Spam Words.  

    Brand Planning

    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.



    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.