Brand Planning

    Brand Strategy…Say What?


    Quick, I say “brand strategy,” what’s the first thing that comes to mind?  Okay, let’s try another.  “Brand plan.”  You say ______?  This sort of brand speak is really inside baseball to most businesses. Over the past couple of years I’ve spoken to some really smart people from many different walks of marketing life and they all know the words but, ask them to define or diagram them on paper, they can’t. 

    Wikipedia “Brand Plan.”

    Wikipedia the words “brand plan” and Wiki asks you “Did you mean Brand Play?”  The first option under the question is business plan.  Wikipedia “Brand Strategy” and it says “You may create the page Brand Strategy.”

    Everyone agrees that brands are important…that they have value.  Most understand brands need to be managed.  What they don’t always get is that brands need to be managed to a tight brand strategy.  So they default to managing brands based upon acquisition, sales growth or retention metrics — all of which are measurable.  Thanks to the web, we can now even measure clicks and views and engagement and referrals and, and, and. And tie measures to dollar investments.  Break out the dashboard and play marketing videogames.

    So if brands are important, and we all agree they are, how do we measure the efficacy of the brand strategy?  I often use the example that Coke’s brand strategy is refreshment.   Today, Wieden + Kennedy and Coke would have you believe it is happiness. Who is right and how to we find out?   

    Now don’t get me wrong, a powerful brand strategy is only so if it increases sales and margins. Period.  But tying sales and revenue increase to a strategy, not a tactic, is what’s what. Peace!

    Claim and Proof.


    Last week at the DMA/PMN social media conference, Steve Rubel, a digital honcho at Edelman, said “information scales, attention is finite.” He couldn’t be more right.  As social media adds more and more conversation to what is already being said about brands in the marketplace, the cacophony grows louder.  It is in this environment that brand planners become even more important.

    Creating a brand strategy that is easy for corporate officers and consumers to articulate is job one for today’s planners.  Once that strategy is in place, “proving” it and refreshing it is the real work.  Simply repeating the brand strategy — using words, pictures, speeches or song — is not marketing.  Proving it is marketing.  Proof through actions, deeds, and product innovation is what makes a brand strategy and what makes people pay attention…and remember.  If you have a great strategy and no proof, you fail.  Peace!

    Sharing the Brand Plan.



    When I worked on the North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System business with Welch Nehlen Groome, system CEO Michael Dowling would meet every Monday morning with new employees and welcome them. The system employed about 30,000 people so Mr. Dowling had an opportunity to go really viral with his mission.

    At face value the mission, embodied in the tagline “Setting New Standards in Healthcare,” didn’t sound like much.  Operationalized, it was a brand game-changer.

    The brand planks supporting the strategy were unassailable and uniquely North Shore – creating tremendous wealth for the brand. Yet what was missing from the equation and where I didn’t do a good job as brand planner was getting senior management to acculturate the brand plan through the employee world. Had every Monday morning Mr. Dowling shared the brand strategy with his impressionable new employees, imagine how much stronger his brand would be today.

    People think health systems are about saving money. Done correctly, they are about redistributing healthcare wealth (clinical and economic).  North Shore had a system for doing this.  It was, and is, its secret sauce.

    All companies, big or small, need to share their unique brand strategies with employees. Otherwise, every employee at every company is driven by the same strategy: earn a paycheck.

    Brand Enculturation.


    I had to look up the word enculturation a couple of months back while writing a pitch email. In fact, at the time I wasn’t sure it was a word.  Enculturation is mission-critical to my business and the goal of every brand plan I write.  A good brand plan helps employees drink the Kool Aid — educating them as to the unique and meaningful points of difference. By enculturating a company with the brand’s promise and supports marketing in its many forms is simplified and made more effective.  Only when a company adopts a brand plan can it truly be extended to consumers. The enculturation of a brand plan organizes employee and consumer minds, removing clutter.

    Most advertisers and marketers hate “clutter.” I love it.  The more clutter there is in a category the more likely it can be broken.  A brand strategy may sometimes sound familiar, maybe even undifferentiated, but if it’s the right one, it will be actionable and defensible and its messages, demonstrations, and deeds profound.

