Advertising & Practical Thinking

The advertising profession is cold and cruel. The power of practical thinking is a perfect antidote.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Client Service

I have been in the advertising profession for over 23 years on the agency side and the last 15 as an independent consultant. One of my strengths, over the years and still today, is providing impeccable Client Service. My service philosophy is reaffirmed by a simple sentence I have used over the years to conclude all my client correspondence: Assuring you of my best attention at all times.

My definition of Client Service: Always look at the big picture first – fly at 37,000 feet above ground level and then make the descent. Provide the best possible thinking and effort. Anticipate Client’s needs and be pro-active. I am here to make a positive impact on the Client’s business, not win awards for my work. Make what I think and believe are the right recommendations. Spoil them with this brand of service that their dependence on me keeps growing.

The longevity of my client relationships is a testament to this philosophy.

And then, there have been times when I have gone way beyond the call of duty. For instance…

On a Saturday morning in 1977, my home phone rang at 7:30. It was Mr. RJ, one of my clients. “Did you watch the 10:00 PM news on Channel Three?” “No, Mr. J, I did not.” “The seventeen year-old boy who died in a motorcycle accident last evening was my son.” I was shocked and had no clue why he was calling me. After all, he had known me for only a few months.

He wanted me to have a song written and played at his son’s funeral on Monday afternoon. After expressing my deepest condolences (not really knowing what to say), I asked Mr. J if he could tell me something about his son. “He was a free spirit,” he responded and asked me to come over to his house for the wake later that morning. I had never been to a wake, and all I knew was that there was no weeping at an Irish wake.

Off I drove to Mr. J’s house. Over a hundred people, all with a drink in their hands, some solemn and others jovial. Yes, I did not see any tears, except in Mrs. J’s eyes. The parents of the late free spirit told me a little bit about their lost one. They said the visitation at the funeral home was at 5:00 PM on Sunday. I promised I would have a song for them on Sunday and asked them to come over to my office (very close to the funeral home) at 4:30.

I had about 30 hours to deliver on my promise and absolutely no idea how I would deliver.

In the past four years, I had written the lyrics to a few jingles working with a handful of musicians at a local recording studio. I called the owner of the studio, and he said he would open the studio for me in a few hours and call in a composer/guitarist/singer. Within 24 hours, I had written the lyrics, the musician composed the music and we had a song recorded.

At 4:30 PM on Sunday, Mr. and Mrs. J, their other children, and a few other family members were at my office. I played the tape for them. Till that moment, I had never seen a dozen people burst into sobs the way they did. They left after listening to the nearly three minute song a few more times. I cried after that.

The musician played the song at the funeral the next afternoon.

Promise made and promise delivered.

Epilogue. The musician and the studio sent me their bills. I just paid them and did not invoice Mr. J. How could I? Unfortunately, Mr. J died a few months later. A private aircraft he was piloting crashed. A few months later, the business changed hands and the relationship with Penta was terminated by the new CEO.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Searching for the Soul of a Brand

As stated previously, I strongly believe every brand has a soul and it can usually be found in the head of the CEO of the company. The SVP of the global advertising agency who had asked me to expound on the words “brand” and “branding”, later asked me, “How do you apply your practical thinking to mine the head of a CEO of a global company ?”

Seek beyond the obvious and look for simple clues that we would never consider as bearing any relevance. The Bentley he (or she) drives, the Armani suits he dons, or his Rolex timepiece do not necessarily reflect the innermost workings of the mind of this person. These are just the outer layers.

Start peeling the onion, one layer at a time.

Find out what are the brands he consumes regularly, from toothpaste to coffee, and cookies to chocolate. Soft drinks, beer and Scotch. Even deodorants, soap and shaving accessories. When was the last time he changed any of these brands?

How long has he been with the same insurance, home and auto, company? How long has he been with the same mobile services provider? Who is his rental car company? If any changes were made in the last two years, why?

Does he go the grocery store? Does he go to a hardware store or book store regularly?

Is he a collector of art, vintage wines, stamps, coins, or sports memorabilia?

Does he try new products or new brands? What was the last new product he bought? What was the last new brand he bought?

Does he play golf? Does he ski? Is he an outdoorsman? Does he watch sports on TV? Was he an athlete, a musician, or an actor at any level? What are his favorite TV programs, movies? What about music – blues, jazz, rock and roll, or classical? His favorite business and non-business publication? What were the last works of fiction and non-fiction he read? His favorite author?

What was his first job and at what age? How many siblings does he have?

On an average, how much time a day not related to business, does he spend on the Internet?

You get the idea. You are trying to mine the head of the CEO for some data and information. The interpretation of the findings is what will lead to that one nugget – the soul of the brand.

No, it is not brain surgery. It is just practical thinking.

Yes, there are times when the soul of a brand is totally lost in the cobwebs of the mind of a CEO. Or, the interpretation of the data is way out in left field. This is when we have confused brands!

Once the soul of the brand has been articulated, the process of branding the product can start – usually with the crafting of a position statement.

Monday, October 20, 2008

What is a Brand?

I am very often asked, “What is a brand?” And my response always is, “There is no simple answer.” Yes, it is very easy to say AT&T, Apple, Microsoft, Starbucks, Xerox, Colgate, Kleenex, and Avis are all brands, as are a million other names. No, these are brand names. So then, what is a brand?

In its own way, “branding” is a modern day phenomenon. Yet, it is a very old concept.

Forty years ago, advertising and consumer behavior textbooks devoted just a few paragraphs to this topic.

Today, there are over 200 books on the subject of “branding.”

In the mid-to-late 1800s, Procter & Gamble and a few other consumer products companies started branding their products. Between the 1600s and 1800s, criminals were branded. Literally!

In the 1200s, England required bread makers, goldsmiths, and silversmiths to put their “marks” on goods they sold.

As far back as 1300 BC, potter’s marks were used on pottery and porcelain in China, India, Greece and Rome.

From a historical perspective, it does appear that branding originally served one primary purpose – identify the source of the product. This led to providing product differentiation, honesty, and quality assurance.

A few years ago, a SVP of a global advertising agency asked me to expound on the words “brand” and “branding”. My response:
• Every company, product, or service can be branded. Those that are not are essentially generic.
• Every brand has a soul. Normally, this resides in the head of the CEO of the company originating the brand (product or service).
• Branding is the process of mining the head of this CEO to search for the soul and finding that one nugget; developing a communications platform for the findings; and, effectively and efficiently communicating the “values” of the brand to all the constituents or stakeholders.
• The most important constituent for a company, or a product, is the consumer. Other constituents include the shareholders, the suppliers, the employees, and all other parties that are involved.
• Branding is a strategy developed to own a piece of a specific target audience’s mind share for the product or service.
• When this strategy has been developed and the brand’s values are communicated to its target audiences, identity and image are the two outputs.
• A company’s, or a product’s, identity is defined by its name, its logo (the design, typography and colors), and its tagline.
• A company’s, or a product’s, image is defined by the perception the consumer has of the company or the product.
• A brand is not “all things to all people”. A brand will own a piece of the mind of a very specific set of consumers. This is attained through the process of “positioning” and is normally reflected in the brand’s tagline.

A brand is not what you see or hear. It is what you feel.