Strategy

The Perils of Penny The Pen Portrait

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.

 

David Preston is founder of The Crow Flies, a research, strategy and innovation company that helps brands find a direct route to long lasting success.  david@thecrowflies.co.uk; +44 (0) 1283 295100; www.thecrowflies.co.uk; @crowflieshigh. © The Crow Flies, 2022

Brand Planning: the bridge from strategy to action

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.

  1. Diagnosis: understanding the situation the brand (or company) is in, and why.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  • 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.

David Preston is founder of The Crow Flies, a research, strategy and innovation company that helps brands find a direct route to long lasting success.  david@thecrowflies.co.uk; +44 (0) 1283 295100; www.thecrowflies.co.uk; @crowflieshigh. © The Crow Flies, 2022

Vanity & Venality

Back in 2015 we penned a piece about ‘Vision and Values’ in light of the VW emissions scandal. It’s worth a quick refresher: https://thecrowflies.co.uk/2015/09/27/vision-blah-values-blah/

The message then, as it is now, 6 years on, is ‘if you really believe in a cause, make it your purpose’. A purpose, at the top level of the business can drive engagement, give clarity of direction and off this help the business make good decisions.  The same is true of brands; if your brand does believe in something, put it front and centre… let the brand positioning flow from it and feed back into it.

But if it’s just words, just a management tick-box exercise; if it’s just something you are doing to make shareholders value you more, save yourself the time and bother and pursue profit. Vanity and venality have made many business attractive and many people rich. But in truth, you can still be profitable in a responsible way, you can still do this in a way that is good for people and planet, but frankly it saves everyone the BS.

Just ask BrewDog; a company lauded for its manifesto – or charter – (“We bleed craft beer”, “We are uncompromising”, “We blow shit up”) but now, a company that will forever carry about that oddly mendacious whiff of weasely word-smithing, big on style, low, very low, on real substance. And the real salt in the wounds is the claim that “Without us, we are nothing” which according to the seemingly substantive and certainly substantial allegations rings hollow at best, malicious and deeply worrying at worst.

Companies and brands have the power to change the world for the better. They can – they have in the past and they do today – impact people positively, either through the generation of wealth, meeting of needs or even just feeling good about yourself. But the persistent desire to believe the hype in the business world about silver bullets just doesn’t help.

At The Crow Flies we work with clients to put strategic foundations in place – including purpose and values – that brands believe in and can unleash potential. But, these things only make a difference if you mean them.

Shout don’t whisper

Here’s a Crow blog we wrote for our friends at Soil Association Certification – they’re the UK’s biggest organic certifier and a key player in the organic movement. The organic sector is brim-full or innovative, entrepreneurial, exciting new brands across all sort of categories. Brands driven by people who want to do some good and do good business. Organic itself has been going through unprecedented growth – until COVID came along and chucked a ruddy great spanner into the works.

So this short piece addresses some of the questions being asked:

  • everyone wants to know what’s going to happen post pandemic – but be careful, it’s a fools’ errand
  • use the lockdown time wisely to really understand your brand: the message (positioning) that has most power and the memory structures (design, assets, sounds, experiences) that stand out for your brand
  • don’t box yourself into a niche – a niche which probably is a fantasy
  • go big on a few things that count

There’s messages for all brands in there. Have a read – link below – and give us a shout if you’d like to chat more about any of these themes.

http://ow.ly/P0E750zt8kk

Time For Action

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:

  1. Not all consumers or even business stakeholders fully understand the brand or really get behind it
  2. There are too many different views on what the brand stands for and how it should be behaving
  3. Plan activities spring out of nowhere. Ideas get their boots on before strategy has woken up
  4. The plan tries to tick every box (& can’t). Everyone’s been appeased but the brand makes no impact
  5. 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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?
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

Thanks for reading and stay fit & healthy

David, Rob and the Crow team

Success for Whitworths

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!

