Brand Strategy

    Selling Is To Buying What Teaching Is To Learning.


    I’ve spent my entire career (save for a few painted houses) in businesses allied with selling; mostly advertising, marketing and brand strategy. For 8 months I worked at an education technology company. Not only did I have to learn the products and services of the company, I had to learn the language and culture of the people who bought and used them: teachers and administrators. Taking it a step further, because that’s what planners do, I wanted to also understand the needs of the teacher’s customers: the students, parents and communities. I did a really deep.

    My education in education changed my outlook on marketing. It changed my outlook on selling. You see, there is a difference between selling and buying. We sell so people buy — but they don’t always. Similarly, there’s difference between teaching and learning. Students are taught but don’t always learn.

    If you are teaching and the kids aren’t learning, are you really teaching? If you are selling and the consumers aren’t buying are you selling? When the answer is no, marketers often change their ad agency or hire a business consultant.

    I’m here to suggest, if you are selling and consumers aren’t buying, you have a brand strategy problem. Brand strategy at it’s most foundational level identifies what a brand (company) is good at and what its customers care-about. With this information in hand, learning begets buying.



    The Difference Between a Product and a Brand.


    Do you want to know the difference between a product and a brand? Of course you do.

    A product is company-owned. A brand is consumer-owned. Simple at that. Products are the domain of the makers. Brands exist because of consumers. Ipso facto.

    The tension this statement points out is intensified when company and consumer are not in synch. And the tension between buyer and seller is often real. Making and selling is complicated. Buying, not so much. When buying becomes complicated, consumers opt out. Or delay.

    This is where brand planning comes in.

    Brand planning and brand strategy works to align the maker with the buyer. The brand strategy goal is to remove the tension. Remove what complicates.

    An early mentor of mine, Fergus O’Daly, once shared a marketing quote attributed to a few luminaries (Peter Drucker, IBM’s Thomas Watson, and Arthur “Red” Motley) “Nothing happens until someone sells something.” I would recast that phrase to say, “Nothing happens until someone buys something.” The brand planner’s job is to focus on the buyer in ways most product people don’t.

    Try us, you’ll like us.




    Trickle Down Brand Strategy.


    I’ve come to the conclusion that the single most important person needed to implement brand strategy is the CEO. Not the marketing director. Ask any rank and file employee at a company what the director of marketing does and they will answer “marketing.” Ask them to elaborate and you’re likely to get “they make marketing materials.” “They make the stuff the salespeople use.” “They do the website and ads.”

    Most marketing directors, even those who really understand brand strategy, are not sharing it throughout the company. It’s not even trickling down. Marketing directors guard brand strategy. And for odd, odd reasons they keep it to themselves; perhaps sharing it only with vendors as a way to keep them organized.

    Getting the CEO onboard with the brand strategy framework (one claim, three proof planks) sets up an oversight litmus test that marketing must pass as they invest company money. It creates a litmus test for all other departments making changes and/or improvements. And it offers up to HR a way to gauge company fit for new hires. In short, it operationalizes the strategy well beyond the marketing bullpen.

    The best brand strategies are known throughout the company. Originally applied to consumer packaged goods, today they’re crucial in services economy and B2B businesses.

    At its best, brand strategy does not trickle down — it’s a force of business nature that sluices and gushes straight to the bottom line.




    Brand Prepping During Covid19.


    What’s The Idea? has created brand strategies for scores of companies. Some huge, some small. These strategies, organizing principles for product, experience and messaging, are built upon the things consumers most want from a brand (care-abouts) and things at which the brand excels (good-ats). Brand strategy inspires marketing, business ideas, and in the case of Covid19, business responses and tactics.

    Having a strategy in place when you get socked in the jaw from a business standpoint makes you a bit of a prepper. You don’t have to refigure out everything while wobbling. You may not be able to offer your product or service as before but you can still create value for your customers and company, while keeping busy.

    The last thing a business owner needs to be doing while dazed from a business discontinuity or business obstruction is rethinking business strategy or sitting on the sidelines watching.

    I think about all my clients and their strategies and know they are not lacking for responses to the Coronavirus pandemic. Things will be different, tactics and business will be different, but the strategy remains the same. And there is productive comfort in that.



    The Golden Rule.


    Branding with a brand strategy is simple. But it starts with having a brand strategy. At What’s The Idea? framework for brand strategy is one claim and three proof planks. The claim and planks never change; however, the proof points comprising the planks can, do and must. By finding new proofs for your claim you keep your brand fresh, relevant, topical and dare I say social.

    By way of example, I’ll share the brand strategy for a commercial maintenance client. The claim was “the navy seals of commercial maintenance.” The proof planks were “fast,” “fastidious” and “preemptive.” When marketing or content creating if the work did not support the claim and at least one element of the proof array, it didn’t get approved.

    Branding without a brand strategy and tight framework for same, is difficult. It lacks pragmatism. Branding without strategy is fluid, determined by the artist not the business person, and often ever-changing. Marketing directors come and go, campaigns come and go, agencies come and go, but a brand strategy should be indelible.

    To quote David Byrne, “This ain’t no disco, this ain’t no fooling around.” We’re trying to make money here. In good times and bad. The framework for successful marketing starts with brand strategy. Extensible, scalable, replicable and creative brand strategy.

    The golden rule. Peace.


    Unorganized Marketing.


    What is the pent-up demand for brand strategy services? What keeps company officers up at night that a brand strategy can fix? The answer: Unorganized marketing.

    The Oxford Dictionary defines organize as “give an orderly structure to, systematize.” Therefore, unorganized means the opposite — not organized or not orderly. Disorganized has a stronger connotation. It means to “destroy the system or order; throw into confusion.” It indicates a chaotic mode.

    The fact is, most companies in need of brand help suffer from unorganized marketing, not disorganized. That’s because they never had an organizing principle for product, experience and messaging. They may have a logo, tagline, marketing plan, even a good ad campaign, but not a constant framework that governs everything.

    So what is the result of having unorganized marketing? Loss of time developing programs. Loss of money in poorly performing media and tactics. Lack of focus around customer care-abouts and brand good-ats. And poor accountability because marketing doesn’t know what to measure other than sales. With unorganized marketing big data becomes little data.

    My job as a brand consultant is to dig deeply into business fundamentals, determine care-abouts and good-ats and create a framework of values for presenting a brand that creates sales and loyalty.

    This is upstream planning — and too many marketers are afraid to paddle up. Ergo they lose sleep and sales.



    Brand Strategy and Altruism.


    I read on Bright Planning that “People want to connect with brands that are giving back or doing something for the greater good rather than just their bottom line. Figure out how your business fits into that and share the story through your brand identity.”

    Most marketing people, especially branders, would agree with this sentiment. I mean, what’s wrong with doing good?

    Not to be contrary but this isn’t for everyone. Not doing good – that’s never a bad idea – but to make it part of your brand identity. Unless you are a nonprofit.

    At What’s The Idea?, brand strategy framework is one claim and three proof planks. The claim is a value statement built upon care-abouts and good-ats and the planks are the proofs or evidence of the claim…organized into discrete groupings. These proof planks are best when endemic product/service values. A more comfortable children’s underwear. A more fastidious building cleaning service. A healthcare system that integrates better with the community.

    Being a good corporate entity is the price of entry. It’s not your day job. It’s not a brand plank. Branding is about currying favor with consumers, meeting their needs, in indestructible productized ways. Do good, be a good corporate citizen. Use your brand wealth to share the good, but don’t make it a bolt on to your identity. Not everyone can be Patagonia.



    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.