Backstory.

    Brand Glossary

    Brand Planning

    Love What You Do.

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    I went to see Tom Morello last night at the Orange Peel in Asheville – his third visit. By the evening’s end I was 8 feet from the stage.  I’d seen Tom at Jones Beach, the Garden, Randall’s Island and the City Winery – the latter from maybe 30 yards away.

    The man can play guitar. At one point he pulled the amplifier jack out, held it over his head and banged it against his hand. Didn’t know you could make music that way. Every song was amazing but The Ghost of Tom Joad may have delivered the night in terms of tone.

    Tom has always been an angry advocate for the working class. He hates racism. Jeers the 1%. And cheers equality at every level. Tom sees these things as his mission. And music is his vehicle. Up close you can see Tom, at this age, loves what he does. You can see it on his face.  I’m on record as believing “A musician is never more in touch with his/her art then when standing in front of an audience.” This goes both ways with Tom Morello.  Audiences are never more in touch with their humanity then when in front of The Nightwatchman.

    If you do what you love for a living, you are giving back. I love brand planning and I’m using it to give back. Changing minds for the positive, one lyric at a time. Do what you love, if you can.

    Peace.

     

    Tangibility.

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    Here’s a question you might hear from a financial company in a nightly news TV ad: “What are you saving for?”  More likely than not the copy will answer the question with something about hopes and dreams. 

    Hopes and dreams. Hopes and dreams.

    Advertising is filled with copy about intangibles. The most common words used in advertising today are words about intangibles. Touchy feelie brand planners care about emotions. They hunt them down. Happiness. Satisfaction. Healing.  And therein lies the problem with many brand briefs. Briefs a card-carrying existentialist would pooh-pooh.

    The best brand plans are built upon tangibles. Proofs.

    When I tell a client they are getting brand strategy comprising “One claim and three proof planks,” they know what they’re buying. When some brand planners promise clients, a “voice,” “a personality” or “brand truth,” clients often scratch their heads.

    Be tangible.

    Peace

     

    Love. It’s what makes branding planning brand planning.

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    Subaru has a long-standing tagline: Love. It’s what makes Subaru a Subaru.  Though I understand “love” and know what a “Subaru” is, I have no clue what this tagline means.  If given a guess, I’d say Subaru manufacturers lover their product so much it makes the car better. Of course, it could mean consumers love the brand so much it makes the product better — but that doesn’t make sense. Advertising.

    That’s an aside, my real point has to do with brand planning process.  David Brooks waxes philosophical in his Op-Ed piece today about two philosophies of life. One favors loyalty and community — giving of oneself for the betterment of the whole — and the other suggests tolerance of others and their points of view, yet being true to self.

    Brand planning, done right, is more like the former – the community betterment approach.  Brand planners should be constantly on the look out for the love. The good. Negatives need not apply. Therefore the word tolerance need not come up. Brand planning is about positivity.

    I understand competition. I understand “Who is going to lose the sale you are making.” That’s for advertising and tactical efforts.  Branding is about the love. What the brand is good at (good-ats) and what consumers care about (care-abouts). Find the love.

    Peace.

     

    Brand Planners and Movie Directors.

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    It is movie awards time again. The Golden Globes just finished up and got me thinking about roles and responsibilities. How can a director win, yet the movie or an actor not?  If it is so well directed, why isn’t the movie a winner?

    Since metaphors are a part of the brand planner’s tool kit, I asked myself to project the brand planner’s role in marketing, using the movie business as an analog.  Actors are the tacticians I guess, playing roles consumers experience. Set designers and costume people are production people and grips. The producers of the film are the marketing executives. Script writers deliver copy. That must leave brand planners as directors.

    You never see the director in the work, you just see the work. A movie director is in charge of flow, performance quality, story and emotional resonance. And certainly more. It may be the most important job in movie making, yet also the least appreciated. Me thinks that’s the case with brand planning. Behind the camera, behind the scenes. Movie first, product first. Works for me. Any better thoughts?

    Peace.

     

    How to measure brand effectiveness.

