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Brand strategies are first and foremost internal documents. Ninety percent of marketers think they are external; ideas to be foisted upon the consuming public. That’s called advertising.

Brand strategy comes way before advertising. It’s an organizing principle for product, experience and messaging. It needs to be sold in at the top levels of a company and enculturated through to the lowest levels of the company. When so handled there are few things more powerful in the land of marketing.

I’ve written before that one of my regrets has been the inability to sell brand strategy throughout the client company. If the strategy is sold only on the executive floor, but doesn’t make it down the elevator, it is less likely to provide the shareholder/stakeholder/business value it needs to.

The heavy lifting of adopting a brand strategy is found in training. And internal communications. PR needs to buy in as well. Once approved, brand strategy is not a democratic pursuit. It needs to be shared, understood, operationalized, practiced and incentivized.

Great brand strategy becomes culture.

Peace.

 

 

 

 

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Cause Strategy

It may be my age, it may be my level of wisdom, it may be age….didn’t I just say that…but a great many of my strategies lately contain an undercurrent of cause marketing. It’s as if my brief also has a line that says “What about this strategy will make the world a better place?” Back in the day my briefs were more likely to have the line “What about this strategy will sell more product, faster, regardless of consequence?”

My new approach certainly is intended sell more product, but it comes in an envelope of comfortable altruism. This new found reliance on educating over selling, undergirds my strategies. “An educated consumer” as they say.

Strategies that are more cause reliant take advantage of cultural context. Cause strategies feel more human. So what do we do with Axe? How do we package Coors Light? Geico?  We do what we always do — but now we think more positively about people, planet and how our persuasion is a positive force. Bang (not a gun ban either).

Peace.

PS. For examples of cause strategies for products write steve at whatstheidea.

 

 

 

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teacher in class

A couple of years ago I worked with an education company. Travelling elementary, middle and high schools in the northeast, interviewing teachers, administrators and observing kids, I was amazed by how K12 education is changing. And, in many cases, not. The tools and pedagogy are there, we just have to use them.

What became most clear to me after my time in education was a simple observation about teaching and learning. The latter is the result of the former. But only if done well. You see, there is bad teaching but there is no bad learning. Understanding the linkage is important.

This observation powered an insight that changed my approach to branding and marketing. Most marketing is about teaching. While the best marketing is about learning. The old days of reach and frequency –smother consumers with repetition– akin to learning ABCs or months of the year, is not how we need to market in the 21st century. Not with the constant bombardment of media and messages. And messy messages at that.

With a rich “organizing principle for your product, experience and messaging” (a brand strategy), brought to life through learning moments and learning demonstrations, you can connect with and motivate consumers. Stand at the front of the class and recite benefits (teach) and you will fail. Peace.

 

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I was director of marketing at an educational technology company named Teq a couple of years ago and though the fit wasn’t a good one (I got canned) it was one of the most important weigh points of my career. It was there that I was introduced to the sciences of teaching and learning. It was there that I studied pedagogical theory and practice. I walked the halls of K12 institutions in rural and urban settings. I read kids compositions hanging on the wall. I was steeped in learning.

What was career-changing was coming to the conclusion that branding and marketing are best when focused on learning. When consumers are allowed to learn about product value, come to their own conclusions, and personally experience the “buy moment “ as my friends at BrandTuitive would say; then, they are likely to purchase with greater loyalty.

Today a study confirmed that students, especially African Americans, learn better by participating. When lectured (the way of most schooling), students don’t learn as well, but when engaged, in participatory mode, in teams, and with real-time exercises, they outperform.

This is how marketing should be. More experiential. Less tutorial. Less half duplex. (Full duplex is what you hear on your land line. Half duplex is what you experience on your cellie.)

A good brand plan provides demonstrations of the brand claim. Not messaging fodder. Real experiential examples. This is how the mind shift in marketing begins. Peace.

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A life lesson I’ve learned that is quite profound and one I have tried to share, especially with my kids, is that “asking for help” is a very human and important behavior.  I’m not talking about the “could you pick up my dry cleaning?” help, I’m talking about real help. More of the desperation variety; the kind where you must let your guard down and share fallibility. A student about to fail. A mortgage in need of payment. An anxiety in need of treatment.

When a person asks another for real help most people will give it. It’s who we are having crawled out of the primordial soup. The Inuit people have 8 or 20 words for snow, we only have one for help. Sadly, the word has become watered down.

In marketing and brand positioning, the better practitioners are “you” focused not “me” focused; consumer focused rather than product focused. And that’s good. But bazillions of dollars are spent trying to convince consumers our products can “help” them. You’ve heard of a pity-fest? Well, much advertising today is a help-fest. I love the Brits for their advertising. It’s often a bit out there, but tends to work better than ours in the U.S. Why? Because they aren’t always trying to help. They share value. Imply value. Identify with people in their quest for better life experiences. But they don’t go all mother-in-law on you with help.

If you have a product that really helps, with a capital H, then sell as such. Little “h” help, however, is not really, well, helping. Peace.

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Having worked in technology, marketing and branding for a while (a fairly unique combination) I have come to a conclusion about homepages. The best home pages are a lot like product labels. They sell at the point of contact. The worst ones are like tables of contents. They help visitors navigate through cluttered over-complicated environments. Environments where every dept. in the company gets a piece.

