marko-babble

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There’s a famous David Belasco quote that goes something like this ‘If you can’t fit your idea on the back of a business card, you don’t have a clear idea.’ David was an impresario of Broadway plays.

A number of years ago I worked at a web start-up run but a mad code scientist. He was a drag-and-drop genius. Like many entrepreneurs he fancied himself the head of marketing (my job). He wrote a draft of the home page copy which my pops would have called a “doggy’s dinner” of claims, goals and marko-babble. Suffice it to say it wouldn’t fit on the back of a business card. That didn’t keep us from winning Robert Scoble’s Demo of the Year.  It did, however, keep us from becoming bah-millionaires (billionaire slash millionaire). due to feature creep and poor consumer usability.

A good brand strategy – defined as an organizing principle for product, experience and messaging – will fit on the back of a business card. It might not make you a millionaire, but it will make you an articulate marketer. And hopefully it will make your customers similarly articulate about the product. Of course that’s in the execution…which will be a topic for another day.

Peace.

 

 

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I’ve met some really great brand planners over the years. I don’t like to name drop — but on this side of the ocean they constitute a Who’s Who. (Yes, I’m a bit of a star-fucker when it comes to brand planners.)  These exploratories were part of my self-taught doctorate in brand study. Interestingly, they are not all good teachers. They were great listeners though, so intuiting was how I learned the craft. Intuiting and doing.

I’ve also met a good number of average brand planners. Nice people all. They talked the talk.  Sometimes communicating in what I call marko-babble or brand-babble. They deliver strategy on a brief (platter?). They create sparks. And use some research. Not a lot of there there.

The difference between the A listers and the B listers, in my opinion, is that the former are more engineers than planners. Do you want someone who engineers your car or plans it? Do you want someone who engineers your kidney operation or plans it?

What’s The Idea? has always been about brand engineering. About creating a product, experience and messaging template that is replicable, sustainable, evolvable — but always drives codified brand value and sales.

I presented 15 plus objectives once to a client who ran marketing for a $4B health system. He told me that was way too many. “How can we accomplish all that? We set ourselves up for failure.”  He was a planner. Not an engineer.

Peace.

 

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I’m not against storytelling. It’s an important part of my business. When collecting information to build brand strategy I hunt for stories and often tell stories to get others to open up. But in and of itself, a story won’t do shit for a brand. Especially, if it’s off-piste.

Storytelling is a pop marketing topic many brand consultants rest upon.  My “brand-ar” goes off when I hear someone use the term; it suggests they’re blowing marko-babble smoke.

Think of storytelling as the code and brand strategy as the app. The app being the meaningful, useful tool.

Brand strategy done right is about claim and proof — packaged into a discrete organizing principle for product, experience and messaging.

Stories and storytelling are communications tools, not strategy tools.

Peace.

 

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The difference between brand planners can be found in their respective abilities to do something “smart” with the info and data they collect during discovery. One planner’s questions will differ from then next, as will their observation techniques and data sources. Yet once all the hunting and gathering is done, it’s time for all planners to think. And apply. To fill out the brief, as it were.

My framework is different than that of some brand planners and the same as others. I use one claim and three proof planks as the organizing principle.  How I get to the one and three model, however, is through an exploration of “evidence.”  Evidence is not hearsay. It’s not marko-babble. It stuff. Actions.  Existential results. Proof.

When Eva Moskowitz stands on the steps of city hall, alone or with thousands, that’s evidence. When a prepubescent cancer patient has part of her ovary preserved in liquid nitrogen at age 9 so that 15 years later she can gave birth, that’s evidence.

I’ve read hundreds of brand strategy documents from so-called brand planners and am appalled by how few are evidence based. Tring to change that one brand at a time.

Peace.                 

 

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Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center is one of the greatest healthcare organizations in the world. Perhaps the greatest. As a result, it has also become a powerful, powerful brand. It is exactly what it is…and lives up to the brand claim “the best cancer care anywhere.”  Its words spread through stories and proof. Patients and caregivers syphon proof off their experiences and share. (Branding revolves around “claim” and “proof.”)

MSKCC more scienceA couple of years ago MSKCC appointed new advertising agency Pereira O’Dell. I complimented the shop and client on the new brand strategy claim “More Science. Less Fear.” Having worked in healthcare branding for a long time, studying the claim and proof arrays of the top area hospital systems (disclosure: I penned one of those strategies), I rubbed my hands together in anticipation of some good work to follow.

This past week I was listening to an MSKCC radio spot and was disappointed to hear talk about serving the “mind, body and soul” of patients. This type of copy is what you’d expect from a religious-based group or a second tier hospital. From a system that can’t differentiate based on the science. This ad hurt MSKCC in two ways. It didn’t deliver on the brand promise, wasting money, time and resources, but more importantly it dumbed down the sanctity of the brand, making MSKCC peddlers of healthcare marko-babble like many others.

If anyone can educate the populace about the science of cancer care, using real proof, it’s Memorial.

This isn’t that hard. Find your claim and prove it every day.

Peace.

