whatstheidea

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There are lots of corporate executives out there who believe brands are the provenance of packaged goods companies. And while they will admit to having a brand name and logo, they don’t see the need for a brand strategy.

Service companies are about selling and sales teams. They are about lead generation, acquisition, sales commission, and turnover. Most service companies have directors of marketing but the dept. is little more than sales support and web. At larger companies marketing manages advertising. Sometimes, these marketing directors don’t even appear on the company website.

Service companies need brand strategy as much if not more than packaged good companies. They need an organizing principle for product, experience and messaging. When people are your product — and we all know people are hard to manage, just ask any parent – there is little to direct them. 

When I working at Teq Inc., a reseller of interactive whiteboards to schools, many employees on LinkedIn said they worked in education management.  Others said software and still others said Teq was a hardware company.  (What do you do for a living mommy?)  

If you work at a service company or professional group you can have a competitive advantage – it’s called brand strategy.

Peace|

 

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…was yesterday’s headline announcing someone new will be fill the costume of Big Bird on Sesame Street. The new talent will study Big Bird’s mannerisms, body language, physical quirks and more.  Going to game film, as it were.  I’m not sure if the voice will change but my guess is the new Big Bird will step in seamlessly and miss nary a beat.

Why, so seamless?

Because the Big Bird is, effectively, a brand; a brand that has been managed very, very well. Sure a package is a package — and that hasn’t changed in 50 years — but it’s what’s inside the package that counts. Goofy. Lumbering. Thoughtful. Concerned. Open and positive. These are all things associated with Big Bird. These are brand qualities, traits and expectation of Big Bird.   

The new actor who plays Big Bird has big shoes to fill (sorry). One misstep and it will be seen. But Mr. Spinney and the Sesame Street brand managers did such a brilliant job there will be no missteps.

Peace|

 

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If I’ve read it once, I’ve read or heard it a thousand times, the four words in the headline referring to good advertising: Cut through the clutter. Talk about setting the bar low! And if you are advertising you are branding. Proponents of this kind of investment need to be taken to the woodshed.

If the main goal of communications to customers and prospects is simply to have them notice us we’re being stupid lazy. And likely ceding too much power to the ad makers.

Shouldn’t our aspiration for communications be to make people “feel something, then do something?” And shouldn’t those feelings and doings be strategic?  Based upon brand values and brand claim?  

If you ever find yourself in a room with makers and hear the words “cut through the clutter,” you are probably about to create the clutter.

Don’t do it. 

Peace|

 

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ROS stands for return on strategy. In my world brand strategy is strategy. As “an organizing principle for product, experience and messaging,” there is very little that a brand strategy doesn’t touch.

So as Sears tries to become profitable out of bankruptcy and needs to sell under performing stores, that’s about the product. The retail stores being Sears product.  If Sears decides to double down on Spanish and Latino customers (as I’ve suggested for years), that’s about experience. And if Sears wants to let customers know it’s time to check it out again, that’s messaging.

The best brand strategies are business-measurable. Not in awareness levels, and engagement, and likeability, but in sales, loyalty and referrals. Attitudes and preference overlaid with sales.

That’s what return on brand strategy is. Returns that can go into the bank. Deposits.

Two decades ago when I told a NY-based healthcare system that proving you had better nurses resulted in higher physician retention, my client marketing lead scratched his head.

Return On Strategy ain’t no disco.

 

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Lots of people talk about company culture. Like it’s a good thing. I’m not so sure. Culture, of course, is a good thing. But company culture, in and of itself, can be limiting. When you put a bunch of likeminds in a room the tendency is to swim together.  Nothing wrong with a little corporate water ballet, but I’m one that likes things a tad messy — where ideas and ideals are challenged. That’s how innovation happens.

So what’s better than corporate culture? I’m sure you saw this one coming: brand strategy. That so-called “organizing principle for product, experience and messaging.”  

When a commercial maintenance company uses the brand claim “Navy Seals of Commercial Maintenance,” supported by brand planks “fast, fastidious and preemptive,” company employees are able to build a certain, almost predicable value. Unimpeded by a set of cultural beliefs. Brand strategy is freeing not limiting.

It’s okay to study corporate culture but it’s way more productive to study and set brand strategy.

Peace|

 

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First question, “Do you have a brand?”  Most marketers will answer yes.

Second questions, “Do you have a brand strategy?”  Those same people are likely to pause then offer a less-than-emphatic yes.

