Brand Strategy

    The Difference Between Brand Identity and Brand Strategy.


    Is there a different between brand identity and brand strategy? Hell yeah. Most everyone has a brand identity. Very few have a codified brand strategy. I say codified because most marketers believe they have a brand strategy but can’t articulate it.

    Brand identity comprises the people, places and things presented to consumers to generate purchase and loyalty. Think of it (hopefully) as organized selling. Brand identity components include: logo, packaging, signage, color palette, retail experience, sales people, ad copy and imagery. The cleanest way to see if you have a distinct brand identity is to ask consumers to play it back. Brand identity is the state of your brand in consumers’ minds. All controlled by the various outputs (or buildables), as I like to call them.

    Brand strategy, on the other hand, is how you get there. How you get to the perception of what a brand is and what a brand does (Is-Does). Brand strategy must precede brand identity.

    The more ingredients to throw into the pot, the less flavor you have. That’s what happens when you create brand identity before brand strategy. Brand strategy is an organizing principle for product, experience and messaging. That how you build a brand from the ground up.



    Low Versus High Level Branding.


    Trail of Bits is a client along with Teq, Inc. that has made the greatest impact on my brand strategy business. I learn from everyone I consult with – that’s how the business works – but these two companies have had a powerful effect. What I learned from Trail of Bits, a software security company, is that there are two levels of security. Low level and high level. It’s a wonderful analog for branding.

    In software there is the device and the software. The device is what one uses to do stuff and the software provides the rules and process driving the effort. You can train a person to use a computer/device. It’s a completely different story to teach them how the machine works. Using it is high level, understanding how it works, low level.

    In branding, the business is flooded with people who know how to use devices, e.g., advertising, web development, PR, logo design, etc. They are all captains of their individual tactics. But at the lower level, where branding actually works to inform all tactics, there are few experts. Brand strategy is low level. It creates the framework for brand success. It creates the composition of sales and loyalty success. It creates the “organizing principle for product, experience and messaging.” Most importantly it integrates all the various pieces, across all devices.

    By many business definitions “low level” means simplistic and “high level” means strategic. Not in software security. And not in branding. We flip the model.



    How To Get To Whoa.


    I’ve always loved working in categories that blow up the status quo. Let’s call them emerging categories for lack of a better term. Over the last 30 years, emerging has been tech. Prior to tech, it was chemicals. Next I’m hopeful the emerging category will be renewable energy and global climate.

    Being a brand planner and creator of marketing strategies is fun when you are not re-cutting the pie over and over again. Bake new pie is what emerging category development is all about. That’s breakthrough shit.

    I have a client in an emerging area within tech and when they meet others in the business and share where they work the response is always “Whoa.” When other makers and buyers say whoa about your company you know you are doing something right. So how do you get to whoa?

    The cognoscenti might say, build a better mousetrap quietly and launch it with a splash. Secret your R&D, protect your IP, patent your jam. That’s not how it works today. Whoa comes from creating a company culture more open and democratic. One in which the best ideas are shared and communal learning happens. The best minds coming out of school wanting to learn. They paid hundreds of thousands to learn. And now, in real life when they can learn from a smart cohort for free?? Or be inspired by a cohort for free?? Whoa.

    Education and sharing are how you create the whoa factor. Drop knowledge for free. It lifts all boats. And when you do it in an emerging category, ala, plant-based meats, or contra virus meds, you are doing the right thing. It’s a fastest way to Whoa.




    Doritos Entertaining Superb0wl Spot.


    In advertising entertainment is a strategy but it’s not a brand strategy. Entertainment is always a tactic. But unless tied to a strategy it’s wasteful. The hands down winner at my Superb0wl party last night was the Sam Elliot/Lil Nas X Doritos ad. When I saw it coming I shushed the room and everyone watched. (I’d seen a preview.) The casting was great, the music terrific, I particularly loved the hip-hopping horse. Great entertainment. Upon a second view I see they were promoting Cool Ranch flavored chip – which was lost on me in my original viewing.

    As for offering a visual, audible or emotional reason to buy the chips, there was none. And this has been Doritos MO for years on the Superb0wl. Entertain where the entertainers are.

    The media and production for the spot must have cost $7.5M. I bet more people rent Sam Elliot movies and download Old Town Road than buy Cool Ranch Doritos this week.

    But, hey, that’s Entertainment.




    Free Day of Planning…Asheville Style.


    I’ve lived in Asheville, NC going on three years. I’ve met some really neat people. Seen some cool work and rubbed shoulders with beaucoup makers and business owners. Most are quite grounded. Recently, I visited with some people with a graphics and printing business, doing carrier reroute sort snail mail and automobile wraps — and they are absolutely killing it; businesses that wouldn’t have a chance in most places. Must be the water.

    I’ve also met some people who are slogging along. Restaurants here are closing almost as quickly as they are opening. Outside investors are coming to town with an eye toward extracting better margins (read: HCA, Anheuser Busch In-Bev, the guys who bought New Belgium). Yet whether slogging or sledding, one thing most businesses seem unconcerned about is brand strategy. They are blocking and tackling so hard they don’t understand the true business asset brand strategy can be – not beyond name and logo.

