one claim and three proof planks

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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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Following is a mission statement from food start-up Smart Mills.

“We exist to positively impact the way food is made, enriching lives and bodies through delicious, convenient foods made from clean nutritious ingredients.” 

Mission statements often contain multiple commas and conjunctions; they tend to cast a wide net. As mission statements go, this one is actually modest. It doesn’t try to do too, too much.

Here is a brand strategy claim developed for a cookie start-up:

“Craft cookies, au naturel.”

Almost everything said about Smart Mills could be said about the cookie start-up, but with way fewer words. A powerful brand strategy is indelible. Why is that? Because it’s focused. It is not six things or four things.  It’s one big idea. An idea that is a customer care-about and a brand good-at. A brand strategy is comprised of one claim and three proof planks.

The human memory can remember one big idea. And it will believe that idea if proven in an efficient, impactful fashion. So by all means marketers write your mission statements. But when it comes time to selling, blow them up and create the most important selling tool you have at your disposal. A brand strategy.

Peace.

 

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One of the challenges when writing a brand brief is knowing which insight to use to fuel the claim. (The claim is the idea at the top of the brand strategy, supported by 3 proof planks.) Often in a brief there are 2 or 3 really exciting insights, all of which offer enough power to motivate brand predisposition. But which to pick, that’s the question.

What I love about the brief I use, borrowed from McCann-Erickson’s Peter Kim 2 decades ago, is that it has a serial framework. One section leads to the next. Like puzzle pieces, they don’t always fit, but fit they must. Until they fit, you need to keep working. Until there is a linear story you are only bumping along the cobble stones. Chank a chank.

As I work the brief, key insights find their way into the story. But some must be let go. What’s funny is the outcome of the story – the claim – is often not known until the story plays out. Insights float in the back of the mind as you work toward the end, some more strongly than others, but the big finish is often a bit of a surprise.

There can’t be two endings. Enjoy the ride.

Peace.

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Many people in the advertising, marketing and branding business get tongue-tied when asked to define branding.  Or brand for that matter. We come up with short pithy things such as “A brand is a vessel into which we pour meaning.”  For years, that was actually one of my favorites.   As a consultant with some clients falling into the mid-size business category, I need something more tangible. “Organizing principle” are the two words I use most often now. The extended version is “An organizing principle for product, experience and messaging.”  It’s a nice definition – perhaps the best I’ve come across. It defines branding – the verb for used for manage the brand (noun).

But an organizing principle as a descriptor doesn’t really provide pay-off or consummation of the act. It’s just the theory. It is the framework of the organizing principle that makes believers out of brand manager. And the frame work at Whats’s The Idea? is “one claim, three proof planks.” These are the parameters of the organizing principle. The tangible guidance.

Many brand planners love fluidity. They enjoy freedom for their ideas. I enjoy the freedom of a plan, a focus, and a finite value array for doing more business. That’s what an organizing principle does. Peace.

 

 

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In 2012 I worked on a brand strategy for a company in what I called the “educational development” space.  The company sold classroom technology and professional development – in effect teaching the teachers how to use the technology. It was one of the coolest companies I’ve ever worked for. For those unfamiliar with my brand strategy framework, it comprises one claim and three proof planks. One of the proof planks in the brand strategy had to do with changing the paradigm in the “student-teacher relationship.”

During the  engagement Mark Zuckerberg announced he was going to donate $100 million to the Newark, NJ school system.  Throwing money at teaching and learning sounded like a good idea at the time; it was not.  As far as I can tell, Newark ain’t no Mooresville, NC.

Today, Mr. and Mrs. Zuckerberg are championing, along with Facebook, a new learning management system with Summit Public Schools, a charter school partner, to reinvent the student-teacher relationship. It’s a software system and that lets students direct their learning roadmap and pace supported by intense one-on-one mentoring.  It is the student teacher relationship plank in action. And it is already paying dividends in Oakland.

It seems to me allowing Newark to design its own learning plan with a pot full of money doesn’t work but allowing students to do so, with some newfound supervision and software does. Ms. Carmen Farina, are you watching?

Peace.

