whats the idea

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My friend, Roy Elvove is EVP Worldwide Communications at arguably the best ad agency in the world, BBDO.  But to meet “Doc,” as his wife and friends call him, you’d never know he holds such a lofty job.  He has worked at BBDO since 1999 and never, ever taken the spotlight off of BBDO, it’s executives, achievements or clients. The thousands and thousands of comms and news items he’s facilitated are never about him. I’ve followed the careers of many agency communications officers — their names (as spokespeople) are almost always in the pieces.  Not Roy. You can barely find his name in the company directory.

Google him. All you’ll get is a LinkedIn profile, maybe some alma mater or special cause stuff.

Like a good baseball umpire (sorry about the tired metaphor, Doc wouldn’t stand for it), his presence is most felt by not being present. Focus the news on the news. No byline needed. That’s Roy.

I hope he writes a book someday and finally shares half of what he’s seen. But it will never happen. He doesn’t think that way. Brand first. Brand only.

Peace.

 

 

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In 1974 JWT London’s Stephen King wrote a Planning Guide. Thanks to Julian Cole of Bee Bee Do (BBDO) for sharing it today. The JPEG below summarizes nicely how a brand works, based upon Mr. King’s constellation of “appeals.”

This is a smart boil-down of what a brand is, why it works, and what it needs to do to connect with consumers.

I’m a simple man. One of the reason for my success in brand planning is my simpler view of branding. It is easier to articulate than that of many others. Verbose planners get you nodding. Then nodding. And more nodding until you can’t actually play back what they said. My meme-able word bites on branding stick.

In Mr. King’s case, I take into consideration all of his brand appeals but boil them down further. Into two variables in fact. I call it the Is-Does. What brand IS and what a brand DOES. The Does prioritizes the appeals and picks one. Ish. But don’t underestimate the Is.  The iPhone, for instance, was introduced as a phone, not a hybrid device. Smart.

Selling with simple language works. Consumers respond well. Even when those consumers are marketers.

Peace.

 

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If you read the previous What’s The Idea? post you’ll know I’m thinking about building an implementation phase into my brand planning engagement process. The idea is to become a brand supervisor at the client company for a couple of months to manage adherence. This, I know, is likely to go poorly unless handled with care.

Some people see strategy as constricting. Others see it as freeing.  I sit in the middle.  I certainly don’t want marketers to spend effort and money on “off message” activity. Bad for the brand and not great at building muscle. But I do want them to be as creative and exhilarated as possible when it comes to ideation. Not looking at a blank sheet of paper saves time. Having a jump start on marketing efforts is also an energy saver. And it creates focused, fertile ground for the work.

In the middle is where the on-prem brand supervisor will sit. Coaxing and charming good ideas and work that toes the strategy line. But also creating a new lens through which to see marketing that adds value to the brand, company and one’s carrer.

Ima need a syllabus.

Peace.

 

 

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One the fallacies of the brand planning business is that everything will change when the engagement is over. I’ve presented and sold brand strategy (an organizing principle for product, experience and messaging) to numerous clients, only to see it used to launch a tagline, logo, new website or ad campaign. And then little else.

In those cases it simply became stim for a top drawer tactic, not a strategy to work by. Not a strategy to build a brand.  

I’m beginning to rethink my offering. I’m beginning to see the value of packaging a 3-month on-prem implementation phase. One whereby I supervise the marketing department and help to fit any and all marketing activities and outputs to the newly purchased brand strategy. It’s only when marketing stuff is made that the strategy takes hold.  Brand strategy is not some ephemeral, cultural construct of the marketing department. It’s an activity guide.        

When you have a brand claim and three proof planks to guide the work, everything has a purpose. Everything is either on or off.  

(By the end of the day, I expect to be the owner of a little red house in Asheville, NC.)

Peace.                      

 

 

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Just reading an article suggesting that nearly everyone in China uses mobile devices to pay at retail. If it’s in China, it’s going to be in the US and Europe soon-ish.  Marketers in R&D mode may want to start planning and productizing around ways to keep lost and stolen phones from becoming debit tsunamis. When a phone is cash, the bad guys are going to figure out how to take advantage.

Clothing companies will need to make more secure and better fitting pockets. Software cos. will need better sign-on security and/or visual ID programs.  Luggage and/or millinery manufacturers will want to think about phone holsters and such — ways to secure our devices that are fashionable.

Whatever the winning solution looks like, it will be a bah-billion dollar business. Initially at least.       

Beyond the dashboard planners reap higher rewards.

Peace.

 

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How do you build a brand?  It’s an easy question. Sadly, it has a thousand answers.

Were I to ask how to build a car, the answer would be with an engine, steering, wheels, transmission, chassis, etc.  How do you build a sandwich? How do you make beer? Of course there will be variations in ingredients but the components are pretty static. Not so much in brand building.

If you ask ten brand consultancies you’ll get ten different constructs for what constitutes a brand plan.  Components may include product development guidelines, packaging, a visual identity scheme, (e.g., a logo, style and usage manual) and rough communications guidelines, but for the most part the actors charged with building the brand are a federation of marketing people inside and outside the company (agencies) following a marketing plan, not a brand plan.

Marketing plans are built with line items transferable from one company to then next. Metrics include: unit sales, revenue, market share and profit plan. And lots of tactical cow bell. Brand plans, on the other hand, are devoted to building product and consumer value. Values based on care-abouts and good ats. They are not transferable line items but values endemic to the product.

The best marketers are also great brand advocates. They don’t care only about the plumbing, they care about the product and its unique value to the consumer.

Peace.

 

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Brand strategy is more effective when understood and acted upon internally. Frankly, it’s the best way to get brand value disseminated externally. But most companies don’t really work this way. Ninety percent of brand word is external. Typically delivered through advertising, PR and promotion. 

Educating every employee in brand strategy, i.e., “claim and proof planks,” is the best and fastest way to have an impact.  It multiplies the power of branding exponentially.

The claim for a healthier-for-you cookie company was “Craft cookies au naturel.” The planks were “naturally moist,” “healthier properties” and “complex flavors.”  By understanding these simple values, every employee at every stage of development, manufacturing, delivery and marketing, can make easier decisions. There are no forks in the road. No room for interpretation. The talking points are set. These aren’t just words on a box but strategic selling points that add value and deflect competition.

Get the strategy right, get your internal house in order, then broadcast the brand value. Don’t ever forget the employees.

Peace.

 

 

  

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I’m all about systems. When developing a marketing plan I use my proprietary “24 Questions,” a follow-the-money rubric.  When working on a brand, I have a form simply called “Fact Finding Questions.” Broken into two sections, one for C-level executives, the other for top sales people it asks generic things, e.g., “If you were to get a job at a competitor, how would you deposition your current company?” Stuff like that. Good, but generic.

When working in a new category and having to learn a new language – a language in which I am illiterate – generic doesn’t always cut it.

I’ve worked with a magician and I’ve worked with a top two professional services company.  The questions that work for a teeth whitening company don’t translate. So my question framework almost always needs to go off the reservation.  The off-the-rezzy questions are always works in progress. They require listening, parrying, redirection and often a good deal of bi-directional story telling.  

When I ask an executive or sales person a question that spikes their blood pressure, it’s a hit. Follow that trail. If a hospice nurse is explaining how to tell whether a patient is minutes or hours away from passing, feel the mood. The sanctity. 

Learning is the absolute best part of brand planning.

Peace.

 

 

         

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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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