Brand Planning Tools

    Deeds vs. Materials.

    0

    The early Egyptians built with stone and what they built still stands. Shea Stadium was built in the 60s and had to be torn down. It was built with steel and cement. If you were to build a structure today that you wanted to last for 1,000 years what would you use? Perhaps someone will invent a new composite material for building construction that will last 500,000 years.

    The materials with which we construct products – sugar in carbonated soft drinks, salt in French fries, silicon in computer chips – are seen as building blocks of brands. Yet, when I develop brand strategy (1 claim, 3 proof planks) the materials are secondary, perhaps tertiary. What the materials deliver is way more important.

    During my exploration rigor I use a number of tools to mine insights as to “what customers want most” and what the product or service “does best.” Then with all the learning arrayed, I begin to boil down the elements into groups. The groups cluster and point to a common claim…of brand superiority or customer desire. So proof, in fact, comes before claim.

    Rarely are materials the sole heroes of the proof planks; deeds and experiences often are. It may sounds backwards but it works for me.

    Peace.          

                

     

    Brand Planning Technique.

    0

    Salman Khan, founder of the Khan Academy an online educational video tutoring site, began his business by uploading math instruction videos to YouTube. Part of his secret sauce was making math instruction interesting.  If instruction lacks vocal intonation (drone, drone) it didn’t connect.  Been there.  If it was overly flourished, same thing. His approach, like that of other good teachers, was to be in the middle. Connect. Watch what students tuned in to and package that using good pedagogy.

    As a brand planner, I sometimes go into situations where the topic is less than exciting.  Healthcare and banking come to mind. When interviewing SMEs (subject matter experts) or consumers using Salman’s approach is important. The interviewer needs to show interest; not academic interest but true category interest.  The interviewer needs to find ways to bring the subject to life. To be engaged and earn trust. Personal stories are a good way to prime the pump. Hearing them. Telling them.  Some will say interrupting people when they talk is not polite, however in this case it shows energy and interest. (Do it carefully however.)

    Be a good listener, a careful watcher of body language, and most of all be human. React, respond, find emotional attachments. Joy and happy endings are also nice, though may not in all cases be appropriate.

    Once again, good teaching and learning practices come into play in brand planning. Peace.

    Hierarchy of Likes.

    0

    I was in the Bronx Friday night at the Met Yankee game. Don’t ask.  And for all the falderal it was quite civil. I didn’t fly my Met colors, nor did I instigate.  I just did the late 1960s Fillmore West clap and watched me some hardball.  One thing I took away from the game, though, was an insight that for all of people’s preferences, divides and loyalties – if you find a point of common ground more important, you can create dialog. 

    At one point during the national anthem I felt a 9/11 moment resulting from the video.  It brought the entire stadium together as one (in my mind). It pointed to something bigger than a baseball rivalry. And on two other occasions during the game I spoke with a couple of guys  who noticed my Pearl Jam shirt.  We connected on something that was perhaps even more important to us than a baseball game. As I walked along River Avenue leaving the game, a guy quietly said in passing “Yellow Ledbetter.”  I only half heard it until it registered, then I looked back and “peaced” him with a knowing smile. A brother.

    The insight is this: You can always ladder up common ground or affinity with someone you don’t necessarily agree with. It takes work, and thought, and open-mindedness.  It’s a hunt worth pursuing. So marketers and planner dig in.  Peace!     

    The Boil-down.

    0

    OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

    When thinking about the key skill in brand planning I’d have to say the “boil-down” is most precious. What is the boil-down? Well, think of a big stock pot on the stove. Filled with liquid and other flavoring goodies. After hours of a rolling boil – bones, veggies, herbs and seasoning bobbing around in a pot – what’s left is a thick and flavorful broth or bouillon. Gently boil that some more and it will make the flavors even richer. That’s what brand planners do in order to make a nice strategy.

    Of course, the filters the boil-down must pass through include all the things planners write about: category insights, consumers care-abouts, brand good-ats, culture, retail environment, competition, etc.  And mastery over all theses things makes for a good planner but without the ability to boil everything down and focus on the most important, business-building, brand-building qualities is for naught.

    The data can’t do this work. The algorithm can’t do this work. AI? Don’t think so. It’s the brain. It’s the ability to feel and emote. When the body goes atingle, that’s when you know the boil-down is nigh.

    Peace.

     

    Brand Discovery Advice.

    0

    Robert Eichner a successful marketer and cohort here in Asheville shared something his dad Arthur told him many years ago “When you ask for advice you get money, when you ask for money you get advice.”

