Bringing to life your target consumer or customer in a way that’s useful and meaningful to your marketing efforts, whilst also acting as an empowering guide in the business is a big question. It’s one we face a lot on many projects from research, positioning and often business strategy too.
It’s an really important question too. Bringing to life consumer segments effectively can focus the business and aid execution and commercial delivery. But too often we reach for the ‘Pen Portrait’ solution – you know, ‘Penny’ or ‘Ethan’, ‘Sanjit’ or ‘Olivia’.
The principles of targeting are well established (if debated and not always agreed with) but whatever your view on it, it’s always a big mistake to confuse ‘targeting’ with ‘micro-targeting’ which is what frequently happens. Targeting can be empowering, but micro-targeting can give the perception of being focused whilst actually restricting your commercial potential. So it’s important to tread carefully…. we see five traps that can catch the unwary marketeer:
Too personalised or over specified. This is trap we most often see. By making something very individual (‘This is Dan, he’s 28, lives an apartment in Greenwich with his partner…’) the receiver’s decoding of the targeting becomes personal (He’s not like any Dan I know) and may have the opposite to intended effect – making it unrelatable. The idea of the Pen Portraits here is find a central representation of the target group, but in making it too personal the opposite happens and the target narrows and becomes too singular – when you go out looking for the target you can’t find them.
Too broad. Breadth is, counter-intuitively, important in targeting. You want to find a meaningful commercial prize to aim at after all. But too broad becomes useless. Millennials anyone? Yes, that’s right! Let’s assume every one of the 14 million “millennials” in the UK share the same attitudes, characteristics and behaviours. It’s lazy and worse, largely useless in helping a brand.
Too stereotyped which may have initial appeal inside the business, but when you actually try and recruit, you find it’s hard to find your targets. The hidden biases inherent in identifying may have some very broad-brush recognition from the audience but in the detail they’re not there – in reality, people just don’t fit the mould.
Too unrelatable – a big challenge when you have a business that isn’t particularly customer or consumer orientated. Leadership can often feel that they represent the customer. You need a strong argument and commercial case to dislodge these deep set opinions. And some bravery too – hence, teams often roll with it a bit or don’t nip the problem in the bud at source.
There isn’t a perfect answer but equally, there’s no doubt that building up a set of target audience typologies is useful for helping the business (and decision makers in particular) be clear on who we’re going after, who we’re not, and why. But what’s important in the Pen Portrait is likely to vary by category and you may need different elements depending on your category or brand situation. For example, although broad, life stage may be discriminating for you. Or, perhaps, you want to target everyone but only on specific occasions or moments.
We’ve bags of experience working out through research who to target and how to best bring them to life and set them to productive work in a business. If we can help you with your targeting, drop us a line.
If you’re a marketeer in one of the many businesses, who, courtesy of HMRC, are approaching your year end at the end of March, you’re now thinking about brand planning. Brand planning is a vital building block of all business as well as marketing, but it is often treated as something that ‘just happens’, for which common sense alone is good enough to do an adequate job, and gets steered by finance or strategy.
Unless marketeers apply greater rigour and ownership to the discipline of planning, we will limit our ability to deliver the primary aim of brand building companies, to positive impact target customers to effect successful change. And if we can’t do this, we won’t be taken seriously by others in the business.
As it is, sadly, most brand plans don’t get implemented. Why?
Confusing tactics with strategy. Getting excited by and jumping straight to the things you want to do. “Strategy” is an amplifying word, added to other terms to give them a sense of greater importance. Planning embraces three phases, each with a specific goal, sequentially linked and each distinct.
Diagnosis: understanding the situation the brand (or company) is in, and why.
Decide: working out how do we deal with the situation we face. Where do we want to be? What are the options for getting there cognisant of our competitive situation? This is the strategy.
Do: the plans or tactics. Working out what the few, high impact, activities are that we need to execute in order to achieve our strategy. Being clear on what the distractions are.
Getting the diagnosis wrong based on the situational analysis, likely caused by data gaps, overbearing opinions or underplaying owned strengths of the brand or a competitor
Derailed process due to misalignment. Mid-way through the process an intervention from a senior leader questions the work so far, losing momentum and bursting the precious bubble of confidence that had been created.
Choosing the wrong competitive strategy e.g. not leveraging a real strength or perhaps taking on a competitor in the wrong way.
Failing to unite, align or enthuse key stakeholders involved in signing off or implementing.
In response to these issues, we have developed ‘Hourglass’ brand planning, reflecting the shape of the process planning needs to follow. Starting broad, narrow at the centre when focusing on the needs of the customer and the business and then flowing out again to the actions.
