What's the difference between a claim & an idea?

After months and months of listening to Big Idea bashing and all kinds of attempts to discredit the honorable practice of creating powerful overarching ideas...

...I decided to shed some more light on this beloved art...

...since I know that there are thousands of people out there who have to come up with some ideas.

When I started working as a planner, this was actually my main question: "Idea? What is it?"
Everyone was talking about "the power of ideas" back in those days. Well, nobody could answer or say anything helpful. In that respect it is difficult with any of the advertising key terms but this one simply seemed impossible to be talked about - at all!

To make a short story short, here's a simple way to at least get at a sense of how a fertile idea feels like.
For this purpose I suggest to think of ideas as words grouped together to create a "line" or sentence. Yes, forget about insights, relevance, differentiation, all of that. In the end, it's a group of 1-5 words.
A sentence used as a briefing... as something to work with.

So what I am suggesting here is a distinction between two types of sentences:


The "FINISH Type of Line" sounds like most of the last sentences you would hear in a TV commercial. Yes, that is what we normally call a claim or slogan - the latter being a less misleading and more honest term from the old days. here are some examples of such a sentence:

Nike. Just do it.

Ford. Feel the Difference.

L'Oreal. Because I'm worth it.

Such sentences make sense when you've seen what happened in this piece of film - they make much less sense when they come by their own and are not explained by a piece of advertising or manifesto or whatever. This is why I suggest to call them The "Finish Type of Line". They finish-off and summarize what you have explained before - in a memorable and striking manner. These sentences are not very good to express an idea. Mainly because the idea precedes the work. And this brings us to the "Beginning Type of Line". The kind of sentence that precedes and predicts the work that is yet to be done. An i don't mean something like "once upon a time...", but rather something like a title of a text.

The "Beginning Type of Line" sounds similar but has a rather different relation to the story you want to tell or the elements you use in communications. These sentences rather determine the elements and stories to come - and they do it even if you don't tell which elements and stories this will be. Once you say this kind of line - possible implications, stories, images, AND POSSIBLE CLAIM ALTERNATIVES are evoked.

That is the reason why "Just do it" is not an idea. If you wouldn't know how Nike looks and talks you would not know what "Just do it" could mean. For instance you would have difficulties writing an alternative claim to "Just do it" if this was the only thing you knew.

This distinction seems obvious and banal. But in everyday work it gets forgotten all the time because we are so used to hearing and saying slogans - and very often don't know how the original idea expression might have sounded like.

So let me try to come up with some possible freestyle "Beginning Type of Lines" for the 3 brands above to make the distinction even clearer. Please excuse me if these don't match with the notions the teams working for those brands actually came up with. I just really don't know for sure what their idea sentences are or were. It doesn't matter actually, since I rather want to make clear the difference between the two types of sentences. Here we go:

Nike: The Will to Win.

Ford: User-oriented innovations that matter.

L'Oreal: Ego Cosmetics.

I really do hope this text was not too common sense and doesn't sound somehow patronizing. I really believe that our minds often get lost in slogans - even if we know that they aren't ideas. The distinction above might be helpful to catch the right kind of words.

Consumer Insight: Cultural vs Human Truth

Stephen King on Gap Analysis & Positioning Spaces

In one of the very first posts in this blog I wrote about my doubts about the usage of "positioning crosses" to find a "free positioning space". Now I'm glad to have found someone important who also has something to say about it. That's why I give you both texts: Stephen King's one and then my old post below if you are interested in recapitulating it.

Stephen King, in "A Masterclass in Brand Planing", 2007 - originally held as a speech in 1982:

"Brands of shampoo are plotted on two scales - a strong/gentle scale and a medicated/cosmetic scale. You can see that there are three brands seen by people as strong and medicated, four as gentle and cosmetic, one as gentle and medicated and one more or less in the middle.

But there are none in the strong and cosmetic sector; therefore says Gap Analysis, that is your opportunity. But it seems to me that however much this is all dressed up with phrases like "n-dimensional concept space", the main reason for most of these gaps is that no one actually wants something in that combination. If we are not careful, Gap Analysis is a very elaborate machinery for saying that if there is already a market for hot coffee and a market for cold coffee, the gap for us is in selling warm coffee."

