whats the idea

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I’ve been thinking about two brand strategies lately. One for the Madison Square Garden the other for James Brown. Madison Square Garden’s is “The World’s Most Famous Arena.” James Brown was “The Hardest Working Man in Show Business.”  These two sentences are brand claims.

A claim is only good when it’s believable. If you’ve ever seen James Brown, you know his claim to be true. As for MSG, the same, but you may have to take their word for it to a degree.  There have been 4 Madison Square Garden’s and none in Madison Square since 1925. There have, indeed, been some amazing events in the 4 gardens, but it’s no Roman Coliseum. What The Garden is is a well-tended brand. At every major sports event the announcer welcomes one and all with “Welcome to Madison Square Garden, the world’s most famous arena.” The halls are bedazzled with black and whites of Ali-Frazier, George Harrison, and Mark Messier.   Hanging from the rafters are aging championship banners from the NY Rangers.

MSG works hard to prove its claim. James Brown used to sweat his claim.

Claims are the basis of brand strategy. With claim in hand, all that is left are the deeds and the proof. Peace.

 

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What the Is is.

One of the most Famous TedX talks on business strategy was giving by Simon Sinek in 2010.  It discusses his Golden Circle of strategy. In the circle are What, How and Why.  A nice example of the rule of three.  One of my favorite memes, used in branding, goes a step shorter – it use the rule of two. My meme is the Is-Does. What a product or service is and what it does. (Implicit in the does is the why.)

Is-Does comes out of brand work in the tech startup space. I thought about today’s post while reading a piece by a branding nerd from Google Ventures. GV helps startups with branding deliverables, E.g., name, logo, stuff.  At What’s The Idea? we help with paper strategy; the words and ideas that create the organizing principle that drives stuff.

Often at start-ups it’s not clear what the Is is. You visit their website, read for 10 minutes and still may not be able to figure it out. Is it hardware? Software? A web app? Social Net? Done poorly, these startup jump right into the does. What the product does. And likely it’s not even a does but a do – meaning a list of things. We do this, and this, and this…  Be you a startup, service company, beverage…get the Is-Does right and you have the beginnings of a brand.

Peace.

 

 

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I’ve had my NYTVR (New York Times Virtual Reality) cardboard box for months but never used it until I bought an Android Phone two days ago. To say the experience was mind blowing would be an understatement. I watched the beginning of “All who remain” a VR film about the conflict in South Sudan and initially didn’t know what to do.  Watching the screen for a few minutes it seemed just an average movie, albeit with very interesting subject matter and landscapes. Then I turned my head. And realized I could look up down and all around and see my full environment. Talk about Wow out loud.

The experience was a bit trippy and the definition far from high, but the marketer in me actually saw what my brain foresaw in theory years ago.

Robert Scoble has been a fan for a while; now I see why.

Brand strategy is about creating an organizing principle for product, experience and messaging. The experience part of the equation just opened up as never before.

This is going to be some ride. Remember when 200 social media agencies open in NYC 5 years ago. We ain’t seen nothing yet.

Peace.  

 

 

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If asked to provide one word that defines my business practice – one word that drives my philosophy of brand planning it would have to be “proof.”

Proof is the most tangible of marketing words. And the most tangible building block in brand strategy.

Proof trumps subjective opinion. It overrides marketing insouciance. It answers that age-old creative brief question “What is the reason to believe?”.  Teach a man to prove and you build a brand for a lifetime. In brand strategy, of course, you need to organize your proof;  into no more than three proof planks. Random proof becomes a grade school science fair.

The best framework for brand strategy is one claim and three proof planks. Get the claim right then make the proof fit like a glove.

Here’s an exercise: Spend time studying your marketing materials. See if you can discern the proof from the blather. From the self-interest babble. Underline or highlight the proof. See what you’ve got. Does it focus you?

Peace.

 

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It is tough when you are in a business selling the second thing a customer wants.  That’s my business — the business of branding. 

Not a lot of marketing-savvy people wake up in the morning saying “My brand needs a better strategy.” Most people who find their way to a brand strategy firm understand an “organizing principle for product, experience and messaging” is a good thing to have. Anything that can codify “sales improvement” and “organizational operation” is a plus for business. No one disputes that. BUT. As fiction winter Peter Heller likes to say in his one-word sentences. But, it’s not the first thing marketers crave.

First, they want a website with a customer testimonial from the NY Jets.

Or a radio campaign like Winthrop University Hospital.

Or to be able to buy other physical therapy companies and assimilate them in 3 weeks.

Or to explain the value proposition of the Affordable Care Act and be the hero provider.

Or position competitive cybersecurity companies as device-centric.

If brand design or brand strategy helps them get there, all the better.  But it is the second thing, not the first.

And that’s the bane of brand work. It’s also why I love brand strategy.  Once I find the first thing I can sell the second thing. BAM.

Peace.

 

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What comes first the brand strategy or the egg?  The question is particularly germane when brand planning for a service company whose deliverables are people, paper, process and transaction.  Does the strategy inform the service or the service inform the strategy? Almost always the answer is the latter.

