You Need to Start Right

I’ve been writing about companies’ creative not matching up with their core brand or message. I really see only two possible reasons why. One, it could simply be poor execution. The other, comes down to not truly understanding what the creative is intended to do.

Before embarking on a new ad, promotion, or even purchase, you need to create a project brief. The brief gives some background, establishes a business case, assesses options and lays the groundwork for the deliverable. Within it, you include the objectives, tone, key message points and any other pertinent information for generating successful results.

Of course, it has to be on strategy.

You now will have a working project brief. It will be your guide. Follow it. Tweak it. Measure your results against it. And stay faithful to it.

It will make the difference.

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Creativity Is Evolutionary

My oldest daughter is an avid reader. In the latest book, she came across a new term for her—mortal ingenuity. We had her talk through what it most likely means. It reminded me of something one of my college English professors beat into our heads that rings true still. Creativity is not about making something that never existed before. Creativity takes an existing set of ideas and rearranges them in a new way or evolves them into something different.

Today’s social media, for example, are iterations of the social networks we had in high school with our party lines, cliques and notes in class.

But there’s good news! True creativity is inspired through what is all around us. It’s what we see that could be better. Or an idea that doesn’t work in its current incarnation. Or putting together other ideas that no one thought of before.

The effectiveness of that creativity depends on the form, function and content. Does it work? Is it attractive and easy to use? Does it fill a need or desire? Satisfy those issues, and you’ll find yourself on a successful path.

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Balancing Consistency with Innovation and Creativity

When you have a brand, the one thing customers look for is consistency. Even if it’s bad, the fact that it is consistent gives them comfort. Yet, too much consistency can feel like a rut. It can bring on a mean case of boredom.

You work with it day in and day out, and have even before most of your customers had their first experience with your brand. You produce a solid product that users have come to love. But a yawn highlights your excitement.

So you look to create something new. Be innovative. You’re going to break down walls. Start working on the craziest of ideas. Revolutionize whatever it is rattling around in your head.

That’s where the balancing act comes into play.

No matter how creative you want to be, unless it is keeping with your brand promise, you will create inconsistency and confusion, lessening your brand’s value. The only way it won’t is if your brand was failing before and you are redefining it.

So be innovative. Develop some of your hairbrained schemes. But before getting too far along, tailor it to fit within your brand and what it promises.

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Outside the Lines

We have a thing for lines. Yesterday, I was searching for a journal that had no lines in it. I finally found one that would suit my needs, but the vast majority of the ones I saw were ruled. Some had grids. Others were pre-printed to keep your life straight.

Then, I stood in line to check out. I started thinking about other times when I’ve been in line, someone has tried to cut in, and everyone who’s been waiting freaks out at the intruder, using some choice words to express their displeasure.

There’s something to be said for neatness and order. At least, there better be, since we spend our school years learning how to color inside the lines, be neat and develop organizational skills.

I only kid. There is beauty in order. Whenever I prepare something for publication (perhaps with the exception of these posts), I am all about alignment and flow. Sometimes to a fault.

Before I get to that point though, things are pretty free-flowing. I start with a blank sheet of paper or a whiteboard and just go to town. Why? Because I’m not forced to work within prescribed boundaries. When I can use my imagination to solve problems, I develop better solutions.

Which makes me wonder why we insist on aisles and checkout lines. Sure, it’s easier to manage, but is it effective? What are some other, better solutions?

Think about the parameters of your own business. What rules do follow in making decisions or working on problems or issues? What if you could approach a situation from a completely blank slate? No assumptions. No pre-conceived notions. No “because we’ve always done it that way.”

Just imagine the possibilities! Google did. So did Apple. And Dell. And News Corp.

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What Determines a Brand’s Value Part 2

Yesterday, I wrote about the first 6 of 18 components that contribute to a brand’s value. We continue today with the next six.

The pricing strategy. You can establish your price based on your desired profitability or compared with key competitors. The right pricing strategy is essential as it signals to the customer what to expect from your brand.

Your distribution strategy. How you deliver your brand to consumers determines whether you will sell anything. If your customers can’t access your product, they can’t, and won’t buy it.

Production capabilities and limitations. You must be able to produce the product with the quality and quantity customers expect (not necessarily need or want). It has to feel right, work right, look right and cost right for it to be right.

Controlling your costs. An inability to contain costs, especially when it is due to waste, is the quickest way to erase a brand’s value. The waste can come in the form of inefficient production, ill-conceived marketing strategies, and improper pricing and distribution strategies.

The standards by which you serve your customers. Every interaction with the customer must leave her feeling good—no, great!—about her purchase.

The competitive advantage you have. Everything mentioned thus far is meaningless if it doesn’t lead to a competitive advantage. Otherwise, nothing will separate you from the rest, and you will be little more than a commodity.

Tomorrow we wrap it up.

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What Determines a Brand’s Value Part 1

When you talk to most people about brand management, they speak in terms of basic marketing. Others think of basic branding—coming up with a hip name, obscure logo and fluffy positioning.

Brand management is about building brand value. It’s about making a brand worth more than it costs to maintain it. Managing a brand is like managing a business. For several brands, that is the business.

I’ve identified 18 components that determine a brand’s value. I’ll discuss them over three posts, with this one being the first.

The actual brand and product you are selling. There are several types of products—consumer goods, services, social causes, images—all intended to serve existing and anticipated needs. Understanding what your product is and the actual needs it serves is key to defining your brand.

The brand’s positioning. In defining your brand, you have to create an expectation of what it is going to do and represent. It is what differentiates you from the competition. The brand’s positioning tells the story and guides the overall strategy.

The target consumer. Identifying your brand’s target consumer goes well beyond basic demographics. Knowing who your real consumers are pushes psychographics to its limits, describing a typical day, month, year in their lives. Only then can you speak directly to them.

Your promotion strategy. How you package your branded product, craft and communicate your message and allocate the resources behind it are the heart of your promotion strategy.

The product and brand design. Form and function of a product give long-term credibility to the brand. The logo, packaging, materials and how you use them must reinforce the brand’s image.

Consistency of the brand message. Everything—absolutely everything—about the brand must be consistent with its central message.

We’ll cover the next group of six tomorrow.

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Creating Something for Them to Change

We are getting ready to put our house up for sale. That means touching up paint, de-cluttering, and finishing all those projects we never found the time or inclination to do (until now, of course).

Selling your house is a lot like marketing. You are going to pretty it up as much as you can, accentuating all that is good, downplaying what’s not so great and inspiring people to purchase.

But it’s not like selling a traditional good. It’s more like an open-source product. We provide the basic framework (the house) and do what we can to make it attractive while allowing for the new owners to come in and change it all to their liking.

Let me give an example. We are giving quick makeovers to two of our bathrooms. It’s something we’ve wanted to do since we moved in, but other projects, including a post-Katrina renovation, got in the way. Instead of making them to our style and taste—we’ll be moving before we get to really enjoy them—we are going as basic as we can with the colors and other changes.

We want them to look good and function properly. And we want it to be easy for the new owners to make them their own.

I think that’s why people like open-source projects so much. There is basic functionality there, but you can make your own tweaks to make it work for you. Cars have been that way for years with after-market products and add-ons.

It’s not for everybody and certainly not for every product. However, there are more opportunities than we think.

Look at your own business. What changes can you make to your basic product to allow for end-user customization? What customizations and add-ons can you create for your product? And sell?

So after all the work we’re putting in to get this house ready to sell, we get to do the same after we move into the next one. Yippee.

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