My text from 2010 or so:

"Here is a summary why positioning crosses are stupid. First of all: what's good about them? Everybody understands them quite instantly if the axes make sense. What's bad then? Same answer: Everybody "understands" because the axes make sense. So you try to make them make sense, don't you. Junior Planners keep coming and offer solutions and you go "no, give this one another name", "what about this brand here, it doesn't fit the logic", etc. So basically you do not think about reality any longer. You just try to make the axes fit the brand logos somehow. You make things up. That's alright if everyone is aware of its fictional character but no one ever is. 

It's important to understand four things about such crosses. 

1) The world is not two-dimensional; a powerpoint slide is. 

2) It might very much be the case that the particular slice-of-world you are looking at is not dimensional at all! This means that positioning might not be about finding a space on a continuum or being "somewhere between A and B". Simply because there is no "space" with a coordinate system similar to the physical space we live in. An example might help here: Seeing your DYI market as a place with widest product range & best advice (OBI) is simply a different kind of thing than seeing it as a transformational offer for personal development (Hornbach). There simply IS NO continuum between them to slide along, and if you make one up it will not help much. Just like there is not much land to build your house on between Ireland and Iceland. (I hope this is geographically right.) 

3) The axes are derived from the objects / brands analysed. So they vary depending on which brands you throw in. This is even more striking if you have crosses derived by quantitative methods (MDS, Factor Analysis etc.) They simply vary with every brand you add or take away. But what the picture of the cross suggests to the viewer is something different: it says "there is a space prior to the objects located in it". That's just the metaphor of "space" working in our brains: Space must be prior to and independent of objects. Well, that is exactly the way a positioning cross is not be read! 

4) By using such a cross you just build a box you then try to think outside of. So beware of positioning crosses when you see them! Be much more sceptical if market researches present them ... as valid representations of reality, of course. We actually don't need a space between brands. Just care about the chunks/clusters more than about the dimensions inbetween. Al Ries just picked a wrong word. What he meant is "owning a concept in people's heads". By calling it "positioning" he evoked the space metaphor which does not help much."


Ten types of challenger narratives

Challenger Type: The Real & Human Challenger
A ‘real’ people brand in a faceless category. Real people visible behind the brand. Often accompanied by the perception of ‘small’ in stature.

What is it challenging? The impersonality and facelessness of the market leader or category.

Why does its consumer respond to it? ‘At last some real people who understand what I am all about’.

Challenger Type: The Missionary
A challenger fired up with a view about the world it has to share, wearing a strong sense of purpose on its sleeve.

What is it challenging? The belief system or foundations underpinning the category the way the category has thought and behaved to date.
Why does its consumer respond to it? Identification with the challenger’s beliefs about category (and the way category ought to fit within the wider world).

Challenger Type: The Irreverent Maverick 
Poke beige in the eye.

What is it challenging? The complacency and narrow-mindedness of the status quo and those who keep to it.

Why does its consumer respond to it? Engagement with its attitude, character and irreverence.

Challenger Type: The Game Changer
A brand and product with an entirely new perspective on the possibilities of a category, which invites the consumer to participate in the category in a whole new way.

What is it challenging? The fundamental drivers and codes of the category to date. Not the beliefs or values – more the dimensions of the consumer experience it has played up and played down.

Why does its consumer respond to it? They are engaged by fresh perspective on a familiar market: ‘Wow, I’d never thought of this experience like that before’.

Challenger Type: The People’s Champion
A challenger that consciously sets itself up as on the side of the consumer, often specifically against the ‘cynical’/ fat cat market leader.

What is it challenging? The motives and interests of the market leader.

Why does its consumer respond to it? ‘They are fighting for me; if they win, I win’.

Challenger type: The Democratiser
A challenger that takes something previously exclusive (stylish, luxurious, expensive, hi tech), and makes it much more broadly available to the masses.

What is it challenging? ‘Elitism’, the idea that something should be available only to the privileged or wealthy.

Why does its consumer respond to it? The brand has given them access to a world that they hadn’t thought accessible to them.

Challenger Type: The Next Generation That was then, but this is now. New times call for new brands and services.

What is it challenging? The relevance of the Market Leader (and perhaps every other existing player in the market) to the modern world, or to the current generation.

Why does its consumer respond to it? ‘New times call for new brands, and I as a person am part of the new times’.

Challenger Type: The Enlightened Zagger
The enlightened brand deliberately swimming against the prevailing cultural or category tide.

