tactics-palooza

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Tactics-Palooza.

A growing industry is taking hold in the marketing world fueled by one-off new media helpers.  Packaged as consultants, they offer social media, website, email marketing and online advertising tactics to those interested in spicing up marketing returns.  Check your Twitter feed for 140 character posts that contain primary numbers such as “7 steps to, 5 surefire rules, 3 critical digital mistakes…” to easily identify these tactical helpers.  People crave this stuff and it sells.

But I giggle at these tactically focused sales pitches. Tactics-palooza only works if the basic groundwork of brand strategy is set. Brand strategy must be in place for any tactic to be maximized. It’s my experience, especially with mid-size companies, that this is just not happening.  Mid-size and small businesses are studying content marketing, mobile ad buys, Google AdWords, responsive design and the like, without understanding how best to position their companies for maximum result.

It’s a tactical shit show. A shiny, not-so-new thing that has captured marketing dollars with little, if any, effectiveness. It’s ingredient buying without the recipe.

Peace.

 

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When talking about social media programs to clients I tell them “be interested in what your customers are  interested in.”  Of course, these interests have to align with their brand strategy (1 claim, 3 planks). Yesterday I was looking at some Instagram photos of Love Grace cold pressed juices and admired how they pointed to a blogger sharing a number of yoga poses.  I haven’t written a brand strat for Love Grace, but feel what they are doing. And I’m sensing the neighborhood they’re living in. 

When a company owns a space, owns an idea in the customer’s mind, and they choose to not always sell product, customers relax around them.  This constant need to sell reminds me of going to a party and talking to a car salesman who is always “on.”

I’ve been trying to get close to PC Richard and Sons, a huge retailer in NY, who knows a thing about selling.  They have a marketing dept. and a dedicated social media group. They’ve even hired a social media agency, I suspect. But they don’t have a visible brand strategy they follow when it comes to social. Their’s is a tactics-palooza plan. Unlike Love Grace, PC Richards & Sons talks about promo, price and service. That’s not a plan. That’s the category.

If you understand what your customers care about and use social media to prove you also care about those things – and if those things put deposits in your brand bank, you are using social the correct way. Peace.

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Brand Mixology.

Brand planning is going to be huge.  Brand plan is an organizing principle for product and messaging and the need for it is growing exponentially as we turn brands over to the Web…and to consumers.  This came to me after driving home from Higbie Bagel Saturday morning listening to a “Coors Light Night Rules” radio promotion. “Send us your night rules” the spot asked.  Coors is asking people to sign up on their website and enter a fun idea about evening drinking behavior. Oooh. Tactics-palooza. Do it on the Facebook page, I’m sure, and all-the-better.

Coors Light has fallen into a cycle of promotions that is watering down (pun) brand meaning by using by non-endemic brand values and it is confusing consumers. When everything is a promotion, game, or boutique campaign, the brand loses essential meaning. And web and digital agencies, left unmanaged, are contributing to this fast twitch, near term brand mixology.

I was reading a recipe recently for a chicken dish.  There were so many spices in the dish it lost its taste focus. Like adding too many paint colors and coming up with brown. The mixology of brands needs to be well thought out, simple, compelling and most importantly managed.  Think Steve Jobs.

The soap box is yours. Peace!

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Ideas are hard to trust. Tangible things like design, ads, copy, promotion, and user experience are easier to trust.  You can see them, ask your friends about them, test them.  “I love that logo. That ad brought in 100 new customers.  My email campaign had a 1.25% click through rate.”

But ideas? You can’t scientifically parse and evaluate an idea.  Brand strategies are ideas. Volvo makes you safer.  Coca Cola refeshes. Cottonelle is softer.  These brand strategies, like all good ones, are indelible.  I’ve written a great deal about ROS or return on strategy.  So far, ROS is just an idea.  Though one can calculate ROI ( return on investment/tactic), return on strategy is much harder to calculate.  Why? Because ROS tries to understand the value of an idea. When I sell “rebooting the phone business” to a VOIP client along with 3 organizing principles to support the claim, I’m selling an idea. This idea might be measured in year over year sales, but on paper, how it is dimensionalized and quantified is not easy. (I still have work to do.)

Because ideas are easy to understand but harder to trust, branding has lost ground in today’s marketing world.  I joke that digital has created tactics-palooza and it’s true.  The best brands are idea-driven. Tight ideas and tight supports. Ideas create new products. Ideas motivate armies. Ideas make you happy or sad.

Ideas are hard to sell but the top tier CMOs get them. And live them.  What’s your brand’s idea? Peace.

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In a Forbes interview with David Eastman, CEO, JWT North America, he speaks of his shop’s unique place in history. Of course, some of it was the same old/same old, which made sense for the audience, but what really stuck out was JWT’s commitment to integrating digital into its offering.  Mr. Eastman may be the first digital officer to CEO a major holding company ad shop.

