Tuesday, September 29, 2015

The Brand Manager and the C-Suite

If you are the manager or marketer of a brand, especially of an organization-level brand, you need to know how to speak the language of organization’s leadership team.  Here are some hints on how to do that.

First, you should think of the brand’s marketing plan as a request for a certain amount of resources for a specific return on that investment. For instance, if you spend $X million building and promoting this brand, its market share will increase by Y% and its sales will increase by $Z.

When thinking through any recommendation, consider how it will play with each organization function. How will it help them? In what ways might it be misunderstood by them or even be a threat to them?

Know that senior managers manage by the achievement against specific objectives. The more you can quantify what you will achieve with the brand the better.

It is very useful to get a key brand metric to be included in a balanced organization scorecard.  Brand awareness, brand preference, market share, share of wallet and attitudinal loyalty are all candidates for this.

Enlist the CEO as the chief brand advocate. Help the CEO to understand that the organization brand’s promise is not that different from the organization’s mission, vision and values, except that it delivers the added benefit of relevant differentiation. Ask permission to insert brand-related messages into the CEO’s speeches, fireside chats and other communications. The CEO can use the brand as the platform to align his or her leadership team and then rally all of the employees around his or her vision.

Help the CFO to understand that the brand is an asset, an asset that adds tremendous value to the organization’s reputation, stock price and total valuation. Assets need to be managed so that they grow, not shrink.

There are several ways to appeal to the HR vice president. The linkage between brand archetype/values/personality and corporate culture is strong. A brand can only deliver on its promise if the organization is designed to deliver on that promise. The HR and marketing functions are similar in two ways: (1) they both deal with very important organization assets that have a touchy/feely non-quantitative human side to them that not everyone else in the organization understands and (2) they are often the first functions that receive budget cuts during financially troubled times despite their importance to the organization. And the external brand promise and the employer brand promise must have some congruence. They are dependent on one another. Finally, one of the primary benefits of a strong brand is that it helps an organization attract, hire and retain talented employees.

The vice president of operations may not understand the importance of the brand or of marketing in general. That is why it is very important to include him or her in all of the brand strategy formulation discussions so that he or she has a better understand of and buy-in to key brand strategy and investment decisions. It is also important to understand how certain brand actions might create conflicts with or difficulties for operations including increasing complexity or costs.

The chief information or technology officer will need to understand how the company's computer systems and other technology either enhance or detract from the brand's promise. It is important that this person understands how the brand's promise is a key part of the organization's success formula. If he or she does not understand this, projects that can impact the brand might be assigned much lower priorities. 

The sales vice president will be better able to sell the brand through his or her organization if the brand’s elevator speech is built into selling scripts. It is useful to include input from salespeople in the crafting of that elevator speech. They know what helps sell a brand.

The general counsel typically understands the importance of protecting the brand legally so that its equity is not diluted. You should work with people in his or her department to insure that the brand is being legally protected, preferably proactively.

The most important thing is to involve the entire leadership team in the crafting of the brand’s strategy and positioning. We offer consensus-building brand positioning and brand architecture workshops for this purpose.

Finally, you should always consider how your actions will be perceived by people responsible for the organization’s different functions. Put yourself in each executive’s shoes. What will his or her concerns be regarding your proposals? Think though how you can address those concerns. And how can you speak their language and show them that your proposals can help them and their organizations? Finally, don’t do this alone. Enlist each of these people as a mentor or informal advisor to your process. People like to be heard and they often like to serve as mentors. And never forget that people’s egos need nourishment every once in awhile.

Innovation & Brand Growth

Much of brand sales growth has resulted from sub-category innovation and innovation that redefines categories. Within alcohol products, consider Fireball Cinnamon Whiskey and all of the other flavored and infused whiskeys, vodkas and other types of alcohol. Consider the explosion of craft beers of every style, variety and flavor. Consider the rise of flavor packets or infusers for water. Consider what smart phone technology has done for the mobile phone category. Consider the series of innovations in television including color television, digital television, cable television, satellite television and smart television.  Consider the product innovations in the Swiffer line of products. The Strong museum elevated itself by becoming the first museum of play (instead of the more traditional children's museum). Consider what the Toyota Prius did to the automobile category or Tesla did to the category. Consider what Google cars will do to the category. What has online learning done for Southern New Hampshire University? Consider what WeatherTech has done to protect vehicle floors from salt damage during the winter. Consider what digital camera technology has done for photography. How about what LED lighting has done for energy conservation and light bulb longevity? Consider what USB flash drives did for computer memory, transferring files and computer backup. Consider what the introduction of ATMs did for banking. I think you get the picture.

A sure way to insure growth for your brand is to continue to innovate within and outside of its product categories. Each useful innovation creates sales surges and produces competitive advantage (at least for a time). If your brand does not innovate, it will experience slower growth and eventually be left behind.

I wish you great success in creating product and category innovations for your brand.

Writing the Agency Brief

The marketing objective and the brand promise with its proof points are key elements of the agency brief, a document that communicates the strategic direction of a new advertising campaign. Once you have completed the agency brief, your ad agency will use the brief to develop campaign ideas/concepts (e.g., storyboards, print ads). They will likely show you several different campaign ideas.

