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Storytelling in advertising and marketing is the haps. The narrative. The customer journey. These approaches refer to getting consumers onboard without direct selling. Direct selling being “me, me, me” advertising versus storytelling which is you, you, you — always a more thoughtful approach. An approach much harder to get funded by marketing officers.

Agencies like storytelling because it creates buildables. Video is big. A friend of mine with a women’s sneaker company tells me “everyone keeps calling trying to sell me video.” BBDO has a Lowes Vines story on its website, boasting of effective 6 second Vines videos that only cost Lowes $5,000.

I’m down with storytelling. And video. And the digital journey through an assortment of buildables. But I’m more down with strategy. Or moving consumers to the moral of the story –what one feels about a brand as a result of all the work. And it’s not just a click or a product purchase, it’s the why. I bought a Coke because I wanted refreshment. I bought a Krispy Kreme donut because I deserved a treat.

Story telling is good but branding is more like crescendo building. Moving custies closer to full on purposeful love. Geico, could take a note or two here. Peace.

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You know that old saying about teachers:  “Those who can, do.  Those who can’t, teach.” It’s disgraceful. It implies that teaching is all theory and concept. It suggests there is no practice, or modeling or real doing.  Just posting lessons and leaving it to students to understand and retain.  While there is probably some of that going on, most teachers today try to make learning stimulating and experiential.

Strategy and planning some times get the same wrap.  Lots of talk but not a lot of practical doing.  I joke that I make paper for a living – strategic paper. Paper outlining the organizing principle brands follow through which they create sales and loyalty.  To some, strategy is the opposite of doing. Strategy is not an ad, not a customer acquisition piece, not a sales preso.  

When a song writer sits dong to write a song, s/he doesn’t have a strategy.  

Most people in advertising and marketing who make and shuffle stuff around like that part of the business. Making shiny stuff. I love making the shiny stuff work better.

When a teacher sees a student, years later, who has succeeded — it warms his of her heart. When I look at a brand strategy years later that lives on and thrives, well beyond the forgettable shiny stuff, I feel equal pride.  Peace.

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There seems to be a trend in TV programs these days, especially heady police drama imports where directors use a good deal of white space during dialogue.  If a :60 radio spot contains, say, 120 words then a 47 minute TV drama probably contains a 3500 words of dialogue. Some of these new white space shows are quite powerful because of camera work, performance and real acting. What is left unsaid and anticipated can drive the viewing experience.

When it comes to marketing and advertising, there is very little white space.  White space is usually left to the art director – who becomes the only artist (ar-teest) in the room. Everyone else is piling on.  Strategists should be preservers of whitespace.  No unnecessary noise in the message to cover up the key selling points. Brand managers, too, can learn a thing about the power of white space. 

That which we do not say, allows what we do say to have more ballast.

White space.  Tink about it (as my Norwegian aunt Inga might have said.) Peace.

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 It seems lots of social headlines start with 3 steps, 7 tips and 6 critical somethings…so a number it is. Feed the social serpent hee hee.

I write briefs for a living. To get to a brief, I do lots of interviews.  It’s my secret sauce.  But the sauce changes from time to time to meet the evolving culture of buying and selling and here’s a brand new path of inquiry: arrogance.

Apple got tangled up in China recently for what the Chinese government referred to as arrogant  policies and behaviors and the word, often repeated in the reporting, got me thinking of ways to use it in planning.   “If your company was publically accused of arrogance,” one might ask a C-level, “to what would might they be referring?”  Or a questions to a salesperson, “When selling against your key competitor, what might you be arrogant about?”  Perhaps a question to a consumer “When brand X is being arrogant, what are they likely doing?”

Yes arrogance is a dirty word but it is quite pregnant with meaning. Remember, this is strategy, not creative.  I’m not suggesting being arrogant, I’m suggesting we probe it. Peace!

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Strategy is not a curveball.  It’s not hard to hit. It’s a fastball.  Strategy should come in straight, have a predictable trajectory and as long as you can put the bat out there and swing level, you make contact.

Here’s where things can go wrong.

  1. 1.    If the strategy, as an organizing principle, is not straight forward. If it’s malleable enough for the person who sets it to approve work product that isn’t over the plate. Strategy is not subjective.  Setting curveball strategy is mismanagement.  Strategy can change, mind you, but not on the fly.
  2. 2.    If the strategy is straight forward, well-explained and outlined, but not adhered to by team members, it’s a fail.  Strategy used as a guide, or directionally – open to personal interpretation — is useless. Carrying out the metaphor, the pitch is a fastball, but the hitter is just mad swinging all over the place.

The “s” word (strategy) is as over-used and misused as the “b” word (brand). But it is the most fundamental word in business. Peace.    


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Here’s my take on these three important engines of commerce. 

Sales is responsible for making money hit the bank account. When sales are good everyone in C-suite is happy. Sales people like patterns; if something works they will use it. Sales people like air cover so that prospects know who they are and what they do, even before they arrive. Sales people like leads, but they have to be great leads. And they like good support in the areas of communications, delivery and aftercare.

Operations is responsible for logistics. When products and services are procured, delivered and serviced in a frictionless environment, the C-suite is happy.  Operations is not just loading dock stuff, it’s about interdepartmental efficiency.  When operations are fluid and systematized, problems are dealt with quickly, minimizing hiccups and reducing negative impact on profits.

