Archive for October, 2008

How to define “brand strategy”

Friday, October 3rd, 2008

We encounter the term “brand strategy” in just about every brand discussion these days, but what does “brand strategy” actually mean? How does it fit into that dynamic matrix that includes a company, its products, its brands and its customers? And what makes a brand strategy “strategic”?

Brand strategy defined

As I see it, a company’s brand strategy describes how the brand intends to create customers and advance them beyond the reach of competitors. Specifically, it sets forth the creative, social and moral steps that the brand will take to create the customers that will drive the business forward. A brand strategy will position customers as a key part of the company’s competitive edge—and keep moving that edge. The customer wins through progressively added value, and the company wins through customers who won’t settle for second best.

In brand strategy we don’t focus on “positioning the brand.” We focus on positioning the customer—to win. In other words, the brand wins through the customer.

“Creating customers” is a strategic act

“Creating customers” is a strategic act in itself. It is one reason why the “creating customers” approach to brands is so powerful. It is inherently strategic. It aligns company and customers in a shared context from the get-go. A brand strategy should transform the narrow context of “buyer-seller” into the mutually-rewarding context of “team.” That in itself is a key competitive advantage because it frames the brand in a customer context.

The process by which a brand creates customers is outlined here and here.

What a brand strategy must include

To be effective, a brand strategy must include these qualities:

  1. It is value-based. It aims to deliver new forms of value that advance customers beyond the status quo, and beyond the reach of competitors.
  2. It innovates. It aims to deliver a new customer context, a new vision of what customers can be, and do—exclusively through the brand.
  3. It is structured as a platform. Its goal is to make the brand a platform of new customer opportunities, a springboard for personal customer growth.
  4. It collaborates with customers. Brand strategy is a joint effort to free customers from current markets, illusions or fears that hold customers back. We structure collaboration through brand engagement.
  5. It’s an overt act of culture creation. A brand strategy aims to create a new culture of growth, initiative and discovery that advances customers to richer realms of living. This is a new level that should open up profitable new markets for the company. Compare a life with CD’s to life with an iPod. That’s a brand difference.

A brand strategy takes its direction from the brand mission. It includes the capability of brand vision, which is the ability to see your future through your customers’ eyes.

Many brands don’t have strategies

While there are a great many brands in the world, not all brands have brand strategies. Instead, they have sales strategies wrapped in marketing schemes. Such brands are constructed as calculated identities to be flogged by media campaigns, in which the “brand” operates as a stylized sales stimulant. Such brands are synthetic creatures of marketing and sales–and nothing more. They’re part of a persuasion package whose mission typically ends at the cash register. Are they creating strategic customers for the future? No.

Brand applications gain strategic advantage

Brands developed as customer-facing applications—where the brand is a method to create value—gain strategic advantage from the get-go. They build on brand synergy, the joint powers of company and customer structured and deployed to defeat competitors.

Dead-end brand strategies

We often see dead-end brand strategies, too. A dead-end brand strategy is one that tries to capture, contain and control customers, as if customers were sheep. It’s the brand as silo, or corral. This strategy does not tap into the talents, initiative and creativity of customers. It does not create customers as proactive brand partners. It doesn’t value the dynamic power of co-creation. Ultimately, it traps the brand in the same corral, with no way out. Companies that employ dead-end brand strategies pave the way for their own disruption.

Dead-end brand strategies often result in brands of illusion that go medieval on their customers. They follow a brand agenda to keep customers weak, because they lack a strategy for dealing with proactive cultures—often including those of their own employees.

A brand strategy heuristic

Finally, I’ll submit this quick brand strategy heuristic:

A brand that shouts “Buy me!” is not strategic. A brand that says “Join me!” is.

Further reading

Photo: Inky Bob — Flickr

Merlin Mann reinvents the 43 Folders brand

Thursday, October 2nd, 2008

Merlin Mann has announced that he’s “shifting gears” at his famed 43 Folders personal productivity site. In effect, he’s reinventing the 43 Folders brand. The site is changing from a brand of personal productivity to a brand of personal creativity. It’s brand deliverable is changing from improving one’s core efficiency to improving one’s creative output—and one’s personal relevance in the world.

The shape of a new brand

The new 43 Folders brand approach is evolving as we speak, but we can glimpse its general shape and direction. It’s RIP for “productivity pr0n.” The new focus of the site, in its own words: is Merlin Mann’s website about finding the time and attention to do your best creative work.   . . .

This is now a site for people who want to finish things that they care about — but who still occasionally need help, inspiration, and the courage to push all the bullshit off their work table. This is about clearing that space every day, and then using it to do cool stuff that makes you proud.

Right now, 43 Folders is focused on an arc about how to improve the quality of your career and life by managing your attention in a way that allows you to work your ass off on the creative projects that matter most to you.  . . . .

I want to help you identify and remove any obstacle that keeps you from making things that you love. And then I want to help you figure out how to make those things even better. That’s pretty much it.

The person the new brand will create

It appears that the new person that the 43 Folders brand intends to create will be one who can enjoy a creatively-focused life in the context of a workaday world. This is a trans-cubicle, integrated approach that opens up a lot of possibilities. Defining oneself as a creative individual who articulates a passion can dramatically refocus one’s life; it can actually make certain mainstream “productivity” issues irrelevant. One’s life jumps to a whole new level.

Some questions

  1. It’s not clear yet if the new approach will concentrate on workaday people with passionate hobbies, or also lean toward serving artists and creatives. Will this be a new 43 Folders for the “creative class?”
  2. The original 43 Folders approach helped spawn a “productivity process” movement where process took center stage. People flocked to GTD and joined the Moleskine militia. However, a strict focus on productivity process can be limiting to an individual’s growth. Will the new approach be more “philosophical,” with less emphasis on process? In other words, will the journey take precedence over the journal?
  3. Who might serve as a model practitioner of this new approach? Every new brand should bring to life a new model of customer, someone who incarnates the brand and serves as a reference.
  4. A brand “arc” or a brand journey?
  5. What are the brand possibilities inherent in a DIY approach? How might these trump factory brands? This might be the basis for a multithreaded brand from the bottom up.

The incumbent challenge

Of course, there’s one dark shadow hanging over this new 43 Folders initiative. The last word on creative productivity has already been uttered, and immortalized, by Father Guido Sarducci, two decades ago. It’s hard to top that.

Illustration: Leonardo da Vinci’s notebook entry for a flying machine. (Leonardo could have used 43 Folders. He was notorious for starting many projects and finishing very few.)