peter kim

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I often wonder if the targets for my business truly understand what I do. Those targets, CMOs, directors of marketing and small and mid-size business owners, read “brand consultancy” and get the consultant part, but may not truly understand the depth of the word brand. Brand today is both a noun and a verb.  

Many think brand is a mark or logo. Something that, through design, helps consumers with product identity. The whole branded cattle history thing. For people who view brands this way a brand consultancy is all logo, name, style guide and, perhaps, tagline. When AT&T spun off Lucent in the 90s, the whole process, exquisitely implemented by the way, cost millions. A year later, the company had a new name, logo, building signs, stock symbol and ad campaign. But not a brand strategy. (Peter Kim’s “$14B tech startup” aside.)

The reality is, especially in today service economy, a brand is a living breathing thing. My definition of brand strategy as “an organizing principle for Product, Experience and Messaging.” Most of my targets understand this definition better. In fact, they are more apt to acknowledge needing and organizing principle that they are a brand strategy.  

So moving forward my mission it to educate my targets as to this new definition. It will be a long road but one I expect will redistribute marketing wealth in my direction. Onward.

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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I once gave a creative brief template to an account manager who took it to a meeting at Adelphi University where he sat with the marketing lead and, together, tried to fill it out. In the midst of the meeting they called me to clarify one of the points – probably brand essence or core desire or some such.  I was flabbergasted.  Fruitcake. Not him, me; for not explaining the briefing process well enough.

A brief is a framework to get to an idea. I’ve lived with mine for years and it’s not too much different than it was when purloined from Peter Kim and McCann Erickson in the 90s. It has a nice linearity to it and helps me down the road to a selling idea.  

There are often many sparks for the idea within the brief, but it is the planner who himself or herself understands which one is going to birth the idea. There is always one insight that just hits the brain like a freight train. 

Some planners eschew frameworks so they can be more fluid. That’s okay. If it works — to each his own. We gather, we learn, we think, formulate, test and finally decide.

Getting there is all the fun.

Peace.                  

 

 

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There is no segmentation in brand strategy. There are segments. There are segment priorities.

This I learned from Peter Kim, while he was the strategy head at McCann-Erickson in the 90s. On the iteration of the brief he pulled together at the time – which I still use today – Mr. Kim talked about understanding all target audiences. As we know, it’s a big world out there and many targets purchase and influence purchase. In Mr. Kim’s rigor, once you understood all the different targets, it was time to “remassify” them into one target. From that one mass target he asked you to determine a shared attitude or care-about all would agree upon.

One might think this could create an opportunity to water down the care-about. And it may…but only if you let it. Brand planners have to prioritize at this point. They may have to hold one part of the target more sales-sacred. Brands touch everyone. No one should be left behind.

Segmentation studies make it so one focuses the brand claim on the most likely buyer. But in branding we try to speak to the masses. Segmentation comes later once the brand strategy is cooked.

Peace.

 

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There is no strategy without tactics. Guys like me who write about brand strategy may seem like we’re above tactics, not wanting to get our hands dirty. (Twenty years ago, Peter Kim a McCann-Erickson mentor told me “Once I’ve sold the brand idea, I want to be done.” Everything after that gets messy, he explained. Approving ads, media, talent and all other things subjective.

The thing about planners, especially older planners, is we like to understand the big picture first. We like to go big. Once we understand how to solve the category, the deepest pent up consumer need, then we can focus on the specifics. Problem is, marketers aren’t looking to solve the world’s ills, they’re looking to sell shit. Flat out, right away, cha-ching the cash register, sell shit. Today in this fast twitch media world, marketing directors want their chunk of the returns. Big data? Hell no. Little data about my product. Yes. Data that says “more sales.” Period.

So we planners need to get the pipes out of our mouths and start talking tactics with clients. (Maybe keep the big picture stuff to ourselves a little more.) All my rants about claim and proof? Here’s one: Good branding works. Sales are proof.

Peace.

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The target for a “brand brief” is very different from a target for a tactical brief. The target for a tactic is much more specific. Much more finite.  For a brand brief, everyone who comes into contact with the brand must be accounted for.  

The rigor is this: Look at all the groups who may be influential in a brand decision. Let’s say we are selling a protein drink to an elderly consumer. One group would be the consumer himself. Then the consumer’s caregiver – usually a family member – and there are many flavors of caregiver, trust me. The physician is certainly an interested party as are paid caregivers like home nurses. Also payors are a target, such as insurance companies and govie groups like Medicare/Medicaid.

Once you have all the targets, you need to understand what motivates them. Peter Kim, the author of this thought process, would say you must re-massify the target; searching out a commonality they all share. With the protein example, you can see that a consumer might have different motivation (taste) than a physician (grams of protein) or insurance company (cost). Which may be different from a caregiver (compliance). It’s a bit of a maze. The deeper you dig with each target the more likely you are to find the common ground.

Brand building is bigger than a click or a sale. Branding building is not transactional. Brands live on. Brand planning must be an inclusive pursuit. Measure twice, cut once. Peace.

