Griffin Farley beautiful minds

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I came to a conclusion the other day while at the Griffin Farley Beautiful Minds competition in NYC. I decided my definition of brand planner is different from most other’s. Most feel a brand planner is a person who does strategy for individual projects, understanding the brand strategy and writing briefs for particular tactical projects.  In a brand’s life there is one brand strategy yet scads of individual executions or communications supporting it. These executions give brand planners constant day jobs.  My definition of a brand planner, however, is a macro definition. In my world, you write the brand strategy once and you are done. One tight brand strategy (1 claim, 3 proof planks) sets the “organizing principle” for life. The creative and the tactics then become ongoing expressions of the brand strategy.

I’m not talking about building Levittown here. There can and must be a crazy amount of creative inflections throughout, but the goal is to sell more stuff, to more, people more times at higher prices (thanks Sergio Zyman) using “a single claim and proof array.”

There is no doubt that the industry’s definition of brand planning – the ongoing supervision of a brand idea – is a solid one. The marketing and ad worlds are better places with planners around. But at What’s the Idea?, my vision is to teach marketers and creatives to fish. Using one amazing hook.



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When I when I started my blog What’s The Idea? in 2007 I had a tough decision to make. Originally, I wanted to call it What’s The Big Idea?, thinking big ideas were better than regular old ideas. Eight years out, I’m happy with my decision to leave off the “big.”griffin farley beautiful mind logo

The reality is, as much I seek big ideas for my brand strategy clients, sometimes just getting them to agree to an idea is enough. Big, bold, brave ideas are currency of the planning realm these days. According to Suzanne Powers, chief strategy office at McCann-Erickson, it is one reasons Team Catfish won the Griffin Farley Beautiful Minds competition last night at Google. And she wasn’t wrong. But “big” can sometime be a synonym for brazen. (And I get it, most of my brand strategies contain one word that make CEOs and marketing officers uncomfortable.) But brand ideas don’t need to be huge, or poetic, or brilliantly layered — they just need to be clean. More importantly they need to be followed. Enforced. And enculturated.

Coke’s “refreshment” wasn’t a big idea. It was a smooth sailing idea. “We know where you live” for Newsday wasn’t a big idea, it was a comfortable idea.

A brand strategy idea (the claim) doesn’t need to be big to be effective. It must, however, be believable, relevant and easy to understand. Peace!

P.S. Great job last night Sarah Watson, Angela Sun and BBH.



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A brand plan is an organizing principle for selling. The plan has a claim and three proof-of-claim planks. The claim, the heart of the plan, is something a product or company does well – a synopsis. It is also something the consumer wants or needs. Hopefully, the claim is pregnant with meaning and contextual. (At the Griffin Farley Beautiful Minds event last year, a claim developed by a team of tyro brand planners for CitiBikes was “bicycles with benefits,” a lovely pregnant claim.) Planks, on the other hand, are the proof areas that give consumers reasons to believe the claim. Also, they give employees and marketers content for their little elevator speeches. (Have you ever wondered why we need elevator speeches?)

B2B companies use salesforces to move their products and over the past decade there has been a proliferation of something called “solution selling.” Salesforces are trained to sell only after they’ve engaged prospects about their pain. Once the pain points are found, the seller can put his/her sales spiel together. (I like nothing more than to share my pain with complete strangers.) 80% plus of U.S. sales teams are solution selling these days. They believe it differentiates them. Hee hee.

With a brand plan “what the customer needs” has already been articulated. With a brand plan “what the product is good at” is already understood and provable. With a brand plan and the proper marketing and promotion, “consumers already are predisposed toward the claim and proof” because it has been advertised and promoted. Sales training that is based upon a strategy endemic to the product or service and based upon a consumer need is much stronger than solution selling out of a book. A sales trainer from one company that moves to another company can change the logo at the top of the presentation and make a nice living. That should tell you something.

Powerful, organized selling is based upon a brand plan — not someone’s pain. Peace.

PS. To see examples of brand plans mail

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I was at the Beautiful Minds event recently, celebrating the work of Griffin Farley through a competition of tyro brand planners, and was asked a question by someone I admire about the quality of the work. On the spot to say something important, I mentioned the work was very nice and of the problem-solution variety. “Very nice” when speaking to a Brit means okay.  Brilliant means good. Hee hee.

The work was good indeed. The irk for me, however, was the problem-solution thing. Understanding problems and solutions is important for context. But if you stay in problem land it can be lazy trade craft.

Using brand planning to promote hope and justice and other feel-good ideals, related to the endemic “sell” of a product, is taking planning to the next level. And please don’t read that to mean donate 1% of sales to a cause (not that there’s anything wrong with it). We need to be bigger and more aspirational with our brand strategy ideas. And, if not with the ideas, then with the brand planks supporting those ideas.

Movements, storytelling and culture are the haps in planning these days, but hope and justice is what sparks these things. Can there be skin justice in a Nivea brief? How about hope in a Chevy brief? Let’s find out. It’s better than problem-solution.


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