Marketing Strategy

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Know More How.

I’m always on the lookout for arguments supporting brand strategy. A brand strategy, as I define it, being an “organizing principle for product, experience and messaging.”

Many marketing plans have firm business and sales objectives: increase stock price 4 points, slow market share by 1% per annum, reduce materials cost by 2%, increase sales 150%. These are important, hard metrics. Metrics with which no one can argue.

Accomplishing objectives is the purview of strategy. In marketing this is where things get problematic. Many marketers go to the marketing playbook. If there was a tactics store (An agency? A consultant?), they would shop there — given the money. Typical strategies one might find in a tactical plan are: customer acquisition, increased sales-per-customer, improved retention, increased efficiency in production or marketing. All are business imperatives. Sadly, they’re generic. Everybody has them in their marketing plans.

Where the road curves toward the light is with brand strategy. Brand strategy (one claim, three proof planks) provides the “how.”  Patton’s strategy was “kill more bastards than your foe.” Generic. But his brand strategy equivalent included things like “outflank, tank destroyers, thrust line, etc.”  Specific to the situation. And all actionable. 

I’m not going to go all Sun Tzu on you but will ask “What elements of your strategy are unique to you, differentiated, and non-generic?  What elements can every employee understand and personally act-upon? These are the elements of the brand strategy — the how. Know more how.    

Peace.

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A great deal of brand planning revolves around observation. That’s why my anthropology major came in so handy after all these years. Who knew? Based upon observation, planners postulate and prove, then write briefs and decks which are given to others for action. Action that might be design-related, comms-related…even behavioral. The brief grows out of observations focused on creating behavior change. Want this. Buy this. Purchase more of this. That’s marketing and advertising today.

Since working in the education category – one I find utterly fascinating – I’ve changed my MO (modus operandi, for those who don’t watch a lot of cop shows) about brand planning. Now, I am of the mind that changing behavior as an objective is not the best way forward. Rather, I like to educate consumers and let them decide if and how to change their behavior. When a consumer comes to a conclusion on their own, without the smarmy hands of the marketing gods to convince them, then a sale better made and more loyal. In other words, consumers won’t buy because they were told, they buy because it makes more sense. It rationally lights up the right parts of the cerebral cortex.

The decision is learned and learned, not told and sold. Peace.

 

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A question I always have in mind when doing brand and comms planning for clients is “Who is going to lose the sale you are making?” Often we think of competitors but sometimes, especially with start-ups and tech companies, it is money made in another category.  A carbonated soft drink loss might be won by a cold pressed juice company, for instance.

While reading an item last week and seeing that in 7 large NFL-size cities over $2.4B is being spend a year on guns, sex and drugs I began to think about business opportunities that might siphon off some of that cash.  This data point BTW was from 2007 so I’m sure it has grown considerably. And this number didn’t even include NY, LA or Chicago.

I suspect there won’t be an app for this replacement product, but there could be. What do all 3 of these pursuits have in common? If we say that guns are about protection, aggression or hunting then the motivation is about the self. As are drugs and sex. So this replacement behavior, this replacement product, needs to be similarly positioned. Plastic surgery? Clothing? Exercise? Diet? How about we invent a completely new sport?  How about a sport for the ageing population? Something that might be more fun and active than say walking or the elliptical machine? Something that generates some endorphins? Help me out here.

Hmmm. This one is going to take a while. Any thoughts?

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Generic brands are killing the marketing business.  Advertisers and marketers are letting it, thanks to poor communications and poorer strategy.  I read today that 86% of all prescription drugs are generic. Como se wake up call???  If the drugs we use to help keep us healthy and alive are allowed to be generic, why aren’t we buying generic coffee, generic spaghetti sauce, generic tires?  Oh, that’s right, we are.

Price premiums are what keeps the non-generics and the cheap white label brands at bay. What differentiates the real brands?  Special formulations, special taste, great product experience and special marketing.

