Brian Creath

Archive for the ‘Positioning’ Category

The Marketing Shift: Rise of the Direction Company

In Advertising, Brand, Brand Strategy, Marketing, marketing strategy, Positioning on March 21, 2013 at 12:48 pm

StrategicDirection

Every day, more and more companies heed the prevailing notion that to successfully manage their own brands and marketing conversations with customers, they must build internal staff to do so. And to a great extent, they are right. Gone are the days when advertising agencies owned the media planning and media buying initiative. And as companies work hard to understand and react to the specific needs of customers and consumers, it makes sense that they build internal resources to manage these day-to-day conversations.

Are The Scales Tipping Too Far?

A decrease in traditional advertising, an increase in social media usage, new access to specific customer information and a continued stagnant economy, have all contributed to create a seminal marketing shift. Many companies, in a rush to meet customer desires and demands in an ‘always-on’ environment, have created marketing platforms of ‘give them what they want, regardless of what and who, we are.’ Of course, agencies have always been guilty of this and have contributed to the problem. Unfortuanately, the marketing efforts of many companies (and agencies, on the whole) are simply becoming crowdsourcing liasons.

The Balance of Marketing Power.

While technology and especially social media have given customers and consumers a new distribution tool to voice opinion, smart marketing and brands have always been about listening and adjusting. But these efforts also carried a directional point of view that while firm, was flexible to the marketplace.

Where Is The Point of View?

If every company simply crowdsources its brands and marketing efforts, one thing is certain: Everything will begin to look, feel and sound the same. Because people all want pretty much the same things. Good prices. Good products and services. Fair treatment. Honest businesses. But with no overarching point of view, there can be little differentiation. And in marketing, the brand and effort with a relevant difference tends to succeed. Here’s how this all works better: A company, brand and or marketing effort, begins with a point of view. A direction born of mission, vision, culture, positioning and a number of other elements. It’s then packaged into a strategy and direction that leaves some room for input by customers. (If that point of view is missing or weak, it needs to be developed.)

Enter The Direction Company.

What is needed today is not the agency of the past, nor a refurbished version. Not a company that simply builds and contracts services to mirror the perceived tactical needs of clients, but one that focuses on the front-end strategy needs of companies, and can work inside and alongside internal marketing staffs to create real value. What is needed is objective, third-party expertise in the strategy and early creative direction efforts of brand, marketing and communications development. What is needed, is something we call ‘The Direction Company.’

Cohesion: A Brand & Marketing Direction Company

You guessed it: Cohesion is a direction company. Because today, that’s what we have found is needed most in the marketing departments and efforts we touch. It’s also  the way we modeled our business from the start and the exclusive work we’ve been doing since 1999. To learn how we can add value to your efforts, contact Brian Creath, Managing Principal, at 314-276-5383, or at: bcreath@cohesioncompany.com.

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Beyond Survival: Brand As Competitive Edge In Today’s Business Environment

In Brand, Brand Relevance, Brand Strategy, Business strategy, Corporate Marketing, Internal communications, Marketing, marketing strategy, Positioning on February 26, 2013 at 11:45 am

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Investing in a strong brand is one of the single most important efforts that an enterprise can undertake to ensure continued relevance and growth in a rapidly changing market. Unfortunately, many companies have become so concentrated on developing efforts that promote ‘the next sale,’ that they have neglected investing in the foundation of their brand direction.

Without a brand umbrella to help rationalize margins, instill customer loyalty, bolster employee morale and drive awareness, every sale becomes a little more difficult and disproportionately more expensive.

To download the entire whitepaper, simply click here.

The One, Big Idea That Can Drive Marketing Success.

In Advertising, Brand, Brand Strategy, Business strategy, Corporate Marketing, Positioning, Sales, Strategy on February 16, 2013 at 7:32 pm

Caution.Big.Idea

“Capital isn’t that important in business. Experience isn’t that important.
You can get both of these things. What is important is ideas.”

                                                              – Harvey S. Firestone

It is the irony of our times. I watch in amazement as business owners and managers honor the achievements of a Steve Jobs with rockstar status, yet in their own businesses, refuse to accept or practice the kind of thinking that allowed those achievements to take place. In marketing, the problem is rampant.

