Brand Planning

    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.



    Planners bones.


    The best part about being a brand planner is that it puts you on the trail of goodness.  The world can be turbulent (as seen on TV) or it can be graceful, when grace is defined as “elegance or beauty of form, manner, motion, or action” (thanks


    It may be the aging process that makes me look out the window more during a country drive analyzing what I see, or it may be the planner in me.  I choose to think the latter.

    Planners need to be extroverts so people will share important feelings, not just what they think we want to hear. Planners must be introverts at times, so people feel comfortable sharing…believing marketers won’t use the information to do evil. But most important planners need an ear attuned to goodness.

    There was a time in my life when making fun of things, people and behavior was humorous.  And humor is something most relish. But planning has tamed this in me. I try to see more deeply into people. I look for the good. It has changed me. My son is graduating college this year. A political science major at Plattsburgh. Sometimes when we talk politics he gears up against what is unjust – what he sees as bad. Perhaps he needs a little planners bone in his exoskeleton.   Peaceful are the planners.    

    Noise cancelling.


    noise cancelling headphonesWhen I was a stupid kid, I had a nice office on the 14th floor overlooking Park Avenue South in NYC.  Today, I know $200,000 a year executives who work in cubes on Lex and 47th. Ten feet from their admins.  I know kids tell you they can listen to music and do their math homework, but sometimes work just needs to be quiet. Quiet outbound and quiet inbound.  That’s why God, Allah, Krishna or whomever invented noise cancelling headphones. A new way of doing business. A new solution.

    We must continue to adapt, as we have with the cube vs. real estate cost scenario, though one thing is for certain: noise will never leave us. It’s a constant.  Many marketing bloggers, digital execs and analytic software salespeople love to talk about noise.  Me too.  Brand planning is a noise canceller. It provides the harmony a consumer hears that is memorable.  Like a good hook in a song, the selling ideas in a brand plan are ordered, complete, fulfilling and replicable.

    Hey marketers, hey c-levels, ask yourselves “What idea do you have that cuts through the noise?” Unless you have a good brand idea and brand plan, you are the noise.  Hee hee. Peace.

    Branding Planning is Reputation Building.


    Somewhere on the web is a product called Reputation Builder. It’s a smart web search tool that finds all the negative things people say about you or your brand web so you can do something about it. In this product’s world you build reputation by removing the bad. Kind of a negative way to build a reputation, no?

    Rather than remove the negatives, why not build brands by organizing and enhancing the positive?  Advertising most of the time shines light on the positive, but often ads don’t stick out. Or are not believable. Or say things that have been said ad nauseam. More likely, the advertising idea is quite disorganized over a period of time.  If brands were buildings, many would be leaning towers , polished shacks or inverted A-frames.  Too frequently brands don’t have architects. Long term architects.  As crazy as it may seem, some web-based companies change brand strategy by the click. 

    So, let’s all think about building brand reputation by answering this question “My company has a great reputation for _________.  Here’s a brand planning URL for you: Peace.

    Facebook and Google Hit the Highway.


    Steve Rubel is a “beyond the dashboard” digital commentator.  That’s what I love about him. He doesn’t spend his day looking through the rearview mirror, he looks ahead.  Check out this Paste from his stream today:

     “I believe business web sites will become less important over time. They will be primarily transactional and/or for utility. Brands will shift more of their dollars and resources to creating robust presence where people already are and figure out how to activate employees en masse in a way that builds relationships and drives traffic back to their sites to complete transactions. Media companies will do the same – they will be “headless.”  Google and search will remain important for years to come. However, what we’re seeing is the beginning of big changes where social networking and Facebook will further disrupt advertising, media, one-to-one and one-to-many communications, not to mention search.”

    Beyond the Dasboard

    I like to look forward too — beyond the car dashboard as the metaphor goes.  And a car metaphor is appropriate when talking about Facebook, Google and social media.  Content is still king in my book. Mr  Rubel’s very believable notion that corporate websites will diminish in importance, save for transactions, is accurate. Today.  But I see Facebook, right now, as the highway.  The road that takes you somewhere.  It’s a highway filled with signs, and people and so much traffic that you can learn lots by being there, yet it’s still just a highway. Corporate websites are losing relevance because they have no pulse. They tend to be static. The action, the pulse, is on the highway. Google is the map and the directory and it’s fighting with the signs and the traffic.  (Check out Mr. Rubel’s post for some comparative traffic numbers showing Facebook overtaking Google by some measures.) 

