whats the idea

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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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It’s debatable how many companies actually have brand strategies.  They have brands, products, services, mission statements, taglines, marketing plans and ads. But brand strategies? Organizing principles for product, experience and messaging?  No so much. Many marketers have de facto brand strategies, not codified as “one claim and three proof planks.” They may take the form of a big “idea” with some provable supports. Or a de facto brand strategy may come from an ad, or highly effective promotion. Perhaps a marketing document drawn up during a peak sales period. But often, as can be the case with real brand strategies, de facto versions drift away.

I do a lot of training and it’s my belief that the root cause of powerful brands is training. Everyone at the company needs to know the brand strategy. Not just the brand managers. Geo-technical engineers need to know their brand strategies.  Kitchen remodelers need to know it. Truck drivers who deliver the goods, cardiothoracic surgeons who work for the system. Everybody.

When everyone is trained on brand strategy, when management spends time and money reinforcing it, a brand takes on a life of its own.

Peace.

 

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Coca-Cola’s key good-at is “refreshment.” There are few, few things better than a cold Coke on a warm day after a workout.  And when the consumer care-about is refreshment, a great product choice is Coke. Remember, brand strategy is about good-ats and care-abouts. 

Refreshment, rather than, longtime advertising attribute “happiness,” is an experiential, product-based proof. It’s a product reality. Coke’s current advertising tagline (brand line) is “Taste The Feeling.” An amalgam of cheerleading and emotion.   It is not a product based care-about or good-at. It’s advertising based.

Don’t get me wrong, I love advertising. Dave Trott teaches me the way to do it well it to connect. But connecting with the art is not the same as connecting with the product. Of course it’s harder to create compelling stories and poetry around products – but that’s the job.    

Brand planners need to focus the work on product-based care-abouts and good-ats. Coke should know better.

Peace.          

 

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Embrace Change.

Sound familiar? I may have read it somewhere before.

Does The New York Times executive director Dean Baquet have to embrace change when ad revenue at the paper paper is off double digits? Does Mark Zuckerberg have to change HR bereavement policy to stay more competitive as the “new thing” luster (but not revenue) wears off the Facebook brand? Does Michael Dowling, Northwell Health CEO, have to embrace change when facing an insurance market that has to set prices for 2018 in less than three month?

For a professional that spends a lot of time looking at brand and business heritage, mining the perceptual depths of consumer, one might think I don’t embrace change. That I’m not incentivized to embrace change. You’d be wrong. Tomorrow is the only day I care about.

Sure I look for business proof that feeds the framework of brand strategy. Sure I do some rearview mirror planning. But tomorrow is “beyond the dashboard.” Future revenue is tomorrow. All earthly business delights are to be found tomorrow.

Peace.

 

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I did a little driving this past week and noticed two rebranding efforts in the hospitality sector.  Holiday Inn did their’s a couple of years ago and Best Western more recently.  I wonder what each company paid for their rebrand efforts. If anyone knows, please share with me. It seems a no-brainer that one job was worth its weight in design gold, the other not so much.

Holiday Inn’s logo is contemporary, active, clean and refreshing. It suggests the same approach was taken renovating all the properties.  Though green is not one of my favorite colors, I have to admit the mark, type and name treatment work wonderfully.

The Best Western logo on the other hand, looks like a too-cool-for-type-school designer worked on it and it’s way over our heads, or, it was crafted by the CMO’s daughter who cuts hair in Jersey City.  (Not that there’s anything wrong with beauticians or Jersey City.) The Best Western logo is the opposite of Holiday Inn: Logy, a tad unkempt, colorless and sans any fashion sense. Close your eyes and imagine what the new room designs must look like. That is, if they were done at all.

Logo and style manual design in a rebrand isn’t everything but it’s a HUGE thing.

McPeace.

 

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Farhad Manjoo, The New York Times tech writer, wrote today “Thanks to automation we now make 85% more goods than we did in 1987, but with only two-thirds the number of workers.”

Well, automation has had a profound effect on the advertising business too. Specifically Google and programmatic ad buying. The algorithm (Google) and ad buying servers that issue media bids in microsecond have removed thousands of people from the business of creating and placing ads.

These two automation facts are not alternative.

So what must we do to slow the robots?  It’s going to be hard to out-think them. But perhaps we can out-emotion them. Out-strategize them. There’s a saying I like to trot out every once and a while “Just when you think you know something about this business, someone comes along and proves you wrong.” Why is that?  Because intuitive rules don’t always work. Science says they should, but people don’t buy that way. People are people. We’re random.

So don’t worry about the robots, worry about your buyer. Engage them in new and exciting ways, and you will outlive the machine.

Peace.

 

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I’m not against storytelling. It’s an important part of my business. When collecting information to build brand strategy I hunt for stories and often tell stories to get others to open up. But in and of itself, a story won’t do shit for a brand. Especially, if it’s off-piste.

Storytelling is a pop marketing topic many brand consultants rest upon.  My “brand-ar” goes off when I hear someone use the term; it suggests they’re blowing marko-babble smoke.

Think of storytelling as the code and brand strategy as the app. The app being the meaningful, useful tool.

Brand strategy done right is about claim and proof — packaged into a discrete organizing principle for product, experience and messaging.

Stories and storytelling are communications tools, not strategy tools.

Peace.

 

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Always Right.

No one likes someone who is “Always Right.”  That is, unless you are in a marketing meeting.

I have not worked for many people who earned this sobriquet — they are certainly not legion — but from those who have, I have learned a lot. The Always Right do not cudgel you with their views, they lead you; offering logic and support. And even when they drift into subjective supports you believe them because, well, they believe them.

The Always Right are not flawless. They just seem so. They know the data. They know the science. They understand the business. And they share that knowledge. That said, no one is perfect. It is marketing, after all.

The polar opposite of the Always Right is the “vacillator.” The “consensus builder.”  The “circuitous discusser.”   

Aspire to be Always Right. Listen, learn, process and decide. Don’t spout before you’re ready.  Don’t spout when you are not sure. But have a position.

Peace.

 

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Most brand strategists are insight doctors. Insight detectives.  Consumer behavior and motivation are their daily gruel. It’s a wonderful living. It’s like being a psychotherapist but without all the focus on negatives. I am a brand strategist of a different color. Certainly I can find insights with the best of them. Also I can write actionable projects briefs but my real job is in casting the master brand strategy. I plan the house while most brand strategists decorate the rooms.

A large brand, on any given day, may have 20 assignments in play across 5 agencies. That’s a lot of briefs. It’s not effective to have so many re-inventors and it’s not cost-effective.

I don’t want to put anyone out of work here but with a good master brand brief (aka brand brief) the need for strategy soldiers across agencies is lessened. And the work becomes tighter.

I went to a Conagra meeting on the Banquet brand a few years ago and there were probably 6 different agency strategists in the room. Silly.

Peace.                      

 

 

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Some brands don’t have to work hard. Their product is their brand strategy — and deeply embedded in their DNA. It comes easy because employees know what the product is, what the product does (Is-Does) and why it’s needed.  When that happens consumers/buyers can’t help but parrot that value.

Helly Hansen is one such brand. For them, life is easy.

I’m not exactly sure what the Helly “claim” is, but I can certainly articulate its 3 “brand planks.” They are “warm,” “dry” and “protected.”  These good-ats and the customer care-abouts and both powerful and nicely aligned. A perfect fit.

So long as Helly Hanson spends its marketing money demonstrating warm, dry and protected, the brand can’t help but be strengthen.

This is a great example of product and marketing working closely together. All companies should aspire to this type of relationship.

Peace.    

 

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