Brand Planning

    Backstory.

    0

    I know it may be sacrilege but I’m not the world’s biggest Beatles fan.  The Stones were my thing growing up. Perhaps less controversial, I was not a fan or follower of Queen. So shoot me.  But let me say this, having seen the movies “Yesterday” and “Bohemian Rhapsody,” I am a big Kool-Aid drinker now.  Could it be that I’m older and more accepting — more Zen-like? Maybe.  But the amazing backstories and cinematic storytelling driving those two movies turned everything for me.  In fact, I went to the see “Yesterday” thinking I wasn’t going to like it — the trailer not being its greatest sales piece.  In both cases the movie-making craft, the backstory was brilliant.

    Those in the business of selling things and building brands need to understand the craft of backstory.  Not just story. But contextual backstory. If we jump straight to advertising, you might correctly argue it’s hard to do backstory. Especially in a :30 spot or page of print. But the good ones try. And the good ones can deliver deep context quickly.

    If you want to convince someone of something new or change their opinion of something old, you can’t spend your time selling. You have to deliver some humanity. Some subject empathy. True thought stimulation. Make the viewer a participant, not a consumer. That’s what backstory does.

    Peace.

     

     

    Brand Glossary

    0

    I started my first big boy job at a top advertising agency in NYC, McCann-Erickson. Working on AT&T. While most of the team was handling TV work and producing print ads for The Wall Street Journal, Fortune and Time Magazine, I was hired to do the technical products: data lines, network management and software defined networks. I was the B2B guy, which suited me. It’s from whence I came. But AT&T and McCann were the real deal and I was scrambling.

    At my first meeting in Bridgewater, NJ, I became inundated with acronyms and telecom terms I’d never heard before.  It was like moving to the Ukraine.  My head spun.  I had to quickly invent a game plan in the pre-internet era.  Laptops were few and far between. First step was to create an acronym glossary. One based upon AT&T jargon. When complete the glossary was probably 20 pages long filled with paragraphs of arcane descriptions. I brought that baby with me everywhere. As my team grew, it became a shared resource.

    When the Bell Labs and AT&T marketing people saw me with my glossary they giggled but appreciated that I cared. I asked lots of questions; they never held back.

    I write a lot about learning the language of the target. In account or project management, learning the language of the client is the first step. Only then can you translate that into the consumer dialect.

    Peace.

     

    Outside Baseball.

    0

    Get a bunch of brand planners in a room, say at one of Faris Yakob’s beer drinking meetups, and they’ll likemind the shit out of each other.  Similarly, create an event among Mark Pollard’s Sweathead listeners and everyone will speak the brand planner patois. Brand planners will share tools, stories, cases and tricks at the drop of a hat, yet to most business people it’s all inside baseball.

    The primary problem for freelancers and consultant brand planners is no one outside our sphere really gets what we do. (We are partly to blame, due to lack of intelligible frameworks.) More to the point, there is not a lot of pend-up demand for what we do. In small and mid-size businesses nobody is talking brand strategy. Brand maybe, but not strategy. And at Fortune 2000s only a shot-glass full of people understand brand strategy – and the CEO typically isn’t one of them.

    So we are selling something that is not easily understood and not in demand – not prerequisites for VC funding if you ask me. So how do we respond?  We continue to talk to each other.

    No more. This blog has been about talking inside baseball to believers. I am now going to start targeting and contenting (word?) non-believers. Once I explain to small and mid-size companies how brand strategy (claim and proof array) will improve company efficiency, reduce wasted time, make marketing more productive and accountable, I’m likely to gain their ear.

    My new goal. Outside baseball.

    Peace.

     

     

    Love What You Do.

    0

    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.

    0

    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.

    0

    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.

    0

    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.

    0

    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.

    0

    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.

    0

    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.