Segmentation and Branding.


There has been a lot of talk about segmentation the last 30 years and now more than ever with data only a few clicks away from every desktop. Segmentation studies yield customer clusters exhibiting similar consideration and purchase behaviors. They are often given fun names and offer message and sales channel tailoring to improve marketing effectiveness. My first pass at segmentation came while working on behalf of AT&T’s corporate business, where they identified 22 different types of large corporate buying behavior. A bit much.

In branding planning, where we develop upstream strategy to organize marketing activities, we lean the other way. Against segments. We want to be aware of all buying groups and motivations but we want to address them as one. Because there is only one brand, not 22.

That said, in some brand strategy cases I have targeted a segment that is a subset of all buyers. Because I felt it to be an aspirational segment. For instance, new moms on a budget may not be able to worry about the growing landfill, but it is something they aspire to. In that case I didn’t build the brand strategy for all new moms, but I certainly took them into account.

As a rule, it’s better not to segment your target in brand strategy. But business is business and the gas pedal is the gas pedal. 




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.





Proof Well Told Part 2.


In an April post I wrote “To really understand truths you must uncovering proof.” And it is as valid today as it was earlier this year (hee hee.) Yesterday I shared the view that proof, or three proofs and a claim, undergird brand strategy at What’s The Idea?.

Tell a small business owner or multinational board chairman they must organize their product/service offering under one claim and three values and they will feel constrained. “What about the future?” “What if the market changes?” “What about competitors?” To them I say, stop itAmerica was built — the declaration of independence was built — upon “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” I think we can build a brand on three values.

But the word values, especially in branding, is overused and under-supported. I prefer proof. Proof is foundational. Proof is building material. Proof makes brands tangible. I do discovery around values, but I mine the proof. When you’re talking about things tangible, you can be clear and concise. When you talk about values, it’s easy to be unspecific and verbose.

Proof well told is the key to building brands. Organize that proof and tether it the mother of all claims and you become nearly bulletproof.




You Can’t Argue With Proof.


I spend a good amount of time preading crumbs around the web on the topic of brand strategy. It’s a topic surrounded by lots of babble and very little real framework. 

But here’s the real deal: Brand strategy needs to be codified to be followed. It has to be practicable, so managers and agents have a way to see if the work in on or off strategy. At What’s The Idea?, clients are provided with a framework called a Claim and Proof Array: One claim and three proof planks.

Most advertising is heavy on claim and light on proof. Ask any med-student about proof or evidence and you’ll get the same answer. It undergirds their profession. Why doesn’t branding? Because we’re creative?

I discovery I deal in customer care-abouts and brand good-ats. But often care-abouts and good-ats aren’t evidence. “I like my food hot at a restaurant,” is a care-about. But not a proof. “My ginger beer uses the freshest ginger” is a good-at, not a proof.

When I sit in my chair surrounded by piles of research and interview notes, preparing to boil down findings into a salient compelling claim and proof array, I look for proof. And nothing but the proof.

It’s how brand strategy works at What’s The Idea? It’s why the success rate selling brand strategy (first draft) is flawless. You can’t argue with proof. Ask a doctor.




Care-Abouts, Good-Ats and Culture.


Sometimes I am so up in my brands, prioritizing the good-ats and care-abouts, that I lose sight of external drivers of brand value. Keeping from doing this is a secret sauce of brand planning. Brands don’t live in vacuums. They also don’t live at corporate headquarters or the retail store — they live in the minds of customers. They may be managed by corporations but they live with the people. Where they live, that place in the mind – what my colleagues at Brandtuitive call “the movie of the mind” – is where brand preference lies.  

Care-abouts and good-ats are a great place to start for brand planners, but big cultural, non-endemic values can overpower them. A diaper customer, for instance, may care about the convenience of a Pull-Up, yet may be more motivated by the millions of tons of slow-to-degrade diapers in a landfill. Sustainability over convenience in other words.