    Mission Health is running ads telling us “people are its mission.” Devils Foot Beverage thinks “keep it simple, keep it fresh” will distance it from other ginger beers. (In a dogfight with creators of complexity and staleness???) And Keller Williams Real Estate positions around “people not properties.” What the…?

    This city is pregnant with creative products, services, ideas and money. It’s a bubbling cauldron. I salivate over the possibilities. So I’m going to do something about it. I’m offering any and all businesses in Asheville a free day of brand planning. Open up to me, answer some questions, allow me to dig and speak with some customers and when the day is over – plus a little time to collect and organize my thoughts — I’ll present some cursory insights that will alter your views of branding for years to come.




    The Brand Claim.








    Poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge, is credited with saying “Prose = words in their best order; Poetry = the best words in the best order.”

    One of the nicest things ever said by a fellow brand planner about my work product was there was a sense of poesy about it. I like to think he was referring to my brand claims. Typically, they are brief. And they are always pregnant. A number of claims have ended up being taglines because to the ear they sounded memorable. I rather not label them creative. If they smack of a creative spin they clank when shared with a real creative team.

    Landing on the best words in the best order is how you know you are done with a brand claim.

    “Campaigns come and go…a powerful brand idea is indelible” is a phrase that best embodies brand strategy. And that powerful brand idea is the claim.

    As a brand strategy consultant, I’m not in the business of creating ad campaigns. I’m in the business of directing creative conception. The brand claim is the best, most lucrative, most efficient means by which to create good marketing work and judge good marketing work. It is the single most important element of brand strategy.

    The best words in the best order.


    (For examples of What’s The Idea? brand claims, please write


    Experiential Marketing.


    Experiential branding is a thing. It’s a big thing. Any good K12 teacher will tell you that broadcasting a lesson at kids is not the best away to teach — let alone, sending them home with a few chapters to read. The best way to get kids to learn is to engage them with sight, sound and thought-provoking experience. In science they do experiments.

    Brand strategy is an organizing principle for product, experience and messaging. But the main drivers of brand strategy spending today seem to be naming, packaging and messaging. Experience, more often than not, a still a second class citizen.

    Brand strategists doing discovery understand experience. It’s how we learn. Consume the product. Tag along with sales people. Observe consumers and users. Experience the experience. When Annie Proulx prepared to write The Shipping News, she spent weeks in diners drinking coffee and listening to the local patois of Newfoundlanders. It informed her analytical mind.

    In a recent biz/dev email sent to experiential company I noted how experiential companies market their services using email and websites rather than experiential modes. Experiential is the sharpest tool in the branding kit. We need to pay it better mind.



    Good News For Kids. A Food Revolution.


    A former business acquaintance of mine recently joined a company called Revolution Foods. With a company name like that (brand) how could I not look it up. Thanks for the heads up LinkedIn. Above the fold on the website appears the following Is-Does:

    Building lifelong healthy eaters with kid-inspired, chef-crafted™ food.

    For newish companies, or companies with not a lot of brand awareness putting your Is-Does above the fold is smart. (This above the fold real estate is something I look at when using brand planning tool, Brand Strategy Tarot Cards.)

    I’ve done a good deal of work in K12 education and it is truly some of the most important brand categories I’ve studied. Teaching kids how to learn better is foundational, offering life changing result. As I’ve said before there is no bad learning, only bad teaching. A small but impactful subset of proper K12 education is nutrition. The more we teach kids about proper and healthy eating, the more Greta Thunbergs we’ll turn out. Revolution Foods is banking on this approach. If they do it well, the company will help change the world.

    It won’t be easy. But it’s definitely doable. In the 60s and before it didn’t take the greatest minds in marketing to sell sugary snacks. But there were some really smart people doing it. Santa Claus was co-opted by Coca-Cola in the ‘30s and altered consumption, let’s not forget. Teaching kids to eat green beans will be hard. But it’s not fly to the moon hard.

    I commend Revolution Foods and will study them moving forward. This is a company worth everyone’s time. A real game changer.





    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.



    Mr. Brand Hammer.


    Yesterday I coined the term Mr. Brand Hammer – a reference to the axiom “to a hammer everything looks like a nail.” Mr. Brand Hammer (that’s me) smells a new business name.

    It’s a curse being Mr. Brand Hammer, surfing the ether, watching commercials, reading the paper, with an always-on need to make sense of brands and their strategy. It’s like living in a world of generic, plain yogurt. Colorless. Tasteless. Sluggish. Mr. Brand Hammer constantly evaluates how marketers are differentiating their product and services. Asking what’s the plan? When watching Geico commercials everything is humor and call-to-action. Buy us, get a quote from us. But where’s the why? Mr. Brand Hammer understands it’s not easy creating thousands and thousands of pieces of selling content…you run out of ideas. But you should never run out of strategy.

    What’s The Idea? is a business consultancy built around brand strategy. What’s the brand claim? What are the brand proof planks (evidence of the claim)?  The lack thereof in marketing drives me crazy. And you can tell it also drives marketers crazy. More often than not there is no discernable plan for selling. For building a brand.

    More cowbell. More gecko.