brand planning tips

    Brand Planning Interview Starters.

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    Yesterday I wrote about the need to understand the language or dialect of the customer.  

    Marketers thoroughly understand the language of the product and speak it exhaustively in their building but it’s only when they get into the field that they’re able to know if it syncs with the language of the customer.

    Companies that want to learn the language or dialect of the customer hire a brand planner.

    When attempting to learn language in a new category I start by breaking out one of my trusty questionnaires. But those question sets don’t always help me learn the category, which is prerequisite of learning the language. Hence some customization has to take place,

     

    A tip.

    On a recent technical engagement, I popped out this little discussion starter, “Write the headline that captures the most important news in the ____ business today.” The headline (and it must be a headline, not a run on) set up the next question or six. Another clarifying question I used was “In what segments of the _____ business would you say (company name) operates?” And I riff on that.

    Learning starts every brand planning party.

    Peace.

     

     

    Brand Planner Tip #15.

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    I changed my Twitter profile description today to include “operating at the intersection of never been and nowhere.” Until today it said “I operate at the intersection of nothing.”  The latter reference was a snark at all the people on Twitter who operate at the intersection of two things.  For the strategically minded that may be 10-20% of profiles. 

    That’s the more caustic Steve. Today I dialed it back so there’s less cynicism and more focus on an actual idea. The idea relates to operating from tabula rasa. A blank slate. I attempt to come at a branding problem with an unbiased, untainted view of the category or business. Clean.

    In most every initial meeting with a client I lead with “I’m a simple man.”  I look at things simply and hopefully without complication. I like to communicate with simple people through simple symbols, emotions and ideas. Done well, done with panache and believability, this approach resonates. (Even in complicated businesses like Blockchain.)

    In order to get to simple, you must clear your mind. Cultural anthropologists get this. They watch, listen and go deep on understanding.  With preconceived notions you don’t get to deep. You can often find yourself tangled in complexity.

    So I proudly operate at the intersection of never been and nowhere. Try it.

    Peace.  

     

    The Commodity Promise.

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    The brand promise or in my lexicon “claim” is often a very common promise. The common or commodity promise is a blight on the branding world. Let’s look at healthcare or hospitals as an example – a place where doctors do medical procedures.  Docs and hospitals often share the promise “making patients well.”  If you were to wrangle all the healthcare promises in the country, 90% will be the same.  A commodity promise.

    Getting past the commodity promise is hard work. And work not easily done by marketing staffers; it requires a specialist. A deep-digging brand planner.

    A big hospital in the northeast had a marketing director who fancied himself a creative person. He decided he wanted the hospital tagline to be (and I will paraphrase a bit) “Your wellness means the world.”  Say it enough times in radio and TV ads and people might just believe it. That’s adverting not branding.

    After having done some a little bit of discovery on the brand, I came up with a competing promise “Where every bed is precision.” It’s not a tagline, but a brand strategy.  With this as the claim, supported by three proof planks, the hospital would have had a brand strategy. See the difference? Not a commodity promise.

    Peace.

     

     

    Brand Strategy Boil-Down.

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    My wife suggested reusing an Amazon bag for shipping something to my mom. The wifus is a smart lady. There was a lot of noise on the outside of the bag including printed bar codes, markings, and UPS truck soot.  Her idea was to put a new label over the old Amazon label and let it fly. Save a tree, use a proven vessel, a good idea.

    I suggested turning the bag inside out, which I did. The inside was pristine gray.

    This story is a bit metaphoric (sophomoric?) for my approach to brand planning. When doing discovery, you want to look at all sides. Inverse. Obverse. I’m sure there’s another verse.  The point being, and this is certainly true for creative problem solving, more perspectives are energizing.  Sometimes typos can be informative. Especially so for me.  Sort of like the 3M person who spilled mixatives and created the Post-It note. (Is mixative even a word?)

    Brand planners know their own process. Amass information then do the boil-down. Everyone should boil from a bigger pot. Let the fun begin.

    Peace.

     

    Apocryphal Brand Craft

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    I was reading some marko-babble on a research company website the other day and my bullshit meter went off. The sentence that woke it was “Turn your brand into a religion.”  Yeah, no.  

    Most marketers would warm up to a sentence like this. Who doesn’t want a fealty to their brand that sticks to the soul? But face it, it’s an overpromise. When we are talking this type affinity we are talking about a product or service, not a brand.  I’ve brought Hellman’s Mayonnaise all my life. The New York Times is my only life-long newspaper subscription, my tents and ski jackets are all Marmot. Not because of the brand managers, but because of the product. Read: product preference.

    It’s aspirational to want an almost religious attachment to a brand, that I get. But when you put brand before product, it’s because you don’t have a really good product. Once you remove the brand from the product and promote the former, thinking it’s some ethereal and malleable construct, you’re kidding yourself. You are storytelling.