    Newsday knows where people (on Long Island) live. The Daily News doesn’t. North Shore-LIJ Health System provides a systematized approach to improving healthcare. St. Francis Hospital doesn’t.  Isopure Plus uncovers the taste of pure protein. Milky Ensure doesn’t.

    When a brand creates a culture around its points of advantage it becomes a brand. When it doesn’t it remains a product.  Peace!

    Aol. vs. Yahoo


    Aol. and Yahoo have both finally figured out that good content begets readership, viewership, referral, and participation which begets — the same.  These two seminal online brands will be dooking it out for years to come. They both took different paths to get here and both have CEOs with unique perspectives, but the battle should be fun to watch. Coke and Pepsi, AT&T and Verizon fun.

    Armstrong vs. Bartz

    My bet is on Aol. Tim Armstrong hitched his ride to a rising star (Google) and got that success smell on him — but I think he created some of that smell with his focus and good leadership. Carol Bartz’s career advanced by good blocking and tackling and good business decisions, something Yahoo hadn’t had for a while prior to her arrival.  Yahoo made lots of decisions, just not with a solid brand idea driving them. Until proven otherwise, I’ll give Mr. Armstrong the edge and write it off to “derring do.”

    Ad dollars are moving online, no doubt, but those in the know will tell you the lion’s share are going to Google thanks to AdWords and their direct-to-consumer, DIY, analytics-powered ad model. As Aol. and Yahoo re-create their online brands and lead the market in the generation of original content (paid and contributed), search will stay a powerful, lucrative utility, but won’t be the best way to find good content. That will be the domain of Aol and, hopefully, Yahoo. Peace!

    Kid Healthy Branding.


    v8 fusion

    General Mills and the Campbell Soup Company are doing some really good work to change the poor eating and drinking habits of kids.  General Mills, which already increased the whole grain content in its children’s cereal, has now agreed to reduce sugar in cereals advertised to kids. Campbell’s has created a line of heart healthy sugar and fructose syrup-free V-8 Fusion fruit drinks and marketing them to schools.

    Kids love cereal and they love soda and juice, so if the right products are available, affordable and actually taste good, kids will go for them — reducing obesity and diabetes down the road. 

    I have always loved the marketing ploy of Campbell’s: one V-8 is like multiple servings of vegetables. That idea carries over to its V-8 Fusion and V-8 Splash drinks. It’s a great, focused branding idea — pregnant with healthy consumer imagery (salt aside).  General Mills is trying to make whole grain a differentiating branding idea, but it’s juggling that with a new effort to reduce sugar.  It’s doing the right thing, but dividing its message to conquer. Were I General Mills, I’d work on the whole grain idea and leave the sugar-free as a side bar.  Sugar free is a bandwagon issue, whole grain is big. Peace!

    Venture Capital and Clean Air.


    NY venture capitalist Fred Wilson of Union Square Ventures posted yesterday about how venture firms often follow the herd.  If social networks are hot, VCs look for a new good one. Mobile apps? They find someone second to the party, but who tells a fine story.  Mr. Wilson believes this is too safe and in being too safe it is not safe at all.

     Mr. Wilson is, drum roll, successful.  He is because he “fails harder” as Dan Wieden of Wieden + Kennedy says. Or “falls forward fast” as Joe Nacchio used to say.   Mr. Wilson is smart, hard working but most importantly unafraid to look to the future. He goes where the herd will be. Where the herd is is a little stinky –albeit an active breeding ground. Mr. Wilson looks for clean air.

    Brand Planning.

    Good brand planning and good VC investment share this “ahead of the herd” mentality. When I present a great branding idea there is often an odd look in the eyes of the decision maker.  It’s part smile, part fear.  The smile connotes I get them.  The fear can result from a few things but usually it’s the unknown.  When presenting to Newsday the brand idea “we know where you live,” they thought it too intrusive, maybe a bit creepy. But it was their differentiator. They added a little water and bought it.  For a health care system the strategy “a systematized approach to improving healthcare” felt cold and calculating.  Finally they agree as long as we didn’t use the “s” word, we were good.  They came to grips with the fact that they were a system. Herds are safe. Bold wins out. Peace!