Third question, “Can you articulate your brand strategy?”  This is where the homina-homina kicks in.

It’s a simple fact that most brand practitioners (meaning client side marketing or brand managers) have brands but not a tight articulation of strategy. Most agencies (ad, digital, PR, direct) also don’t follow a tight articulation of brand strategy — because one doesn’t exist. Brand strategy is the least scientific business tool in commerce. It’s an ideal. Not a framework.

Brand strategy is an organizing principle for product, experience and messaging; all three of which are marketing’s domain. Actual brand strategy framework is one claim, three proof planks.

Ask Interbrand, Landor, Future Brand, Siegel+Gale, Lippincott, Brand Union and Wolff Olins what their framework for brand strategy is and all you get is talk, process and case studies. They are long on smart people, insights, approaches, logos and style guides, but no framework. No “business-winning” binary (on or off) approach to building a brand.

When you have a framework that shows when work is on strategy or off strategy, you have found the brand building grail.

Peace|

 

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Storytelling is big in marketing today.  One flavor espoused by Co-Collective CEO Ty Montague is called Story Doing, a smart improvement.  I’m a fan-boy of doing rather than telling.

HOWEVER. And with me there is always a however when it comes to brand. However, a word that trumps “story” is “strategy.”  Using Mr. Montague’s construct then, a more active and effective form of brand building is Strategy Doing…inelegant though it may sound. Strategy Doing is the fastest way to build brands.

I love a good story. It can be captivating. And memorable. But unless the story adds value to the brand, unless it moves the ball farther upfield with regard to the brand claim and proof array, it may no more helpful than the Three Little Pigs.

Story telling good. Story doing, better. Strategy Doing, bestestest!

Peace.

 

 

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Anyone who has ever eaten fruit cocktail knows it tastes like sugar…and nothing but the sugar. As I’ve said to scores of marketers who have seen my brand framework presentation “The grape tastes like the peach, which tastes like the cherry, which tastes like the pear.” When you try to do too much, you do nothing.  The fruit cocktail effect.

Okay, not the greatest metaphor ever constructed, but it’s meme-able.

As a younger man, volunteering on archeological digs, I troweled dirt and paint brushed away the years in an effort to uncover artifacts from prior people and cultures. Eventually all the dirt would end up in a sifter which revealed small goodies from our slow and methodical labors. 

Brand discovery is a lot like that. We gather massive amounts of information and sift. Sift for goodies. In the case of my branding practice the goodies are called proofs. Tangible things, just like artifacts, that help construct a concrete story.  And because of the fruit cocktail effect, we know that only a few artifacts get into the story.

Amass and de-mass.

Peace.

 

 

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Someone recently posted this question to Quora “What’s the fastest way to build a brand?”  The answer is and always has been, through heavy doses of good network television advertising.  It provides sight and sound of a controlled message, broadcast to millions of people, millions of times.  Some cord cutting millennials might build a case they only watch Netflix and Hulu, but they still watch sports and news. Ish.

The slowest way to build a brand is without a meaningful brand strategy to guide product, experience and messaging. Those who study brand building, who study customers, sales and marketing, understand brand strategy as an organizing principle. An organizing principle that aligns brand values and good-ats with customer care-abouts.

Good things happen to products and bad things happen to products. Hacks, if you will. Well, you can hack a product but you can’t hack a brand. Because brand strategies are principle-based.  It’s impossible to hack a principle. The people who manage the principle can be hacked, but not the principle itself.

Get yourself a brand strategy and start building!

Peace.

 

 

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Inexpensive and Easy.

A quote from The New York Times today points to market forces that have made Jeff Bezo the richest man in the world.

“One is the unequal impact of digital technology, which has reduced costs and brought convenience to many.”  

Digital technology has allowed Mr. Bezos to gather $160B in personal wealth, simply by making shopping less expensive and easier.  Less expensive and easy are, not surprisingly, money-makers.

Brand strategy makes marketing less expensive and easier.  It does so by pointing all company actors in a similar direction. It gives them direction for their innovations. It corrals vendors. And it programs consumers to understand quite clearly the value of a product or service.

Marketing is strengthened by strong blocking and tackling. But it needs creativity. Some on the creative side view brand strategy as limiting; as creating limits to creative outputs. Nothing could be further from the truth. Brand strategy sustains creativity. It gives creativity a reason for being. A goal.

Peace|

 

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