Brand Planning

    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.

     

    Doing Good’s Work.

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    Doing good’s work is the brand idea I wrote not too long ago for a not-for-profit called Bailey’s Café, in Bedford Stuyvesant, Brooklyn.  A noble, noble women by the name of Stefanie Siegel allowed me to participate and attempt to organize her brand. Check out the site. Jay Leno, is a fan.

    For about 7 months, I’ve been working at a for-profit in the education space.  The goal of that company and brand, not dissimilar from the goals of all educational companies, is to improve student achievement. Again, noble, noble work.

    For 5 years I did strategic planning and marketing in healthcare, the objective of which was to convey a systematized approach to improving patient outcomes in the communities it served. Noble.   Today I read about how HCA hospital corporation’s profitability is spawning purchases of a number of other hospitals across the country by private equity firms, hoping to cash in on certain margins that can be squeezedand others that can be expanded.  

    Somewhere between selflessness and profit is where America ethos lies. Brands that see this, be they for-profit or not, are the brands that win.  They are also the brands I would like to plan for. Even Doctors Without Borders needs someone with a sharp pencil watching over them. Let’s all try to do good’s work. Peace!

    All dreads no cattle. (That’s dreads as in dreadlocks.)

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    When a group of CMOs on LinkedIn has to ask the question “What is a brand?” (Or was it a bunch of brand planners?)  The fact that the question is asked is damning.  I’m a big Noah Brier fan – he of Percolate – and even he asked me once “How do you define a brand plan?” His question was meant to see if I was all dreads and no cattle. There are so many a practitioners out there who don’t have a clue.

    Many rubber-meets-the-road marketing types want to know “How do I measure a brand plan?”  “How do I measure the sales return of a brand plan?”  The answer is easy.  First, have one.

    Assuming your brand plans are like mine: one claim and 3 support planks, the measures are easy. If one plank is about being fastidious, you can ask your customers to rank you on fastidiousness.  You can ask general consumers to rate you as well, that will tell you how well the story is getting out. You can rate yourself on fastidiousness – doing spot checks on personnel performance. On a macro level, you then tie sales, margins, or stock performance to the rise and fall of these brand plan metrics.  This is where the rubber meets the road.  This is the part of the dashboard you get to present upstairs at headquarters, while the cost-per-click and coupon redemption people remain waiting in the lobby.  Along with the people polishing that gleaming Cannes Lion.

    (The headline for this post is for you to interpret.  It’s part George W. part morning coffee. Hee hee.) Peace!

    Google Trivestiture?

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    I’ve been writing for a few years, with great admiration, about Google and its amazing, transformative search tools.  Sergey Brin’s original vision “We deliver the world’s information in one click” is what allowed Google to become the NASA of the web. Case in point: Yesterday I was looking for one of my blog posts on my own machine using the Windows search tool.  After three strikes I Googled “whatstheidea+things we remember” (the title of the post) and in less than a second I found my entry. No on my machine, but on the Web.

    More recently, though, I’ve found myself commenting about how Google has wandered from its original mission – getting into the productivity software, social networking, chat and now the phone business.  The brand planner in me asks “How does one now articulate the Google Is-Does?” The Googleplex is filled with amazing minds but many seem to be trying to out-engineer one another; me thinks they have lost a sense of mission.  Steve Rubel’s post today on Google Buzz so reflects.

    Culture of Technological Obesity.

    Google’s amazing growth and economic success has spawned a culture of technological obesity.  It’s time for a change.  Here’s what will happen.

    The company will go through a corporate divestiture or as was the case with AT&T, a Trivestiture.  It won’t happen now…probably within 48 months.  My bet for the three parts? Search (text and video), Mobile (OS, apps, and tools), and Advertising Analytics.  How would you break it up?  Peace!

    Symmetry.

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    We love symmetry in our lives. We love it on our design. In our music. Symmetry is balance. Order. Brand planners like order and symmetry yet they also know a strategy must not be replicable. It must be unique. Others can lay claim to the “refreshment” strategy, but when Coca-Cola says it, it has unique meaning. Why? Because nothing refreshes like a Coca-Cola. It’s doesn’t own the word, it owns the idea. That’s due to the coca bean and a special highly guarded recipe. 

    Many brand ideas are replicable as are many products (there just aren’t that many Coke’s out there), so the notion of creating an organizing principles in the form of “one idea supported by 3 brand planks” allows for that differentiation. It also allows a brand flexibility and the ability to cover new ground. Sameness is not symmetry. Geico is beginning to realize that. 

    Campaigns come and go, a powerful branding idea is indelible. And supported by symmetry and smart brand planks, a brand plan can last many lifetimes. Peace.

    Brand Plan(ks)

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    I say brand plan you say________? Right.  No one really knows what a brand plan looks like.  That’s not to say Proctor and Gamble and L’Oreal don’t have brand plans. Or that Publicis, Ogilvy or Crispin Porter don’t have them. They do. But what they’re called and how they are organized are all quite different. 

    Brand Strategy Statement.

    My brand plans are simple to understand.  They contain a brand strategy statement which I tell clients is a suit strategy.  It’s not very catchy, not creative or tagline-worthy, but it tends to hit the CMO and CEO right in the solar plexus.  It may be contextual and/or contain metaphor but it’s certainly a quick, decisive statement of the brand value. 

    Brand Planks.

