Brand Planning Tools

    Brand Planning Tips

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    merle haggard

    So I was listening to Merle Haggard yesterday and the old coot was doing a duet with Jewel and, by God, he changed his vocal treatment – his voice — on the song. It was Merle but he was trying to impress her, trying to woo her. Men! There was a gentleness to his voice that you won’t hear in most of his tunes. The tone send a message. So I’m thinking if he can change his tone and impart different meaning, sub rasa meaning, so can the rest of us. Why not use it as a brand planning tool?  So I’m playing around with an interview technique that will prompt interviewees to answer questions in various voice types. You know the voice you use when someone is confiding tragic personal news to you? Or the voice used to encourage a child who needs support? Have you a sexy voice? The key is to get the interviewee to use a topic-appropriate voice in an interview to impart greater meaning.  To do so you have to put them in a zone; coach them like an acting coach. Get them to a place where they are feeling an emotion then get them to answer your question, truthfully, but that particular voice.

    Try it, I certainly will. Peace.

     

    A Brand Test for CEOs.

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    Here’s one way to see if your company has a brand plan.  Summon department leaders and one random dept. employee into the conference room on a Monday morning. Ask each of them to create a PPT presentation describing the company mission in twelve pages — no more, no less. Make sure they explain what the company Is and what the company Does. (Here referred to as the Is-Does.)  Ask them to report back by 1 P.M., where sandwiches will be served and the work reviewed as a group.

    As with any research, offer up that there are no right or wrong answers and grades will not be issued. 

    Companies with strong brand cultures will share presentations containing similar organizational structure and language.  The other 92% will be a mash-up. What will they mash up?  Learnings from category-leading brands. Things they recall reading in the trade press and news.  A little bit of personal aspiration, maybe some lyrics from the company PR boiler plate and, likely, some CEO language. A doggy’s dinner as Fred Poppe might have said.

    In companies with tight brand plans, every employee knows what business they’re in. They can articulate what products are sold, what customers care about and the business-winning goals. These are business fundies. This is strategy.  It’s worth sharing with employees.  

    Try this brand plan test out and see what can be learned about from a few simple PPT sides. Peace.

    Deeds

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    Many pop marketing discussions today revolve around narrative. Campaigns are bought and sold based on the word. Agencies hired and fired. Social media has cornered the market on brand narrative.  I like the word, in fact.  It’s a much better word than “sell.”  In fact. my brand planning rigor is steeped in narrative.  But it’s over as a selling mechanism…ish.

    Deeds are the new narrative.  Old schoolers might call it “putting your money where your mouth is.” Story tellers tell stories. Leaders use deeds.  What are deeds? Tangibles. Things. Actions. Hands on stuff. Story tellers sit about the camp fire.  Deedists, make the campfire.

    A soldier with lots of medals on the uniform has performed not chronicled. A marketer with a claim and lots of proof to back it up is a marketer whom narrators can get behind.  Similar to my Posters vs. Pasters opine – target the Posters, the Paster will follow – marketers should concern themselves with the deeds and leave the narrative to others.  Puh-eace!

    Brand Planning. The Clarity Cure.

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    claim and proof

    In meetings I love to say “I am a simple man.”  Not sure how much good it does me, but it is me nonetheless. My whole brand planning shtick is tied to the simplification of branding. Readers know that means a brand plan is One Claim, Three Planks. The claim is not a tagline, it’s the strategy that drives business. The planks are the array of proof that give consumers permission to believe the claim. Simply put, a brand plan is a coming together of what consumers want most and what a brand does best. Period.

    I love brand planners, but some are so wound up in inside baseball terms and theory, they lose sight of the goal: Creating an idea in the mind of consumers that predisposes (and post-disposes) them to a sale.

    A brand plan is an upstream thing. Once done, all the follow-on expression of the plan – the tactics – need to be planned as well.  And that, too, is the provenance of the planner. However in all of my travels in the space, I’ve yet to come across one SlideShare presentation, one Plannersphere deck, one Planning Salon video, one Planningness talk that simplifies the upstream brand plan into this 1+3 recipe. So either I’m tripping or we haven’t found the clarity cure yet.  

    One claim, three planks is the cure, he said humbly. Peace!

     

    Brand(ed) Utility.

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    Branded Utility has a number of definitions in the marketing world. In my world it is more than simply a branded public service; it’s something that moves a customer closer to a sale or position of greater loyalty.

    Ingmar de Lange did a neat presentation on Brand Utility, but we are not always on the same page.  Nokia providing a quiet room on city streets for mobile callers is nice, even with a big logo on the door, but it’s not uniquely Nokia.  MasterCard providing an ATM finder phone app is helpful but not uniquely MasterCard. 

    A branded utility, to me at least, is one that no one else can offer.  Users need to plug into the product or service grid of the marketer a for a utility to be truly branded — to use an electricity metaphor.  Simply slapping a logo on something useful and making it free is lazy.  It may be less lazy than a poor boast and claim ad but we can certainly do better.

    I once suggested that Ben Benson give away golf umbrellas to customers of his expensive steak house caught unprepared on rainy days.  Branded utility. Why was it unique? Because the customers were at Ben’s.  When thinking about branded utility ask yourself “Has the usefulness of the gift or a value made the customer more committed?”  Or just similarly committed? If the answer is more, then the investment was worth it.  Peace!

