marketing tactics

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This morning I was reading how Fair Oaks Dairy in Indiana is using cow manure to fuel not only its milking operations but also its fleet of truck by turning waste into natural gas.  Talk about sustainability! In my mind the natural cycle of life is one in which we don’t just consume but replenish.  Recycling is a brilliant idea. Unless we’re talking about advertising and marketing.

dairy cow

I did a little mock interview with a tyro marketer last night and much of what I got out of our discussion was plumbing: the process, the tools, the operations. “I am responsible for this, I am responsible for that…”  It is expected at the entry level, but it also plagues many ad and marketing operations today because it trickles up to senior management.  The tactics lead the march. Companies feel the need outperform the market in “search,” “awareness,” “click-through,” “loyalty,” etc.   But we are counting bodies, but not winning the war.

In essence, these companies are recycling marketing tactics. The ads I read in the 90s are back. The TV spots from last year are the same this year, just with different actors. In this business the familiar is not the best way to predispose someone toward a sale. With a tight brand plan the goal is always first. Not the recycled tactic.  “We need to Facebook more.  Let’s get a team together and brainstorm.”  Peace.


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Are brand planner’s heads always up in the clouds?  Are they trying to solve the world’s ills though advertising and marketing? In the last year alone, I’ve figured out how to fix education and correct the obesity problem.  I’ve spoken to experts in both fields, immersed myself in data and tools of the trade, studied the science and landed upon rough strategies for positively, demonstratively impacting both. Will it take time and lots of money?  Oh yeah. Will systemic change and cultural change be required? Absolutely.

Now, does someone interested is getting 100,000 hits to a website care about the ills of the world? Does someone trying to fill up with leads care about the global big picture? Probably not.  But when brand planners are allowed to do their “cloud work” first, and apply that learning, positioning and organizing principle to the tactics required to move the sales dial (the micro measures), that’s when great brands are built. Start with the micro tasks first and it makes the job much more difficult. Go big first and you have a chance.  This is the word of the planner. Peace.

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Brand for life.

When creating a brand plan it is important to see the long term picture.  Often, that can begin with speaking to teens.  Teens see everything so it’s important to make a good impression.  I once recommended to a health care system, whose young prospects would grow to be middle age prospects, a program to help get answers to difficult questions: sex, acne, puberty and other health things that would put the brand in good stead as those kids grew up. It would buy the system grace and fealty, the argument went.  “Advice about sex is not a good idea” I was told.  The system comment was good from a legal standpoint, not so good from a brand standpoint.  The idea, hand-wringer though it may have been, did support one of the system’s brand planks and provide meaningful information. 

Tactics are for building revenue.  Think of them as rent collectors.  Branding on the other hand is long term, similar to the efforts of the architect.  They must work together for maximum result.  Campaigns come and go…a powerful brand strategy is indelible.  Peace.

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Under Armour is introducing two new sneaker designs (May I call them sneakers?) this week in an attempt to increase its share of the $22B athletic footwear (sneakers) market.  A market, by the way, that was only about $3B in 1993.  The TV campaign handled by Twofifteen McCann and Digiteria for digital offers a lot of smart tactics: the director of Friday Night Lights, a YouTube takeover to reach the younger buyers, limited distribution to build demand, Cam Newton, and an idea that ties sneakers to sports action – FootstepsAs smart as these tactics are, they feel like a pastiche of forced-together marketing tools from an Effie Awards Annual. I suspect they will work, however.

First and foremost though, one must ask if footwear is a business Under Armour wants to be in.  I say no. And I’ve said so before in WTI.  Sunglasses? No as well. UA founder Kevin Plank, in his heart knows this.  He owns a franchise that is now being diluting.  You can’t keep sticking the same tea bag in new water.  The company already owns fast twitch muscle, form fitting wicking shirts but will lose that ownership as it takes its eyes off the ball. Wicking sneaker tops?  Not so sexy.  Lindsey Vonn. Oh yeah.

Mr. Plank’s next move should be into form fitting shorts and shirts for the fashion conscious market.  Leave the kicks to Nike.  Or start a new footwear endemic company  This is one brand extension that might sell some shoes near term, but is going to turn Under Armour into a brand in decline overall.  And it’s sad.  Stop playing with feet! Peace.

(Picture from NY Times.)

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The word “branding” means many things to many people.  To an art director it means design.  To a writer it means tag- or campaign-line. A media person sees it as threshold weights of eyes and ears. A web designer sees branding in terms of wireframes.  Digital agencies view it as the part of their portfolio that doesn’t need to be judged on click throughs.

Selling, on the other hand, is a verb and it has only one meaning.  Moving merch.  Or services.

No matter who is using or misusing the word branding, it’s important they know it means selling. Not exposure. Sadly, many feel getting the name out there is enough. When a communication is all claim and no proof it’s nothing more than “we’re here” advertising.  “We’re here” advertising simply acknowledges the category and where to buy. “If you have lung cancer, our hospital provides hope.”

Branding is about organizing proof beneath a claim.  That’s why creative briefs have a line called “reason to believe.”  If there is no reason to believe – following an organized, road-mapped, discrete plan – there is no branding. There are simply tactics.  Tactic may be the fun in the business but the revenue and earnings are in brand management. Peace!

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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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