    This is some sound counsel. In fact, I’ve lived by it for decades. The money I have made at What’s The Idea? is directly attributable to the interviews I conduct through my brand planning rigor. Until the machines take over it is people who buy stuff. So, it is people who fuel the strategy.  Of course, market data, trends, competition and culture factor in, but it’s the words and deeds people share that form the brand claim and proof array.

    I’ve never had to pay people to ask them a few questions about brands, markets and buying behaviors. Never. In fact, once you pay for advice, it’s probably tainted.

    Ask questions, ask advice as Arthur Eichner suggests, and you’ll get a wealth of information.  Brand planners are interested by nature. They are not data collectors — they are learners. And organizers. Data only supports and proves our learning.

    Ask and you shall receive.

    Peace.

     

     

    A Brand Test for CEOs.

    0

    Here’s one way to see if your company has a brand plan.  Summon department leaders and one random dept. employee into the conference room on a Monday morning. Ask each of them to create a PPT presentation describing the company mission in twelve pages — no more, no less. Make sure they explain what the company Is and what the company Does. (Here referred to as the Is-Does.)  Ask them to report back by 1 P.M., where sandwiches will be served and the work reviewed as a group.

    As with any research, offer up that there are no right or wrong answers and grades will not be issued. 

    Companies with strong brand cultures will share presentations containing similar organizational structure and language.  The other 92% will be a mash-up. What will they mash up?  Learnings from category-leading brands. Things they recall reading in the trade press and news.  A little bit of personal aspiration, maybe some lyrics from the company PR boiler plate and, likely, some CEO language. A doggy’s dinner as Fred Poppe might have said.

    In companies with tight brand plans, every employee knows what business they’re in. They can articulate what products are sold, what customers care about and the business-winning goals. These are business fundies. This is strategy.  It’s worth sharing with employees.  

    Try this brand plan test out and see what can be learned about from a few simple PPT sides. Peace.

    To plan or not to plan…

    0

    I’ve been interviewing a number of registered dieticians the last few days, all specialists in renal or kidney disease. A fascinating group. This country has about 20 million people with chronic kidney disease and I am guestimating about a half million of those are on dialysis.  

    A typical marketer in need of a dialysis ad would call the ad agency in, perhaps invite a physician to brief them on disease and treatment.  Then the agency would go back to its office, do some budgeting, paperwork and layouts and return 2 weeks later with a picture of a sunset of blue sky and a pithy copy about how the future looks brighter with XYZ product.

    What would a brand planner do? (What would I do?)

    Having primed the pump by talking to the second, maybe first, line of defense for kidney patients – the dietician – I would like to do a DILO (day in the life of) od a dialysis patient. Anthropologists might call this a quickie ethnography.  Wake up in the patient’s house. See what breakfast is like.  Ask about dreams (Freud-like). Watch clothes selection. Find out who they call on the phone.  Probe feelings. Learn about professional support, caregiver relationships and insurance coverage. Plumb the highs and lows.  Listen to the dialog at dialysis check-in. Experience food and drug shopping. Talk meds. Vamp. Care.

    In one full day, with his technique, a brand planner could craft an EFFIE winning ad strategy, a medical retailing strategy and a spending level that would redistribute marketing wealth. All in one day. Why are we not doing more or this? Peace.   

    An important brand planning question.

    0

    The secret sauce of the What’s the idea? brand planning rigor (WTI is my blog, but also a brand consultancy I had for 3 years prior to coming on board at Teq) is the battery of questions I use when interviewing company stakeholders. Finding out what a company does best and matching it with what the market wants most is the goal.  I may have just found a new question.  The inspiration was an amazing story today in The New York Times of Lonnie G. Thompson, a man in search of proof that global temperatures are rising.

    The secret sauce question is most powerful when asked of an individual, yet it can be altered to apply to a company. Let’s stay with the individual, for simplicity’s sake:  

    What is your life’s work?

    Not an easy question to answer.  Or is it? Most will probably say something like “Be a good parent.”  Or “Be a good spouse.”  Maybe “Leave the world a little better place.” Perhaps “Be a better person.”  Following up these answers with probes will get you to the meat of the discussion. Using the question with a company, however, may get bogged down in “mission statement miasma,” but don’t let it.  A “life’s work” has to have import. If a company has a hard time answering, it likely will have a have a hard time branding it.

    As my Norwegian aunt Inga might have said “Tink about it.” Peace.