Hourglass planning is built off a small number of critical foundations, themselves rooted in the insight that cause planning to trip up:
Start by going broad in analysis; not just in terms of the content and approach to gathering data and making sense of it, but also in listening to the perspectives, opinions or strongly held views of key stakeholders in the process.
Make sense and choose what’s important. There are lots of tools available to aid with situational analysis but what’s missed is the human act of sensemaking and choice. You don’t want to end up with a very comprehensive but utterly useless synthesis of the current state. It’s what you choose to pull out and take action on that’s important. You’re looking for company or brand strengths that are distinctive, defensible, ownable, leverageable or competitor weakness that are the same. Boil it all down. Focus on the few enablers and blockers of growth because these will be at the heart of your action plan.
Be clear on who you’re competing for and evaluate and test everything through their lens.
Ensure you have long term foundations in place. Purpose, mission, vision are not interchangeable. You need to know the role of each and how it helps you make clear decisions that more often than not, are right.
A small number of action platforms that flow directly out of the diagnosis. If you can’t see the insight threads from the diagnosis at the top of the process to the actions at the end, then your plan is likely misdirected and you’ll struggle to get buy in and engagement.
Brand activities that deliver against the essentials: we have yet to see an effective brand plan that does not deal with three themes: the brand’s ‘mental availability’, its ‘physical availability’ and bridge between the two, trial & repeat. The 4P’s fit here.
Great brand plans sacrifice. Don’t confuse this with prioritisation. Too often, prioritisation is a pretence that some things are more important but, through sleight of hand, we can still do everything. You can’t. Kill stuff properly and just focus on what’s really important.
Our experience in brand planning is built from both client side and agency experience. If we can help you with your planning challenge, get in touch.
A few more days and it’ll be a new year – another cycle of life and naturally, of brand planning too! Here’s our latest Christmas edition of the Crow Chronicle with a focus on brand planning. Too often it’s left to common sense and the ebb-and-flow of the business planning cycle (led by finance? Or strategy?). No more! As a brand guardian it’s time to grab control and be prepared to sacrifice! Onwards!!
It comes as no coincidence that both my letterbox and media feeds are sending me all sorts of catalogues and top tips on gardening… it seems that now is deemed to be THE time in the gardening calendar to get it ready for next year. That, coupled with turning my attention outdoors to a much-neglected garden during lockdown, has obviously put me on the mailing list radar.
Whilst sifting through all this mail what struck me was that the parallels between Autumn brand planning and the Autumn gardening activity calendar both serve to make the right preparations for an impressive performance starting next Spring. After all, there’s nothing like getting the year off to a good start to make the hard slog to the end of the financial year so much easier. Plus there’s the feel good factor and confidence in what you are doing to bolster the commitment for the rest of the year – without the need for any budget cuts!
So, how to make the most of Autumn brand planning? Here are five things to consider:
Review your performance over the year. It has been a testing year for all but by taking the time to take stock of what has worked well, what has failed, and sifting past the big macro-level factors that have impacted everyone to find the deeper underlying reasons of why for your brand, is time well spent between the trading peaks of Summer and Christmas. Too often marketing teams talk about but then don’t spend time unearthing the real truths behind performance: why new launches failed, why new distribution opportunities didn’t quite deliver, why redesigns fell flat or flew.
Mind the gap! Where have other competitors performed well when you have struggled to make your mark? Has your brand been overshadowed by new market entrants? Were you waiting in the wings, hoping things would get better when other brands were stealing the march and confidently pushing forward. Gap spotting is such a critical part of understanding your brand’s opportunities.
Perfect your positioning. Be really honest. Do consumers, customers, stakeholders and colleagues truly have a shared understanding of the brand, what it delivers & how it delivers it? Is it consistent, distinctive and differentiated? If it isn’t, now is the time to get under the skin and review.
Try something new. When the stakes are high, risk is often avoided but sometimes when the market is stagnating, breaking away with new ideas and approaches is what is needed to invigorate growth. How brave are you?
Land the brand. A great plan needs the support of the business. an insight is nothing if it doesn’t grab people. A strategy is nothing if it doesn’t create action. Innovation is nothing if you can’t bring the ideas to life. A brand plan is nothing if it doesn’t inspire. Focus time on creating the tools that will sell your brand and your plan not only to customers but also internally, to stakeholders and sales teams. Buy-in is everything, don’t leave it as an after-thought.
Now more than ever is the time to get your brand back on people’s radar – start planning!