Elements of An Agency/Creative Brief

Background/Overview: (history, context, and a general overview of the competitive environment and the problem)

Marketing Objective: (desired tangible result, usually in target customer’s attitude or behavior; intended effect with quantifiable success criteria)
  • Current State: (what the customer thinks today)
  • Desired State: (what we want them to think and what we want them to do)

Assignment: (deliverable, timing, and budget)

Product or Service: (if product/service-specific)

Target Customer: (be as specific as possible)

Brand Essence: (the “heart and soul” of the brand expressed as “adjective, adjective, noun”)

Brand Promise: (only [brand] delivers [relevant differentiated benefit or shared value])

Proof Points: (reasons to believe)

Brand Archetype: (choose and elaborate on one or two archetypes that explain the brand’s motivation and drive its behavior)

Brand Personality, Voice, and Visual Style: (from the positioning statement, list adjectives that describe the brand; for instance: voice: down-to-earth, assertive, confident, warm, sarcastic, witty, reassuring, eloquent, simple, etc.; visual style: bold, bright, energetic, soft, textured, ornate, understated, nostalgic, futuristic, etc.)

Mandatories: (those items that are givens). It is best to provide as few constraints as possible. I usually specify the brand identity standards and system as the only mandatories. There may be legal or regulatory mandatories as well.

Excerpted from Brand Aid, second edition, available here.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Brands and Identity

Brands create identities for organizations or their products or services.  One definition of identity is “the collective aspect of the set of characteristics by which a thing is definitively recognizable or known.”

To understand identity better, lets think about how identity is determined for people. A person is identified in the following ways:
  • His name
  • His body and face
  • His facial expressions
  • His voice
  • His mannerisms
  • What he wears
  • What he drives
  • How he carries himself
  • His personality
  • His beliefs
  • His attitudes
  • His values
  • His habits
  • His behaviors
  • His occupation
  • His hobbies
  • His fingerprints
  • His ocular scan
  • His DNA

How can these human identity attributes inform brand identity? Brands can have some of the same attributes, while they also have others. Here are some of a brand’s identity attributes:
  • Name
  • Icon
  • Type fonts
  • Color palette
  • Visual style
  • Other distinctive visual elements
  • Brand voice
  • Distinctive sounds
  • Jingles or theme songs
  • Distinctive scents
  • Distinctive textures
  • Personality
  • Beliefs
  • Attitudes
  • Values
  • Behaviors
  • Spokespeople
  • Characters

The idea is to create a brand identity that is multi-faceted, nuanced, robust, distinctive, likeable, compelling and consistently presented (with some room for spontaneity or surprise). Ultimately, the identity is intended to create recognition, recall, distinctiveness and likability. Each and every identity element should be able to encode and decode positive associations in people’s brains.

I wish you great success in crafting a compelling identity for your brand.

Friday, September 25, 2015

The Use of Visuals in Branded Websites

I thought it would be interesting to highlight how colleges and universities use different visuals to communicate their distinctiveness on their websites. Here are some examples to which I would like to draw your attention:

Tagline or Slogan
Overall Message Communicated
Effectiveness of Web Site Imagery in Conveying Brand Distinctiveness
Paul Smith’s College
The College of the Adirondacks
Logging, a boat on a lake, students in a stream, students in the woods, measuring the circumference of a tree, rappelling, Adirondack fungi fest
Outdoors education - living and learning in the Adirondack Park
Reed College

Video featuring students and faculty talking about the philosophy of their educational approach
A unique intense intellectual education
Naropa University
Transform yourself. Transform the world.
Tickets to see Dalai Lama, yoga pose in front of mountain, Bhutan, art studio, massage therapy, contemplative education
A place for spiritual growth and awakening
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Pictures of happy students interspersed with scientific and laboratory images
A fun place for students who are focused on STEM
Princeton University

Mostly text with some very small images
A conventional educational experience
Oberlin College

Full screen images of a wide variety of subjects from an aerial view of the campus to a student working on a bike, a professor talking with a student and a student working in a botany lab
Imagery that draws you in to explore further
Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Each day a different image is featured on the homepage. Each image highlights research occurring at the Institute. Today, it highlights a virus that can combat bacteria.
A place where very interesting, leading-edge research occurs
Rhode Island School of Design

Full screen images with lots of color and creativity - from a richly designed fabric to a display of found natural objects
This place is all about design
University of Rochester

Each Friday, the university features a student, faculty, staff or alum photo on its home page.
Speaks to community engagement

Several things occurred to me regarding the effectiveness of website imagery to convey brand distinctiveness. First was the size of the images – full bleed versus very small. In every instance, full bleed images were much more effective.  This worked very well for MIT and RISD and terribly for Princeton. Second was the consistency of images. MIT’s images always conveyed the same thing – very interesting leading-edge research. RISD’s images were also fairly consistent in conveying a design aesthetic. Paul Smith’s images conveyed a fairly consistent feeling of outdoor experiential education. Next, the use of a video instead of still images was very effective for Reed College. And students and faculty talking about Reed’s unique educational approach clearly communicated distinctiveness.  Finally, changing images such as MIT’s new image every day and University of Rochester’s photo Friday indicated a level of dynamism and, in University of Rochester’s case, community engagement.

Don’t underestimate the power of imagery in conveying a certain brand feeling and brand distinctiveness.