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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There are many definitions of brand strategy. Most hard to understand.  And for businesses whose sole purpose is clarity of message, you would think brand strategy definitions would be easy.  

Here’s mine: “An organizing principle for product, experience and messaging.”

What does an organizing principle look like in words?  (Brand strategy is inanimate.)  Well, it is a “claim and proof” array. A single claim about brand superiority or value, supported by 3 proof planks. Proof planks are evidence of the claim, grouped into homogenous clusters.  One of my favorite brand claims for a small commercial cleaning and maintenance company is “The Navy Seals of Commercial Maintenance.”  The proof planks are: “Fast,” “Fastidious” and “Preemptive.”  Put these words into a single sentence and you have a clean, articulate brand strategy. You are organized to market. You are organized to productize. You can build your business experience, communications and website.

Okay other businesses out there — care to share your brand strategies in one sentence?

Peace|

 

 

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Eric Christianson, chief marketing officers for Perdue Farms, was quoted in USA Today as saying the new package design for its fresh chicken is about “contemporizing the brand” for Millennials.  

Research suggests young consumers care about the humane treatment of animals raised for food – and, so, the industrialized approach to husbandry, e.g., heads sticking though gates, animals shoulder to shoulder, is distasteful.  Perdue has enlivened its packaging with a band of blue at the bottom showing a farm-scape and lone chicken pecking at the ground. Quite a reality stretch, if you ask me.  A consultant quoted in the article suggests this “repositioning” will speak to Millennials. Whoa.  Package design is not positioning.  

Nowhere in Mr. Christianson’s comments did I read about brand strategy. Contemporize is not a brand strategy word. It’s a tactical word. It’s a targeting word. Chief marketing officers who move the same pieces around the gameboard can’t expect long term sales gains.

Repositioning is about brand strategy. Not packaging. Not targeting. Brand strategy is an organizing principle anchored to an idea. I don’t see an idea here.

Peace|

 

 

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A brand is an empty vessel into which we pour meaning, someone smart once told me.  But products and services often exist before the name is created. So the vessel isn’t quite empty, is it?

Have you ever named a child? Empty vessel. Or is it?  The parent’s backgrounds are often contributors: family names, favorite bands, etc. (A couple of hippies I knew in college named their kids Dylan and Hendrix.) Were those kids empty vessels? You decide. 

Totally empty or partially full, the name of a vessel is an important brand component. In all three of my discovery questions sets, though, never has there been a question about the name. There will be moving forward. A brand name, done well, will say volumes about the product. But it may also can say a lot about the founders.  A startup founder I worked for picked the product name Zude because “Oh, and it rhymes with dude.”

Brand strategy organizes the all activities associated with building a brand. It is the life blood. But that strategy, has to come from organic material, and understanding a name is rich start.

Peace.

 

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There are some in the advertising business who believe brand strategy is limiting.  They use pejorative terms for brand strategists like “brand police.” (Not that there’s anything pejorative about police.)  When a brand strategy is seen as confining, most often by creative people at agencies, the belief is that brand strategists are conditioned to say “no.”  And it’s true to a degree; good brand manager wants deposits in the brand bank.    

Brand strategy needs to be shared with creative teams and content builders well before the creative process begins. Not on the eve of the job. Creators need to understand the claim and proof array that is brand strategy, then they need to sleep on it and live with it.  Brand strategy done right is like fly paper.  It captures ideas over time.  There is nothing more freeing when ideating than having an articulatable goal. A goal beyond simple engagement and recall.

If you have a creative team working on an assignment, brief them early. Engage them over time. Let the strategy percolate.  Then set them free on an assignment. You’ll up your potential for “yes.”

Peace.

 

 

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Whither Noah?

Noah Brier was one of my earlier poster favorites.  Unlike a paster, a poster is an original content creator and influencer. An active thought provoker in branding and digital business, Noah blogged like a dookie. Alas, during his early years he got bitten by the start-up bug and co-founded content marketing platform Percolate.  I say alas, not because Percolate isn’t a great software technology, it is I’m sure.  I say alas because Noah and his brain could have been so much more transformational for our business. Before coat, suit and tie (Jefferson Airplane reference) he was the trailblazer, maker, and idealizer our business lacks today.