Back in the day, a dude by the name of Jacoby took a billion dollar payout from Ted Bates (ad agency) and advertisers took notice. (Wait for the episode on Mad Men.)  It eviscerated agency compensation and the only way to keep the business fairly strong was to hire less expensive people.  There are still rock stars in the business, but way fewer.  And the advertising business is being led around by high paid clients who get brand building but don’t get the powerful muscle memory that is comms. That’s left to agency people who are all mirror, no smoke. And it is genericizing the agency business.  

Just like premium brands, there are premium agencies.  Those are the ones being paid higher prices. Commanding higher prices. That last mile of margin is what marketers should be looking for; one’s with a  higher margin, not a lower margin. Peace!

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The thing about corporate leadership is you need to know what you are leading.  Sounds simple right?  If you think you are leading “people” or, worse, “employees” you are toast.  If you are leading “change” more toast.  Throw “turnarounds,”  “team” and “movements” in for good measure. The what you’re leading is the product and product result for which people are paying.  Airlines are in the long distance transportation business.  If they lose sight of that and someone creates a helicopter that gets passengers where they want faster and cheaper the airlines lose.

Only when a leader understand the what can s/he focus on the why — what the company trying to accomplish? Should the why be to make the most money possible, that’s not leadership because it lacks product endemic vision. To take the fast helicopter example further, the why might be tied to the fact that when flying on a plane today one spends more time preparing to fly than actually flying. The why might be to be the most efficient means of long distance transport.

With the what and the why answered a great leader can then govern the chess pieces toward the how – the strategy. Everyone wants to be strategic.  But strategy without plan, without reason is really just a tactic is disguise. A company with a leader who has a dashboard with forty gauges and knows them all, but can’t tell you the what and why gets a B- at best. Peace!

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There are two kinds of marketing strategy people: brand planners and strategists.  Brand planners create a brand architecture comprising brand strategy and support planks that organize the 4 Ps of marketing. Once that architecture or band plan is done, so are the brand planners.  Then it is up to the brand managers to toe the line – to make sure all things marketing align with the plan.  If you want to keep the brand planner around to handle that function, you can, but the key is sharing the plan with all interested managing parties. You rarely find brand planners in marketing jobs, they tend to work at agencies or consultancies.  Frequently they’re involved in new business.

Strategists have the brand planner bone, but tend to spend their days improving the focus or the quality of specific tactical work.  Good strategists mine market insights, behavioral insights, even product insights and present them, usually in deck form, to the makers of things – the creative teams. Say you are strategist at Wieden and Kennedy in NY working on ESPN — right now you might be getting ready for the men’s NCAA basketball tournament.  What are you doing?  Writing creative briefs. By the end of the week you may need two briefs for radio, one for TV and two for an in-arena mobile programs. The paper you make (the strategy) will be judged by the quality of the creative ideas generated.  And with good creative people to work with it’s a fun, nice living.

Brand planners take their orders from the brand.  The brand is their master. Strategists often view the creative product as master. It’s why strategists will allow good work through when it is off plan. Because it is good work. And it will get noticed, and talked about, and may even spike sales.

It is this dual marketing planning reality that drives Naked Communications.  Naked is a brand planning organization. As the marketing business gets more exciting, granular and complicated, the need for more Nakeds will emerge. Bright Sun in the 90s understood this…they were first. Peace.  

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There is an iPad app for fans of Grey’s Anatomy, says CIO Magazine, developed by TV rating company Nielsen, that offers interactive social activities to viewers tied to events in the program. These events are “watermarked” to the show dialogue.  I’m interested.  Coolness.  I am always on the lookout for “1 plus 1 equals 3” mashups of media that go beyond the expected. That tread new ground.

And then I read that the Grey’s Anatomy app pops up questions like “What do you think will happen next in the plot?” “Or tweet this to a friend.”  Droop.  The app also offers character info, games and quizzes. Droopier. 

It sounds as if the media socialists on the show are making the app an extension of a fan club when there were so many other ways to go. The show is about medicine and doctors and hospitals, why not go that route?  Why not inform, educate, surprise?  Or how about offering up some type of production notes about the cast and the scene?  I’ll bet if the app developers actually listened to the audience in real time, without a social media engagement agenda, they might hear insights they hadn’t expected. Go deep. Think deeply. Think about strategy not tactics. Don’t extend, invent. Peace!