What is it challenging? A prevailing and commonly/ unthinkingly accepted aspect of contemporary culture.

Why does its consumer respond to it? Through being provoked and stimulated by the surprising stance the challenger takes.

Challenger Type: The Visionary
Sets out higher vision of the brand benefit that transcends category nature.

What is it challenging? The mundanity of the way the category thinks about its (functional) nature and role.

Why does its consumer respond to it? A personal identification with the aspiration set out in the vision. 

Challenger Type: The Feisty Underdog
Stick it to Goliath.

What is it challenging? The dominance of (and unthinking consumer preference for) the market leader. 

Why does its consumer respond to it? Everyone loves an underdog – Oh, and given the choice between those two options, that does look like one to try…

(from http://eatbigfish.com/challenger-brand-narratives)

Some useful questions for improving or inventing products & services

  • Can the job (the consumer is trying to execute by using the product) be executed in a more efficient or effective sequence?
  • Do some customers struggle more with executing the job than others (for instance, novices versus experts, older versus younger?)
  • What struggles or inconveniences do customers experience because they must rely on multiple solutions to get the job done?
  • Is it possible to eliminate the need for particular inputs or outputs from the job?
  • Is it necessary that the customers execute all steps for which they are currently responsible? Can the burden be automated or shifted to someone else?
  • How many trends affect the way the job is executed in the future?
  • In what contexts do customers most struggle with executing the job today? Where else or when else might customers want to execute the job?

Opportunities at the step level

  • What causes variability (or unreliability) in executing this step? What causes execution to go off track?
  • Do some customers struggle more than others with this step?
  • What does this step’s ideal output look like (and in what ways is the current output less than ideal?)
  • Is this step more difficult to execute successfully in some contexts than others?
  • What are the biggest drawbacks of current solutions used to execute this step?
  • What makes executing this step time-consuming or inconvenient?

When people do things, they do them in 8 steps.

According to the so called "jobs-to-be-done" framework of positioning and product innovation, every "job" carried out by a person when using a product has the following 8 stages:

1. Define: Customers determine their goals and plan resources.
2. Locate : 
Customers gather items and information needed to do the job.
3. Prepare : 
Customers set up the environment to do the job.
4. Confirm : 
Customers verify that they’re ready to perform the job.
5. Execute : 
Customers carry out the job.
6. Monitor: 
Customers assess whether the job is being successfully executed.
7. Modify : 
Customers make alterations to improve execution.
8. Conclude: 
Customers finish the job or prepare to repeat it.

Evaluation of Brand & Service Experience


Don't market to your best customers! Not exactly to them at least.

Quoted from "Drinking from the fire hose" by Frank @ Magnone

What kinds of videos are out there?

And why do I actually care?
I must be liking circles

The Priming Effect & Red Bull: Why sheer presence might be - but isn't sufficient.

Priming is an effect known in psychology since quite a while. Priming means: exposure to a certain stimulus facilitates the recall of/response to a later similar stimulus. In effect, priming "brings old thoughts close to the surface of the subconscious, thus making them more accessible and more likely to be used over less accessible (and possibly more relevant) thoughts." Priming is commonly seen as a pre-activation of a "node" in memory, making its re-activation (and that of connected memory elements) more likely.

An example would be a faster recognition of bird pictures vs non-bird pictures if a person was previously exposed to the "bird" notion.
Another example is this one: when people have been exposed to words related to "elder people" they move around more slowly than people who have not been primed.

One could say, that priming is simply a warming-up of certain concepts - making them more mentally available for being processed. There's no need for thoughts or beliefs to be involved in this process. It's really simply an increased mental availability. It even works if the initial priming stimulus was not consciously perceived or if it was not completely decoded. Basically, the brain is seen as a wired machine with some wires' conductivity being selectively increased by priming.

Well, while this concept of the psyche is not very welcome in our consumer-worshiping marketing rhetoric it nevertheless seems to be true to a great extent. Mere exposure to stimuli seems to pave the way for reactions to similar stimuli later on. All this without the person's awareness or consent. This potentially raises questions about the predominant conception of branding as something that works through provision of "sense" and through persuasion. Branding professionals tend to talk about "meaningful connections" and "brand belief systems" all the time. But there seem to be a lot of powerful effects going on far beneath this level of meaning. One of which is the priming effect.