    Brand management is hard work. It’s scientific. Measurable. Rules-based. But religion? Yeah, no!

    Peace.

     

    Learn Baby Learn.

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    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.

     

     

             

    Houzz, Brand Planners and Ample Asses.

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    houzz homepage

    Came across a cool new website called Houzz. It’s also an app on the iPhone. Someone showed me the app on the iPhone (my first user experience or FUE) where it displayed a picture of a kitchen with lots of scroll over call-outs. You scrolled over a countertop and lots of little bubbles (way too many) popped up – I assumed they were prices, or comments. For the life of me I couldn’t figure the app out. I later went to the website and subscribed and started receiving emails, which I didn’t open. Until today.

    It’s a real nice website. Lots of bleed pictures, little text on the homepage, the way I like it. But I still couldn’t tell what the site was about other than home stuff so I dug in and visited the About Page. Here’s what they say:

    “We are a platform for home remodeling and design, bringing homeowners and home professionals together in a uniquely visual community.”

    Now that made sense. My FUE with the app did not.

    The Houzz site (not the app) is an awesome resource. Power kitchen and remodeling users (people with leisure time?) spend a nice amount of energy here. This is exactly the kind of place a brand planner wants to do research. It’s the kind of place where thoughtful helpers, info seekers, and smart sellers spend time sharing. All in one location. Brand planners with ample asses (impolitic, I know) can learn a lot – sans fieldwork – on a site like this. I love finding gems like this in every category.  It’s where Posters go. (Google “Posters versus Pasters”.) Peace.

     

    Brand Planning Tips

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    merle haggard

    So I was listening to Merle Haggard yesterday and the old coot was doing a duet with Jewel and, by God, he changed his vocal treatment – his voice — on the song. It was Merle but he was trying to impress her, trying to woo her. Men! There was a gentleness to his voice that you won’t hear in most of his tunes. The tone send a message. So I’m thinking if he can change his tone and impart different meaning, sub rasa meaning, so can the rest of us. Why not use it as a brand planning tool?  So I’m playing around with an interview technique that will prompt interviewees to answer questions in various voice types. You know the voice you use when someone is confiding tragic personal news to you? Or the voice used to encourage a child who needs support? Have you a sexy voice? The key is to get the interviewee to use a topic-appropriate voice in an interview to impart greater meaning.  To do so you have to put them in a zone; coach them like an acting coach. Get them to a place where they are feeling an emotion then get them to answer your question, truthfully, but that particular voice.

    Try it, I certainly will. Peace.

     

    3 Keys To Successful Brand Planning.

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    In the curated social media world the most shared content tends to have numbers in the headline. In an effort coattail this phenomenon, following are three ingredients to successful brand planningshipdom.

    Follow Trends. What is a trend? It’s a pattern. A pattern of behavior, thought and scientific phenomenology. As we watch patterns — first small, then large — we get in touch with what growth is. And we understand growth.

    Create Trends. This one is more difficult and some might say egotistical. Fashion designers think this way. Copywriters sometime think this way, coining product memes. Some ad agencies suggest they create trends. It’s a wonderful motivating factor for strategists to project their work as trend-worthy. Aspire to it, but don’t be consumed by it. Trends are fickle. They are also functional (the anthropologist in me might say).

    Optimism. Growth is about positive things working together. Stasis is about inaction. Death, about negative forces. Brand planners are best when focusing on the positive. We are in the optimism business. Is it dangerous not to worry the negatives? Nah, that’s someone else’s job. The art of growth, human desire and sunny tomorrows is what we do. Don’t spend an ounce of energy of the dark side of the ledger.

    Peace.

     

    Biggest critic.

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    I’m always on the lookout for new ways to extract important information from executives about their companies. My 24 Questions, designed to follow the money, are not great at generating stories… and stories (aka proof/examples) are what create context and power for brand planners.  A flesh vs. bones thing. So the latest question I’ve been dabbling with is “Who is the industry’s biggest critic?” Or, “Of all the opinion leaders in your business, whose approval do you hold dearest and why?” I’ll probably test it out both questions. The first is the more open of the two and presumes a critical but, honestly, I am more eager to hear about praise. It is an open question and can be easily toggled.

    Most people, be they executives or consumers, can articulate the opinion leader they most admire. That person is a good source of brand planning study. That person may not want to share all his/her secrets, but often provides shortcuts to pearls of wisdom and grist for the narrative mill.  Successful home brewers’ opinions are worth more to the average beer drinking Joe than are sports stars. An IT professional’s opinion is more valuable than a Best Buy salesperson.  Think “expert witnesses” in a jury trial, to the max.

    Find these people, learn why they are great critics, and get their stories. Probe the “doing” part of their role rather than the “critique or praise” itself. Probe for story. Peace.