Brian Creath

Posts Tagged ‘marketing strategy’

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.

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.

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.

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

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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.

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.

Old Is Wrong. New Is Right. (A Fool’s Guide to Marketing.)

In Brand, Brand Strategy, Business strategy, Marketing, Strategy on January 12, 2012 at 3:43 pm

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Brands are dead. Advertising is dead. Marketing is dead. All one need do is Google* any one of these terms for proof. Right?

Yes, marketing has (and is) changing at an astonishing pace. As is business, communication, and our entire society. Simply ponder the fact that, according to Eric Schmidt, we create as much information in 48 hours now as we did from the dawn of man through 2003.

But change is not death. In fact, in many ways, change signals rebirth. Take the idea of brand, for instance. Today, the concept of brand has migrated far from its humble beginnings as a mass-medium proxy for product benefits. Now, this overriding philosophy drives the thinking of political campaigns, religions, individual people, and more. However this powerful concept is applied, the idea behind brand thinking is (still) that a thing (person, product, concept, or other) can carry a perception that is greater than its day-to-day function and form.

Social media doesn’t change this fundamental premise, or signal its death, although it may certainly change the methods by which one accesses, or understands a brand.

What it does mean, however, is that those brands that simply gave lip-service to the idea of brand (let’s call them the shiny new logo people, for now), have and will, die an even faster death. These are the brands (and the companies) that confused a brand with advertising. Or a new identity. Or (fill in your surface strategy or tactic, here.) Once, it was said that, ‘a good ad will make a bad product fail even faster.’ Now, this tenant can be applied to what social media is doing to poorly developed brands.

Does this mean that brands are dead? Certainly not, except for the ones that should have died, anyway.

The web and social media are rapidly forcing organizations to embrace the functional benefits that every customer already wanted in the first place. Customer service. Free delivery. Better pricing. For commodity products and services that compete (and competed) in areas where there is negligible product, service or concept differentiation, functional benefits ARE the point of differentiation. New logos and taglines for these companies never were the answer. (Unless, of course, these logos and taglines were part of a bigger brand and marketing strategy that addressed functional benefit.)

The more science and technology is applied to marketing, the more we need to collectively remember how and why marketing strategy works. The new tools we have at our disposal today can create incredible speed and efficiency. They cannot, however, take the place of solid strategic (business and brand) thinking.

(By the way, if your organization is looking for stronger 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.

*Note the uppercase indication that this is indeed a brand name being used as a verb.