Thanks and Giving.

    Brand Planning

    Total Immersion.


    “You gotta be in it to win it, like Yserman” is a favorite quote of mine. From a Kid Rock song.  

    My business is set up for total immersion. I typically do a brand strategy in a condensed period of time; ideally one month. I’m all in during that month. Everything I read, watch on TV, see on a tee-shirt or bumper sticker informs my thinking about the brand, its targets and buying culture.

    Whenever I find an assignment dragging out over a “couple, two, tree” (sic) months – a little Brooklyn color – the immersion wanes. And I need to ramp up again. One time while working on a cool Microsoft project, I took on another assignment for a global supply chain thingie. It was crazy complex and I pooped the bed. My insights were worthy but the boil-down never happened. I didn’t charge for my time. Total immersion didn’t happen.

    Brand planning, at least my brand planning, is not a multitasking kind of pursuit. It’s full tilt boogie.  




    Italian Leather Branding.


    I’m thinking of changing the name of my business to Italian Leather Branding.  I don’t know why I believe Italian leather is better than any other leather but I do.  Someone, somewhere planted that seed in my mind and it wouldn’t surprise me if you felt the same way. Italian leather is softer. More supple. The most beautiful tan color. And most important of all, it’s worth double maybe triple the price.

    That seed that someone planted — that’s branding.  It’s what all brand planners aspire to. To create an image in the mind of a consumer that pre- and post-disposes one to purchase. Or to prefer.  I did buy some Italian shoes one time.  Most expensive shoes I ever bought. And you are not going to believe it but they squeaked. Swear to God. My local shoe maker, Gaspar, suggested soaking the soles in water and guess what? Italian leather leaches. I didn’t know that. Water-stained Italian shoes…ouch.

    But here’s the thing, it wasn’t the shoes’ fault.  Couldn’t have been the Italian leather.

    Feel me?



    Word of the Day: Aspiration.


    Aspiration is a word often used by brand planners and savvy brand managers — a word I’ve used many times.  It has not taken over the brand planning oeuvre as have words like “transparency” and “authenticity” but it’s getting there.  

    When I use the word aspiration, it is usually in the context of creating brand planks.  (Brand planks are the proofs that deliver consumer belief.  Brand planks are groupings of demonstrations/evidence that convey a brand claim.)

    Sometimes, I must make a decision to include a proof plank that is so overwhelmingly and inextricably desired by consumers it must be included. Even if the brand is not good at delivering it. This may seem disingenuous. It’s not.  It’s aspirational. It becomes part of the brand build-out. It becomes an operational imperative.

    Say you are math tutoring business and parents want better test grades for their kids. And your business is not built to codify better grade movement. Well, to compete you need to build that into your business. It’s a strategy. A means to an end. So you may not be perfect at it now but it must becomes an aspiration of the business. An active aspiration.

    Another definition of aspiration derives from the word aspirate.  Something we’ve become all to familiar with since Covid. It’s the sneezing of particulates from one location to the other. Chicago Med much? That aspiration is also critical to brand planning.  We need to give consumers proofs they can share with fellow consumers. Then they become referrers. 

    As poor branding and, therefore, poorer advertising infects the web and other broadcast media, word-of-mouth is growing in importance.  When someone says, Mario’s has the best Pizza in town and you ask why, people want a real answer? Proof gets aspirated.



    Brand Planning Short Cuts.


    I am pretty lucky as a brand planner.  It’s rare that I have an assignment where I don’t “deliver” with my first presentation. Sometimes there might be a quibble with a word in the claim but not with its strategic intent. That’s what happens when you fully immerse and toss off preconceptions. Go all in tabula rasa.  

    Recently, I’ve been working with smaller startup brands as a result of some mentoring I’m doing with Asheville Elevate.  As a mentor, I don’t have the opportunity to do the big dig. I have to learn the business more with a hand-trowel than a shovel.  To make sense, I’ve had to short cut my process. Often I’ve neglected to write a brand brief. 

    In a recently full monty assignment, I did the big dig and presented to the chiefs what I thought was a really winning brand claim and proof array.  It missed the mark. My neglect was to fully understanding the consumer mindset. I was long on brand good-ats but short on customer care-abouts.

    My idea was born, before the brief was written.  I needed more customer interviews and I needed to work the brief.  The short cuts learned due to expediency, worked against me.

    New motto: Go back to the brief.







    Leidy Klotz recently wrote a book titled Subtract which I heard about yesterday on NPR during a Mother’s Day drive.  The thesis of the book us that we over-encumber ideas and strategies and, yes, our lives by continuously adding extraneous things.  Think hoarding. Mr. Klotz quoted Lao Tzu to make his point:

    “To attain knowledge, add things every day. To attain wisdom, subtract things every day.” Lao Tzu, Quotations, Wisdom.

    Brand planning, at least for master brand endeavors, must follow the same advice. We begin by adding knowledge. And that requires lots of discovery. One takes in information, data, behavioral observation, culture and language and hoards it all up. Enough information to make one’s head spin. But then it’s wisdom time. Time to subtract. Time to create hierarchies of import.

    Only after subtracting the less important, can powerful ideas and strategy emerge. This is the heavy lifting in brand planning. It’s the story of the sinking boat, when things must be thrown overboard to keep afloat. (Too dramatic?)

