaging and promotion is sizzle. It’s claim, claim, claim. A promise without any foundation.

If an ad makes a claim about a product or service and the consumer asks “Why?” or says “Prove it,” is there a suitable response? Is there proof? Almost always there is not. That’s why brands today are media driven not idea driven.

Proof is what you use in a debate to make your point. Proof well told (McCann-Erickson’s mantra is Truth Well Told) makes a superior debater.

The process of brand discovery begins with proof pulling. Then organizing the proof into care-abouts and good-ats. Then, if you learn the language of the consumer, overlay some category culture, and organize your findings, you may have yourself a brand strategy.

Peace.

 

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Bipolar Brands

I say bipolar brands and you say “not good.” When doing discovery on a branding assignment, I’d love to ladder down to a bipolar brand dealing with only two care-abouts or good-ats. Most of the time, I’m dealing with 15 plus.

Who would start a business with a product or service that was only good at one thing?  I walked into the corporate headquarters of advertising client Adecco a number of years ago and on the reception wall was a canvas touting 40 or so mission words. The written strategy diaspora for Adecco. It’s amazing we were able to get an ad approved.

Brand strategy is an organizing principle anchored to an idea. Bipolar brands, tripolar brand, quadripolar brands don’t have an idea.

Staking your claim to an idea is freeing. Cathartic. A big exhale moment.

What’s your brand idea. What’s the idea?

Peace.

 

 

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Choices.

As a kid in the business I read a great book on business to business advertising. It gave an example of what a purchasing agent is up against when buying an expensive piece of industrial equipment. The agent puts together a side-by-side chart of all the specs and benefit statements for the two final vendors under consideration.  More often than not, commerce being what it is, it’s a draw. The book suggested, absent a clear winner, the logical mind takes over. The personal logical mind, that is. In order to make a decision with so many variables, the purchaser decides which of the variables is most important. Which of the 20-30 variables is the one upon a which the decision will be made.

I was reading about Harvard’s selection process yesterday and it’s pretty complicated.  SAT scores, other testing scores, GPA, ethnicity, alumni parents, future ability to donate, interview performance essay, geo-social background are all evaluated. Not unlike the chart from the book. Choices.

Brand strategy development is not dissimilar. We look at a multitude of “care-abouts” and “good-ats” and decide how to best organize the selling principle. Brand strategy helps marketers make the tough choices. It helps brands make the right choices.

Peace.

 

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Here’s an exercise for brand planners.

I read this morning that when president Richard Nixon prepared for a summit in China to meet Mao Zedong, he created a checklist. What do we want?  What does China want? And what do we both want? Each question had three answers.

Brand planners should ask themselves the same questions only with a slight modification at the end.  What does the company want? What do the consumers want? And what does the brand want?  The brand’s desires may not align with that of the company and could be a healthy source of exploratory tension.

The What’s The Idea? the brand strategy process plumbs consumer “care-abouts” and brand “good-ats.”  The nexus of these qualities decides the brand claim and proof planks. But with the tripartite “What want?” approach, it may make the planner look at a new dimension.  May.

Might be worth a try.

Peace.

 

 

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Brand strategy is an organizing principle that gives brand managers a “go-no go” guide for product, experience and messaging. It makes branding easy.

Nicholas Kristof in the NYT today was talking about the social entrepreneurs attending Davos and how refreshing they were to have around.  He was poo-pooing consumerists who are all about the money.

Doing “good” in a commercial sense is smart strategy.  In my practice, when I’m looking at care-abouts and god-ats, I try to plot and push brand planks that are socially positive. It’s not hard to do, and it can’t be forced, but it butts up against the nature of what makes humans humans.  

When a cigarette ad choses to shoot a photo at the top of a mountain on a bluebird day amongst cottony snow drifts, it’s hitting our natural beauty button. When a box of diapers shows an amazing toddler smile, it hits a warm, nurture button. But advertising which use positive imagery to cloud our judgement about what is “good” is disingenuous. And it give marketing a bad name.

A brand strategy, built with brand planks supporting positive social ideals is deeply human. And enduring.

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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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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Foster Bias & Sales is an imaginary ad agency name I came up with that offers a trifecta of marketing success. These steps to a sale apply to marketing, advertising, even memo writing.

It starts by fostering a positive and receptive environment in which to communicate with customers. Product context, entertainment and/or education are all tools used to foster interest. Gather attention and predispose consumers to listen….that’s Mr. Foster.

Create bias toward your product or against a key competitor is step two. This is where marketers become competitors. Care-abouts and good-ats are what the brand planner mines and the communicator deals in here. Creating bias is not nuanced. It’s hardball.   

Sales obviously refers to action. Real purchase, decision to purchase, or predisposition to purchase. In the sales trade this is called “asking for the order.” Even if implicit. Being too pushy is not attractive, however.  You have to know how and when to ask. If you cross the line you may damage to your ability to foster a proper selling environment. Know when to walk away. Customers appreciate commitment sans the pushy hand. They may come back.        

Peace. 

 

 

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At What’s The Idea? clients pay the bills. They do the hiring, provide the homegrown insights and share business data. Without clients there would be no brand consultancy.  But clients are not my customer. My customer is the brand. It is the brand to which I pay allegiance. It is the brand that is the object of my strategic desire. By being so focused it helps remediate politics from the equation.  

By putting the brand first and the people and clients second, it cleanses the process. Brands have no egos.  They just sit at the nexus of good-ats and care-abouts.  A brand doesn’t look to be promoted or aspire to Ad Age Marketer Of The Year. You can’t artificial intelligence your way around a brand. It’s a thing or service.

Don’t get me wrong, I need people to help navigate insight work. The stories, the human impact of purchase and use, the role of the product, can never be ably understood without people — be they brand and product manager or consumer and influencer.

But when all is said and done the brand must be the customer. At What’s The Idea? that pays the bills and provides the dividends.

Peace.

 

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What comes first the brand strategy or the egg?  The question is particularly germane when brand planning for a service company whose deliverables are people, paper, process and transaction.  Does the strategy inform the service or the service inform the strategy? Almost always the answer is the latter.

When you work on this kind branding initiative the care-abouts and good-ats are numerous and varied – way more so than with a packaged good.  One of the areas I like to delve into with service companies is “tradition.” Not something you can do a deep dive on with  start-ups by the way. Borrowed from my early days in cultural anthropology, “custom and tradition” are fertile areas of study and important brand contributors. When there are none, things get tricky but you must push forward. Even into aspiration land. Projection techniques can provide unrealistic results but the learning is important.

I don’t currently have a “tradition” question in my discovery rigor, though there is one in the neighborhood. Definitely time to add tradition to the mix.

Peace…in Syria.

 

 

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