Spam Words.  

    Brand Planning

    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.



    Close Your Eyes.


    A good deal of my brand planning discovery is spent delving into brand good-ats.  Things at which the brand or org is good. The other half of the discovery rigor looks into customer care-abouts which, at least with less expansive engagements, get a bit less attention.  For full on branding assignments, we recommend a strong quantitative research component, but many clients choose to pass on that expense.

    Anyway, when looking at the customer side of the brand discovery equation there are lots of tools: customer interviews, purchase analytics, marketing and sales team input, retail observations, secondary research, etc.  And let’s not forget filling out the customer journey templates – a big pop marketing tool. But there is nothing in the world better to finish off your customer care-about research than sitting in a dark room and thinking like a customer. Take the time to place yourself in the life of the consumer. Thinking thought their day. The whole person. The day parts. The family. The leisure. Close your eyes and sit with it. For a while.

    A big “learn” for me in brand planning occurred when I was told how unimportant my product was in the whole life of the buyer. Context creates insight.

    Close your eyes and be the ball.



    Optimism in Brand Planning


    Many perceive automation as a reducer of jobs. And for plant workers, robot is a bad word – one causing nightmares. As America and Europe begin to change over from a fossil fuel economy to a natural energy economy, folks worry jobs will decline. When 1/3 of all moving parts in a car are lost due to more efficient electric car component, that’s a negative tick mark on the jobs ledger. But this and other automation advances do offer great upside.  Electric cars will not simply be combustion cars with batteries. They will be appliances. Appliances that drive themselves. The appliances market and the things they plug into will generate lots of new jobs. Perhaps more than those lost.

    I’m pretty pumped about the future. Most brand planners are. We have to be optimistic – it’s our job. And a good job it is. A healthy job. The problem is, if there is one, what do we do with all that positive energy when our brand optimism isn’t requited? Or falls short of reality. Well, then we keep on grinding. We keep on proving. And searching. But we don’t give up. (I still sweat brand strategies I wrote 20 years ago.)

    Optimism is our job. The Fear, Uncertainly and Doubt pop marketing gambit of the nineties is not where brands need to play. We needn’t be Pollyannaish, either, but we must always look to the light.

    It’s a brand planning fundie.



    Brand Planning and Brand Strategy. Perfect Together.


    Lately, I’ve been hearing a little undercurrent that brand strategies are almost secondary to brand planning — the act of preparing a brand strategy.  The act of preparing insights, observations and conducting research is more important, so the implication goes, than the actual strategy itself.

    Martin Weigel recently tweeted to @phil_adams, who had posted that he had done a particular strategy, “Yeah, but did you do the planning?”  Suggesting that anyone can poop out a strategy but the hard work is the foundation – in the planning. 

    It would be had to disagree having a smart rigor to get you to a brand strategy is important. But conversely, you can rigor your ass off for months and come up with a goofy, off-piste strategy. Both are needed.

    Foundation is critical. And so is the idea. And the “proof planks” that create evidence in support of the idea.

    Good prep leads to good work product. It doesn’t insure it.




    Marketing Background, Need Not Apply.


    I don’t come from a traditional marketing background, not that there’s anything wrong with that.  Some very important learning took place for me while at McCann-Erickson back in the 90s.  A number of account supervisors from around the country were treated to a few days in Miami at a fine hotel where we were trained in marketing. A text book was provided, teams and competitions established, and we were introduced to a number of MBA-like concepts the likes of which typical ad people weren’t privy.  It helped us understand that product marketing and product management people weren’t put on this earth to approve ads. They had other jobs. Price elasticity anyone?

    But I digress. I don’t come from a marketing background, which for some is a generic business title. To some it means you make marketing materials. To others it means you get in the way of the sales people. It can mean you manage the promotion budget.  But it is often a generic work title.  That’s not me. When brand planning, when developing brand strategy (one claim, three proof planks), I am someone who works in your line of business. You, being the client.  I’m in specialty pharmaceuticals, children’s character underwear, cybersecurity to name a few. That’s my job. Your job.

    Only when I understand your line of business, your customers, your competitors and sales processes can I do my job.  Brand planning is not about background, it’s about foreground.



    Anthropology and Brand Planning.


    Cultural anthro-pology is something I learned to love at Rollins College. Margaret Mead was a superhero of mine. Watching people, understanding their behaviors from a functional and symbolic standpoint and recording patterns is not easy. But it can be dull.  Hee hee. This college line of study helps me quite a bit in my current brand planning practice.