    In my brand presentation I have a cautionary slide on the “Fruit Cocktail Effect.” When you have too many ingredients, you create a sugary mess.

    Subtract is the essence of good brand planning.   As Robert Hunter wrote and Jerry Garcia sang “Hello baby, I’m gone good bye.”



    Consuming the Future.


    Scott Keogh, president and CEO of Volkswagen, America said today in the NYT “There’s never been a competitive consumer product that sits at 80% market share.” 

    Why is that?  Well, if the pie is big enough, competitors will want a piece. Tesla has 80% of the electronic vehicle market right now but that is about to change. All the big girls and boys are launching EVs and want share. Which will be big fuel for the economy. From General Motors changing its logo to be more electric, to the people in charging station manufacturing, to real estate people thinking about what to do with gas stations — the EV will be one of the biggest sources of economic change we’re seen since the Model T.

    I’m not a numbers nerd but I bet economists are salivating with all the models of growth to be considered over the next decade thanks to EVs.  

    I was at Starbucks this morning and while waiting for my grande non-fat latte, pondered the next Starbucks — the next consumable targeting a daypart behavior that will change the marketing world.   The future of consumables is what brand planning and marketing planning are all about. It’s the sun in our morning. 

    I love the smell of consumer behavior in the morning.




    Spam Words.  


    The unsub button is set you to allow you to stop unwanted emails. The first options is

    __ Too many emails.  The second is

    __ Not relevant to me.  The third is

    __ Too promotional.   And the fourth is

    __ I don’t know why I’m receiving these emails.

    They put the first one in that position to increase the chances of it being elected. Then the email company can argue spam emails are not so bad there are just to many of them…and stay in the spam business. Just with a bit less frequency.

    Spam is to email what TV commercials are to broadcast TV. Unwanted intrusions.

    Brand planners are all about relevance. And salience. Advertisers are about attention. Email marketers are clicks. And marketers are all about selling…and all of the above. The problem with most of the above, is that it negatively impacts relevance and salience. Consumers are conditioned not to believe certain words.  Certain claims: better, faster, tastier, cheaper. These are spam words.

    Brand planners have to weed out the spam and identify new ways of conveying value. New strategies to garner interest, desire and action.

    I like Spam on sliders, not in my copy.



    Truth and Conspiracy.


    Brand planners pay close attention to popular culture in an attempt to massage their ideas and selling schema into it. One hugely impactful, popular cultural construct today is demand for disinformation, especially related to politics and conspiracy.

    Disinformation, it seems is much more interesting than typical truthful information. And when I say truthful information, I’m here talking about advertising. Nobody needs to hear me talk about advertising bombardment, it’s a given. And add to that, eighty percent of advertising is bad.

    Bad advertising shares commodity claims with little proof. “Fred Anderson Toyota offers the best customer service,” for instance. Is that misinformation? Prolly. Multiply that by 100,000 and you begin to see why consumers are not real believers in the craft. But in today’s environment, uncover a little conspiracy and you have a person’s attention.

    In a recent strategy written for a potty training company, I uncovered a conspiracy worth hundreds of millions of dollars. Diaper companies were productizing and strategizing ways to keep children in diapers longer. And it worked. Fifty years ago kids were out of diapers by 18 months. Today it’s closer to 36 months.

    Manipulative, greedy marketing is the worst type. People don’t want to be pushed around.

    We are still up to our asses in diapers (hee hee), but this conspiracy has gotten more than a few mothers angry and we’re moving in the right direction. Truth Well Told.

    Not every advertising and market campaign can be a movement, but it won’t hurt planners to dig a little deeper and give the people the drama they crave.



    Brand Strategy Lite.


    Yesterday I wrote about shortcutting my normal brand planning rigor, as necessitated by lack of time, budget, client situation or act of God. I don’t like to do it but sometimes an organizing principle lite is better than nothing.

    One of the tools I tend to do without when doing planning lite is the brief. My brand strategy brief, a borrow from the NY office of McCann Erickson, has been slightly modified over time.  It’s a linear or serial document which navigates things like brand position, brand objective, target, key desire, role of the product, reason to believe, the ephemeral brand essence and brand claim. I call this a serial document because when complete, starting at the beginning, the brief tells a reasoned, logical story or path to the claim. That doesn’t mean the components always fit together right away. Sometimes they need to be burnished. Sometimes revised.

    When I do brand strategy lite and overlook the logic ladder (brief), it can still work.  But I kind of feel like I have a hole in my pants and no underwear on.




    Feels and Shares.


    Unilever just made the news by agreeing to remove the word “normal” from its marketing materials in the health and beauty categories.  It, rightly, is offensive to people who feel they may not be normal. And who may feel excluded. Bravo. Everyone is normal if alive. All part of the gene pool.

    That said, normal is a not a word I would every use in brand strategy, unless I’m trying to position against it. (Said the fairly normal white guy.) In brand strategies for clients, I want everyone to feel special. To feel their own flavor of special. To feel special when using client products or services.  Yet, to feel special one needs to first feel. And therein lies the secret sauce of great brand planning.  Don’t treat consumers as cardboard users. Or data points. Or metrics on a dashboard. That’s for accounting. Brand planners look into the souls of consumers. We cherry pick feelings we believe to be shared within the confines of our product category. And that’s hard. Not everybody shares the same feelings because life is not equitable. But we try.

    It is the lifeblood of the brand planner. Feels. And Shares.