 

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In my lifetime and the lifetime of What’s The Idea?, I’ve probably written 50 marketing plans.  Their formats are all pretty much the same: market situation, key issues, objectives, strategies, targets and messages, tactics, budget and timeline.  To the uninitiated who might read one of these plans, once past the up-front market review and obs and strats, the tactics of one plan might look like the others. Interchangeable almost. probably containing ads, PR, direct, web, promotion and social. Simple, undifferentiated line items on an excel chart.

The fact is, it’s the brand strategy that really sets one plan apart from the next. Every dollar spent is guided by a brand claim and three proof planks – or supports.  The tactics aren’t just random copy with fill in the blank marketing claims. Every piece of external and internal communications, meant to position and sell, is scripted. Well not scripted, but guided.

Branding strategy is an organized principle for building brand value and sales, based on consumer care-abouts and brand good-ats.

Brand strategy is the secret sauce to every marketing plan.

Peace.

 

 

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Can a brand be strategic or must strategy be left to the brand managers? Save for machines, inanimate things can’t do animate things.  However, by recasting the What’s The Idea? tagline, to include “Brand managers come and go…a powerful brand strategy is indelible,” I offer that a brand can be strategic.

In Kansas City many moons ago while exposing ads to consumers for the launch of WorldWorx videoconferencing service, a focus group participant claimed “That’s not an AT&T ad.  AT&T would never speak to me that way.” Ad dead.  Brand strategy alive and well.

People are the best administers of brand strategy yet they are fallible. Only when brand strategy is truly codified and attached to a product does it begin to grow in brand value. One claim and three proofs planks is how one builds a brand strategy. It’s how a brand sustains — in deeds, actions, messaging and, even, offering itself.

If your brand cannot be articulated via this simple claim and proof array, it’s not strategic. The people are. Bad berries.

Peace.

 

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Here’s the unbridled truth about brand strategy.  Brand strategy is not easy to implement. And oddly, many marketing directors don’t know how to do it.  Brand strategies are more apt to be employed by CEOs. They get strategy.  

My framework for brand strategy — one claim and three proof planks — is brain dead simple to employ. But it has to be shared and enculturated throughout the company. When well crafted there are already major hints of the strategy within the company. But there are also hints of many other things – too many things. Brand strategy culls out the non-essentials.

If brand strategy is hard to operationalize at a large company, what’s the point?  Here’s the point: Think of the output of brand strategy as a song – a song made up of notes, phrases and riffs.  Brand strategy, even at less than 100% compliance, still offers riffs that can improve company performance. Elements of the brand brief, understood and implemented can make a huge difference.  

I developed a target in a brand brief for a high-end Northwell Health home care company. I called the target “Kings of the Castle.” These so-called kings were rich males who used to be captains of industry, but now were infirm of body…not mind. They were actually still owners of the family purse strings.  This one element of the strategy, by itself, was enough to propel powerful “product, experience and messaging.” It was not the full strategy, just a few notes. A riff.

The best brand strategies are all or nothing. But this is the real world. So every riff matters.

Peace.

 

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One of the coolest things I get to do as a brand planner is sit back and watch a company or product transform after a new brand strategy is presented. The word viral would be an overstatement, because “one claim and three proof planks” aren’t quickly acculturated into a company. When properly sold in, however, and that means well beyond the marketing department, a brand strategy can take hold fairly quickly. It will alter the work of the SEO team — all of a sudden new key words begin to pop in as traffic drivers. Company language in meetings tilts in a slightly new direction. And once a company language changes it’s not long before partner and consumers language follow.

The day after I present final brand strategy, I’m checking the website to see if anyone has made changes to the home page. Week two I’m checking new videos to see if the company Is-Does has morphed. I look to newly minteed press releases for changes to the first sentence and the “About” paragraph. My expectation is that things will change immediately. (Doe-eyed Poppe.)

Strategy work is a lot less requited than design work. When a new logo and tagline hits the street, it’s easily seen. It’s fast and obvious. But when a brand strategy hits, it’s often a slow creep. That doesn’t keep me from checking right away. Hee hee. 

Peace.

 

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