Gael Laurie is Brand Building Director of The Crow Flies, a research, strategy and innovation company that helps brands find a direct route to long lasting success. firstname.lastname@example.org; +44 (0) 1283 295100; www.thecrowflies.co.uk; @crowflieshigh
Pull your brand through isolation and come out stronger
These are distressing times, unprecedented times and times when the needs of the community and those most vulnerable in it rightly have to be placed above those of businesses. Nothing supersedes this. For marketeers and brands however, this adversity presents opportunities to get brand and marketing plans in the best shape they’ve ever been. Planning can’t be rushed but that’s invariably what marketeers are asked to do. Few if any marketing teams are given enough time to develop, refine and sell their plans.
Proper time. Not the snatched moments between the multiple distractions of corporate office life. Planning sessions are squeezed in when a calendar gap allows. Instead, the focus becomes getting plans done, getting them sold in. It’s little wonder there are gaps and inconsistencies. It’s little wonder that there are different agendas pushing the brand in different directions post ‘sign-off’. We see six common issues:
Not all consumers or even business stakeholders fully understand the brand or really get behind it
There are too many different views on what the brand stands for and how it should be behaving
Plan activities spring out of nowhere. Ideas get their boots on before strategy has woken up
The plan tries to tick every box (& can’t). Everyone’s been appeased but the brand makes no impact
Different agendas. Plans are derailed by a lack of shared unity on the strategy or the focus of activities
For brand owners, the commercial world slowing from its usual pace means that there is a rare opportunity to stop the fire-fighting and get deep and strong brand foundations in place. Foundations, that link powerful insights to purposeful activation, focusing energy on activities that genuinely impact the consumer instead of endlessly discussing and tweaking.
Home working and isolation are a potential liberator. Working this way is more efficient and effective. It creates the time for you to delve into and reflect on the category, and to properly plot your competitive strategy and review your brand positioning. It frees precious time to get closer to your target audience, to review & refine your consumer segmentation or even test innovation concepts (research is alive and well incidentally, and consumers who would otherwise be unavailable or harder to recruit suddenly are more open to spending some time with you).
Don’t miss this opportunity, use it wisely and you’ll never look back:
Spend time understanding your consumers: don’t just re-read an aging insight report. Immerse yourself in their world, properly understand them, talk to them. Pinpoint your target audience, prioritise their needs and place irrefutable insight at the heart of your strategy.
Review your positioning: do consumers, customers, stakeholders and colleagues truly have a shared understanding of the brand, what it delivers & how it delivers it? Is it powerful, consistent and differentiated? If it isn’t, now is the time to make changes.
Create a brand plan that stands up to challenge: are the key insights clear? Do they run like a vein of gold all the way through to actions? Do they confront the brutal truths or address the differentiating opportunities? Look at what you’re planning: are you ‘salami slicing’ and investing too little in too many activities? Have you forced sacrifice to execute with scale?
Get innovative: you’ve finally got time to be creative, do so. You don’t need to be in groups to come up with ideas. Time to reflect is stimulus in its own right. Idea generation sessions can be held digitally, innovation frameworks can be agreed to focus efforts on areas with the greatest commercial scope, ideas can be tested, refined and prepared for launch.
Build the big sell: an insight is nothing if it doesn’t grab people. A strategy is nothing if it doesn’t create action. Innovation is nothing if you can’t bring the ideas to life. A brand plan is nothing if it doesn’t inspire. Focus time on creating the tools that will sell your brand and your plan not only to customers but also internally, to stakeholders and sales teams. Buy in is everything, don’t leave it as an after-thought.
When we all return to offices and ‘normality’ you don’t have to return to a culture of justification and endless debate, you can return with a brand and business strategy that unites, inspires and frees you to focus your efforts on delivering it. It may feel odd to say it, but there’s rarely been a better opportunity to set up your brand with foundations of stone as good as this. Grab it.
It’s always great when work that impacts the market gets recognised and one of The Crow Flies long-standing clients, Whitworths, has had just that. We’re delighted to have played our part in the wider team that helped turnaround the Whitworths brand – we’ve partnered with them on research, strategy, innovation and planning . Read more about it in the Telegraph (below).
This was a great example of brand building – a team effort working with great partners (a big call out to Springett’s and Chapter), consistent focus on consumer and commercial insights, and then making some tough choices to free up the space, time and resources to impact the market.
If you’d like to chat to us about your brand building challenge, be it strategy, research, innovation or brand planning, we’d love to talk. And well done to Big Phil and the team at Whitworths!
I’ve always been fascinated by maps; I can lose myself in maps just as easily – and perhaps as ironically, as losing myself in the landscape. The detail, the contours, conveying 3 dimensions in 2 dimensions; the sense of personal discovery, even knowing that there’s rarely anything new to discover. Maps, unlike books, which as you turn the pages leave what was written behind as a memory, lay everything out in front of you to see. The past, the present and potential futures, right there.