In his book "How Brands Grow" Byron Sharp makes a strong case against the notion of meaningful branding. He rather argues that branding is simply about a facilitated recognition and mental availability vs other brands. So for him it's all about differentiation, but not meaningful differentiation. The more a brand gets correctly recognized and remembered in certain consumption and purchase situtations - the better. That's it. The only kind of "relevance" the brand needs is its connectedness to the category or occasion in question. So Coke's branding should be remembered when you are thirsty - or tired/unfresh, maybe. That's it. For him, the whole "Coke = Happiness" thing would be just marketing ideology (say, b*******). I highly recommend his book. It contains further very controversial but empirically backed claims. Here's a video of a lecture given by Mr. Sharp which features some of his findings:


Well, while this whole array of views seems to make "meaning" obsolete I believe that this is not the complete picture. I really do sympathize with the whole "less conscious" processing view of the consumer; but I also think that relevance, meaning and story do have their impact, too. And by this I don't mean that there are two types of processing - an conscious and a subconscious one - although such a theory definitely exists and is widely accepted (The Theory of Central vs. Peripheral Processing - also called the Elaboration Likelihood Model). What I rather mean is that - even assumed branding is ALL about priming and sheer mental availability - we as communicators still need ways to expose people to those stimuli and to make them process them. And we need to do this in a way we can afford.

My take on "meaningful brands" and "meaningful connections with consumers" is this:
It might well be that the meaning produced by brands is not directly causing people to buy. But it probably is a way to foster awareness and perception in the mediascape - hopefully for less money spent.

Let's take an example: Indeed, I do not actually believe that people drink Red Bull because it has this whole view on man's potential capabilities etc. (It's hard to accept this because marketers want to feel sincere about what they do and they want to feel like preacher men - that simply is the modern marketing habitus.) But, even if I don't believe in the actual direct effect of such a "brand ideology" on purchase I seriously do believe in its effect on communication clout. It's a way to integrate priming cues in a well packaged, retellable(!) narrative and most of all to legitimize the sheer communicative assault on the consumer. What often is forgotten is that consumers do not want to be advertised to. "Meaning", "emotional relevance", "storytelling" (and all the other alleged b*******) are ways to legitimize the intrusion in people's lives. Yes, a brand could get there by sheer pressure of stimuli exposure but is simply not clever and quite expensive.

Another important perspective is the one of the marketer herself. I believe that the mere creation of advertising and brand content needs "meaning" as a management tool. We need "internal narratives" to come up with ideas. And we need to persuade each other to employ certain cues. This might sound irrational, but actually it is quite efficient because a certain agreed on "meaningful ideology" helps everybody to meet decisions. And honestly, meeting decisions is the greatest problem in enterprises.

To sum this all up: Meaningful narrative is a lubricant for communications - internally and externally. Yes, it might well be that communication effect is all about priming brains with brand stimuli. But meaningful narratives are a smarter way to get to these effects. What needs to be challenged though is the euphoric and exaggerated rhetoric of "brand ideologies" as having real purpose and cultural value in this world. Marketing suffers from an excessive self-idealization.

I believe that with this view I managed to mediate between the two extremes:
a) brands as the sum of priming cues simply increasing mental availability and
b) brands as meaningful ideologies playing a real role in people's lives.

Still, I will remain interested in this whole issue and try to follow up on this in upcoming posts.

Brand personality - Is it helpful to see brands as persons?

What is brand personality?

Well, first of all it's a metaphor. It's not exactly reality - it's a construct used by branding professionals to define brands and communication guidelines. The underlying assumption of what is called brand personality is that consumers perceive brands as persons. e.g. J. Aaker’s definition is: "brand personality is “the set of human characteristics associated to a brand”.
This would imply that what psychologists have found out about the perception of persons would apply to the perception of brands. This post will introduce some psychological models that could be used when thinking about brand personality.

But let's not feel all too safe about the concept brand personality as such. Another purpose of this post is to sensitize the readers for the difficulties the concept of brand personality comes with.
As quite often in branding - the scientific basis for the working concept in use is quite weak or even absent. In branding we tend to rely on metaphors as if they were reality. If it seems intuitively right that brands have personality, then it gets widely accepted. Nobody is really interested in real empirical science. Nowadays marketing conventions are taught in every college which seemingly makes them "scientific" enough for most people.