During our economic slump, many companies have come to think that big marketing ideas are only for those with big budgets. That somehow you cannot have one without the other and therefore, that big ideas are not practical for their business. (Interestingly, my experience is that reverse is often true: The bigger the idea, the less money you need to promote and market it.)

Yes, small thinking is all the rage today. With companies spending more time and effort on making their marketing efficient and economical than they do on making their message bold and different. It’s why so many marketing efforts sound the same. With messages that blend in with competitors, rather than stand apart from them.

If small thinking is what you’re looking for, please move along. You can find plenty of of people and firms that can help you think small. Chances are, you already have.

But if you’re looking to make a difference — to own a marketing position and a message that can drive your business and actually help you spend LESS on marketing than your competitors — then do, by all means, read on.

“Lack of money is no obstacle. Lack of ideas is an obstacle.”

                                                              – Ken Hakuta

The essence of the big marketing thought is simple: When you marry the perfect marketing strategy with the perfect creative expression people will, more often than not, buy more of what you’re selling.

Of course, most marketing firms aren’t focused on that task. Some don’t even recognize its importance. That’s where I come in.

And where you, the savvy, business person, can win.

Clients pay me to find and articulate that one, singular idea that can drive a marketing effort for years. Call it brand, call it positioning, call it strategy or creative direction. Regardless of its label, this unique strategy+creative marriage is what smart businesses really want — and desperately need.

But it takes a generalist — not a specialist — to hold the worldview needed to develop this work. And a unique combination of skill and experience to express that strategy in a succinct and interesting way: an expression that, if crafted properly, is both poignant and true. One that can boldly stand out…relevant to customers, employees, investors and more.

I’ve had the good fortune to both successfully position more than 100 businesses, brands, products and services and be the creative director and writer on nearly as many award-winning creative campaigns. It’s where these paths meet that riches are found. Where marketing inertia is created that can last for years.

Where hardened marketing disbelievers in sales, operations and finance turn to you and say, “I had no idea this is what marketing could do.”

Could your business use the one, big marketing idea that can drive its success? If so, I know just where you can find it.

That Fortune-Filled Moment When Strong Strategy Meets Great Creative.

In Advertising, Brand, Brand Relevance, Brand Strategy, Business strategy, Creative, Marketing, marketing strategy, Positioning, Sales, Strategy on February 13, 2013 at 1:46 pm

treasure chest

It’s the one reason the business of marketing and advertising still holds my interest after nearly 30 years and (especially if you’re a purchaser of marketing and advertising services) the reason it should hold yours: When you marry the perfect marketing strategy with the perfect creative expression people will, more often than not, buy more of what you’re selling.

That’s really what clients pay me to do: Find and articulate that one, singular idea that can drive a marketing effort for years. Oh sure, that simplicity can get a bit lost in processes, research, positioning, strategy and a whole lot more, but in the end, this unique strategy+creative marriage is what businesses really want — and desperately need. Because it’s almost impossible to find this inside a company. And sadly, it’s becoming just as difficult on the outside. Today, most marketing firms make their living as ‘specialists,’ working in the vacuums of their vertical world(s).

It takes a generalist to hold the worldview needed to develop ‘grand’ strategy. And a unique combination of skill and experience to express that strategy in a succinct and interesting way: an expression that, if crafted properly, is both poignant and true.

Over the years, I’ve found that most clients believe the development of strong strategy and the expression of great creative are mutually exclusive. That the process to develop strategy must be boring, exhaustive and tedious. That the ability to develop great creative can only come from bizarre, ungrounded minds. My experience has shown this to be the most superficial understanding of both. If you follow a boring, exhaustive and tedious process for strategy, that’s probably the kind of strategy you will develop. Accordingly, an untethered mind will tend to develop, well, bizarre, ungrounded creative.

I’ve had the good fortune to successfully position more than 100 businesses, brands, products and services. I’ve also had the good fortune of being the creative director and writer on dozens of award-winning creative campaigns. It’s where these paths meet that riches are found. Where marketing inertia is created that can last for years.

Where hardened sales, operations and financial disbelievers in marketing turn to you and say, “I had no idea this is what marketing could do.”

Could your business use a better marriage of marketing strategy and creative expression? If so, I know just where you can find it.

 

 

Innovation. Validation. Craft. (What Marketing Organizations Lack Most.)

