You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know.


    I posted earlier this week that I don’t take direction when doing a master brand strategy. That may sound controversial, even dick-ish, but it’s why clients hire me.  If they could do it themselves, they wouldn’t need outside counsel.

    Back in the 80s when diagnosed with depression, I didn’t know I was depressed.  I was having dizzy spells and my body was sending signals my brain didn’t pick up. A psychiatrist had to convince me.  You don’t know, what you don’t know.  If more people knew about the power of brand strategy they would be on board.  But brand owners/business owners and especially SMB chiefs think they know everything there is to know about their business. They do know lots of stuff.  But that doesn’t translate into brand strategy.  That translates into the “Fruit Cocktail Effect.” (Google it.) A common brand killer.

    Brand strategy is very delicate. Very compartmentalized. Arty. And reduced. A brand that is all things to all people is not a brand. Ads, Promotions, Packaging, Search Terms ungoverned by brand strategy are a waste of air and money.  As are any other unfettered marketing dollars.  Investments supporting a brand strategy (a boiled down set of good-ats and care-abouts”) is money well spent. Money in search of return.

    Peace be upon Veterans and veteran families this Memorial Day.



    I Am the Brand Strategy.


    Since moving to Asheville, NC I’ve had to refocus my business.  There are only a handful of large companies here; mostly mid-size and small.  These latter two classes are not waking up in the morning thinking about brand strategy.

    Most small business owners think they are the brand strategy. That is, as the owner, they believe they know everything there is to know about their business. And those savvy enough to think otherwise believe they need to find out the answers on their own, not outsource it. Understanding what motivates consumers to buy from you is just part of an owner’s day job. First they have pay the refrigerator repair man. But managing a business around consumer care-abouts is mission critical. And that’s what brand planners do. The reality is business hardware, inventory, and tools always come before strategy.

    In brand planning we call this “the problem.”

    So what’s a body to do when a SMB owner incants “I am the brand strategy?”  How do we move strategy up the needs ladder?

    It’s some real chicken and egg shit.  All thoughts welcome.




    Proof or Poof.


    Kevin Perlmutter, a friend and strategist with Limbic Brand Evolution, a practice focusing on neuromarketing, posted today on LinkedIn about the importance of understanding consumer feelings. And presumably, moving those feelings toward a bias for one’s product.  Good stuff.

    I like to do the same. But readers (all 6 of you, hee hee) know my framework is less about mining feelings and more about mining proof — proof that drives feelings.  

    My brand planning approach is driven by an awareness that marketing and advertising today is “90% claim and 10% proof.”  That is, it tells you what to feel rather than give you the evidence that allows you to feel it. And believe it. That requires proof.  I can say I make the best pizza in Los Angeles, but where’s the proof.

    My rigor for brand planning mines proofs. Demonstrations. Evidence. Existential phenomenon. Sure, I write a brand brief but it is the proof that drives the strategy and the claim.  It’s proof or poof. 

    I’s sure Kevin would agree. Check him out.



    Experience, the Forgotten Branding Tool.


    I define brand strategy as “an organizing principle for product, experience and messaging.” Product is a given and more often than not, reverse engineered into the brand strategy.  Messaging is another given, in that most marketing and advertising budgets are spent there.  The problem I most run into with advertising is it takes on a strategy of its own, independent of brand strategy.  (If there even is a brand strategy.)  Many companies use advertising as their de-facto brand strategy, co-opting the ad campaign tagline as the brand tagline.  Bass-ackwards.

    But it is in the experience where many brand builders fall short.  If you are a singular retail brand, you configure and design the experience around the in-store footprint.  Think LL Bean. Or Starbucks. If you are a business selling to other businesses (B2B), it’s your salespeople who create the experience. And that can often be subjective. Salespeople are chameleons, tailoring the pitch to the customer. In service and professional industries, e.g., doctors, accountants, lawyers, the experience is even more haphazard. Lastly, there is online or ecommerce businesses, where the digital experience is one-dimensional and self-serve.

    So, one third of brand strategy (experience), I’d venture, is underserved. And it’s a big mistake.

    Every brand needs to find a way to connect with their consumers. Much as they would if given the time in a face-to-face relationship. I’m not talking about thank you emails or loyalty points, I’m talking about real interaction. Gifting is nice. A random phone call perhaps. Holiday cards, no thanks. It’s a human thing. Facilitate a human contact. Above and beyond. Think of retailers who knows your name. Or an accountant who emails you when s/he sees an article in the local paper about your kid. Human stuff.  




    Framework Makes the Dream Work.


    Everything you need to know about master brand planning you should learn from your client. This presumes you have a modicum of strategy experience and an idea about what you’re being asked to deliver. In other words, a framework. (I was once asked to create a website but explained the need for a brand strategy as foundation.) Many planners use OPF (other people’s frameworks) and that’s okay.  My brand brief was borrowed from McCann-Erickson. My strategy, a one-pager comprising a claim and proof array, was pilloried, massaged and tightened from a titan of American industry and its consulting company. As Faris Yakob suggests, we are all recombinators.

    Back to my premise.  Once you have figured out your framework, everything you need to learn should come from your brand. Brand Good-ats and Customer Care-abouts. These things are the groundwork for a good strategy – which is a boil down of all that is learned then packaged into the aforementioned clam and proof array.

    If you are interested in this stuff – I kind of nerd out on it — write Steve at WhatsTheIdea for an example or two.