For a big global shop like JWT, digital is really the R&D department. R&D never really existed at agencies before.  Sure, there were innovations think tanks and media kitchens but those were mostly window dressing.  Eastman believes R&D is an investment not an expense and because JWT hangs with major consumer brands and has a strong brand planning culture, everyone gets the value of a powerful brand idea and everyone gets a seat at the table. This R&D department isn’t off campus in a lab somewhere. Even creatives are open to the manifest destiny love (ish).

So what does this mean?  The outputs are better.  The ads are informed by digital insights, the didge is coddled by emotional consumer brand ideas, and the media intersects at just the right moment. The work doesn’t feel like work to many consumers, it feels welcome and softly influential. “Soft influence.” Hmm, I like that.

Sometime the approach is a little sloppy, sometimes it’s quite elegant, but it’s almost always goaled (as they say) on being brand-strategic.  In this tactics-palooza marketing world, a holding company shop with a transmedia team working with the wind at its back offers a superior product.  But you knew that. Peace!

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As the role of marketing director gets more complicated, owing to all the new tools and arithmetic available to sellers and selling agents, the brand plan grows in importance.  I met with smart strategist Noah Brier a while ago and he asked me “How do you define a brand plan?”  Everyone has a different definition, he added.  Truism that.

My brand plan is quite simple: One claim, three proof planks. The claim embodies or pays off the Is-Does (what a brand is and what a brand does) and the proof planks (or supports) organize the story – into 3 telling and impactful reasons to believe.  A brand plan is an organizing principle for selling more.

I wrote a consultant this morning telling her how most companies can save mad money by investing in a tight brand plan. Rather than pay a marketing person $150,000 a year, a company can pay $90,000 per year if the brand plan is definitive.  And if the KPIs (key performance indicators) are correct.  And beyond the annualized salary savings, don’t forget the money spent on wasted tactics each year by marketing organizations — money that could be saved with a brand plan. John Wanamaker’s famous suggestion that only ‘half his advertising was working, he just didn’t know which half,’ can also be applied to marketing tactics today.  We are living tactics-palooza. More cowbell, I mean, more social media!

My business is called What’s the Idea? for a reason. Most businesses don’t have an idea (a brand strategy) they can articulate without going all mark-babble and tripping over their tongues. One idea, three selling planks.  Pieces!

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Poor, poor New York Knicks.  They own and play in the world’s most famous arena.  They’re backed by a smart company that has more money and love (for them) than are most sports franchises, but when it comes to marketing they can’t find their fanny with their hands.

 

Co:, a new marketing company formed by Ty Montague and Rosemarie Ryan, most recently of JWT, touted the Knicks as one of their first clients.  How’s that coffee smell y’all?  What a mess they stepped into.  Today’s New York Times reports the new Knicks adverting effort is a five agency ass-grab, sans an idea.  Co: has really taken a small role, according to the article, with only a limited mention.  Stuart Elliot, the Times advertising writer, suggests the idea is “You. Us. We. Now.”  Is that an idea…or four? Is there an acronym for Cry Out Loud? 

Everyone interviewed in the article says the wrong thing. The story suggests tactics-palloza  — and there is a focus on “fan engagement” that is well-intended but laughable.

Declare

Last year the Knicks idea was “Declare.”  What they meant to say was “Represent” but that, I’m sure, was a bit too urban.  How can you be urban and not urban in one word?  

The creative this year focuses on the players because they are all new. Lazy. It should be focusing on the basketball void that has been NYC for years. Hear that sucking sound?  If you want some hoops in NYC this year get your shoes out to Carnesecca Arena. Peace!

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People sometimes jokingly ask me “What is the idea? referring to the name of my consultancy. My answer, borrowed from Sergio Zyman of the Zyman Group, is “sell more, to more, more often, at higher margins.”  That’s the ultimate goal of marketing, no? The quadruple crown.  Interestingly, unit sales, market penetration, per capita consumption, and higher margins are different measures. Linked, yes, but different.

When writing a marketing plan I typically start out with an exercise called The 24 Questions.  It’s traditional marketing, follow-the-money kind of stuff. Who’s buying? When? Who is involved in the decision? Most profitable customers? Margins? Channels?, etc. Once I get the money part of the equation I delve into brand questions — from the points of view of management, employees and customers. Some of the questions are designed to get to the truth and bypass the drama and ass-covering.

Prioritization.

The hard work is in ranking the business objectives. Most of my decks (PPT presentations of findings) array a healthy number of business objectives. Prioritizing objectives leads to prioritized strategies which require someone at the company to put one objective at the top: “On a sinking boat which child would you save?” kind of question. These decisions are the provenance of the brain not the algorithm.  

ROS

ROS (return on strategy) is a metric that measures business and marketing strategy. ROI, on the other hand, ties marketing tactics to dollar return.  Not to minimize tactics, but you can buy a tactic from any marcom agency on the street. And thanks to the web – the greatest marketing tool since paper money – we’re in the midst of something I call Tactics-palooza.  ROS allows you to measure business objectives through a strategic lens. ROS is the way to go. Think of it as a crop-producing farm next to a field of healthy weeds. Peace!

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