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In my brand briefs the Living Breathing Target provides a layer of consumer insight many briefs don’t have.  The line after the target is Core Desire, a building block in the logic flow that leads to the idea. The difference between Living Breathing Target and a typical target is one of psychographic Vs. demographic. And the difference between the Living Breathing Target and the Core Desire is often depth and context. The target, typically described with a fun memorable name like Weberterians or Kings of the Castle, is a “grouping of people bound by a single shared attitude or belief.” A bit of a macro collective or people. Perhaps a bit cultural.

The Core Desire  dives into the consumers “most deeply held desire or belief that the brand can best meet or fulfill.” So it’s more product centric.  And don’t undervalue the word “deeply.” Analysis here is often quite instructive.

freud

Great planners get people. Likely, they’ve had psychotherapy or studied it. And I’m not talking school psychology stuff, I’m talking Freudian balls-out therapy. Remember, Margaret Mead while at the Museum of Natural History wanted all employees to experience psychotherapy.  

Get inside the head of your target, understand what binds members to others, and you will have wonderful groundwork for your idea. Peacely.

PS. This brief was learned, borrowed and slightly modified while I was at McCann-Erickson in the mid-90s. Its author, as best I can tell, was Peter Kim, then Chief Strategy Officer.

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Insight Diving.

dive

Wanna know what I do for a living?  Have you heard of dumpster diving? (Read The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls.) Well, I am an insight diver. I submerge myself into the murky waters of product, competition, product usage, experience, data and consumerism and I hunt for important market and brand building insights. 

What’s the difference between an insight and an observation? The latter leads to the former. Insights are scientific, projectable and actionable patterns that can be manipulated into preference or sale.

Many brand planners focus on finding one key insight around which they build a tactical brief, say for an ad or a digital  campaign.  I do that too, but start a bit earlier in the process, doing more foundational work. My definition of brand plan is and organizing principle that directs all marketing: product, place, price and promotion. One claim, three proof planks. One needs to dive deeply to fill this insight vessel.

Peter Kim (RIP) a brand planning mentor of mine often talked about “massifying” when it came to understanding the target.  That is, gather all possible targets then massify them into one target that shares a common trait related to your brand.  The hardest work at What’s the Idea? is taking all the gathered insights and massifying them into one claim — a claim which can be assiduously supported by three selling planks.   

I blind squirrel can find an insight. Creating an organizing principle for selling and loyalty, after you surface from the insight dive, that’s what I do.  Peace.

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I was reading B-school management stuff this morning and came across some smart thinking from a few years ago.  Treacy and Wiersema suggested success was earned through “operational excellence, product leadership and customer intimacy.”  Who could argue?  Crawford and Mathews started by expanding or segmenting the 4Ps to include “product, price, access, service and experience,” but their unique thesis, explained in their book The Myth of Excellence, is that they want companies to pick one of those areas in which to excel, one to be strong in and simply maintain parity in the others.  This, they posit, will create focus, consumer meaning and differentiation. Who could not listen to this argument?

These two school of business thought differ from mine, though, in that they are organized around corporate structure not brand structure. Huh?  Well, with the b-school approach, you could walk into the building and visit these departments using the office directory. In my brand planner view of the world, the company is organized not by department but by brand plank – or value proposition. Every company has a marketing dept., a finance dept., and product management, but few companies are organized to deliver value based upon the things that consumers care about – what moves them to preference and purchase.

Companies chatter about differentiation all the time yet organize themselves the same as every other company.  Companies that want to be different, that want to create greater value for their customers, are companies that focus their energies on the planks. In the healthcare system space, the plank covering “information and resource sharing” is not the IT dept. or the quality control dept. For a commercial maintenance company, the “preemptive” plank that prevents mishaps before they occur, is not the customer care dept.

Now before you get crazy. or think me crazy, I’m not advocating reinventing corporate structure – well maybe just a little.  I’m suggesting creating value at companies by better mirroring what customers care about. Companies with employees that understand customer needs, rather than operational excellence, etc., will be the market leaders of the future. How’s that for social business design, Peter Kim and Jeff Dachis? Peace.

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An important target for What’s the Idea? is the technology company. I’ve worked with AT&T on the digital applications side, helped launch Lucent (now Alcatel-Lucent), wrote a lauded brand strategy for ZDNet and have helped scads of mid-size tech companies and start-ups.  Beyond experience, why tech companies are so important is the fact that they don’t get branding. The best of the lot are engineer-driven and see brand and marketing nerds are empty jeans.

So for you tech engineers and entrepreneurs, here’s a simple metaphor: Brand planners are like back end developers. If the back end is the hardware and engine and the front end the software and user interface (UI), then we brand planners work the former. The back end creates the organizing principle that determines which 1s and 0s to turn on and off.  The brand plan creates and governs the same and the pathways.  It’s simple really.  Perhaps marketers have tried to make it sound so complicated with all our markobabble and talk about silly things like transparency, activation and, and, and.  But a brand plan is one meaningful strategy and 3 governing principles. On or off.  

The front end in the metaphor  — what users see — is advertising, newsletters, digital content, acquisition programs.  Without good governance, these things show up on a corporate homepage as 38 buttons.  What I love about people like Robert Scoble, Brian Solis, Steve Rubel, Peter Kim, Bob Gilbreath and Jeff Dachis to a degree, is they get the brand “back end” and, so, their front ends are meaningful. People understand them.

Engineers need to hear and live this lesson. If they do, they’ll see the market through infrared goggles. Peace!

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