But we tend to manage brands like we’re turning the pages of a book. The past is there, vaguely remembered, but as soon as the page is turned its tangible form, its vividness is lost; it’s not visible today as it was yesterday or 10 years ago. We plot the future with the past as an indistinct and selective memory. This is why with the churn of people that modern businesses have it’s very easy to justify changing a new course for a brand. Individual interpretation of what went before becomes more justifiable when the facts of what happened aren’t mapped out clear to see.
Maps then are a better way of thinking about how to build a brand if you are bothered about building a sustainable brand for the long term. Why?
A map shows the past. You may notice that a ‘weather forecast’ is often more of a ‘weather hindsight’ focusing most of the time on explaining what had happened rather than telling us what is going to happen. And it would be easy to think that a map merely shows the lie of the land today – in fact, they show the past and the present. They show the marks of man and the marks of nature.
And as we look at a brand today and we audit it’s various touch-points and assets, so too is it easy to forget the marks of the past. Yesterday’s brand custodians ran activity that built the franchise. Today’s brand custodians should look for those foundations and build from there. Sure, as you dig, there will be a lot of detritus to sweep away but buried there will be the foundations, still strong, still supporting the brand today. Part of stewarding a brand is to log the activity; the learnings and reveal it, share it – ensuring that tacit individual knowledge becomes organisational learning. The brand’s past becomes a tangible asset deployable by the brand to its future advantage.
A map illuminates today. Like a map of the landscape, categories and brands have a terrain that can be mapped too: that of competitors, customers, consumer, the company and its context (shopper dynamics, legislative changes and so on). Cognisant of the past, a mapping approach builds more certainty and confidence over where you are today and how that is perceived relative to other factors. Mapping the past makes your future brand strategy more likely to be distinctive and defensible.
A map points to the future. Look at a map of some mountains and put yourself on a summit. On a map you can see the routes of descent, the options open to you. A couple of ridge routes, a few longer but less challenging descents, or the ‘direct descent’, vertically off the edge. It’s the same for brands: you have options and often options create inaction. A mapping approach, where learnings from the past are published and shared; where the situation today is clearly laid out narrows the options for the future. It helps you to choose between the real contenders and the cul-de-sacs, which sap resource for no benefit.
There’s something else too. Maps connect the senses. Maps are perhaps the original infographic. They uniquely combine words, imagery and dimensions. They’re labelled in a common language that decodes complexity, quickly. More than this, in their own way, they are eye-catching, arresting and simply beautiful – to paraphrase Terence Conran, a perfect example of form and function coming together to produce something that not only works, but is also aesthetically beautiful. For brands they can be anything you want them to be: an illustrated story; an annotated flow chart; a potato stamped visualisation. The point is bringing to life the outputs of your strategy or plan in ‘map’ form engages, educates and informs in a way that few other media can. Too often, we stop at a PowerPoint presentation and hope that our voice over will do the rest.
But what is a ‘brand map’? In truth, it’s not some rocket-science new invention. I’m not even professing that it should be a term you use. It’s not a brand plan but a brand plan plus. Too often, brand ‘plans’ aren’t that. So many suffer from being a random assemblage of fanciful opinion – justifying data snippets that don’t build into a clear narrative. An effective brand map isn’t that. It’s an purposed plan that is clear on how the past has informed current status; that shows the context of the brand today and evokes the senses to flow, logically, unerringly through to the commercially exciting possibilities of the future. It’s a story laid out so that everyone can see how it builds on the greatness of the past to make a future consistent yet even greater.
As we approach the middle of January, these words do start to lose their resonance. Unlike Christmas, there’s no accepted cut-off, no Twelfth Night, to guide us. There’s a fair chance that this is the last time you’ll hear them, for a year at least… New Year’s Resolutions usually follow the same timing plan. By the middle of the month, many a ‘Dry January’ is already looking decidedly moist, gyms are getting emptier and houses return to their less tidy, but more homely, natural states. Even newly converted plant-powered Veganuary-ists may be waking up to the smell of bacon.
Saying that, as the world turns on its axis and the daylight hours extend, it’s as good a time as any to consider what changes are needed to step-up brand performance – and never more so than when you’re responsible for a team of people, accountable for their commercial performance and central to the culture they live in 5 out of every 7 days (and often more). Reflecting on the changes needed over some slightly stale mince pies, we realised that the answer lies with Call the Midwife.
