The Blake Project, the brand consultancy behind Branding Strategy Insider, delivers interactive brand education workshops and keynote speeches designed to align marketers on essential concepts in brand management and empower them to release the full potential of the brands they manage.
Archive for December, 2012
In the business of marketing, words matter. Sadly, marketers disagree over basic branding terminology. Through overuse, the terms ‘mission’, ‘vision’, ‘value proposition’, ‘mantra’, ‘essence’, and ‘identity’ lack precise definition. The confusion makes strategic thinking about brands more difficult and undermines marketers’ credibility. If marketers can’t agree on basic terms and frameworks, how serious can the business of brand strategy be?
How We Got Here
In the 1990‘s, UC Berkeley Haas School of Business Professor, David Aaker, introduced the concept of brand as an asset to be managed for the benefit of the corporation, thus wresting responsibility for ‘branding’ from ad agencies and putting it in the hands of marketing managers. Since then, many agencies, brand consultants and academics have built on Aaker’s foundation, making their own contributions to the art and science of branding. Years of adaptation, melding and cherry picking have resulted in a world where marketers have no consistent frameworks or proven models from which to work.
Our experience teaching brand strategy to MBA and undergraduate marketing students and working with brand strategy clients tells us the answer is to integrate much of the work that has been done into a coherent framework, grounded in common principles, terms and frameworks. The work begins with understanding the necessity of Value Proposition, Brand Identity and Positioning.
Finding Our Way Back: The Trinity of Brand Strategy
Some elements of a brand are (or should be) relatively constant while others need to adapt to a dynamic marketplace. As a result, Value Proposition, Brand Identity and Positioning are all essential components of a comprehensive brand platform.Read More
In a word, 2012 has been about data, in particular, getting data right.
The Presidential election trained the spotlight on Big Data analytics and polling precision. Unemployment data roiled politics and policies. Apple Maps proved that data make the app, or un-make it, as the case may be. Data un-make the athlete, too, as Lance Armstrong discovered when the data hit the fan. Superstorm Sandy resuscitated the data debate on climate change; Newtown, CT did the same for gun control. The unearthing of a missing piece of Mayan calendar proved data spoiler to apocalypse party plans. Encyclopedia Britannica announced that, henceforth, its compendium of data would no longer be available in print. And those were just the highlights.
Data is also a theme running through many of the best books of 2012. In a variety of ways, these half-dozen year-end book recommendations underline the critical importance to brand marketing of anything to do with data.
The Half-Life of Facts: Why Everything We Know Has an Expiration Date by Samuel Arbesman.
Author Sam Arbesman is an applied mathematician who applies some mathematics alongside a good bit of historical research to document example after example of facts once regarded as certainties that are known now to be false or tenuous. The math is the predictable rate at which facts become obsolete or lose value. The history is his storytelling about the rise and fall of numerous facts, both vital and trifling, across many fields of knowledge.
As one illustration of his point, Arbesman repeats an apocryphal story about a decimal point misplaced in transcription by 19th century researchers that led to the erroneous belief that spinach is a good source of iron. But this decimal-point story turns out to be urban legend itself. The spinach error was due to poor measurement not poor transcription. Unfortunately, this was learned only after Arbesman’s book had been published. But at his Wired blog, Arbesman called this post-publication discovery “exciting” because it is further proof of his central thesis.Read More
People who work in brand admire Apple for very good reasons. An iconic brand that delivers revolutionary, beautifully designed and incredibly profitable products.
In light of recent events we wonder if we are starting to see weakness in the Apple Brand. Recent Wall Street iPhone 5 expectations were not met, brand loyalty is diminishing while Samsung’s popularity is increasing. The share price is suffering too. Is the brand struggling to retain its status as the Apple of people’s eye? Consider these points:
▪ Leadership? Steve Jobs was a superb brand marketer, visionary and was core to Apple’s brand story (starting off in the garage etc). Tim Cook has very big shoes to step into. Can he really match up to Steve Jobs with regards to vision, brand strategy and product innovation? A tough act to follow.
▪ Questionable brand personality? Apple was recently ordered to remove a banner from its site that hid the court ordered apology to Samsung relating to the recent IP case. Apple has also been in the press with regards to questionable working practices. Will consumers identify with this type of brand?
▪ Stronger Competitors? Samsung is launching products people are buying. Similarly, Samsung is starting to poke fun at Apple’s coolness in its recent campaigns. This indicates growing confidence. More importantly, this advertising strategy serves a deep psychological and emotional purpose – to get Apple consumers to question their decision making motives and chip away at emotions concerning conspicuous consumption. Insidious? Maybe. Clever. Definitely. Similarly in brand hungry countries like China Apple’s position is being challenged by increasingly powerful incumbent brands. Apple’s iPhone 5 is also struggling to get traction in China’s mobile market through up-channel relationships with key players like China Mobile. Apple needs a piece of the Chinese mobile market pie but key channels are not playing ball.Read More
On September 7th, 1982, David Ogilvy sent the following internal to all agency employees, titled “How to Write”:
The better you write, the higher you go in Ogilvy & Mather. People who think well, write well.
Woolly minded people write woolly memos, woolly letters and woolly speeches.
Good writing is not a natural gift. You have to learn to write well. Here are 10 hints:
1. Read the Roman-Raphaelson book on writing. Read it three times.
2. Write the way you talk. Naturally.
3. Use short words, short sentences and short paragraphs.
4. Never use jargon words like reconceptualize, demassification, attitudinally, judgmentally. They are hallmarks of a pretentious ass.
