Brand Planning

    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!



    The Future of Work, Ten Years Ago.


    Ten years ago (time flies me droogies), I was hired to work for a few months in the JWT account planning department on Microsoft. It was one of the highlights of my planning career.

    One of the key assignments was something we called the “Future of Work.” I wrote a trends deck that acted as a starting point for the assignment. I’ll be sharing key insights from that deck over the next week or so to see it they still hold up 10 years later. (When written, the deck was only about trends, not about selling product. Eventually it morphed towards an Office 365 piece, where it was to help defend against Google Docs – it is a business after all. My approach was upstream however.) Insight number one:

    1. Most of the innovation in technology over the past 4-5 years has been on the consumer side.

    Prior to Facebook, most major technology innovations were business to business. Mainframes, LANs, PCs, private date lines, enterprise (corporate) email systems, cell phones, and VOIP and voice mail. But this all changed in the middle aughts when Twitter, Facebook, the iPhone, Kindle, Netflix, the App Store, Foursquare and tablets emerged. Developing and marketing products directly to consumers rather than IT departments forced technology to be user-friendly. Accessible. It was a sea change. It was a cleansing moment. Ease of use paved the way for use and innovation. The market was not just the geeks who understood PC Magazine, but everybody.

    Implication for the Future Of Work (FOW): With all the action on the consumer side, someone could fill the innovation void on the business side of the market. Business workers could thrive thanks to usability-inspired innovation.



    Imposter Syndrome.


    There’s a phenomenon in brand planning called Imposter Syndrome. If I understand it correctly, it’s when planners feel that their work is undervalued and, perhaps, they are imposters in the process of creative content development. Leave it to planners to be so sensitive that they question their own work. Question everything, after all, is our mantra.

    I know how this has become a thing. It’s mainly because we give our work product to creative departments who are often beholden to nothing other than their own creative whims. Of course they want input. Of course they want validation from approvers. But foremost, they want to please themselves. Through creativity. The result? The work doesn’t always reflect the strategy. If the work sucks, we tell them it’s off. If it’s good we smile and congratulate.

    Here’s the thing: a brief for a project has numerous touchstones for creative. It’s not always the main idea that drives the creative content. It could be a target insight, a needs assessment, an endemic cultural insight. If it contributes to good work, we’ve done out jobs. If it sparks an idea for good work, we’ve done our jobs.

    We can’t be too sensitive. If our briefs and insights suck, we get fired. If we continue in our job, then our objective is to learn and get better at providing stimulus every day. “Be in it to win it, like Yzerman.”

    Imposter Syndrome be gone. Otherwise it’s therapy time.



    Under Armour’s Lost Opportunity.


    There has been a lot of coverage lately about how Under Armour has lost its way. After many years of  20% growth, it was reported today that sales were up less than 1% in the most recent 9 months. I’m a fan of Under Armour. Their training and sport apparel business reinvigorated the sportswear scene. But when they decided to get into footwear I dinged them. And after a good long run, it looks like my initial thoughts may have been correct. You can’t be a master to two kingdoms.

    Sneakers are off-piste for a clothing company. Parse the brand name…it’s called Under Armour.

    The current trend that Under Armour could have leveraged is Athleisure; an easy evolution from core apparel products. Men’s joggers are one of the hottest men’s wear products around, mirroring the explosive growth women’s yoga pants/leggings. By spending way too much time carving up the sneaker pie, Under Armour lost sight of its core business. The business upon which it built its brand.

    Markers have to understand how important focus is — especially in brand-sensitive and brand centric categories such as clothing.

    Under Armour cut a new swath in fashion with functional sportwear. Had it stuck to its knitting I’m convinced it may have innovated the legging and jogger categories. It may be too late, but not for what comes next. 





    I read someone’s bio on LinkedIn yesterday and it referred to them as “A strategic and creative thinker, adept at helping companies execute for growth and deploy brand effectively.” Who wouldn’t want to do business with someone like that? Well, as someone who grew up in the advertising business, this statement might be considered a straddle. Some would argue it takes different bones to build a strategic person than it does a creative person. Back in the day, you were either in the creative department or other less creative departments, e.g., media, account management, or research. So as much as I appreciate the straddle, muscle memory keeps me from believing creative and strategic can live in the same body. Oh, the scar tissue!