    Biggest critic.

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    I’m always on the lookout for new ways to extract important information from executives about their companies. My 24 Questions, designed to follow the money, are not great at generating stories… and stories (aka proof/examples) are what create context and power for brand planners.  A flesh vs. bones thing. So the latest question I’ve been dabbling with is “Who is the industry’s biggest critic?” Or, “Of all the opinion leaders in your business, whose approval do you hold dearest and why?” I’ll probably test it out both questions. The first is the more open of the two and presumes a critical but, honestly, I am more eager to hear about praise. It is an open question and can be easily toggled.

    Most people, be they executives or consumers, can articulate the opinion leader they most admire. That person is a good source of brand planning study. That person may not want to share all his/her secrets, but often provides shortcuts to pearls of wisdom and grist for the narrative mill.  Successful home brewers’ opinions are worth more to the average beer drinking Joe than are sports stars. An IT professional’s opinion is more valuable than a Best Buy salesperson.  Think “expert witnesses” in a jury trial, to the max.

    Find these people, learn why they are great critics, and get their stories. Probe the “doing” part of their role rather than the “critique or praise” itself. Probe for story. Peace.

     

    Brand Planning Technique.

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    Salman Khan, founder of the Khan Academy an online educational video tutoring site, began his business by uploading math instruction videos to YouTube. Part of his secret sauce was making math instruction interesting.  If instruction lacks vocal intonation (drone, drone) it didn’t connect.  Been there.  If it was overly flourished, same thing. His approach, like that of other good teachers, was to be in the middle. Connect. Watch what students tuned in to and package that using good pedagogy.

    As a brand planner, I sometimes go into situations where the topic is less than exciting.  Healthcare and banking come to mind. When interviewing SMEs (subject matter experts) or consumers using Salman’s approach is important. The interviewer needs to show interest; not academic interest but true category interest.  The interviewer needs to find ways to bring the subject to life. To be engaged and earn trust. Personal stories are a good way to prime the pump. Hearing them. Telling them.  Some will say interrupting people when they talk is not polite, however in this case it shows energy and interest. (Do it carefully however.)

    Be a good listener, a careful watcher of body language, and most of all be human. React, respond, find emotional attachments. Joy and happy endings are also nice, though may not in all cases be appropriate.

    Once again, good teaching and learning practices come into play in brand planning. Peace.

    First Responders in Brand Planning

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    If I met you for the first time and asked  “Describe yourself to me” what might your answer be?  If I were to ask a consumer a similar question about Langone Medical Center, what might they say?  “They are the NYU hospital.”  Or that’s the hospital with the purple ads.”  How about this question “Describe for me PNC Bank” or “Describe Volkswagen to me.”

    Top recall explanations are telling. They are not deal breakers as it relates to purchase behavior – we buy things and brands we don’t know all the time – but those explanations share what is most important to the consumer at that time.   Two things drive first response associations for consumers: product experience and marketing communications.  Readers know that an organized brand plan has powerful impact on the latter.  If all internal and external dollars are used to support a tight strategy, consumers are able to play back that strategy.  “15 minutes could save you 15% or more on car insurance.”  What reader may not know is that a tight brand strategy also impacts the product, offering ways forward for new features, line extensions, aftercare, etc.

    The opposite of a tight, embedded brand strategy is every man for himself. And when that happens you become the company with the purple ads or the company that has banking on the mobile phone. Don’t allow that to happen. Peace!

    Brand Planning Interview Techniques.

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    Learning is at the center of everything good.  Teaching doesn’t always get the same rap.  Where would we be without teachers?  Not in a good place. There must be teachers.

    I worked for a company that enlightened me about learning. My job was to organize the selling of leaning tools, be they technological or pedagogical, and it really warmed me to the difference between teaching and learning – how they are perfectly and imperfectly intertwined

    Brand planners are attuned to learning. They take to it like ants to peanut butter and jelly samiches. Interviewing SMEs (subject matter experts), company captains and consumers in true learning mode really lights up the exchange.  Note taking and quiet keyboard clicking makes for a short, dull interview. Smiles, thoughtful questions, stories, and engagement make the time fly. Even when you ask a goofy or counterintuitive question — if done as an eager learner, it can enhance the experience. And try not to teach the teacher. Be Socratic in your method. You can challenge observations or highlight contradictions, but do so with that dog-like “Where’s the ball?” gaze.

    Brand planners who are devout learners, who don’t enter a room with answers, are the ones who turn on the lights. The ones who create illumination. It may be steady, sporadic or rocky, but it is illumination. Puh-eace!   

     

    The power of but.

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    David & Goliath talks about “brave.”  Jean-Marie Dru writes and talks about “disruption.”  Lots of ad agencies try to find a word to describe themselves as outside the box thinkers.  I was searching this morning for a video about a young Israeli illustrator who wanted to get published in The New Yorker… his one word is “no,” his story about its power to motivate.

    Brand planners have a word too.  It’s the word “but.” Even in our quest to find brand-illuminating patterns, we are wowed by the word but.  The word takes what is considered known and understood and it angles that understanding.  It reorients it in a new way. In a fresh way with a little friction. And as you know friction causes heat.

    Sp read your briefs planners, and search for the word but. Wherever you see in on your paper you can be sure you’re  getting close to the idea.   As my Norwegian aunt might have said “tink about it.” Peace.