In Brand, Brand Strategy, Corporate Marketing, Market research, Marketing, marketing strategy, Messaging, Positioning on February 4, 2013 at 3:48 pm

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Most marketing organizations have learned to live much ‘closer to the sale’ than in years past. Lean and efficient, today’s marketing department can ‘make’ more marketing tools than ever before. But in this ‘resizing’ of marketing departments, three very important things have been sacrificed.

In our work, we find the three (3) following elements most lacking from today’s marketing organization:

1. Innovation
Especially in the areas of research, strategy and messaging development. It’s very difficult for organizations to house the quality and expertise to make this work practical and cost-efficient on an ongoing basis.

2. Validation
Often, a third-party is needed to validate marketing assumptions and to package and assemble initial ideas. An expert, outside point-of-view helps provide credibility.

3. Craft
Not necessarily for day-to-day marketing communications work, but more specifically for initial strategic and creative work. The spark that bridges innovation to work that can be developed into ‘first-round’ and ‘template’ creative.

Coincidentally, our brand and marketing strategy firm, Cohesion, is focused on providing the three elements listed above to marketing organizations throughout the country. To learn how Cohesion can benefit your brand, marketing and communications effort, email Brian Creath at bcreath@cohesioncompany.com, or call him at 314-276-5383.

“That’s a Lot to Pay for Your Thinking.” (or) What is Marketing Strategy, Really?

In Brand, Brand Strategy, Business strategy, Marketing, marketing strategy, Positioning, Sales, Small Business, Strategy, Uncategorized on November 30, 2012 at 4:35 pm

Strategic.Thinking

Earlier this year, I met with a prospective client of a large, regional organization, who seemed eager to re-energize his company’s corporate brand. “We really need to develop a new platform for all of our positioning and messaging,” he said. “Internally and externally, we’re confused. We need to define our direction and make a big, bold statement about who we are, and why people should care.”

Great, I thought. Here’s company that not only recognizes its brand/marketing problem, but has a relatively clear understanding of what it needs.

I proceeded to take this person through our approach and some examples of successful work we had done in similar situations. We parted our meeting with the understanding that I would deliver a proposed approach and estimate in the following few days.

Fast forward three days. My prospect, now with our proposed approach in hand, has called to discuss its contents. “You know, I listened to you explain your process, but now that I see it in writing, that’s a lot of work and a lot to pay just for you to come up with some thinking.”

[Silent pause.]

“I was kind of hoping you’d just give me a cost for coming up with a few taglines, or something.”

“Those few taglines that you want require the upfront work I have outlined,” said I. “Additionally, you need quite a bit more than a few taglines. You need a positioning and messaging platform and system that ground all of your communications efforts. On top of that, you don’t have (and desperately need) a clear marketing strategy and direction.”

“We do have a strategy,” said my prospect. “We want to increase sales by 10% next year.” (I’m not kidding.)

To which I kindly responded, “That is an objective — one against which a strategy can be built. How are you going to achieve it,” I asked. “I guess we’ll need to talk about that internally,” he said. “Right now, I just need some taglines.”

* * *

Strategy is the thinking that answers and explains ‘how’ something will be accomplished — how a goal or objective will be achieved.

Insightful marketing strategy — based upon clear business and marketing objectives, marketing research (however limited) and conclusions born from an experienced process — is the single most lacking component of marketing today. (It also happens to be the core business of my firm.) What passes for strategy today, is often shameful and ineffective. More often still, strategy is non-existent.

But there is a silver lining. Because so few companies build and follow strong marketing strategies, the company that does can make a tremendous impact. Immediately, and into the future.

If you’re interested in learning more about how we develop and successfully implement brand and marketing strategy, please contact me (Brian Creath, president of Cohesion), at 314-276-5383, or at bcreath@cohesioncompany.com.

Would Short-Format Video Be A Better Way To Explain That?

In Communications, Internal communications, Marketing, Messaging, Positioning, Sales Messaging, Social Media, Strategy, Video on September 13, 2012 at 11:00 pm

Look around your company. If yours is like most large and mid-sized organizations, the people inside (and possibly you) are still using a number of outdated and inefficient ways to communicate key points and issues. In critical areas such as HR, customer service, training, operations, manufacturing, sales, marketing and management and more, the problem is rampant.