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Loss of Control is one of marketing’s 6 most motivating selling strategies. (I haven’t locked down on the other 5, though “save money” and “better service” have to be included.)

I wrote a brief once for a home healthcare service catering to well-heeled, upscale individuals who didn’t need to rely on Medicare for payment. I called the target “Captains of the Castle,” a mixed metaphor indicating that not only were these people heads of household from a financial standpoint, they were one-time captains of industry.

Let’s just say, back in the day these individuals were powerful, proud and in control.  Now in their 70 and 80s, Captains of the Castle are still proud, but in failing health and no longer powerful or running the show. (You’ve seen this black and white movie, no?)

Most healthcare marketing in the home care category targets the caregiver. This brief was aimed not at the caregiver but at the care recipients — the Captains. The promise or offer was a specialized homecare program that gave them control back.  Control in their own homes.   (In fact, the brief generated a new product idea.) 

As you are writing briefs and segmenting your targets, don’t forget to ask yourself about the loss of control as a motivator.  And, as you are selecting your media, message and proof, don’t cede control to the consumer.  Media Socialists think that’s the haps and they are largely wrong. Peace!

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Product, Package and Brand are three fundamental marketing words for the 21st Century. The traditional 4 Ps of marketing: product, price, promotion and place are still workable cornerstones but for my money consumers have evolved so far and product management has devolved so far that success can not be achieved focusing on these three alone.

Product.

These days a product has to be good. No longer can you spin a shizzy product or service and be successful. What constitutes a “good” product in this era though is debatable. Especially in the states. We sell a lot of cheese (poor product) here, but because the cheese is affordable and lasts a year, people buy it. The definition of good, at the lower to middle end of the market, has changed markedly. Make it good and they will come.

Package.

Before the web, packaging was what your product arrived in.  In 2010, with people spending billions on virtual goods, goods aren’t even goods. Packaging. Point of sale packaging is still important, don’t get me wrong, but the point of sale is different. For those who do product research online the website is the package. A lot of product website homepages are built like old school product packaging: features, bulleted copy, product shots (fail), but that’s a story for another post. These days — and they are amazingly exciting days — advertising, PR and promotion are all part of the package. Access and search have changed everything. The package is now a continuum.

Brand.

Whenever I hear an art director talk about branding I head for the hills. Sure, design contributes to brand development, in a very big way, but design manicures the brand it isn’t the brand.  Apple gets this. Branding is a strategy: an organizing principle that consumers and employees share. It’s a vessel in consumers’ minds filled by an idea and proof. Products may be virtual but brands shouldn’t be. Get the strategy and consumers will get you. Peace!

PS. Anyone digging the new Google logo art on the Google home page today?

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In the advertising and marketing business, digital is its own channel.  Rare is the vendor that provides a truly integrated single source worldview of a brand. A really smart person once said to an important client “campaigns are overrated” which stuck me with a ferocity that shook my world, but he was right.  A campaign, when well-defined and well-equipped is a powerful selling mechanism.  It’s what people talk about. But translating campaigns across silos is not easy.  Heck, anyone who has ever worked at an ad agency knows campaigns don’t always transfer across media.  A great design-driven print campaign may not work well in radio or a murderously effective TV campaign may not work as out of home.  It’s tah-woooh.  And those silos are under one roof.    

Competing Market Forces

A bunch of hearty souls are trying to bring online and offline selling under one roof.  Yet a greater number of very skilled entrepreneurs are out there selling against the one roof approach — creating even greater and greater specialization.  A friend at CatalystSF told me that there are over 200 social media agencies in the New York area alone.  So what do you do about these two competing forces — the shops who want more pie and are trying to integrate and the shops selling best of breed, stand alone digital marketing specialties?  Well the planner in me usually starts problem solving by “following the money.”  In the case of integrated vs. stand alone I say “follow the strategy.”  

If you find a potential partner with a sense of business strategy that transcends tactical discussions, listen. Business strategy first. Marketing strategy second. Message strategy third and tactical fourth.  I don’t care if its RGA or TBWA. Peace it up! 

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