navy seals

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I often use an example of my brand planning rigor when explaining to prospects how I work and what I create. Brand plans are many things to many different people. Mine contain one claim and three support planks. The example:

For a commercial maintenance company, one that does office cleaning, building upkeep, snow removal and lawn service among other things, the claim is “the navy seals of commercial maintenance.” This is strategy remember, not a tagline or creative. The support planks are: fast, fastidious and preemptive. These are qualities buyers want. These are also things the company is good at.

navy seal

Clients, big and small, often get the outbound nature of the plan, seeing how this organizing principle can drive communications. Yet sometimes they have a hard time seeing how it can influence the company internally. For a C-level executive or a marketing person who is truly influencial in the product, the internal part of the equation is easily understood. For this level thinker it’s easy to see how one can productize and build experiences around the brand planks — that’s what they are for.

Back to the example — anyone can say they are fast, and in commercial maintenance most do. Anyone can say they are fastidious and many do, using words like “attention to detail.” But preemptive, that’s not so common. Taken together this value prop is unbeatable. And by proving these qualities every day, not just saying or printing them on a website, it is business-winning. Claim and proof…ladies and gentlemen I give you a brand plan.

Peace.

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I’m reading the book Disruption by Jean-Marie Dru — it’s about time, I know – which was a pretty famous advertising thought piece back in the 90s. Even creative directors referred to it and they’re not ones to readily admit being inspired by other CDs. Live ones that is.

And Mr. Dru talks about two elements of an ad: the idea and the execution. The idea is the demonstration of the product value and the execution is the creative surround. So for Charmin bath tissue, said Mr. Dru, the idea was “squeezably soft” and Mr. Whipple was the execution.  

Brand planning for me follows this route for the most part, though I use words “claim” and “proof.”  The claim is the “idea” and the proof is the “execution.”  But in my world the execution is very organized.  Organized by selling schema in the form of three brand planks.  For a commercial maintenance company I wrote a brand brief that likened the company to the Navy Seals of maintenance. The planks were Preemptive, Fast and Fastidious.  When the client presented the company online, in brochure, ad or in person, the presentation was always cloaked in one of these three principles.  The company prevents problems through forethought, is absolutely quick to react, and precise and fastidious about every job.  Like a Navy Seal. This is a coda employees need to live by and one that customers find easy to grasp and hold on to. 

In branding, Claim and proof, well thought out, works every time.  That’s disruption! Peace!

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When is faster not faster?  And when does modular, formulaic construction create an inferior product?   The answer is in marketing communications. Here’s how this shizz should work.  After all the money discussions are complete, after the bosses shake hands, and proprietary company information is exchanged, someone with strategic  bone at an agency should write a brief.   Brand brief, creative brief, project brief, call it what you will. If there is not a strategic idea within the brief that feels right (and I do mean feel), that inspires pictures and music in the heads of the creators and developers, then the brief is poor and should be rewritten.

Time to market.

Once a brief is right and approved (and be prepared for some fighting, fear and diplomacy), only then should creative work begin. A tight brief is the fastest way to good work. For those who like metrics, a tight brief gets to approved work faster.  Approved work gets produced faster. Produced work gets seen faster. And organized, singular work – be it banner, website, promotion, direct, promotion or advertising – gets acted upon by consumers faster.

Where the system breaks down is when the strategic idea is unclear. As creators of marketing deliverables become more process focused and less idea focused, as they become more formula driven, the work suffers. Formula replaces the cerebral cortex when creators are uninspired.  I wrote a brief for a friend’s commercial maintenance company that took some real digging.  The brief likened his operation to that of a team of Navy Seals.  That’s who they were.  That’s who they will be. The company is  “fast, preemptive and fastidious.” That’s a plan creators can get behind – without formula or module. That’s brand design. Peace.

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Wikipedia defines a brand as an identity.  Many years ago, while excavating a late woodland Indian shell midden on Moshier Island for the University of Southern Maine, I came across a piece of deer rib bone I assumed was some type of weaving shuttle. (It wasn’t my day job.)  It had some notches on the bone which gave it a unique appearance and I wondered if they were ornamental or a personal identifier. 

Outside branding nerds, many in marketing today don’t quite know the difference between identifier brands and ornamental brands.   What’s the Idea? builds and rebuilds identifier brands.  Only then do we allow them to be ornamented.  And that dress up, as beautiful as it may be, must add to the identification story.  Go into a room, turn off the lights and listen to the voices of your friends and family. You can identify them.  But if you feel their clothes, not so much.

The big girls and boys know this.  Whenever an Interbrand, Landor or Wolff Olin starts a new  logo project they create a brief; one that sets the identity direction.  Recently for a commercial maintenance company I developed a strategy suggesting they were the  “Navy seals” of maintenance.  Preemptive, fast and fastidious.  When the art director went off to do logo designs, he had a directive. When the client reviewed designs, he knew “how to buy” and “what to approve.”  Of course some ornamentation got in the way and he wanted to be a “green” company and, and, and.  But the CEO ran his group with navy seal precision – it was the company. It was his identifier.   The mark and brand organizing principles where hard to debate.  This is how we do-oo it!.  Peace.

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