Boring presentation materials. Still photography on websites and intranets. Printed sales pieces that no one reads. Tools, which often require tremendous skill on the part of the person delivering the information, or unlimited patience on the part of the person receiving it. Tools that are not only inefficient, but expensive.

They’re also at odds with a growing demand for quick, bite-sized information. Let’s face it: your employees and customers aren’t clamoring for the next PowerPoint presentation. Nor are they giddy about the flow of static images you’re currently spending money on to house on your website or intranet.

Today, the average American (employee and customer alike) watches 23 hours of online video every month. A number that is growing at a tremendous pace. Savvy companies are not only recognizing this fact, they’re building plans and developing video assets that capitalize on it. The reason is simple: Production costs have dropped, production quality has increased, and the cost of distribution is nominal.

“Today, there simply is no better way for an organization to communicate on a consistent, volume basis than with quality, short-format videos.”

But one problem remains: the landscape of current video development and management resources. Certainly, we don’t lack for traditional video production companies. Vendors that will gladly take your money based on the expensive premise of, “sure, we can do that for you.” At the other end of the spectrum, we all know friends, relatives and peers who can operate a video camera and cobble together something that passes for a video.

What has been lacking is a resource focused solely on developing and managing the right video format for today’s online viewing audiences. Lacking, until now.

Enter Big Shot. A firm born of the combined expertise of a nationally recognized brand and marketing consultancy (Cohesion) and a 25-year-old production entity, squarely dedicated to the development of engaging, 2-3 minute videos built for online viewing that tell a distinct and unique story. The video stories we most often develop are best told by the people who know them best: sales people, customers, executives, and more. We intentionally strive for a ‘look and feel’ that is more similar to a national cable TV show than it is a stilted (and obviously scripted) traditional video or broadcast spot.

Big Shot’s short video format takes into account a story’s relevance to customers, and balances the length of time needed to tell a complete story and the attention span of the viewer. It is a format perfect for the myriad of business stories that can be found (and need to be told) in HR, customer service, training, operations, manufacturing, sales, marketing and management.

Most companies we work with see video as more than a single project (though Big Shot’s relationship with a client often begins that way). Most of our corporate clients see video as a tool that can be managed as an asset over time. For these clients, the process becomes one of building initial brand and general foundation video(s) and then developing and managing specific messages and issues into individual video properties, over time.

The most efficient communications effort delivers “the right message, to the right person, at the right moment in time.” Short-format video–one that articulates a quality story and is developed in a familiar, quality production–is the only tool that allows you to do this in an engaging and affordable manner.

For more information, please contact Brian Creath at Big Shot Agency at 314-276-5383, or at bcreath@bigshotagency.com.

Quick, What’s Your Message?

In Advertising, Brand, Brand Relevance, Brand Strategy, Business Development, Business strategy, Communications, Marketing, Messaging, Positioning on March 3, 2012 at 12:29 pm

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“We’re hoping the economy turns around sometime this year so we can work on crafting our message,” an anonymous VP of marketing said to me last week. That’s funny. The reason I contacted this company in the first place was because the lead salesperson (a good friend) told me what he — and the rest of the sales staff — need right now is, “the right story; the right message to tell clients and prospects.”

Marketing has been quick to respond to trimming fat from budgets. But in many cases, these same cuts are now beginning to tear into the meat and bone of an organization’s core message — of its brand and reputation. My salesperson friend says that in lieu of a defined message, he and his staff have been left to create their own. “I think it will be hard to unwind some of the ‘survival mode’ sales tactics we’ve developed by the seat of our pants during the past few months,” he says. “We really need to find and stick with a core message we can all live with — right now.”

We’ve run into this situation numerous time since the start of the recession: Well-intentioned companies that needed to cut marketing budgets, cut them across the board, rather than prioritizing. Strategic planning and core messaging needs vital to the existence of the company were often cut to save a few short-term tactics that management hoped would produce short-term sales. The result: Brands have been driven backwards, and short-term sales haven’t been all that great.

By the way, what’s your message? Has it been left to wither during the past few months? Is it consistent and cohesive at every management, marketing and sales level of your organization? Does it need to be re-crafted to fit a new and changing direction? Regardless of the money you intend to spend on marketing — now and into the future — you will still need the right message. In fact, the fewer dollars you spend, the better and more consistent your message needs to be.