But let's back to personality. As far as I know, it could not be empirically proven that people really do perceive brands as persons. To be honest, it is far more plausible that they perceive brands as organizations or institutions. Say, people might think of Nike as "they at Nike" and not as "Nike, the rugged bastard". Actually, the latest developments in brand communications like social media communications or CSR rather strengthen this institutional view of brands as opposed to a person type of view. But let's assume brand personality exists - say, people actually do think of brands as persons. Why is it that branding professionals care so little about what psychology actually says about "impression formation"? (The latter being the psychological term for what's supposed to be going on when people attribute certain personality traits to a person/brand.) It's quite astonishing how little one hears of psychological research about people's actual social perceptions. In this post I would like to introduce one or two insights from social and personality psychology that might shed some light onto the concept of brand personality.

First of all it has to be acknowledged that in social impression formation people really do attribute personality traits to other people - and they also do this using words. E.g. people do write and understand texts about other people using certain "personality adjectives". (As I mentioned above this in not quite that sure when it comes to brands.) Such personality descriptives are the starting point for most of the impression formation research. It basically operates with certain words describing personality traits, like e.g. polite vs impolite, honest vs. dishonest, etc.

Well, what did they find out?

One thing Solomon Asch found out is that some personality traits seem to dominate others. This is to say, there are CENTRAL traits and PERIPHERAL TRAITS with central ones being far more decisive for how we perceive a person. Some of those central traits in his experiments were: warm vs. cold & intelligent vs. unintelligent. These two important traits have later been confirmed as very stable overarching factors used by people as the main dimensions to assess personalities. As you might notice this is somewhat insufficient when we try to define an actionable "brand personality". It is just too aggregated on the one hand and in the case of "warmth" it's quite generic for all brands - very little brands would deliberately describe themselves as "cold".

So how many factors would be "enough? Well, a more practicable number of dimensions seems to be by the next model to talk about: the so called "Big 5".

The Big 5 are an astonishingly rubust model. It was duplicated across cultures and generations over and over again. Basically, this is the model of personality and impression formation with the widest acceptance in among psychologists. You can see the 5 dimensions on the left. I believe one can easily see that it is also quite capable of describing and separating brands in a sensible manner.

Given the overwhelming acceptance and validity of this framework it is not instantly plausible why brand practitioners and researchers tend to develop brand personality frameworks of their own - often even in a similar 5-dimensional output format - like e.g. Aaker's brand personality model (see image below).
The only reason to develop frameworks specifically for the purpose of brand personality description would be that brands are NOT perceived the same way as persons. If they were - we would rather go for the Big 5 since they have a reliability and validity level Aaker's dimensions simply cannot have proven, yet.

What is furthermore interesting about Aaker's framework is the attempt to grasp "human"/"behavioral" type of traits like e.g. "honest", "reliable" AND also such that are more "aesthetical"/"cultural" like e.g. "outdoorsy" or "upper class". Such aesthetical descriptors might be the actual reason for having something like a brand personality in the first place. Brand management needs something to align their design with. At the same time, I am not at all sure, that personality traits would make up good guidelines for brand and communication design. Let's for instance take "openness to experience" from the Big 5 - how would this trait look and feel like? Yes, you could come up with some examples like e.g. "Google is very open to experience, that's why their logo is ever changing and multi-coloured". But that is all hindsight and probably not the way google arrived at their branding. It's much harder to get to a google logo using personality traits than it seems in hindsight. Actually, i would go so far to say it is merely impossible if brand personality is the main briefing tool used.

I have been talking about these issues with designers over and over again. The result of these inquiries: brand personality does not help brand design or tonality creation very much.  A bit, partly and sometimes - yes, but much less than one might think. Firstly, because creative briefs contain very unspecific, uninspiring, too long and often contradicting lists of adjectives. Secondly, and even more striking: even if those descriptions do express some kind of interesting and specific character there simply is no direct "translation" from personality traits into design or tonality features. More often than not personality descriptions even don't deliver sharp evaluation criteria for designs or tonalities.

This whole issue is not very overtly talked about in client meetings or discussions with strategists but behind closed atelier doors I believe designers don't look much into the "personality" paragraph. Astonishingly enough it's rather the "strategic" paragraphs like "What is the brand's purpose?" or "Why do we communicate?" or "What's the intended reaction?" that tend to spark creative solutions.