    Imposter Syndrome In Brand Planning


    In brand planning we spend a lot of time thinking. And when you are in a thoughtful, brain-forward business you also tend to think about yourself and your job. A recent discussion in our business is about imposter syndrome. Joey Covington, member of the Jefferson Airplane sang, “Sittin’ around thinking, thinking and a thinking and it didn’t do me so good.” So, my advice to planners is don’t overthink, it can cause consternation.

    Imposter syndrome may be real but it’s not a brand planner thing. Not unless you let it. Imposter syndrome among brand planners happens when you’re boiling down your information and have to make some decisions about the key value and the packaging of that value. “Who am I to make such decisions, you might ask.”  But then you just need to nut-up and commit.

    This hit home for me yesterday when searching “Pearl Jam’s first concert” on YouTube, which actually was Mookie Blaylock’s first concert. (Brand issue.)  Pearl Jam went on stage that first time and committed.  Were they imposters? You tell me. Did they feel like imposters? Maybe. Certainly, some may have.  But look how that turned out. The show was a little rough around the edges but there were some transcendent moments.

    Don’t second guess yourself. Commit. Learn. Correct. Experiment. And love thyself. And if you don’t, get some therapy. Like the rest of the world.



    Explicit Vs. Implicit Brand Values.


    I was listening to the radio the other day and a spot came on for a hospitality company. The copy ended with line “A place for all occasions.”  Since a key brand strategy application is messaging (AKA advertising) I couldn’t help myself from twinging. (It’s a curse, I know.)

    A place for all occasions may be meaningful to the marketing or ownership team but it’s not to the radio listener. I can just imagine the client telling the writer,  “Our revenues are good in weddings, but we need more parties” or, “I’m making money on the weekends but need bookings during the week.”  To which the copywriter might have responded, “How about we close with a new tagline A place for all…”

    Here’s the thing, marketers’ problems are not consumers’ problems. You can’t tell consumers what you want them to do. You have to tell them why — thereby encouraging them to want you. Solve their problems. As a consumer, I don’t want a hospitality location for all occasions, I want one for my occasion.

    That’s why brand strategy planks are values. 

    Heineken once found out people were drinking their beer more during the day than at night. More as a refreshment or lunch beer.  They didn’t come out and tell people to drink at night.  They celebrated the night life and let consumers make their own decision.  Heineken gets branding.

    Great brand strategy is implicit rather than explicit. Get the care-abouts right, get the good-ats right, and you get the brand right.




    Brand Building. My Final Answer.


    Ask Quora, Google or WARC “How do I build a powerful brand?” and it’s like trying to map the heavens. “What you are seeing today, was alive a million years ago.” Huh? 

    For many in the brand space, obfuscation seems to be the currency of the day. People talk about brand personality, mission statements, style manuals, the business problem, key thought, brand architecture…  How many stars are in the sky?

    Not me.  I am a brand explainer. Brand strategy needs a definition and it needs a framework. My definition of brand strategy is “an organizing principle for product, experience and messaging.” An organizing principle. Hard stop.

    As for framework, What’s The Idea? as the name suggests, focused first on a single idea or claim.  Something that captures and boils down all the many customer care-abouts and brand good-ats that can be articulated.  This is where the big bucks lie. E Pluribus Unum. Then to create belief and logic and a scientific understanding of the claim we need proof. For the purpose of branding we use three proof planks. Organized clusters that prove the claim. People are convinced by proof.

    With a definition and framework the work can begin.  Work done by agencies with hands untethered. Work done by company executives, with dashboards in hand. By consumers who have a lot more to think about than a sky full of products.



    One That Got Away.


    Newsday is a New York regional newspaper.  It serves Long Island, home to 3.5 million people. Newsday also has distribution in Queens. At one time it was one of the top 10 circulating newspapers in the country.

    The ad agency I worked for on Long Island, Welch Nehlen Groome, handled the Newsday account, doing periodic TV commercials. Mainly promotional and project work.  One of the problems selling newspaper on LI was that it was a commuter island. Most of the heavy hitter worked in the city. And those people read the NY Post and NY Daily News on the train on the way home. These were NY city-based papers with sensational headlines and great sports sections. The New York Times and Wall Street Journal were big morning reads, filled with business and national news.  Not a lot of space in between for a paper covering Long Island news, e.g., “Blue Angels to Appear at Jones Beach July 4th”.

    Much of Newsday’s circulation was home delivery; people who wanted Wednesday food ads and some local high school sports coverage.

    I wrote a brand strategy for Newsday, the claim for which was “We know where you live.” It was a plea to commuters, whose jobs were in the city and who lived on trains, to get back closer to their families and neighborhoods — but it also reinforcement to non-commuters and homebodies, the position that the paper as better attuned with their lives and lifestyles.

    Cool freaking idea. Tagline worthy I thought.  Someone at Newsday co-opted the claim to read “It’s Where You Live,” which was used as a tagline and lived for years. Unfortunately, it removed Newsday from the equation, a no-no. And it could have been interpreted as a simple usage claim. We know where you live, some decision-makers thought, was a little intrusive and perhaps anti-privacy.  Huge client mistake in my opinion. It gutted the strategy.

    If adopted as a tagline, “We know where you live” could still be in place. A working claim and a working strategy. And strategies rule the tactical world.

    One day I’ll tell you about my other Newsday idea to shut down the Long Island Expressway and throw the world’s biggest block party.