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Investigate the Uninteresting

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Once the commercial strategy has been agreed, it is time to turn your attention to what the brand stands for.

In many cases, a company will have a whole range of brands, in which case it is particularly important to understand and articulate the differences between them.

Reviewing an entire portfolio of brands could reveal unnecessary duplication or messy overlaps.

The world of brands and branding
is a box of bombs.

This world is open to considerable abuse and is the subject of regular derision, much of it self-inflicted.

Many of us have sat in countless meetings with so-called brand guardians, staring at an 80-chart presentation filled with impenetrable constructs.

These presentations very often purport to contain the so-called ‘essence of the brand’.

They are often a blur of brand onions, pyramids, pillars, values, visions and hundreds of generic adjectives.

But where do they get us?

They’re enough to make you grab your coat and head for the door.

It doesn’t have to be that way.

An effective brand strategy needs to clearly articulate what the current position of the brand is and how it intends to develop in a certain direction.

It is possible to generate a bull-shit free brand strategy that is distinctive and helpful.

Let’s see how.

Investigate the Uninteresting

If you want to make a brand distinctive, you will most likely have to look at things you haven’t automatically considered before.

So, an exploratory phase at the start is vital.

It is also essential if you have been working on the same brand for a long time.

If so, your strategy may have become repetitive, relying on formulaic old ways and losing its effectiveness on the way.

It’s at this point that the smart brand strategist will take on a new lease of life and investigate different areas.

Identifying and investigating the areas we are not naturally interested in massively multiples the number of new connections we can make, according to Dave Trott in his book One Plus One Equals Three.

Ignorance has a tremendous value.

If you don’t know what apparently can’t be done, then you can think freely.

This gives you much greater strategic freedom and allows you to unshackle yourself from samey thinking.

Your next step is to question the question posed by the brief, or the strategic challenge that has been set.

Before you rush to suggest solutions, what precisely is the brand challenge?

Answer that and you may progress much faster or arrive in a completely different place. Reinterpreting the brief is often solving the problem.

Copy Something

One of the most effective ways to draw inspiration for a decent brand strategy is to copy something else.

Innovation is 80-90% known stuff, with a 10-20% twist.

It’s not where you get it from – it’s where you take it to.

The principle of ‘category stealing’ is simple: choose a category different from your own and ask how companies and brands in that category would approach your issue.

Everyone operates in one category or another, and many of the traditions, rituals and formats in them operate in quite fixed ways.

This can lead to sameness in one sector, but could provide inspiration in another.

As behavioural expert Mark Earls points out in his book Copy, Copy, Copy, copying is to be cherished, if it is approached in the right way.

Copying strategies really works, so you can do smarter marketing by using other people’s ideas.

Look to successes elsewhere ad apply them to your issue.

Tight ‘single white copying’ (named after the film Single White Female) is no good for innovation because it just slavishly repeats what’s been done before.

Copying loosely works better and allows for error and variation.

Questions that provide early rangefinders for progress are:
What kind of thing is this?
What kind of solutions might be appropriate?
What might that look like?

This iterative way of investigating strategies is far more fluid and informative than detailed planning and allows you to move much more quickly.

Smart Strategy Warnings

Many brand strategists simply dive in and invent a strategy.

That’s not very smart.

There will be many things that they haven’t looked at.

A good start would be to list all the old assumptions and beliefs and check whether they are still any help.

Next, consider looking at a whole range of outlying issues and materials that has been disregarded to date.

There may be a gem of an insight lurking there somewhere.

Don’t simply fall back on what you are comfortable or familiar with – cast the net much wider. You may surprise yourself and your colleagues.

You can’t just steal another strategy and apply it lock, stock and barrel, especially if the brand in question is a competitor.

What you are looking for are analogies and inspiration from an area a little way off the path the brand is currently on.

Think widely and identify norms elsewhere that could inspire a new strategy in your sector.

Kevin Duncan

Kevin Duncan

Expert Business Adviser

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