proof planks

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Not enough credit has been giving to the name of my business in this blog. What’s The Idea? is the name of the blog and the business. People think is a cool name even though the URL requires explanation: “Not what is the idea, what’s the idea dot com, sans apostrophe.”

What’s The Idea? perfectly describes my brand consultancy. The search for a fitting and motivating brand idea consumes me. A single idea that captures what consumers care about and what brands are good at. (Care-abouts and good-ats.)

Not every marketer thinks they need an “idea.”  It’s not top of mind. But a sound brand idea helps position, sell and defend against competitors. If you market and don’t brand, you’re apt to struggle.

The funny thing is, the “ideas” I come up with are almost never mine. Sure I put the words together. I may even add some poetry. But the ideas come from others: from buyers, and sellers, and influencers. I’m actually just the curator. The prioritizer. I decide which idea best motivates selling and buying of a particular brand. The I organize under that idea, three proof planks to guide the way.

So when I say “What’s The Idea?” to a marketer, I’m not just branding, I’m asking a fundamental marketing question.

What is your brand idea?

Peace.

  

 

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satya nadella

In a recent Microsoft speech in NY, Satya Nadella shared the latest company mission. I know this because following are his words. (Frankly, at America companies missions are a dime a dozen — as oft changed as ad campaigns — but when Microsoft speaks we must listen.

The mission:

“Empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more.” Mr. Nadella added that the mission will act as “a guide to inform the choices we make every day, whether it’s a customer interaction or a product design decision.”

Whether you like the “empower achievement” words or not, you have to give credit to Mr. Nadella for boiling down what his company does.  Personally, I would call this a brand claim, but either way I like how Mr. Nadella suggests this is a guiding principle for people and product. By enculturated a brand claim throughout Microsoft, he is tightening the reins and empowering his people.

Missions are broad, brand strategies are tight.  Where brand strategies put real money in the bank, though, are via the brand planks: the three key proof or support areas that prop up the claim. This is what I haven’t heard yet. Right now we have a claim…I’m eager to hear the proof planks.

Peace.                 

 

 

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Fiction is a big seller in today’s arts and entertainment world. Watch all the trailers before a movie the next time you go and see what we are pumping money into. Look at top selling books today and winning TV programming.

Fiction also plays a heavy hand in marketing these days. And it’s up to brand planners to quell the movement.  In my brand strategy practice, as in the majority of fellow practices, I look for truths about the product. Truths that radiate from what consumers “care about” and product is “good-at.” Every once in a while, I run into a care-about that is so important to a decision making process that it must find its way into the brand strategy (one claim, three proof planks), even if not a key brand strength. (I will never create a brand plank unless there is a least a middling strength in the area.) For example, in K-12 education it is known that active parents, who lord over their children’s work and effort, produce better academic outcomes. For a brand with great strength in classroom technology and teacher professional development, I recommended strengthening “parent involvement” activities and tools. Was it fiction?  No. A bit of a stretch maybe but the company already had some tools; this was a strategic decision to evolve further.

In brand strategy never leave the truth for fiction. When you do, brands get lost.

Peace.                                                             

 

 

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Brand Lift-Off.

One of the goals of What’s The Idea? is to create for clients explicit guidance for “product, experience and messaging.” It’s not easy but it’s doable. The real hard part is turning that explicit brand strategy into implicit company actions. Brand actions, behaviors and deeds enculturated through the company or brand group are the Holy Grail. When this happens consumers learn and follow. As brand strategy permeates a company and the using masses, brands begin to thrive. You can feel it.

Brand strategy training is a key component of brand management. When the receptionist knows the brand claim and proof array (3 proof planks) and is able to espouse and act on it as well as the CEO and CMO, we have lift off.

When explicit turns implicit, we have brand lift off.

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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Master and Commandee.

Last night at Google Firestarters, Chet Gulland, head of strategy at Droga5 NY, mentioned “1 idea, 50 briefs.” For another Droga brand he spoke of 30 briefs. (The topic of the event, as you might imagine, was the brief.) The brief is what keeps agency planning departments in business. Each project should have a brief. It should outline the task, opportunity, problem and provide a solution spark. The more insightful and powerful these briefs, the better the work…so goes the logic.

An undercurrent at Firestarter and an undercurrent about briefs in general (check out this exceptional video) is that briefs are better seen not heard. Shorter is better. Problem-focus is important. Agile and open are also key.  One panelist, in fact, suggested no brief is the best brief – but he was from a product development/innovation company.

I completely agree with Mr. Gulland though I might word it a little differently. One brand brief, 50 creative briefs. At What’s The Idea?, the idea (claim) is the brand strategy. It is supported by 3 proof planks. Any creative brief, developed by any cohort, must be on idea. The actions, experiences and programs used to generate sales, guided by individual creative briefs, should all celebrate the idea (claim) and support one of the proof planks. Claim and proof.