Now, what is wrong about the concept of brand personality? Is it completely useless?
I believe that the characteristic "look, feel and sound" of a brand is enormously important. It's maybe the most important thing when it comes to brand experience, affinity and loyalty. We need to create such experiential and aesthetic "soft factors". What's flawed is the underlying metaphor of "personality" - i.e. of brands being like humans. So we probably use the wrong tool to get something that we really need to create.
If brand and communications design is what we need brand personality for - wouldn't it be better to have a typology that uses the aesthetical, cultural & interactional vocabulary straight away? Or maybe vocabulary that describes intended reactions and feelings elicited; instead of taking the detour of describing an imaginary "brand as a person"? But we simply don't have a universal framework like the ones above that work on this kind of level, yet. Actually, we might need more of those seemingly inadequate dimensions like Aaker's "ruggedness" or "upper class" and less of traits like "open-mindedness" or "curious".

And in case you do not agree and regard the basic metaphor of brand personality as true and helpful, I would argue that we then should use the more scientific, validated frameworks discovered by psychologists. The Big 5 would be a very good starting point to do so.

Brands in the Digital Age? ...Overrated.

What is a brand? 
Classical marketing literature most often describes it as something like "the sum of consumers’ cognitions and emotions attached to a brand name, logo and the products carrying them". Often the cognitions and emotions the marketers want to achieve get organized around a "brand positioning" or a "brand essence". Most of us would probably more or less agree with this definition...more or less.

- Excursus: The Babylonian Confusion around "Brand". 
There are also some new conceptions of brands around .
E.g. the conception of a brand as a player that "does things" instead of "standing for things". Basically, often this means that "company" and "brand" are used more or less the synonymously. You recognize this kind of understanding of "brand" when you hear people say "people want to interact with brands" - which wouldn't make much sense if they thought of brands as the consumers’ own associations and emotions.
Or take for instance the conception of a brand as a belief or an ideal, instead of simple associations and benefits. And even apart from intellectual planning discussions, even in everyday marketing language most marketers say "brand" when they simply mean the products they have to market. That's why there are "brand managers" but actually don't manage the "consumers' cognitions and emotions". Instead, they manage everything that makes the products successful - including even production, sales promotions, etc.
Or take the following way of using the word "brand": "We have to do more brand now - we cannot always do sales".  Here "brand" seems to indicate a certain type of campaign and of campaign objectives - typically it's about sympathy or general preference towards the brand or other brand equity figures. -

Brands (in the initial sense of the word) are overrated.
During the 20th century the term "brand" has gained such a great dominance that even the digital age's marketing speak still tries to describe everything from a "brand" perspective - even if the initial meaning of "brand as the sum of cognitions and emotions" actually doesn't fit quite well any longer. In this post I would like to explain why I believe this is the case: why "brand" is such a strong (but overrated) concept and why at least the old conception of "brand" doesn't fit very well with the patterns of modern digital marketing.

Why is "brand" still such a dominant and sacrosanct concept?
Well, mainly: because there's money in the "brand business". From a strategists point of view it's quite simple: destroy the concept of "brand" and you destroy 60% of your brand planning projects. Or financially even more devastating: 60% of the research projects. Getting rid of brand measurements would kill research companies.
Secondly: It's in the college books. Destroy the concept of "brand" and you destroy 40% of the marketing curriculum.
Thirdly: because of the constant semantic confusion described above. The confusion of "brand as concept stored in consumers' memory", "brand as the products under a certain brand name a manager has to market", "brand as everything opposed to activation or promotion", etc. As long as there is such confusion - there are enough ways to keep brand on the top agenda, even if the people involved don't really mean "brand".
Fourthly: because it is a neat management tool to streamline what and how the marketing does. "Brand" is an operational tool. Thus, the brand creates a frame of self-similarity. It is a sort of a styleguide beyond mere style. It tells marketing teams what to do. Kill the concept of "brand" and lots of people simply won't know what to manage, what to measure and where to start.

Why is "brand" overrated (nowadays)?
The most important reason is: because most planners and clients forgot that a brand itself is a means not an end. You can see this effect when people implicitly believe that the aim of communication is "to bring the brand alive" or "to make the brand stronger" or "to make people enthusiastic about the brand".
(We all know this kind of vocabulary and thinking. After several decades of such "brand jargon" marketing became the haven of loose, tautological talk where metaphors like "bring smth. alive" are used instead of clear-cut objectives and effects you can point at). 