Coincidentally, if you’re looking for a firm that can help you craft and platform that message, I do know a good one.

While I’m working on my next post, I hope you’ll read about how Cohesion helps organizations build stronger messaging to increase consistency, lower cost and drive growth, here.

The Numbers Don’t Lie. (They can’t tell the whole truth, either.)

In Brand, Brand Relevance, Brand Strategy, Business Development, Business strategy, Corporate Marketing, Marketing, Messaging, Positioning, Reputation Marketing, Sales, Strategy on February 13, 2012 at 9:48 pm

How.To.Lie.Photo

In a 2009 Ad Age article titled, “Metric Madness: The Answer to Mathematical Failure Seems to Be More Math,” (registration required) brand and marketing veteran Al Ries says, “If you run a company by numbers alone, you’ll run it into the ground. You might be successful in the short term, but never in the long term, as the financial crisis demonstrates.”

Ries is concerned that the marketing community appears to be “drifting from the right to the left — from a right-brain approach to a left-brain approach.” He cites a prominent U.S. marketing executive who has held top marketing jobs at Procter & Gamble and other companies, as recently saying: “At its core, marketing is 70% math.”

Is measurement inherently bad for marketing? Of course not. It’s when measurement becomes a replacement for insight and experience that the problem begins. And today, more and more, that’s exactly what’s happening.

This is a deeper argument than one of science vs. art. Or even of logic vs. emotion. No, this is about the erosion of marketing wisdom. The enlightened integration of the right-brain and the left-brain. (Most humans I know are equipped with both.)

In an article published in this month’s Inc., leading corporate consultant, Charles Jacobs discusses how brain structure can impact business management: “Objective decision making is a myth. When the area of the brain responsible for logical thinking is activated, it also receives input from the area responsible for emotion. Without input from your feelings, you can’t think long term. You don’t learn from past experience; you can’t empathize. The more complex the problem, the more of the brain should come into play.”

Marketing wisdom accepts that an illogical thought can succeed. That counter-intuitive strategies can work. That some ideas cannot really be tested.

Marketing wisdom is not a replacement for measurement or analysis, but rather the totality of instinct, experience and observation, tempered by logic and data. You cannot google wisdom – it takes time and must be learned. Perhaps that’s why it’s no longer in style.

Marketing is still a business run by humans, for humans. To the dismay of marketing science, so is measurement. Which means, necessarily, that ‘the numbers’ are still open to interpretation, manipulation and sometimes, fraud. (Just ask Bernie Madoff’s accountant.)

Measurement for measurement’s sake is every bit as wasteful as creative for creative’s sake. Just because we can, does not necessarily mean that we should. I know of no company that ever measured its way out of an inferior marketing effort.

As we look to economic recovery, it’s critical to remember: Metrics are not the overarching context through which marketing decisions should be made. Wisdom is. It’s the thing most lacking in marketing today. And, the most valuable, too.

(By the way, if you’re in the market for a bit of wisdom, I know a firm that can help.)

While I’m working on my next post, I hope you’ll read about how Cohesion helps organizations build stronger messaging to increase consistency, lower cost and drive growth, here.

Business is Changing. (How relevant is yours?)

In Brand, Communications, Corporate Marketing, Marketing, Messaging, Positioning, Strategy on February 1, 2012 at 3:21 am

It’s the question on the minds of nearly every C-suite executive we talk with: Is our business (brand) as relevant as it should be?

It’s been our experience that most organizations are actually quite good at making and/or sourcing marketing materials. It’s when the challenge is developing and articulating comprehensive strategy that many companies struggle. The reality is that far too many companies lack a consistent and successful method for designing and maintaining positions for their brands, products and services.

Companies that have developed successful positions, tend to have one thing in common: Before the first tactical thought begins, these companies concentrate their marketing focus on structure, strategy and messaging. Not coincidentally, these three (3) critical elements are the focus of our business, as well.

If you’d like to help your organization broaden the practices of brand strategy, positioning and messaging beyond marketing — and into comprehensive, organization-wide internal and external efforts, I know a firm that can help.

While I’m working on my next post, I hope you’ll read about how Cohesion helps organizations develop more relevant and differentiated positions, here.