When you work on this kind branding initiative the care-abouts and good-ats are numerous and varied – way more so than with a packaged good.  One of the areas I like to delve into with service companies is “tradition.” Not something you can do a deep dive on with  start-ups by the way. Borrowed from my early days in cultural anthropology, “custom and tradition” are fertile areas of study and important brand contributors. When there are none, things get tricky but you must push forward. Even into aspiration land. Projection techniques can provide unrealistic results but the learning is important.

I don’t currently have a “tradition” question in my discovery rigor, though there is one in the neighborhood. Definitely time to add tradition to the mix.

Peace…in Syria.

 

 

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Tools and Rules.

Yesterday I was watching a video entitled “How to Use Periscope Like A Pro” and about 3 minutes in the speaker mentioned the #1 rule for success: “Know your brand.”  Good advice. “Think about your brand, your message, your topic, your expertise,” was the speaker’s advice.

Know your brand (strategy) is how all brands must operate, be they on Periscope, 60 Minutes or Instagram.  The “B” word is easy to talk about in theory but not so much in practice. 90 out of 100 times the brand has no plan.  

Thanks to marketing’s social media and digital avalanche, we have tons of new tools and tool vendors. Read Twitter some time and see home many rule and tool providers are out there. Their Tweets all have numbers in the first sentence. “7 ways to..” and “15 surefire tactics to…”

Know your brand is good advice, being able to articulate it clearly, succinctly and in a meaningful way, is hard.  Brand architecture is the provenance of business people. Creating meaningful delivery is that of creative people.  A brand strategy (one claim and three proof planks) bridges the gap.

Only with a tight brand strategy in hand can the tools and rules take on true value.  

Peace.                         

 

 

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I took a part time job a couple of years ago doing something I’ve never done before. Sales. Belly-to-belly sales, to be more specific. Quite a departure getting paid to look the consuming public in the eye and pitch.  

“Story” had always been an important part of my marketing life but in this new position, after product knowledge, it became a very close second in terms of my sales effectiveness.

There are two basic kind of stories a salesperson can tell: product-based stories focusing of features, functions and outcomes and entertaining stories tangential to the product. Everyone needs the first to move the merch, but for me the entertaining, humanizing stories were the difference maker. They kept me on my toes and helped engage consumers.

The last two days I was working side-by-side at a trade show with our territory’s best sales person. He is brilliant with customers, performing straight from the sale manual and beyond. At his best he’s jovial, informative, a locomotive of product fact. His stories are all about product. I, on the other hand, used personal stories to pepper my sales. Some self-deprecating, some shared interest, some environmental – the whole gamut.

Turns out, mixing in some entertainment with sales haymakers was a winning combination. Not everyone is an entertainer. I’m no Sebastian Maniscalco.   As Jimmy Breslin taught us, the best way to tell the news is to get out of the building. In sales, the best way to sell product is to get out of the building…and the product is the building.      

Peace.                     

 

 

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In my brand strategy presentation I share real examples. The first couple of minutes are about theory and process then I trot out real client strategies, sans brand name, as they are proprietary.

The first examples, which everyone sees, is wonderfully tight, uncomplicated and easy to reckon. It’s for a commercial maintenance company – the people who keep buildings clean and operational: vacuuming, washing windows, emptying garbage and keeping the grounds in order. This particular commercial maintenance company had no brand. It had a logo, invoices, website and a strong owner.

When all the care-abouts and good-ats were understood and assembled, and the boil down complete, the brand strategy became quite obvious: “The navy seals of commercial maintenance.” The claim was supported by proof planks: fast, fastidious and preemptive.

As brand strategies go – and they are always 1 claim and 3 proof planks – this was a particularly easy metaphor. Not all are this easy. Done well, all brand strategies have a mellifluous quality to them. Almost like a song or hook, constructed out of product or company notes that create pride and desire.

Peace.

PS.  If you’d like to see the presentation, please write Steve@WhatsTheIdea.com

 

 

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I was thumbing through old Quora posts and noticed I had made a ringing endorsement of Google Glass.  “How could it not work?” The medical field alone would be enough to keep it an exciting new product. Wrong!

Many years ago I worked for McCann-Erickson, a top 3 advertising global agency. McCann handled Coca-Cola. They had just brought on a new creative director, Gordon Bowen, who stood before the entire NYC office in the grand ballroom of the Waldorf Astoria and he smilingly told us, “It’s Coke, how hard can it be.” It practically sells itself, he implied. Coke was gone within the year to a group called Creative Artists. A west coast talent agency.

So here’s one for the prognosticators.  Expect to be wrong. Even when you know you are right. Don’t be paranoid, but keep an eye toward the future knowing there are no absolutes.

I love to position myself as a beyond the dashboard planner. It’s where, I believe, the successful marketers need to play. But you get a black eye every now and again. Expect it. Learn from it. Parlay it.

Peace.

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