Brian Creath

Archive for the ‘Strategy’ Category

Why Every Company Needs Outside Marketing Perspective.

In Brand, Brand Strategy, Business strategy, Market research, Marketing, Strategy on February 27, 2013 at 7:40 pm

Something funny happened on the way to the future: As organizations have cut back on budgets and taken many marketing services ‘inside,’ many have also become extremely insulated…often, seeing things solely through the lens of an office window.

It’s one thing to take creative services in-house. It’s quite another to look internally for truly innovative brand and marketing strategy. Because more often than not, the time, the broad view and the development expertise, just don’t exist on the inside. This is not to knock some very good internal marketing people. Simply to point out that everyone has a different set of skills and training. (As as many extremely talented marketing managers will tell you.)

Yes, many of the companies we talk with are struggling with marketing perspective. Mostly, how to find it and how to use it.

Certainly, what a company ‘needs‘ is not the same as what it ‘can‘ or ‘should‘ do. That’s where outside perspective has its primary value. And no where is this more true than in marketing. And especially, in the development of brand and marketing strategy.

Without outside marketing perspective, strategy simply becomes a wish list and marketing execution a never-ending series of ‘likes’ and ‘dislikes’ by committee: an environment in which, success has a difficult time surviving.

In the interest of full disclosure, I am in the business of providing marketing perspective. Developed and sold through the context of strategy and messaging, but perspective, nonetheless. It’s through marketing perspective that value and relevance can be created. That new insights and the experience of having done something before, can co-exist. That internal vision and external realities, can successfully come together.

Is this a sales message? Of course we’d like to provide our perspective to help your organization develop successful marketing strategy. But more than a sales message for us, it’s a sales message for the importance of buying outside perspective. Outside (sometimes referred to as ‘third-party) perspective is a critical tool in building strategy. But obviously, outside perspective cannot be found or brought ‘in-house.’ (Then it wouldn’t be outside, anymore…would it?)

(If you’re not buying marketing perspective from our firm, please do buy it from somebody.)

While I’m working on my next post, I hope you’ll read about how Cohesion helps organizations, here.

Is That A Marketing Strategy and Plan, Or a List of Marketing Projects?

In Advertising, Brand, Brand Strategy, Marketing, marketing strategy, Small Business, Strategy on February 22, 2013 at 12:52 pm

confused-face

It’s a disturbing trend: Economic uncertainty has left many companies (small and large) with the belief that they can no longer forecast their marketing efforts and therefore, don’t need a marketing plan (of any sort). Perhaps even worse, many of these companies rationalize their behavior with the idea that marketing planning is somehow outdated or unnecessary, at all. Many of the latter point to technology as the ‘new marketing’ which, to their way of thinking, allows for precise targeting and decision analysis, that apparently, no longer requires humans to develop an umbrella strategy to hold all this together.

As is usually the case, the answer isn’t black and white. Yes, the business world is changing at a dizzying pace. And yes, technology has given businesses the incredible ability to more precisely understand, target and analyze marketing and sales information. However, too often today, this ability has become a crutch that gives organizations the rationale to dismiss the power of real marketing (and other) strategy.

And so, marketing strategy gives way to some form of ‘just keep doing what we’re doing.’ And marketing planning, sadly, becomes nothing more than a calendar and list of projects.

What doesn’t work (and never really has) is the rigid marketing plan of old. The plan that neither allowed for change, nor built in ways to leverage change’s inevitable existence.

What does work (and always has) is the marketing plan that outlines and harnesses a well-articulated strategy and position and then outlines efforts in three (3) important areas: 1) Priorities, 2) Tests, and 3) Contingencies. At Cohesion, we also utilize a messaging platform tool that works as the foundation to planning and tactical execution.

If you believe that ‘good-old fashioned’ marketing strategy and planning are dead, you may be right. But don’t fall into the trap of thinking that strategy and planning are obsolete. Brand new methods, born from today’s environment and backed by years of understanding are very much alive and well. At least here, they are.

Perhaps you should embrace it before your competitors do?

To learn more about Cohesion and our unique approach to marketing planing and strategy, contact Brian Creath at bcreath@cohesioncompany.com, or at 314-276-5383.

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.

 

 

“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.