If you’ve never watched it, it’s about a group of midwives (no, really!) in London during the 1950s. In most episodes, nothing happens and then it snows. Yet on Christmas Day it was the fourth most watched programme and is the biggest new drama series on BBC One since records began. Or there’s Downton Abbey too, set around the 1920s where ‘those upstairs’ flirt with ‘those downstairs’. And before both we had Heartbeat, the ITV police drama set in 1960s Yorkshire which used the same plot for every single episode for 18 years.
But what has this got to do with your marketing resolutions?
As it turns out, everything, really. When you consider why these programmes are so popular, you uncover the heart of so many frustrations with the current status quo. The gentle nostalgia appeals because it paints a picture of a period in time when communities mattered and people cared. Policemen were respected, midwives were magical and jobs were for life. Contrast this with the return to work for many in January 2018: huge commutes, little job security, the globalisation of industry set against an international political framework of growing extremism: you can understand why many are questioning just how far we’ve come in the last 60 years. We may have ‘Smart Homes’ and technology at our fingertips but now we also have armchair ‘experts’ & professional sceptics in all areas of life…why trust your doctor when you can diagnose yourself on the internet before you go to your appointment and then check whether the doctor gets it right?
In business terms, the impact on marketing teams is greatest of all as they sit at the very centre of the business: everyone is now a marketing expert. Performed well in sales? Have a crack at marketing. Done a great job as a management accountant? Try being a brand manager. Don’t expect to be one for long though – you’ll soon be moved to a role in customer marketing. Actually, do we still need brand managers? We don’t need to worry about brand positioning any more, this is the age of ‘big data’ and personalised marketing. Forget about long-term strategy, let’s build followers on social media NOW!
Extreme perhaps. But working across different client companies and sectors we see it as a consistent pattern. Unsurprisingly, the discipline of marketing itself is being undermined bit by bit. Brand success is not delivered within a calendar year regardless of resolutions. Brands are built over time, the product of a thousand small gestures – we all know this and yet too often we don’t create cultures in which such success can be delivered. So a break with the past is required. This year, make five OLD Year resolutions that will transform the happiness of your team, the approach they take and the commercial success that you deliver together. Here are our contenders.
OLDIE #1:Work Less Marketing is not a science, it’s an art and it needs to be treated as such. Brand-changing ideas are seldom created in windowless meeting rooms however well thought through your agenda might be. To get the best out of ourselves, we actually need to think differently about the working day. The human mind can focus on any given task for 90 – 120 minutes, then a break is required. Instead of worrying about time spent in the office and what can be achieved in any given day, switch the focus to ‘what can be achieved in a 90 minute session?’ Can’t be done in your working environment and your culture? Not true: challenge yourself. Create the physical & emotional space needed for creativity. Structure in time out of the office or undistrubed time for focused effort. Stop multi-tasking. Spend time with customers and consumers in the real world. Less time and more focus will transform productivity.
OLDIE #2:Market Marketing Marketing expertise needs to be respected and specialisms should be celebrated. This applies equally within businesses, within marketing teams and within the wider marketing communities of agencies, suppliers and clients. A great customer marketing manager should be allowed to flourish within their specialism, not pushed to also become an innovation expert. Agencies must also take note. Great advertising is born of great positioning which relies on solid research but no agency can claim to have expertise in all three. Marketing is wide-ranging, complex and critical to commercial success. It’s time to give the discipline back the respect it deserves.
OLDIE #3:Get Personal “Business is business, it’s not personal”. What a daft saying. Your career is not separate to your life, it’s a core and intrinsic part of it. It should be personal. When it comes to building brands, personality is absolutely everything: most purchase decisions are made subconsciously and great brands succeed by building intense emotional connections with consumers. Of course, marketing teams need to retain objectivity but this should never be at the expense of personality. A marketing team culture in which everything is a bit more personal – for the brand and the people working on them is no bad thing.
OLDIE #4:Focus On Your Foundations Modern technology is incredible and the pace of its development creates a myriad of new opportunities for brand building. However, despite the claptrap you may read, technology has not changed the fundamentals of marketing. Brand positioning is critical, consistency of activation is imperative and a brand without a purpose is never going to inspire. Start the year by making absolutely certain you’ve got your brand foundations in place – if you’re not executing consistently against a clear positioning built on unique insights then all the Twitter followers in the world and that lovely app that works with an Amazon Echo are not going to move your brand forward before 2019.
OLDIE #5:Be A Wolf There’s many a marketing regulation in 2018 that would have prevented the most famous advertising campaigns from existing had they been in place for the last 60 years. But that doesn’t mean that 2018’s marketing campaigns need to be timid. Brands have to be talked about. If not, they’re just products. Be bold and push boundaries, it’s the only way to be heard.