In my lifetime and the lifetime of What’s The Idea?, I’ve probably written 50 marketing plans. Their formats are all pretty much the same: market situation, key issues, objectives, strategies, targets and messages, tactics, budget and timeline. To the uninitiated who might read one of these plans, once past the up-front market review and obs and strats, the tactics of one plan might look like the others. Interchangeable almost. probably containing ads, PR, direct, web, promotion and social. Simple, undifferentiated line items on an excel chart.
The fact is, it’s the brand strategy that really sets one plan apart from the next. Every dollar spent is guided by a brand claim and three proof planks – or supports. The tactics aren’t just random copy with fill in the blank marketing claims. Every piece of external and internal communications, meant to position and sell, is scripted. Well not scripted, but guided.
Branding strategy is an organized principle for building brand value and sales, based on consumer care-abouts and brand good-ats.
Brand strategy is the secret sauce to every marketing plan.
Monthly Archives: June 2016
It sounds like an AMC cable drama, The Unknown. But it’s the best way to look at any new branding assignment. Go in cold. Everybody wants someone with experience. But they really don’t. They should want someone who can come in and understand the business and brand, seeing them in a new light.
The unknown can be scary. In the last couple of years, I’ve worked on assignments in cyber security, global health and security consulting, Accountable Care and web accessibility (making websites and apps usable by those with disabilities). Going in, scary. Coming out, not so much. When you have no category experience it’s like walking into a dark cave. And that’s a good thing. If you have too much category experience you walk into that cave faster. Not paying as much attention. You can miss stuff.
Dump the cache planners. Go tabula rasa researchers. Come to each project anew and clear headed. You need to feel scared at the beginning of an assignment. It’s a good thing. A productive feeling. It helps you know when you are getting close.
Elon Musk is a fascinating character. His bets on the future with investments in battery operated cars, solar energy and space are legendary. Where the “rust belt” businesses at? Nowhere in this portfolio.
There’s a news report that Mr. Musk might be trying to collapse Tesla and SolarCity into one company. That’s a little rust belt thinking if you ask me. It’s corporate governance at its worst. A lawyer-focused, tax-focused parry that will, likely, diminish both businesses.
The thing about Tesla, as my friend Mike Welch points out, is that the battery charger goes into the wall and the wall is often tethered to nonrenewable energy fed power plants. SolarCity is a smart bet, albeit losing money today. Tesla is a good near term bet but more apt to innovate away from nonrenewable energy if left by itself. Too much could go wrong with a bifurcated business plan.
In 30 years, if both companies are still alive, SpaceX may be a potential partner. (Mr. Musk’s space exploration company.) For now, it is good business to keep the companies separate.
Stop crossing the DNA. Peace.
I bet if you parsed the records of Uber and Lyft you’d find that millennials comprise the lion share of users. A good early adopter strategy. As their parents begin to see the value, they add accounts and the universe broadens. I, for one, have an Uber account but have not yet used it, yet a number of my friends have. Do you know which market segment is really ripe for the picking? 80 year olds. There are about 18 million US men and women over 75 years of age and they like to go places. They like their independence. Many are driving cars. Cars with door dings, abraded paint, and aching side view mirrors.
This senior market is perfect, but for the technology. How about a landline telephone interface? A special GPS chip, like a grocery store swipe? Cash payment options? Seniors like a deal, so perhaps Uber and Lyft might consider special blue plate pricing specials.
As the ride sharing category gets more competitive, players will be looking for low-cost ways to grow market universe. This one is a no brainer.
Just as Wyoming is transitioning from a coal mining state to a wind farming state, so will change the advertising business. I was one of the first people who poo-pooed the death of the TV Advertising commercial. When HubSpot came out proselytizing inbound marketing would replace advertising, I giggled. It wasn’t too much longer that they were investing in TV ads themselves to build business. But conversely, back in the 90s, I asked Bob Cohen “Where are the online spending predictions?” His answer? “Too small to track at this time.” Bob was a McCann employee and the world’s leading ad spending economist.
The not so simple fact is advertising has been change irrevocably by online. And by the algorithm. Putting active queries into the marketing mix has up-ended everything. I’m not exactly sure what the 21st century ad unit of choice is but it will be somewhere between a video ad and a data-driven delivery system. And Google will not hold on to all the business the way it has today. As Pearl Jam says “It’s evolution, baby.”
So we must begin to plan and ready ourselves for the future. I’ve been writing and getting some traction around the comms planning tool Twitch Point Planning. I’d love to work with a smart brand to develop a Twitch Point program. It would be merely a step but as a mentor of mine once said “The idea to have an idea is sometimes more important than the idea itself.”
Let’s go! Peace.
There’s a saying I coined as a kid in the business I find to be kind of profound, “Just when you think you know something about this business, someone comes along to prove you wrong.” It speak to absolutes in marketing, advertising and, yes, branding.
Human behavior is not like other sciences. Sure you can predict behavior but humans are nothing if not unpredictable. Ads that are deemed by opinion leaders to “suck,” work like crazy. New products you wouldn’t buy with an enemy’s money, sell like hotcakes. Product names that make no sense, become household words.
Brand planners must understand that exceptions exist to every rule. Embrace them and encourage them. How? Use your gut. Guts matter. Experienced guts may matter more, but tyros can cash in on big ideas – counterintuitive ideas – just as well as the seasoned.
I was just reading an article on the correlation of mass attacks and spousal abuse citing examples from years ago and continents afar — stories about which I’d never heard — and it dawned on me that with a few clicks of a keypad and the help of Google a reporter can do months of homework in minutes. Google is a freaking crazy research utility. Journalists use Facebook and Twitter to quickly source people for stories.
When in college I read The Modern Researcher by Jacques Barzun to help navigate libraries, newspaper and magazine archives to learn effective research methods. Today, with Google and Wikipedia you can be done before getting half way to the local library.
As a brand strategist, Google offers immeasurable advantage. But there’s a term I’ve come across “Google planners” and it’s not a very attractive descriptor. It refers to brand planners who never leave their desk.
Even if they use videoconferencing to conduct discovery interviews (another cool tool), Google Planners need to sit next to their interviewees to get higher def reactions. And emotions. Google is a wonderful assist, but Care-abouts and Good-ats are best mined in person, in situ, on prem, and up close. You gots (sic) to get out of the building boys and girls. Stim is the key to great ideas. And stim is multi-dimensional.