Strategy done well, is the traffic cop that makes sales and operation more fruitful.  Strategy is not mission, however. Every major league baseball team has a mission. Win games. Score more runs than the other team.  Every company has a mission. Make more money than you spend.  Make more money than the competition.  In Army parlance, the mission might be “take Hamburger Hill.”  The strategy on the other hand is how to take that hill.  

All strategy and no sales makes Jack a poor boy. All three areas need to perform together in order to create sustainable success. Now you don’t have to go out and buy Jack Welch’s books.  Go forth, Peace!

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The thing about corporate leadership is you need to know what you are leading.  Sounds simple right?  If you think you are leading “people” or, worse, “employees” you are toast.  If you are leading “change” more toast.  Throw “turnarounds,”  “team” and “movements” in for good measure. The what you’re leading is the product and product result for which people are paying.  Airlines are in the long distance transportation business.  If they lose sight of that and someone creates a helicopter that gets passengers where they want faster and cheaper the airlines lose.

Only when a leader understand the what can s/he focus on the why — what the company trying to accomplish? Should the why be to make the most money possible, that’s not leadership because it lacks product endemic vision. To take the fast helicopter example further, the why might be tied to the fact that when flying on a plane today one spends more time preparing to fly than actually flying. The why might be to be the most efficient means of long distance transport.

With the what and the why answered a great leader can then govern the chess pieces toward the how – the strategy. Everyone wants to be strategic.  But strategy without plan, without reason is really just a tactic is disguise. A company with a leader who has a dashboard with forty gauges and knows them all, but can’t tell you the what and why gets a B- at best. Peace!

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UnitedHealthcare (one word) is an insurance company with 78 thousand employees serving 70 million Americans. Those are some big numbers. And big numbers are what drive the company’s current advertising campaign. “Health in numbers” is the idea. With lots of data in hand and lots of analysts managing its output, the promise to consumers is an improved healthcare experience. That’s the micro promise; the macro promise is “we’re huge and can offer better insurance pricing.”

I’m pretty sure Ogilvy is the ad agency for UnitedHealtcare and, sadly, the ads are forgettable. Today there’s one in The New York Times showing a 60-something man riding a motorcycle with a flurry of animated numbers flying in his wake. That’s the visual idea. I know this advertising is targeting number crunchers in corporate America more than patients, but this is high school stuff. The copy in the ad is focused on “knowledge in numbers” and how data records can prevent contra-indicated medicines from being administered to patients, so as a brand student I can see there’s a plan here. The other brand planks are: strength in numbers, humanity in numbers and comfort in numbers. (Okay, I didn’t say a good plan.)

Here’s my diagnosis: Good strategy, not so good creative, poor client brand management. I’m betting the work was the product of a team of clients that couldn’t agree and therefore went with a hodgepodge, duct taped effort. The revenue was there for Ogilvy, the B team delivered a product, and the agency will live to see another campaign year. Maybe.

Ogilvy is better than this. And a company that can analyze data in a way that can save lives, is better than this. Peace!

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NYC’s Mayor Bloomberg is doing something really noble, it was reported today. He is spending some of his personal foundation money to help black and Latino male youths stay away from jail and become more employable and more employed.  Total dollars spent will be $130 million. If handled well, it will improve the quality of life of this group of young men who index high for lives of crime, becoming baby daddies but not husbands, jail time and recidivism.

I’ve read about a number of the program tactics and many are well thought out. Morning remedial classes and skills training tied to afternoon paid internships. Re-training 500 probation officers. 900 paid mentors. Yoga for anger management. Computer skills classes. Lots of tactics, but no strategy.  I’m not feeling a “see something, say something.”

Before Mr. Bloomberg gets out the checkbook and feeds the tactics mill he needs to get the strategy right.  The young men who are most at risk are angry.  Besides their anger sometimes all they have is pride or false pride.  Not being a good reader or student does not create a prideful environment for a man walking into a classroom.

Fear also surrounds this class of young men.  The fear they create in outsiders. The fear these young men instill in each other which is coin of the realm. The fear of losing control when trying to climb out…or of appearing to sell out.

Before the first million is spend on this important program, behavioral planners need to understand the fear and the anger. Really understand it.  With that understanding, working with brand planners they need to craft a strategy. Don’t hire Jay-Z. Don’t offer up Amare. Find a strategy that works on the street.  Not above it. Peace!

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There has been recent debate on marketing blogs about the role of the “creative technologist.”  As if technologists were not creative in their own right.  Edward Broches of Mullen and Scott Prindle of Crispin are active discoursers.  A big marketer and agency challenge today is finding and creating a central point around which the creative department, media department, strategy dept. and technologists can array.   As a brand planner, I vote strategy. Messrs. Brooches and Prindle, it seems, choose a coder comfortable in the sunlight and art galleries.

But upon further thought, I’m going in a different direction.  I am rolling with a creative analytics person. Talk about head down types.  Any new agency worth its fee has analytics people in pods around the shop.  They are overworked, natively digital and not particularly creative – though they may snowboard.  What they aren’t, are invited to the creative briefing meetings. And if they are, tend to be the quite dude in the corner.

These Analgesics (analysts who can find the pain) are seers of patterns. They may not be able to come up with a selling idea, TV spot or first user experience, but they can and should be in the room and allowed to contribute. Perhaps not the central figure, but in the room. Analgesics munch numbers like nobody’s business, plus they are real consumers.  Bring them to the table. Let them talk without being derided.

Analyzing success metrics, seeing patterns and predicting patterns will be the new black in creative development.  Peaceful!

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