Strawberry Frog talks about creating movements; they get the social hive mind.

The slippery slope when playing to culture is that it can change. Embrace and adopt cultural for your brands, however always remember who pays the bills. Brand strategy is defined as an organizing principle for product, experience and messaging. An organizing principle with preference as its goal and bank as its success measure.




Deepening Brand Insights;


I was just reading that of all the forests in the USA, only4-6% are considered old growth. That means when Europeans landed we’ve cut down 95% of the trees — many of which have regrown over the last 3-4 hundred years. (We’re lucky to have some old growth forests in the Smokies Mountains.)

Ever in search of metaphors for my branding practice, today I’ll turn to old growth forests. AKA origins. Many brand planners — especially those who learned the craft since the advent of the web, search technology and ecommerce — are doing brand strategy using new growth forests. Sure, they look at brand heritage, founders, and naming. And sure, they delve into the company brand archives. But they’re really only evaluating yellowing artifacts. Rarely strategy. Were they to be dealing with old growth evidence, they’d be planning and strategizing using the people, culture and psychology of the day.

Let’s face it, in America most products and services aren’t (themselves) old growth. If your product has been around 50 years plus you are in the micro-minority. Even so, planners need to be aware of the brands they study over time. Rather than mine physical artifacts, they should be thinking about the people, their motivations, and existential desires longitudinally. This is how we get to insights. This is how we understand and change behavior.

Ask yourself when planning, what are the old growth factors, the functional/behavioral factors the brand will fulfill. And deepen your insights.



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.



Waffle Club.


President Trump is often quoted, when talking about policy, as saying “We’ll see what happens.” If I’ve heard it once I’ve heard it a hundred times. It’s the executive waffle. Corporate executive don’t have the luxury of this waffle. They’d be fired. From a dude who came out of the business worlds he should know better.

Many people who (so-called) work in branding take this approach, as do people working in advertising. When I was in advertising the work never came with a “It will work” guarantee. We knew a percentage of people would see it. And a percentage would recall it. But we only guessed as to how many would actually buy.

In brand strategy, we establish an organizing principle for products, experience and messaging. That organizing principle, done properly, must guarantee consumers will purchase the product. Maybe not all consumers — but a targeted group of consumers. Yes, I said guarantee. Brand strategy creates a value proposition using an evidence claim and proof array that delivers sales. Brand strategy is not pictures, and templates and “brand voice.”

A paper brand strategy is the most important component of commerce.

If the product doesn’t deliver, something has to change. If the ad agents don’t deliver, the same. The formula must be right. It’s science. Experimenters need not apply.

Before you hire a naming company, art director, copywriter or media person – all potential contributors to the waffle club — get your paper strategy right. It will save you time and money.



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.



Entrepreneurs Need to Aim Low.

3d render of multiple arrows missing target

I met with a local entrepreneur yesterday who began our conversation wondering how Amazon became such a global retailing force. No stores. No in-the-black earnings. A stock price in the stratosphere. Not exactly smoke and mirrors but Amazon’s arc does seem magical. Mr. Brand Hammer (That’s me. To a hammer everything looks like a nail) posited, perhaps it’s just the creation, care and feeding of a great brand??? That’s magical.

When I worked as director of marketing at Zude the web’s first true drag-and-drop web development tool, I recall standing on the back step of my home telling the CTO that we were about to make a billion dollar decision. It had to do with product focus. Was I tripping? Sniffing too many company fumes? Probably.

Today, thanks to the internet, ecommerce, and lack of proper marketing training, many entrepreneurs aim too high. They are looking at Amazon. And Facebook. And Uber. What they need to do is aim low. One customer, one prospect, one channel partner at a time. By aiming low, at ground level where the people are, we learn from real consumers. We use our senses to understand likes, dislikes, energies and needs. Spreadsheets and market universes are macros, entrepreneurs need to dig into the micros. They need to dump the cache and originate. Aim low me droogies, aim low.