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Product First.

I was doing a little web research on a company yesterday and started looking for signs of a brand strategy on the “About” page. Atop the About page sat this quote.

“Customers are the most important people in any business.”

Many would find it hard to disagree with the statement. When writing market plans I spend a lot of time “following the money.” (If you are interested in such things write me for a copy of my 24 Questions. Steve at WhatsTheIdea dot com.) And money comes from customers.

BUT, a big but…I don’t agree customers are the most important people; product developers earn that mantel. It is the product, you see, that excites customers into action. Sure, product developers need to study customer tastes and proclivities. Sure, they must have a sense of consumer attachments to competitive offering. But when push came to shove, it was the people at Levi’s who designed the copper rivets, the soda formulator who put the Coca in the Cola, and the algorithm jockey who indexed web information that created Google.  Those were the most important people.

Customer are the bees, but sans flowers there ain’t a lot of buzz.



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Build or Borrow.

Brand planning is a lot like cooking. It’s all about technique, palette and ingredients.

Technique is about the where to find the inputs and how to effectively assemble them. Palette is about knowing what tastes are and meeting those tastes in a meaningful, desirable way. And Ingredients are the things of which the idea-dish is made.  Minimalism is awesome, but so is a complex sauce. Knowing what not to use is often a difference-maker.

From the palette side of the brand planning equation, let’s look at the ideas we serve up. When landing on a brand strategy, there are two approaches: build or borrow.  Build requires using words, ideas and imagery that is uniquely yours.  It’s never been done — it is a pioneering approach.  Borrowing, on the other hand, uses context of other products or culture to frame up the selling. Context borrows known messaging and repackages it.

Build is expensive. Borrow much less so. Borrow is what Samsung did with its tablet and phones. A Few Good Women, borrows from movie that has become a part of our cultural patois.  “You can’t handle the truth,” another cultural borrow from the same movie.

I love fresh. And I love build. If you have the fortitude, it’s preferred.  Marketers use famous spokespeople to embellish their brand promise, a form of borrow, because it is fast and can save a few shekels in the long run…but it is not innovative. Go forth (Levi’s), and build.



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Be original.

Originals are what non-originals are compared too.  If an original is good enough to be parroted, it must have had impact.  Originality stimulates.  It’s lightning in a bottle.  But while marketing companies are all about replicating consistency in product delivery, marketing departments must strive for originality in communications and packaging. Sadly, they often don’t. When “epic” becomes the word for a certain demographic, it’s too late to use it in ads. Stride gum, for instance, “epic” in its tagline and as the maypole idea for new commercials.

Parrots are a novelty, but you can’t keep them in your living room.  Batman 2 will always be compared to Batman 1. The remake of True Grit will always lie in the shadow of The John Wayne version. And in advertising and marketing, being first and original is what creative people live for. Approvers aren’t comfortable with originality and that’s a shame.

Original beauty. Original music. Original design are what capture attention. So go forth (Levi’s) and capture. Peace.   

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