The brand brief and the many creative briefs it sires will keep planners busy for years to come.

Thanks to Google, Ben Malbon and Abigail Posner for another wonderful event. Eliza Esquivel of Mondelez was exceptional too.

Peace.

 

 

 

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I’m a meme-alist. That’s someone who likes to create memes. In my area of business — brand strategy — I own a few memes. Twitch Point Planning. Posters and Pasters. Brand Planners Prayer. Well actually, no one ever owns a meme, so let’s just say I started them. And they point to What’s The Idea?

My biggest business building meme (or it should be) is Claim and Proof. It’s undergirds every aspect of my work. The idea referred to in What’s the Idea? is the claim. The proof array or proof planks are the reasons to believe. The reasons to remember. 

claim and proof art

If you Google Claim and Proof you won’t find What’s the Idea? You’ll get lots of pages of bankruptcy links about proof of claim (claim and proof inverted). Google “Claim and Proof” in quotes and you will only find a picture from my deck on brand strategy. Above the fold. It will get you to my stuff, but it’s a picture not a link. Seems there’s a paucity of art related to Claim and Proof. Hint, hint.

For my business, the order of claim and proof is important. The words cannot be flopped.

If you Google Claim and Proof Planks you get What’s The Idea? in living color. It’s not as meme-able as claim and proof sans quotes, but it’s a bullseye. As a meme-alist, I help clients find their idea then develop ways to meme-alate it. Hee hee…I can’t stop!!!$%%.

Peace.

 

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This is a blog about brand planning and marketing. There are millions of marketers in the world and only a thousand or so brand planners. Most brand planners also known as account planners work at ad agencies. The rest are consultants like me, hiring themselves out to agencies or working directly with marketers.

A brand planner is a strategist. In my case, I am an up stream strategist who helps organize product, experience and messaging. My tool is a specialized brand plan, consisting of one claim and 3 proof planks. The word plank was borrowed the political world. Each brand plan has three key planks, all of which support the claim. It’s a family.

What resides in a proof plank? Real examples. Evidence. Existential proof of the brand claim. No platitudes. No marko-babble. No blather or bluster. Just proof.  People remember proof. They remember it before claim.  In healthcare there is lots of talk today about “evidence-based” medicine. That’s what makes a great brand plan. Proof and evidence.

For examples or just a chat about evidence based brand planning, write Steve at WhatsTheIdea.

Peace.

 

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I attended Google Firestarters last night in NYC (thanks Ben Malbon), the topic of which was “constraints” and how they can fuel business and marketing improvements. Speakers included Adam Morgan (Eat Big Fish) and Mark Barden (ex-Guinness) co-authors of the smart new book A Beautiful Constraint. Firestarter panel 012215 In the morning I spoke at a great small business panel sponsored by Teacher Federal Credit Union on the topic of “Return on Strategy.”  One of my business constraints is that I’m a self-taught brand planner. Ada Alpert and other brand planning recruiters won’t touch me because I don’t come out of a traditional brand planning shop. I’ve also not been schooled by a member of the British Mafia. To overcome this constraint I’ve had to study hard from afar, creating my own syllabus and curriculum.

Return on Strategy is one of my self-taught tools. Here’s how it works: Measure your brand strategy (not tactics) and see if adherence puts more money in the bank. Period.

An example: Years ago, AT&T Business Communications Services knew if consumers 1. felt price was within 10% of its closest competitor, 2. believed they had a more reliable network and 3. provided innovative tools to help businesses grow, market share would grow. These became the 3 legs of the strategy. Perception of these things is what we measured through tracking research. So long as we maintained advantage in all three areas AT&T added customers. If we slipped in one area, we started losing customers. Gotta love science.

For my clients the search is all about finding the three key business-building strategies that help grow business. I call them proof planks. When I find the planks I help clients build and manage them. I also make sure they measure adherence and tie it to business gains. You have now attended What’s the Idea? 101. Peace.

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When developing brand strategy I look for the claim then search for 3 business-building planks that support that claim. Proof planks, in other words. Proof can be tangible or it can be developmental and additive.  What do I mean by developmental and additive? Let’s just say it’s a goal and we may not be there yet — it’s under development. From a messaging point of view we may not have the scientific proof yet, but we know how to talk about it. Sympathize with it. And celebrate it.

Were I selling for Taco Bell and had a proof plank about using ingredients imported from South and Latin America, I might talk about the qualities of those ingredients that make for a uniquely South American taste (soil, sun, mountains).  In the meantime, while that proof is under development, the company had better be looking for real sources. Proof under development is a little like working at a start-up, it’s about what you know, not what you make – about what your mission is, not what you can deliver right now.

This may sounds disingenuous, but it’s not. I would never suggest lying or misleading. In the Taco Bell example it would have to be known that, say, the peppers were from the arid southwestern US – but the story has a beginning, a direction and a motivation.  Peace.

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