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    I am not in the brand awareness business. I am in the brand association business. And to take it one step further I am really in the brand benefit business.

    Brand awareness is simply recall of a name, logo and/or package. Marketing begins with awareness. It’s the price of admission.

    Brand association takes awareness a step further in that consumers are asked to play back certain context and associations with that recall. It might be category association, e.g., Coke is a cola, Cowboys are a football team, or perhaps the association may extend beyond what a brand “is” to a quality, Apple offers product innovation, for instance.

    But the third level, the one I refer to as Brand Benefits walks consumers beyond rote awareness and context features to benefits they need, desire or cherish. I’m not talking Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, I’m talking endemic product or service needs. But importantly, these brand benefits must be few (three to be precise) and constant. They are brand planks. 

    To measure the success of a brand, you must track awareness of brand benefits. If consumers can play back your planks in unaided recall testing you are winning the branding war.

    Peace.

     

     

    Endemia. Root word endemic.

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    I’m a NY Jets fan and wonder how the franchise can be so mediocre for so long. We often look at the quarterbacks, coaches, general managers for our answers. But rarely does the average fan look at ownership. The last couple of owners of the Jets, Leon Hess and Woody Johnson, are magnates who built empires upon gasoline and Band-Aids.

    It is a rare business indeed where someone from outside the industry can come in and have massive success; Robert Kraft being an exception in the football world. But Mr. Kraft sans Bill Belichick and Tom Brady, would look, I suppose, quite average as an owner.  

    Brand planners understand how important it is to deeply understand a business — even if only engaged with a brand for a month or two. It is a work imperative to speak the language of the business. It’s critical to understand fiscal drivers, consumer motivations, and operational strengths and foibles. Brand planners cannot set master brand strategy as an outsider.

    Jets ownership, as smart as they may be, are just not football people. They are business people. A restaurant owner can’t be the chief of police. A history teacher cannot be a construction engineer. A cable TV CEO can’t build a basketball team. My drift.

    Peace.

     

    Learn Baby Learn.

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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.

     

     

             

    Storytelling Vs. Story Listening.

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    storytelling

    From the big consumer package goods marketers to the mid-size boutiques to one-man PR shops, “storytelling” is the communications art form of the day. A well-worn pop marketing tactic.

    The stories to which most refer are content stories, spun by marketers to get customers to buy. Today, content is a by-the-pound business. Stories are, in fact, buildables — production buildables. Storytelling fills the revenue void of the once lofty high margin TV spot.

    I’ll trade you 25 stories, 50 stories, for one powerful brand idea. In terms of value.

    That’s what brand planners do.  We create big, honkin’, motivating brand ideas. And for brand planners “story listening” is way better than “storytelling.” Sure, I prime the pump by telling consumers a story. The more personal the better. I’m trying to get them to free up insights. Even strangers free up when you are real with them. I’ll show you mine… You’ve got to give to get. Brand planners are good at quant but great at hearing stories fertile with brand meaning. Consumer stories that set off alarms in planners’ heads.

    All you storytellers out there – you creative, biz/dev. and agency positioning types – go on and do your storytelling thing, but remember how you get the strategy for those stories. By listening.

    Peace.

     

    Why I like brand planners.

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    Brand planners are always observing. Always willing to learn. They crave learning. Part anthropologists – students of mankind – brand planners are also creative; it rubs off on them being around art directors, writers and creative directors. In addition to learning about consumers they must learn how to eroticize ideas for creative people.

    margaret meadBrand planners are always on. They can’t afford to be depressed. They love brands, the lifeblood of commerce. They are always friendly, even in the face of haters. There are lessons to be learned from hating. (Brand Spanking, in fact, enables negative discussions.) Brand planners are good lovers. They’re exocentric – caring about others. They are not academics. They are humanists, realizing it’s not always about being right…more about being. Environments are of great interest to planners. Stim in any form.

    Brand planners are paid to make money (for others) but are not motivated by money.

    I didn’t know it at the time, but seeing Margaret Mead speak at the American Anthropology convention as a college kid, cast the die.

    When was the die cast for you? Peace.