5. Never write more than two pages on any subject.
6. Check your quotations.
7. Never send a letter or a memo on the day you write it. Read it aloud the next morning — and then edit it.
8. If it is something important, get a colleague to improve it.
9. Before you send your letter or your memo, make sure it is crystal clear what you want the recipient to do.
10. If you want ACTION, don’t write. Go and tell the guy what you want.
Discover more of David's thinking in this now rare book: The Unpublished David Ogilvy.
Sponsored by: The Brand Storytelling WorkshopRead More
Unlike product brands that you can pick off the shelf or take for a test-drive, most professional services organizations sell an intangible. The product cannot be fully “experienced” until it’s purchased. That intangible is usually a promise to produce a desired future outcome that improves the condition of the customer.
Professional services are sold on reputation and trust, and a strong brand establishes these qualities in the minds of prospects. The prospect buys into the promise based on their level of trust with the provider. For this reason, brand building for professional services companies is often more critical to building business value than for product brands.
In an age where most service brands are price driven commodities, professional services brands have to be positioned in the minds of customers with razor sharp precision. To be effective in creating relevant differentiation for their brand, marketers of professional service brands have to be thinking about building cathedrals in the minds of their target customers, rather than providing bricks (services) to them.
To build cathedrals in the mind, service brands must focus on un-covering their value to clients and customers beyond the functions of service delivery. Service offerings, claims of expertise and quality delivery are table stakes in uncovering the real “value” of a service brand. When “services” are in abundant supply, customers need something more than ephemeral claims to make purchase decisions, and more importantly, become loyal advocates of the service brand.
If you take a close look at the current claims of most professional services brands in any discipline, here’s a list of the most common (and forgettable) claims:
- We are client focused
- We are global
- We build lasting relationships
- We value trust and integrity
- We are experienced in your industry
- We are results driven
- We provide quality outcomes
No there’s nothing inherently wrong with these attributes all by themselves, but if you happen to be the CEO prospect seeking a professional services firm, wouldn’t you think these would be the antes in the deal? These claims are ubiquitous and don’t buy much relevant differentiation for the brand. Yet surprisingly enough, these are the core messages that most professional services brands hang their hats on. In the noise and clutter of the modern marketplace, much more is required to stand out and win.
Building Cathedrals In The Mind Because the business of professional services is based on service delivery and efficiency, it’s difficult for brand owners to elevate their value propositions beyond the table stakes necessary to be in the game. Few are thinking about building cathedrals in the minds of the prospect.
Cathedrals are “highly valued outcomes” clients and customers desire that cannot be easily obtained. When your service brand represents a highly valued outcome not in abundant supply, chances are your brand will command a premium position, you will command premium fees, and business development will primarily be centered in responding to inbound inquires, rather than outbound marketing and message delivery.
There are two types of “outcomes” clients and customers will commonly desire:
Blatant Outcomes Basically the customer says, “we need to get this done or something bad will happen”.
There is a penalty for not buying, so essentially there is no option for the prospect — they must buy. Accounting, Law Firms and Pest Control Brands serve these blatant outcomes.
Latent Outcomes In this case the customer “doesn’t know what they don’t know”. Needs are unknown and unarticulated until the service brand enlightens the prospect to an outcome that, once revealed, is one that can’t be lived without. Research Firms, Science and Technology, Advertising Agencies, Public Relations Agencies, Architecture and Engineering Firms serve latent outcomes.
It’s critical to know just what type of cathedral the prospect has in their mind. Is it latent or blatant? In many respects this sets the context or frame of reference for the services brand. Essentially it is the game the brand has chosen to play in. More importantly, having this insight will reveal the level of resonance and relevance the prospect will have for your services.
The next piece of the puzzle is brand positioning. Here, the challenge is to distinguish between required attributes – the ones that all competitors must have – and the truly unique attributes that only your firm can credibly claim.
At its most basic level, brand positioning comes down to this:
What outcome the brand provides (value proposition), to whom (target customer), better than anyone else (proof).
Let’s look at these three essential components in more detail:
The Brand’s Value Proposition This is the “one thing” that your brand will stand for beyond delivering services. This one thing must be highly valued by the target client and not be in abundant supply by competitive brands. This “one thing” usually has absolutely nothing to do with providing functional benefits to clients.
The Target Customer For professional service brands, defining the target customer is more about “fit” than demographics. A good fit between service provider and client to be is usually based in the ability of the prospect to:
- Actively seek a solution to a blatant or latent desired outcome
- Appreciate the “value” of the outcome more than the cash to obtain it
- Trust the providers expertise
- Demonstrate a rapport that builds relationships quickly
- Have the financial resources to engage
Defining the target customer is about exclusion not inclusion. To position your brand deftly with precision requires the art of sacrifice. Not everyone will fit.
Proof of Expertise For professional services brands to “own” the one thing that matters to a prospective client requires you prove the claim of expertise. Saying its so, doesn’t make it so. Of course, the gold standard of proof is found in current clients who have experienced the value and gladly share this experience with their peers and your prospects. Of course a well-positioned brand can’t do everything exceedingly well. It must be highly specialized- offering deep and narrow expertise providing high value outcomes not possible through generalist competitors. Without substantiated proof, the value proposition will ring hollow.
Brand marketers must remember, for professional services brands to become the one in a million in the minds of prospects and clients, three things need to be in continuous alignment at every touchpoint in the value chain:
The brand must resonate.
The brand must differentiate.
The brand must substantiate.Read More