    Beneath this simple statement are three planks. Brand planks. Borrowed from Bill Clinton’s first election campaign when the mantra was “It’s the economy stupid,” a brand plank is a product development and messaging directive.  My planning process begins with the gathering of formation. Then I boil it down into its most powerful, tasty flavors and those flavors became the planks.  Of course, I make sure the planks are key consumer care-abouts and key company strengths (or potential, attainable strengths). 

    But lately I’ve been analyzing the planks to see if they share any formula for success.  Thinking about what makes good brand planks before I fill the stock pot with data and get sidetracked is (sorry Bud Cadell) what consumes me. 

    I haven’t gotten there yet but here’s a quick start: 

    One plank should educate (it’s what leaders do). One plank should engage (motivate preference).  And one plank should personalize (create a personally meaningful connection between the brand and consumer — bring the consumer closer to the brand). 

    This stuff is mapping the branding genome hard. Or not. But when I finish, it’s going to be exciting.  Peace!

    Context and Brand Planning.

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    I was reading today about Robert Rauschenberg’s mixed media piece of art, entitled “Canyon”, and its donation to the MoMA.  One of the arguments by MoMA to the donor family for putting it there vs. The Met was that ther Rauschenberg “combines” were on display there along with combines by other important artists of the period. The logic being MoMA would provide a more contextual setting.

    Context is a keyword for brand planners. We use it when budgets are low. We use it when it’s pregnant with emotional meaning. We mold it sometime, just for the poetry.  As a fairly newly minted brand planner, I look at the craft in context. When I think about the pursuit, I muse over its history, its future, the tools and best practitioners.  I’ve been a brand planner at agencies and as a director of marketing. In both situations the job is to create stimulants for selling. Sustained selling. That takes organization, tough decisions and a tight plan. It also takes oversight. At agencies the stim. is the brief,and oversight of the creative product.  (The latter often doesn’t go well.)  Client side, the stim. is the brief, the selling in and oversight of executive management, direct reports and agents (nicer word than vendors). Can you say herding cats in a marble hallway?    

    My hope as a brand planner is to alter the context of the discipline in marketing.  Just as Margaret Mead insisted that all of her direct reports at the American Museum of Natural Art had psychotherapy – she argued knowing more about yourself has to be healthy – I believe marketing is healthiest when driven by a brand plan. And evolving the marketing craft in that direction, where brand plans are not an afterthought or side-thought, but the fundamental building block is my mission.  In the historic context that is brand planning, my aim is to make it the major organ in the marketing body. Peace!

    PS.  If you don’t comment, I can’t learn.

    Image Goals and Brand Plans.

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    One of advertising’s roles is to change peoples’ attitudes.  Some might call this image or brand advertising, which is quite different from retail or transactional advertising.  General Motors is really bad at brand advertising.  They try hard and spend money but for some reason it rarely changes attitudes. 

    Samsung, using the work of the Arnell Group,  was one of the first corporations to strike me as getting it.  It was back in the 90s when the word Samsung conveyed second tier products, cheap electronics and dollar-store imagery.  Using Peter Arnell’s mind and, I believe, his camera, Samsung displayed its products around NYC on big black, white and gray outdoor posters, alongside sexy human images.  A ripped torso carrying a microwave may sound silly but is was artful.  It burnished then polished the Samsung image.  

    Bosch is doing the same today with a product-based image campaign showing off a number of its stylish household appliances. In my mind Bosch was famous for brake shoes and audio products, not refrigerators and dishwashers.  But the print ads I’ve been seeing over the last few months have made me notice how beautifully designed these appliance are.  The consistent advertising tells me they are here to stay and the engineering heritage borrowed from memory compliments the pictures and words.  I would definitely buy a Bosch appliance now. Image.

    Without an image transactions are fleeting.  Understand your brand — its past and present. Decide where you want to go and make that part of your brand plan.  Toss out overused words like “innovation” and “remarkable” and “engagement.” Get in touch with your image goal and build a brand plan.  Sales will follow. Peace.

    PS.  Image can be built using new digital media.  In fact, it can be build much faster. But it has to be “on plan” and focused.

    Brand smitten or brand love?

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    I had an exploratory meeting with a smart brand planner yesterday morning on Bond Street. Quite an epi (epipen, epicenter) neighborhood.  I want to be her when I grow up/down. We talked about brands and freelance, the Sioux, NYC and Mari Sandoz. I suggested I need to love a brand before really doing it planning justice.  Smitten is good, but it’s not love. My planner friend mentioned agencies that rely on freelance planners often don’t want them to have face time with clients. Ouch, but understandable.  Sure one can read research, troll (the fishing troll) the web, talk to editors, study consumers and arrive at stimulating insights. But from these interactions and insights can love grow?  Smitten can grow. Idea lust can grow. Love however takes time.

    So here’s a problem. Freelance planners doing project work are actually killing in today’s marketplace.  At least the good ones are. (Mostly thanks to didge.) They know what questions to ask, whose pulse to take and their bullshit meters are nicely calibrated. Plus they have great ears.  The work they generate is very good. But unless, this project work is grounded in a tight, instructive brand brief it is temporal and tactical.  This is smitten work.  Think building rooms, not homes.  

    I never read Kevin Roberts Lovemarks, but maybe I should. Nah. Finding love is much more fun than reading about it. Puh-eace!