My new thing is the landing story. It’s strategic and it is a serial presentation of product, benefits, reasons to believe and value. It is told by brand managers and people with creative chops whose main goal is to sell. Not provide information. The more mature a product and, therefore, the more familiar consumers are with it, the easier it should be to tell the landing story. Coke doesn’t have to educate new visitors as to what a cola is. They just have to get them to buy or buy more. There are real correlations between engagement levels on a website and purchase, no doubt; but getting someone into the library and getting them to read a book isn’t one and the same. So engagement for engagement’s sake is not the way to do it. 

The home page, in my opinion, is one of the most misunderstood and misused marketing tools in the digital arsenal. Let’s try to fix this. Let’s bring home pages to life. Let’s storify them. Peace. 

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hain celestial

I was listening to Irwin D. Simon the CEO of Hain Celestial on a webcast yesterday and he mentioned a consumer insight that was both true and funny. Mr. Simon’s company is the largest natural organic food producer in the U.S. Not too long ago, said Simon, people would prefer to eat the bag over the food. Add that to the fact that natural organic products typically cost 15-20% more and you have some serious roadblocks.

Hain Celestial is doing so well these days because it is focusing on taste. For many people, when you say “nature bars” or “grain and oat cookies” the mental response is cotton-mouth. The reason obesity is pandemic in the U.S. is because sugar, salt and fat taste good.  Changing the taste profile of natural food is why Hain Celestial is growing a 3 times the pace of traditional foods. 

Hain Celestial’s product portfolio is growing. Their products are 99% GMO free (Genetically Modified Organisms.)  And though I wouldn’t exactly put them in the craft economy category, they are getting there. BluePrint, their cold pressed juice brand, is definitely a craft product.

Keep an eye on Hain Celstial. The CEO gets consumers, product, and marketing. And that’s a tasty recipe.

Peace.

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A term of art in branding these days is “elevator speech.” It is a reference to a concise explanation of purpose. David Belasco, a great theater impresario, once said “If you can’t put your idea on the back of a business card, it’s not a clear idea.”

The thing about elevator speeches is that they can be poorly constructed. They can meander. They also can be incomplete. Last week I met someone who referred to herself as an educational consultant, when in fact, she counseled high school students selecting colleges. I thought she provided consulting services to K12 and universities. Poor elevator speech.

I get around this by coaching clients to think about their Is-Does: What a brand is and what a brand does.  In this day and age of tech start-ups, it is sometimes hard to know if you are dealing with a company, service, software, hardware or some combination thereof…often referred to as a platform. You are likely to find a company’s Is-Does in the first sentence and “About” paragraph of their press releases. Also on their website About section. But even there, they are not always clear. Not always succinct.

Undercurrent’s Is-Does: “Strategic partner for the 21st century” is a good one. Pregnant with meaning. My Is-Does for What’s the Idea?: “A brand consultancy” is good one, but lacks a benefit a la for the 21st century reference of Undercurrent — read innovation.  

A good way to judge your Is-Does is to think of it as you would a 5 second radio sponsorship. Fill in these blanks. This program brought to you by Brand X, the ________, that ________. Hmm. Maybe I should change Is-Does to The-That.  

Get your Is-Does right…so others can. It’s the first step in good branding. Peace. 

 

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Bob’s Discount Furniture just received a cash infusion from Bain Capital. In other words, Bain now owns a big chunk of the company. If you were Bob, or any other  underperforming company looking to fix their business what would you do?  Before you sold out to a big fixer company like Bain, that is? Many go the root of hiring big business consulting companies such as McKinsey, Boston Consulting or Booz. Pricey choices. Especially for a company under duress. You certainly wouldn’t hire a brand consultant.

But should you?

If you were to go to Landor, Interbrand, Wolff Olins or Siegel+Gale, you’d get some really smart people supervising your business, a lot of smart designers and brand planner worker bees, resulting in a new logo, style book, positioning statement, some lessons in voice and, maybe, if they were feeling a bit feisty culture. Probably not going to fix the business.

Were you to come to What’s the Idea?, a different kind of brand consultancy, you would get some of these things, but only after signing onto a brand plan — the foundation of which is built upon business metrics.  Business fundies. Economic success measures.

A brand plan built upon anything else is simply storytelling. (And storytelling is the pop marketing object of the day.)  Am I suggesting an engagement with What’s The Idea? is superior to a big city business consultancy or brand consultancy?  Perhaps I am. As someone schooled in both disciplines, who works within the company to determine issues and answers, this approach is a “heal thyself” approach. It’s a learning model rather than a teaching model. Peace.

 

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Fight the Machine.

verisimo

Starbucks executives, always on the lookout for ways to make more money (as they should be), have, until now, sat idly watching the growth of Nespresso and Keurig. Home and office brewing of coffee in single servings it is a hot category.  A category that follows the razor blade theory…discount the device, make money on the replenishments.

Starbucks see this single brew trend as not going away and recognizes coffee bought in pods is not coffee bought at their retail stores. Sooo, they’ve decided to sell a coffee maker. In other words, they are betting against themselves and accelerating the single serve brew category.

Stop it!  This is not a line extension, it’s a cannibalization. It diminishes the mission of the brand. These machines are the enemy.  The afternoon Starbucks run, the mocha, choca, locca $6.50 morning drink, the aroma of the coffee beans and din of the cool music gone. Fight it. Go all Davy Crockett on its ass. Davy may be dead but he’s alive in our hearts and minds and he defended and reshaped a country.

Starbucks is part of the craft economy. Convenience be damned.  Starbucks needs to stand up and fight! Fight the machine. Peace this holiday season.

 

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