These developments are in sharp contrast with how digital marketing is or can be carried out today. Let me explain why.

Digital Marketing Map                                           Digital Marketing Map Infographic
IMMEDIACY and shortcuts within purchase processes:  Classical "brand thinking" has been based on the notion of a division between the realm of communication and purchase. The brand served as a "bridge in memory" between the two worlds: You see a branded ad, then you recall the positive associations when you encounter the brand on the supermarket shelf. In many markets this intermediacy function of brands gets replaced by immediate technical connections between communication and purchase. And these are not just links on websites but also phenomena like "second screen" etc.

MEASURABILITY of marketing activities: The classical brand-based paradigm was happy with measuring ephemeral effects like "brand uniqueness" or "brand stature" etc. In the digital age measuring and controlling marketing effects gets more and more concrete and complex. In this kind of accountability paradigm "brand" becomes rather a black hole of unexplained effects. Let me quickly just namedrop "Big Data" in  this context - simply just to have the keyword on my blog. (no idea what this exactly is, but hey... it must be something with measurement.) The whole measurability issue is tightly related to the next factor - something I would call...

MECHANIZATION of marketing thinking: The computer is a machine. The internet is a mega-machine. And marketing, too, is increasingly thought of as a machine, a relay of many mechanisms. The fragmented touchpoints and their effects nowadays are not seen as some kind of "media magic" explained by W. Flusser,  M. McLuhan and semioticians but rather as mechanical marketing buttons and levers you can push, connect and optimize on-the-go. "We need 150 GRPs TV to raise click rate 180%.", "How many blogs can we acquire and professionalize to climb up 3 ranks on google?" etc. IN this kind of thinking there's just not much room for fuzzy "brand magic". A striking example of "mechanization" are CPC-pyament models and all kinds of performance online marketing: payment models or statistics are used to "buy traffic" - the content of the online ads is more or less irrelevant, especially when you pay for clicks only. Something similar happens with search based marketing: who needs a smart brand onion when you rank 1st on google? Another manifestation of "mechanization" are apps: little machines making certain processes easier or more fun. Not exactly classical brand thinking - something far more operational and distributional.

"Brand" could become just a means to ensure self-similarity in a concert of many un-magical mechanisms used.  Brand Planners should consciously learn to employ "mechanical" thinking. That is basically what's new about the whole "new marketing". And by mechanical I do not necessarily mean technical. What I mean is: thinking of everything as levers to reach multiple and concrete objectives. A more mechanical thinking implies questions like: "which barriers do we need to overcome?", "where in the consumer processes can we intervene?" etc. Within such a thinking pattern "brand" will have the role of a glue holding the multiple levers together not the end of all the undertakings.  Basically this is where brands actually originate from: it's the name and symbol, recognizably burned into the cattle, so that everyone instantly knows: "This is ours". So in the end maybe it's just about "branding" as one of the must-have levers among others - and not any longer about "brand" as an overarching master-solution and to everything.

Classifying what a piece of communication actually does - in linguistic terms.

I was wondering: what do linguistics think about communication acts when it comes to describe communication intentions? I mean - if brands sort of "talk" with consumers - there must be certain intentions of such "speech acts". Marketers would describe them in their terms ("generate awareness", "create buzz", bla-bla). But how do linguists or language philosophers think about "speech acts" and their intentions?

According to Searle and his famous "How to Do Things With Words" there are these 5 types of "speech acts" - differing by what they actually want to bring about:

Assertives :
They commit the speaker to something being the case. The different kinds are: suggesting, putting forward, swearing, boasting, concluding. Example: ``No one makes a better cake than me''.
Directives :
They try to make the addressee perform an action. The different kinds are: asking, ordering, requesting, inviting, advising, begging. Example: ``Could you close the window?''.
Commisives :
They commit the speaker to doing something in the future. The different kinds are:, planning, vowing, betting, opposing. Example: ``I'm going to Paris tomorrow''.
Expressives :
They express how the speaker feels about the situation. The different kinds are: thanking, apologising, welcoming, deploring. Example: ``I am sorry that I lied to you''
Declarations :
They change the state of the world in an immediate way. Example: "You are fired":

Maps for strategic choices - How they can help and mislead us.

There seem to be two general forms of working and thinking when we develop strategies: A) Thinking within universal maps of reality B) Thinking without such predefined maps.