It’s 2013: What’s Your Marketing Strategy?

In Brand, Brand Strategy, Business strategy, Corporate Marketing, Marketing, Strategy on October 30, 2012 at 2:48 pm

As the year begins, Cohesion (our nationally recognized brand and marketing consultancy) has been engaged by several organizations to develop Strategic Brand, Marketing and Communications Planning Guides. These efforts include a short strategic assessment of existing issues, audiences, strategies and tools, and a detailed list of recommended strategic efforts that management and the marketing and/or communications function should consider.

These short plans work for organizations both small and large, and can be developed in about a one-week time-frame. For a fixed price that every company can afford, Cohesion can quickly and efficiently give you a strategic tool that will help start and guide your strategic marketing efforts for 2013. We’ll frame the ‘why’s’ and ‘how’s’ around roughly 10 key strategies, so that you can drive new success in the coming year.

Cohesion is also being engaged by a number of clients to ‘package and explain’ new businesses, new services, new products and more. And of course, if you need more traditional brand, marketing, advertising or communications development, we can help.

Our services put an expert ‘third party’ on the business of your business, without the hassle of a long-term engagement or a cost you can’t afford. Start the year on the right note. Contact Brian Creath at bcreath@cohesioncompany.com, or at 314-276-5383, to learn more, today.

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.

A Novel Idea: Say Something Worth Saying

In Brand, Brand Relevance, Brand Strategy, Communications, Corporate Marketing, Marketing, Sales, Sales Messaging, Strategy on March 14, 2012 at 9:46 pm

In ways even he could not have imagined, Marshall McLuan‘s 1960’s theory has come to pass: The Medium is the Message.

Proof is all around: People mindlessly flip through hundreds of cable channels, watching, well…nothing really…simply because they have the technology. Others, adorned with head and ear attachments, oblivious to fellow shoppers and commuters, converse about trivial matters, simply because, yes…they can. Smart phones at the ready, people of all ages text millions of introspective messages such as: where u at? (Hopefully, swerving to miss the car in front of them.)

Because we can, we do. We have been empowered by the technology afforded us, and dammit, we’re going to use it. Whether we need to or not.

Of course, the appetite for new technology will only increase. But while the explosion of communication mediums has certainly democratized control of ‘the message’ (more people have the ability to say more things to more people than ever before), it’s had a severely negative impact on the quality of the message itself.

Is it really necessary to ‘Tweet‘ about what one has had for breakfast?

Here’s the point: The biggest, real opportunity for marketers today is not about embracing the next technology, but about better using the ones we have. And to do this properly, we have to look beyond the medium, and look to the intrinsic power of the message. The age-old, technology-agnostic craft of saying something worth saying. Something of value. Something of meaning.

God knows, you’ll stand out.

Woody Allen once said, ‘80% of success is just showing up.’ From a communications standpoint, we’ve certainly embraced this, haven’t we? We’re connected. We’ve got gadgets and toys that would frighten Alexander Graham Bell and Mr. Watson. In the time it took to read this post, you’ve already received 10 emails, three texts and 25 Tweets.

Problem is, how many of them are really worth reading? For the astute marketer, the answer is clear: Say something really worth saying. Relevance, my fellow marketer, will get you everywhere.

While I’m working on my next post, I hope you’ll read about how Cohesion helps organizations build stronger brands and marketing efforts, here.

Marketing Services: Should You Build or Buy?

In Advertising, Brand, Brand Strategy, Communications, Corporate Marketing, Market research, Marketing, Strategy on March 8, 2012 at 1:10 am

decision1

While I was courting the business of a Fortune 500 company last year, the company’s CMO turned to me and said, “You know, I can hire people to do everything but think.”

The company’s marketing staff – good, smart people, all – had become institutionalized. They were having a difficult time thinking outside of their own politics, and an even tougher time translating positioning and real benefits to those outside their own walls.

Thankfully, after the CMO overturned a longstanding policy of not hiring outside strategists, we were hired.

This illustrates a debate companies have been having for years: Should your company build marketing services internally or outsource them? Today, as the economy forces companies to more carefully scrutinize budgets, more and more companies have made the decision to take marketing matters into their own hands.