    When working with retailers with multiple SKUs (products), it’s not unusual for a client to try to wants to sell one piece more than another. Usually it has to do with higher margins. Sometimes it’s ease of production — as in, it used less materials, energy, manpower. Passion and ego also come into play. It’s important to know these things. But what is even more important to know is what “customers want to buy.”

    I call this pent-up demand or simply demand.

    The anthropologist in me says to study consumer desires and needs. Why they desire and/or need the product? How they manifest that desire? What role it fulfills in their lives, both functionally and symbolically.

    Marketers may like to sell product A but if consumers want to buy product B the marketer needs to readjust. Once the marketer understands the purchasing motivation, s/he can choose to evolve product A or back-burner it in favor of B.

    This is brand work. This is behavioral work. This is removing one’s self from the marketing equation…one of the first lessons of anthropological study.




    War, Peace and Brand Planning.


    You don’t develop a peace plan unless there is war, yes?  Well for the most part, businesses don’t create brand plans unless there is marketing chaos. Or at the very least, marketing disorganization.

    First let’s state that brand plans are not marketing plans. They don’t include tactics. Brand plans are all about values. Values that when strengthened create sales and build loyalty. So, brand plan = strategy. And marketing plan = tactics.   

    Brand plans don’t have to be developed however only when things are going poorly. As triage. They are best created when things are going well. Organizing and prioritizing consumer care-abouts and brand good-ats when business is poppin’ is easier than doing the same when things are sliding downhill. In the latter situation there’s a taint. A pall.

    CMOs and CEOs who see lack of organization of key values during good times are the ones I love to do business with. They have vision. Those who only see it from the lens of chaos or downtrends are a bit twitchy. Brand planning should be a proactive pursuit.  

    Margaret Mead when running The Museum of Natural History asked all her employees to visit with a psychiatrist. Healthy or not. Her logic? Only good can come from being in closer touch with your feelings.




    The Inside Out of Brand Consulting.


    Independent marketing and/or sales consultants dot the business landscape, providing small and mid-size companies with advice to improve business processes, effectiveness and earnings.  In my special class of business consulting, brand strategy, the goals are similar but the deliverables different.  We tend toward communications (and experience) while marketing consultants delve more into business fundies and delivery.

    I can’t speak for all brand strategists but I like to work from the inside out. That is, I like to understand the foundational drivers of the company/brand. What the brand is good at? Where is the love of the founders and leaders?  Who’s the best employee and why? What’s the special sauce?  Only when the real business motivations are understood do I look outside…at the consumer.  Mostly marketing and sales consultants start outside, then look in. Where is the demand?  And how will we optimize and improve the approach to meet that demand?

    In my parlance, study the brand good-ats before the customers care-abouts. Like a scientist, I study the DNA before the population at large.

    It’s a different mindset. A different emphasis. It helps me sell and it helps clients buy.



    The Recipe for Behavior Change.


    I’ve had some time to think about my post from yesterday asking whether brand planners should focus on behavior change or attitude change and I have decided upon attitude change. Behavior change unbacked by a set of values is simply a transaction. A default to ease-of-use. A reflex. These can and do drive a lot of commerce, don’t get me wrong. Habit is something to be sought in marketing.  But brand planning is about ingrained habits. Emotional habits. Cognitive habits. And those come from thoughtful cognition.

    I’ve written hundreds and hundreds of brand strategies. My framework uses one claim and three proof planks. Claim without proof is not branding, it’s advertising. I’d venture to say 95% of my proof planks are attitude based. One A Day Vitamins, named after a behavior still needs to support the behavior with a why. Got Milk still has to support the behavior with a why.

    Trust me, changing behavior is a critical goal in marketing. But changing attitudes is the brand planner’s job. It’s the recipe for behavior change.



    Working From Home.


    A lot has been written about working from home since the pandemic began. So much so, that it now has its own acronym WFH. We’ll as a brand planner, working from home is a poor substitute for working at large.  I, too, sit at my compute most of the day like many WFHers. We gather our information from screens, organize it and package it for use, guidance or sales.  But the brand planner in me looses alacrity staring at videos, reports, and even live talking heads, out of context.

    I need fresh air. I need to see and study people in situ. Observation of behavior is best done not in a chair in your home. 

    The definition of noun is a “person, place or thing.” These are best experienced in person.

    And definition of verb is an “action, state, or occurrence.” Again, best experienced in person.

    Working from home for the brand planner dulls the senses. Working from home may be more comfortable but it’s less conducive to what Faris (need I say Yakob?) would call recombinant thought.

    Get yourself out of the home as quickly as you can and back into the business jungle. Safely. With a mask, But git!