    Content Still King

    As we settle down and as companies being to truly invest in bringing their brands and value proposition to life through their web presences, corporate websites will come back in importance.  All this talk about the conversation is great. But at some point the conversation has to stop so commerce can start. Corporate marketers will learn this soon enough.  That’s the future Yo.

    How to measure brand effectiveness.


    I am not in the brand awareness business. I am in the brand association business. And to take it one step further I am really in the brand benefit business.

    Brand awareness is simply recall of a name, logo and/or package. Marketing begins with awareness. It’s the price of admission.

    Brand association takes awareness a step further in that consumers are asked to play back certain context and associations with that recall. It might be category association, e.g., Coke is a cola, Cowboys are a football team, or perhaps the association may extend beyond what a brand “is” to a quality, Apple offers product innovation, for instance.

    But the third level, the one I refer to as Brand Benefits walks consumers beyond rote awareness and context features to benefits they need, desire or cherish. I’m not talking Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, I’m talking endemic product or service needs. But importantly, these brand benefits must be few (three to be precise) and constant. They are brand planks. 

    To measure the success of a brand, you must track awareness of brand benefits. If consumers can play back your planks in unaided recall testing you are winning the branding war.




    The R Word.


    Windshield time is a great way to learn from the people who make sales happen — to travel with sales people and see how they sell and customers buy.  Everyone in a company would benefit from exposure to this type of “belly to belly” selling.

    I’ve used the windshield time over much of my career: with light bulb manufacturers, telephone companies, hardware and healthcare providers. Invariably, when you ask sales people what makes them great or what makes the company great they all agree on one thing:  It’s about relationships. Okay, maybe price too…but relationships are most talked about.

    If 50% of sales energy is invested in relationships, I say we are leaving an awful lot of product sell on the table. I’m not saying relationships aren’t important: “Hey, want to go to a Knick game?” I’m saying relationships are the price of business.  Being able to communicate, be friendly, and provide empathy (the basis of relationship-building) is not a sales strategy. 

    A sales rep who only gives good lunch is not the SME (subject matter expert) I want to have a business-building relationship with. Again, I’m not saying a sales person cannot be a friend. I’m saying relationships are not brand building blocks – the are the air surrounding those building blocks.  When brand planning, you must push past relationship speak. Peace! 

    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!

    Percent of GDP Spent on Brand Planning.


    I am on a quest to figure out what part of the US GDP is spent on marketing. The current US GDP according to the World Bank website is $15.6 trillion. Healthcare in America is estimated to be about 18% of the GDP and my gut is telling me dollars spent on market are probably in the same ballpark.

    GDP is defined as the sum of gross value added by all resident producers in the economy plus any product taxes and minus any subsidies not included in the value of the products” so one might say since marketing comprise all four Ps, product being one, that all of GDP is marketing, but let’s use What’s the Idea? math and remove the cost of producing goods from the equation.

    So what are we counting? Research and development of new products. Headcount of people in all marketing services; within the company and vendor.  All out of pocket for advertising, promotion, PR, research, sales, channel, web and service. Based on my seriously fuzzy math, let’s say we are spending $2.8 trillion in marketing sans production.  That’s some cheddar.

    Of that amount, what percent do you think is spent creating an organizing principle that guides marketing? That allows employees and consumers to learn the unique value of a brand…and articulate it with meaningful language. Not taglines like “Chase what matters.”

    The answer is not much. 

    Were we to take all the revenue of companies like Interbrand, Landor, Brand Union and Siegel+Gale and brand planning practices at agencies, we would find that it amounts to a milli-portion of the total. So we’re building brand with lots of people, lots of tools, lots of services and very, very little strategy. I’m having a brain freeze and not even eating ice cream. Peace.

    PS.  Getting to actual spending numbers would be a great econometric project for a business school student.