Strategy is still the stepchild of ad makers, website makers, and content creators.  It is not the commerce fulcrum it will eventually become. Noah is a strategist. A market changer.

Today, collapsing the steps to a sale (awareness to transaction) is a tactical job. A network job.   When it becomes strategic, we’ll see breakthroughs. Breakthroughs supported by technology. And on that day sell your Alphabet sock. Hee hee. That’s when we’ll start to see some Mars shots.  And Mars shots are what we missed when “Hey, It’s Noah” went to ground.

Peace.

 

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Proof Pulling.

You ever sit in the yard and pull weeds?  It’s a horrible job and even worse metaphor for what I’m about to share. My job is not pulling weeds but “pulling proof.”  Brand discovery is all about the search for proof points.  What is a proof point? It’s evidence. It may be an action. A practice. Perhaps a milestone. A result.  Proof is existential.  Why is proof in branding so important? Because 90% of all consumer facing advertising, packaging and promotion is sizzle. It’s claim, claim, claim. A promise without any foundation.

If an ad makes a claim about a product or service and the consumer asks “Why?” or says “Prove it,” is there a suitable response? Is there proof? Almost always there is not. That’s why brands today are media driven not idea driven.

Proof is what you use in a debate to make your point. Proof well told (McCann-Erickson’s mantra is Truth Well Told) makes a superior debater.

The process of brand discovery begins with proof pulling. Then organizing the proof into care-abouts and good-ats. Then, if you learn the language of the consumer, overlay some category culture, and organize your findings, you may have yourself a brand strategy.

Peace.

 

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TriNet TriNet Again.

As a person in the brand building business, outsourcing has never been a favorite business practice. Companies that have a powerful brand strategy can only make it more so by letting that strategy infuse throughout every department, touching every function.  That said, I do see how agile companies, especially startups and fast growers, can benefit by keeping their eyes on the prize

It is for this reason that I have been a fan of TriNet, a proud and accomplished provider of administrative and HR function as an outsourced offering.  These guys do chicken right.

Except for advertising. 

This weekend they broke a big ad in The New York Times. “Incredible starts here” is the new company tagline. The headline spans 2-pages in the form of a neon sign spelling the word “incredible.”  The copy offers time tested generic claims such as “tailor the right solution that fits your industry needs” and lots of other junior copywriter text.

This is an example of a smart company making ads sans brand strategy. Ads without brand strategy are dangerous. Incredible this effort isn’t.

Quick, close your eyes and think of incredible companies. Who comes to mind? Apple? Google? Claim and proof build brands. Where’s the proof?

Peace.

 

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Fly Paper Strategy

My first brand strategy was a career changer. I was at technology boutique called Welch Nehlen Groome, in Garden City, NY trying to introduce account planning to the advertising rigor. The client we were going after was ZDNet, a Ziff Davis property in the tech space. It began as a portal of all the Ziff Davis technology publications with a few interactive bells and whistles.

Our contact at ZDNet, Michael Della Penna, passed on a PowerPoint deck from a branding shop in San Francisco. The firm clearly understood branding I thought, because it had a cool name. Dog Bowl or Bath Water or some such. Once past the title page of the deck however, I noticed the group was all hat and no cattle. 80% of the paper was marko-babble. Or more specifically, brand-babble.

I don’t remember writing a deck to win the business. I remembered the brief. ZDNet had a good sense of their proof points; they were smart people, as techies often are.  They just didn’t get the poetry side of strategy – the claim side. Their brand planks were what they called the 3Cs: Content, Community and Commerce. ZDNet’s main competition at the time was C|Net, who matched up pretty well with the 3C.

The Brand Idea from the brief was “For Doers Not Browsers.” A strategic cherry and rational/emotional difference maker. We won the business and the CMO of all of Ziff companies called the paper strategy galvanizing (my word, it was a long tome ago).

I was hooked.

 

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