    Today rather than chose a label I prefer to identify via the process. I am a planner. A brand planner.

    In ad agencies, a brand planner’s job it to feed the creative people so the work can shine. Planners provide direction and insights that stimulate great work. Whether that stim is creative or strategic is unimportant so long as the work is effective. And effective for the right reasons. Yet when working directly with marketers who want help with their brands I find they don’t want a creative person at the table or a strategic person at the table, they want someone who understands them and their business. Someone who can deliver a plan for business improvement. A plan they can analyze. And approve. And implement.

    There goes another layer of scar tissue.



    The Problem With Brand Planning Tools.


    The world of branding is much like the real world in that there is science and everything else. What does that mean? Science undergirds the physical world, predicting the result of actions. Science repeats itself. Science predicts outcomes. Mathematics, physics, biology are all means to codify the physical world.

    A recent engineering client of mine taught me that tools fix things that are broken, but science precludes what’s broken. Cancer can be cured, we just haven’t figured out the science yet. Global warming can be dealt with, we just haven’t been able to muster the science and will.

    Many brand planners are tool-centric. I am pleading for us to be more science-centric. And that means starting way upstream of any tactical deliverable. Upstream of any buildable. In fact, it may be upstream of addressing a business problem. Because problems beget tools.

    Upstream means planning the master brand strategy. The organizing principle for product, experience and messaging. So many brand planners write briefs in support of a tactic. That’s downstream. Better to begin at the base level. At the foundation. Where the science is set.

    As you move your way up the stack (technology reference) or upstream toward the purchase, toward the tactic, you lose the science.

    Why is this a good approach? Because science is predictable. And predicting marketing outcomes is what is sorely lacking in our business.



    Syllabus For Brand Planners.


    A brand strategy is best delivered through a syllabus. A lesson plan for brand building by way of education.

    Teachers know the most efficacious education revolves not around rote recitation of lesson, but participation and interaction.  

    I was lucky enough to work as marketing director at an ed tech company that made most of its money selling interactive white boards. They brought me onboard to help flip the business model from hardware to professional development – that is, to teach teachers how to use technology more effectively to improve learning.  I dove into the science of teaching (pedagogy) with the goal of understanding learning. There is bad teaching but there is no bad learning.

    This whole deep dive had a vigorous impact on my brand planning practice. In my brand brief, the keys to learning were improved “classroom design,” “better teacher-student relationship” and stronger “parental/guardian involvement.” With learning the goal and teaching the vehicle how I thought about marketing was recast.

    Teaching had for too long been about broadcasting information at kids. And marketing the same. Using education as an analog for marketing, classroom design became the media or the experience (retail). The student-teacher relationship translated to consumer care-abouts and attitudes (a long-standing brand planner tool). And parental involvement aligned perfectly with marketing influencers.    

    Now these three notions are not foreign to brand planners but they aren’t always part of the syllabus. To develop brand value faster and make it more everlasting, one needs to focus on consumer learning, not marketer teaching.  That takes a new syllabus.



    Tangential is Good. And Bad.


    In brand planning tangential is something to which you want to pay attention. Learning comes from everywhere. The broader you cast your learning net the better. Anything to spark and idea. Any new way to look at data, information and opinion.  Faris Yabok a learned and smart brand planner will be the first to admit his bailiwick is recombinant information and ideation. He calls it genius steals. To Faris nothing is new and everything is new. Tangential can be a good living…to a planner.

    In business however, tangential is not a strength. Dan Guido, CEO of Trail of Bits, understands this. Dan is a master brand builder and world class infosec leader. He lives his business goals and plots the path there with rapt attention…minimizing distraction. He knows he can morph and slide the business based on demand and futures, yet tangents to core abilities need not apply.

    You don’t get to be Faris smart or Dan smart without living with tangential awareness. The key is knowing what to do with it. On or off.