 Thinking within universal maps (like e.g. the Limbic Map image on the left) involves a belief in dimensions or a typology that are valid for all kinds of objects of a certain category - say brands, products, activities, people, companies, etc. Here are some more examples for such maps:

BCG's Value Patterns (A Typology of Companies’ Success Formulas)

Sinus Milieus (A Typology of German Lifestyles & Mentalities)

TNS Needscope (A Consumer Segmentation Typology and Brand Positioning Map)

Basically, any system that is not case specific but claims to be applicable to your case is such a universal "map" of reality (with reality in the marketing context most often understood as consumer affinity to some kind of universal values or behavior patterns). In these maps your specific case or task can be "located", "measured" or at least discussed in terms of the map's dimensions or the proposed typology's segments. There are some fundamental advantages of such systems. Let me give you the most obvious ones:

1) These models do convince clients (because they are visually compelling, and are based on what clients consider to be "science"). They also do deliver sexy schemes for presentations or workshop work-sheets. And don't get me wrong - all too often this really is important.
2) They get polled by research companies, media networks, etc. and are often available for us planners at a cost way below that of case specific ad hoc research.
3) These models create a framework for discussion and a common language between client and agency - as such they are perfect workshop tools for rough brand positioning or target group definition.
4) Some of those dimensions or typologies get measured by media companies so that ad clients can actually plan their media spend based on these variables. (This for instance is often the case with the Sinus Milieus in Germany)
5) These models deliver a framework for comparison with other brands (competitors or benchmarks).

But there definitely are some disadvantages which sometimes get overlooked due to the convenience these maps offer. Let me give you 5 - in order to keep it somehow balanced:

1) Being universal (i.e. applicable for all cases) means the exact opposite of being tailor-made. No client specific or situation specific circumstances influence the dimensions/clusters of a map/typology. The client has to be treated just as any other case showing a the same pattern within the given map. If we believe, that our strategy should deliver specific answers to specific problems, than such maps cannot be our weapon of choice. Consider this: none of these models reflects the basic behavioral, attitudinal tensions or trends in the product category you are dealing with. Not one specific reason-to-buy a specific category is included in these models.
2) Such maps foster a thinking mode of "choosing" instead of "inventing" or "coming up with". Since the dimensions or segments are universal - the outcome is rather a position CHOSEN on the map or segments CHOSEN as ours. Having a standardized, universal approach is also likely to generate results other brands and other agencies would also come up with using it. This is basically true for all "measurement + logic" methods.
3) The advantage of having a framework and a common language for the discussion has a downside: things and effects outside the framework get lost out of sight. We start seeing the map not the territory. E.g. "to become a Rebel-Archetype Brand" becomes a legitimate goal or strategy, almost replacing goals like "become the Nr. 1 publishing house for art books in the UK".
4) Maybe the most striking disadvantage is this: even knowing your position on such a map or knowing which societal segments to target doesn't tell you what exactly to say or what your brand should stand for. I mean - actionably stand for. In other words: a position on a map is not a brief to a creative or any other team. You cannot brief "somewhere here on the map, and just a bit of here as well". From my experience you even cannot brief a corporate identity design team by pointing onto a map of human values. They need proper brand purpose, benefit or positioning statement too.
5) Finally, just some side notes for the rare readers interested in research methods: Most of the models and their measurements are by far not on that level of scientific rigor they pretend to be operating on. They all have been tweaked to be "plausible" and "easy to use" for management purposes. The measurements are sometimes astonishingly small-bore - given the depth of qualitative descriptions of certain milieus or map dimensions. The proprietors try to hide the "secret recipes" of the method - for a good reason, I guess. And it is not even their fault mostly. Whoever tried to execute a factor or cluster analysis herself knows how messy and arbitrary this can get. (Same even applies to interpretation, not just measurement: In most cases interpreters look at deviations from the average or competitors  (indexes), thus leaving us with the problem of having define "the right average" or "the right" and also with the problem of neglecting the absolute dominance of per se large segments or per se dominant dimensions in such a framework. Yes, this is always the case with any data, but it's important to understand that these tools are not "objective" or clear-cut.)

So far, I think my whole argument could be summarized as:
  • Thinking in such strategic maps is a good starting point for a conversation that can often be supported by affordable data and even prolonged into media strategy. 
  • But they are not good in helping to come up with actionable, fresh solutions to specific problems - neither to those of our clients nor to those of consumers.