 

 

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I ran across a company today whose boilerplate description reads thus (the name has been changed):

ABC Communications is a creative marketing partner to our clients. We are experts in building brands and promoting product across all media channels. Our ability to seamlessly integrate online and offline communications in a compelling, unique and effective manner has given us recognition in the quickly growing online community. Providing inspired ideas and compelling creative that empowers and optimizes market presence is our passion!

It’s an agency. Their specialty seems to be integrating off- and online work. So 2009, don’t you think. But let’s not be catty.

My problem here is with the use of the words “brand building.”  Copy the first para. of every agency website extant and paste it into a file then search for “brand building” and you’ll get an 80%+ hit rate. Why? Because every tactic can be seen as brand building, so say the unwashed agency masses.

Real brand strategists know otherwise. Brand building starts with a real brand strategy. A claim or promise and unique proof array. All the marko-babble about “mission” and “values” and “personas” and an assortment of similar agency taxon used to create a halo of understanding between agency and brand marketer really just comes down to “Is there an organizing principle in place that allows for brand building, in a measurable way, that ties to sales.”  With measures that are discrete and finite. In a way that allows brand managers to say “no.” If so, you have a brand strategy. And you can build brands. Otherwise your tactics are nothing more. A loose federation of acts to increase awareness, interest and sales. Simple templates for action.

Peace.

 

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A critical component of brand planning is understanding the special language of the seller and buyer. In the tech sector, the language can be quite unique, with many words to learn. As a young strategist working with AT&T’s Business Communications Services, I developed an acronym dictionary I kept with me every day. One could sit in a technical marketing meeting at AT&T back then and hear 10 acronyms in 10 minutes. In other technical businesses, e.g., healthcare, finance, and insurance learning the seller language is equally important. On the buyer side it isn’t as critical because the technical stuff goes thought a translation filter before it hits a consumer. (But if language is dumbed down too much, it comes out as marko-babble.)

When you learn the language of the seller, you hear things you couldn’t otherwise. Nuance. Emotion. It makes it so the sellers don’t have to teach, they can communicate. If you speak their language you also become more trusted.

Consultants and freelancers who don’t have a lot of time to learn the language are handicapped. It’s the first thing one needs to do on a new assignment. You need a good ear. No foreign word is unimportant. Study the language by reading trades magazines. Learning the language makes the first few meetings a bit clunky, but it’s necessary.

Peace.

 

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A brand strategy done well encompasses the marketing strategy and is the business strategy. Why? Because it’s active. I define brand strategy as an “organizing principle that drives product, experience and messaging.” Messaging is last…because a message that doesn’t reflect product and experience is simply copy.

Ask any successful business leader to identify their company’s “one claim” (consumer promise) and three “support planks,” and they’ll be hard-pressed to do it. That is why brand strategy is so tough. A single claim and three product or service values, many will tell you, is too limiting. Until you see it on paper. On business stationery. A good brand strategy is not filled with marko-babble, it contains business-winning evidence. Business-winning behaviors and business-winning strategy.

I call it brand strategy and contrary to what some consultants will peddle, it is way more than a loose federation of tactics, metrics and tagline.

For real life examples, please write Steve at WhatsTheIdea.

Peace.               

 

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Eliza Esquivel, an executive marketing lead at Mondelez, spoke at Google Firestarters-NY earlier this week. This lady can ball. No marko-babble from her.

I really sat up when she used what seemed an inside term of art “Building Memory Structures.” It warmed my self-taught heart to hear this because I’ve built a similar framework but never put it so elegantly. I often speak and write of “building muscle memory” and doing so using “1 claim and 3 proof planks,” but these words from the Mondelez camp explain why it’s a company to watch. And why Ms. Esquivel will someday be Ad Age’s Marketer of The Year.

In this Fast Twitch Media world, filled with more Pasters than Posters, Google brand planners (planner who rely on Google only for insights), in a country where every business owner feels s/he is a marketing expert, it’s nice to know there’s are some marketing 30 somethings coming up with big eyes. A generation not smitten by shiny ephemeral tactics and automation technology. Ms. E has some serious vision and a lovely sense of control.

It’s going to be fun watching her career.

Peace.

 

 

 

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“Brand identities create memorable distinction and differentiation in marketplaces in which meaningful functional product or service differentiation is increasingly impossible to secure. They help convey stories and meaning that assist decision-making, establish relevancy and positive disposition.”

This is a quote from a friend and really smart branding person. Someone who taught me a lot. It is true as true can be. It explains brand identity in a thoughtful, complete and rich way — yet it is a bit dense and suffers from what I call marko-babble. If you parse the sentence slowly it makes sense. It’s cogent. However, in branding circles where there is so much marko-babble quotes like this gets sucked right in.

I have worked really hard to take the marko-babble out of branding. I like to think I’ve simplified the definition and the outputs. Here are a couple of boil downs, in consumer language, for you to ponder.

A brand strategy is an “organizing principle for product, product experience and messaging.” (Some might argue product is the domain of product strategy and they would be right. But after the product is created, enhancements, extensions and evolutions need to be true to the brand strategy.)

A brand strategy is 1 claim and 3 proof (support) planks. Planks are populated by actual and future examples of what a company is great at and what consumers want most.

In sum, my branding meme is this: Branding is about claim and proof. Proof and deeds. Deeds and experiences. Strategically organized and tightly managed.

Marko-babble beware. Peace.

 

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