That’s certainly a logical option. Especially for those efforts that directly tie to the day-to-day operational and financial workings of the business. But there is another issue. Value. Does what you buy (internally or externally) provide you with the best possible chance for marketing success?

Twenty-five years of careful study have proved one point: With very few exceptions, when a solid marketing department supplements its efforts with a quality outside firm providing strong counsel, strategy and creative, the results will be more successful than that of an internal marketing department working alone. (And yes, I have been on both sides of the table.)

There are a number of reasons this truth holds. Among them:

  1. Objectivity – an outside firm can ‘speak the truth’ easier than someone on the inside, often solving problems that others may not see
  2. Talent – pure strategists and pure creatives are more often found on the outside of corporations
  3. Focus – because outside firms usually work in a specific role, the work is often more focused than that of a marketing department wearing many hats
  4. Perspective – outside firms work with other clients; they tend to have a broader world view and can utilize the experience of similar situations and efforts
  5. Collaboration – in situations where an internal department demands and champions great strategy and creative, and an outside firm develops and produces it, marketing success will follow (if not, you’ve got the wrong firm – but that’s another post…).

Perhaps the better question today is not “to build or buy,” but rather: Given your budget, how can you structure your marketing functions to give you the best possible opportunity for success?

Unlike any other time in the last 50 years, today’s economic environment offers companies a chance to wipe the marketing slate clean and start over. To customize functions and efforts based on real opportunity and need, vs. what has been done in the past. For most companies, the right answer isn’t an all-or-nothing proposition; but rather, a blended approach: of quality and affordability, of strategy and execution, of internal staff and external resources.

To those looking for a firm, find one that can provide continuity between strategy and execution. This will allow internal staff to partner with the firm at all levels, utilizing services as budget and need allow. This continuity will also provide insurance that the firm won’t build efforts in a vacuum — that each will be cohesively and consistently tied. Today, it’s more important than ever that you find a firm that will work with you at a business level, and not just a tactical or creative level. If you can, work with principals to ensure you will be working with the same people tomorrow.

(By the way, if you’re looking for a firm, I 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.

How to Never Get Ahead in Marketing. (Or) Always Let Tactics Drive Your Strategy.

In Brand, Brand Relevance, Brand Strategy, Business strategy, Corporate Marketing, Marketing, Strategy on February 20, 2012 at 4:28 pm

“Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.
Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory.”
-Sun Tzu

[Please Note: This post is not intended as a strategy vs. tactics treatise, but rather, as a discussion starter to point out the real lack of (and real need for) strategic thinking in today’s marketing efforts.]

For some, marketing has always been viewed through a tactical lens. You know the type: the person who mistakes a logo for a brand, or a website for a marketing program. And make no mistake, tactics are critical and necessary to every marketing effort. But because they are tangible, many have confused their necessity with being the ONLY focus of marketing. Sadly, strategy — the thinking that directs a tactic — is increasingly being overlooked, or completely neglected.

Imagine if buildings were built without blueprints — if wars were fought without plans. Lewis Carroll said, “If you don’t know where you are going, any road will take you there.”

Social media (and the bold, consumer voice that has arisen from its power) have many marketers now convinced that they cannot guide a brand, or their marketing efforts, but instead, must simply monitor the experiences of customers. And to successfully monitor and react to these experiences, these marketers have focused their resources on the tactics that will enable these efforts. Many times, regardless of what carefully planned core missions, or operations models say they can, or should do.

Should a company listen to its customers and steer accordingly? Of course. Should it simply become what a customer desires, with no strategic input regarding what it can, or should be? Of course, not. This one-sided view is as bad (and wrong) as the one-sided ‘company push’ advertising strategies that customers are rebelling against in the first place.

Strategy is (or should be) the thing that links the internal wants and desires of a company (brand) to the wants and needs of external audiences (partners, suppliers and customers). Developed properly, it’s a flexible bridge that anchors a few core principles and then allows that business and people change — sometimes quickly, sometimes over time. Tactics, are the tools developed from this strategic platform and guided by its direction. Important and critical, but tools, nontheless.

If you don’t have this strategy in place, you run the risk of never differentiating, never knowing what to do next, and yes, never truly getting ahead.

(By the way, if your organization is looking for stronger business, brand and marketing strategy, 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, here.