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/business/business-club/consumer-retail/whitworths-brand-repositioning/?WT.mc_id=tmg_share_li

Consistently tricky

One of the most difficult aspects of brand building is delivering a consistent experience. It can be tricky because perhaps yours is a product-based brand where the experience feels like a less significant touchpoint; or it can be tricky because you’re maybe a retail brand where controlling all the variables seems nigh-on impossible. It can be tricky too to define which aspects of the brand experience should be focused on: the process of consideration and buying; opening; using; consuming? It’s complex… yet crucial.

This was brought home to me recently when I went for a coffee at a local café for a business catch-up. This is an award-winning café in fact, with courteous staff, a chilled ambience and thoughtful product selections across both drinks and food. The groundwork of their offer had clearly been thoughtfully considered too – the foundations to build a powerful brand experience all in place. The coffee, for example, is delivered in signature crockery, with a biscotti and sugar that looks like rock-salt, served to one side. You know, all a bit la-di-da, yet enjoyable all the same; little touches that justify the premium.

I ordered a coffee which was shortly brought to the table but… wait. No biscuit. ‘First world problems‘, I thought to myself and let it pass – it was, after all, just a biscuit. I put it out of my head and carried on with my meeting. Two or three minutes later, a waitress came to the table and apologised for forgetting the biscuit before placing them, unprompted, on a small plate in front of us. Mild disappointment swerves through 180 degrees to delight. They spotted the problem, then over-corrected. All good – a little slither of positive brand equity is accreted into the brand ‘goodwill bank’.

Sometime later, a second coffee was ordered. Again it was brought to the table a few minutes later, and again, no biscuit was brought with it. Only this time, no corrective action was taken. And you might think that ultimately, it doesn’t matter. After all, it’s only a biscuit. It’s not even a particularly posh or special biscuit.

But in truth, the biscuit is a vital part of the mix. Indeed, it’s not really a biscuit at all. Rather, it’s an essential strand of the delicate web of expectations that weave together into a fragile whole that makes up the brand experience. It’s one of the small, yet disproportionately important, parts of the brand which together add up to more than the sum of their parts. And like a spider’s web, removing just one thread can weaken everything.

Would I refuse to go back to the café again because they forgot the biscuit? Of course not… but here’s the thing. This small, almost imperceptible mistake creates a much bigger seed of doubt. It opens up a chink in their armour such that next time you’ll be less forgiving and be much more open to going elsewhere. One reason politicians worry about tactical voting is because they know that when a voter does it for the first time, they’re much more disposed to doing it again.

What does all this mean for brands? Well, for one, brand experience isn’t easy nor forgiving. “A brand is a living entity, enriched or undermined cumulatively over time – the product of a thousand small gestures” is how ex-Disney CEO, Michael Eisner put it. Be thoughtful and rigourous in defining what is critical to your brand experience. Don’t overlook the small details if a consumer perceives them as vital to your delivery. Build up a clear picture of what is core to your brand experience and focus your resources, your time and your training around delivering that, time after time, and especially when you’re bored of doing so. And experience isn’t just about experiential brands (like retail). How a brand is presented; the materials used; the tone of copy; how it is opened, or used; how it feels; how it sounds… everything matters in the web of sensory touch-points that makes up the brand world.

Yes, brand experience can be difficult, yet consistent delivery is one of the big prizes of brand stewardship; one of the golden threads that runs through your brand and connects with your target’s emotions.

 

 

David Preston is founder of The Crow Flies, a research, strategy and innovation company that finds the direct route to success for categories and brands.  david@thecrowflies.co.uk | +44 (0) 1283 295100 |  http://www.linkedin.com/company/the-crow-flies-ltd?trk=company_name | https://www.facebook.com/thecrowfliesltd © The Crow Flies, 2019

Mapping the brand

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. 

David Preston is founder of The Crow Flies, a research, strategy and innovation company that discovers and maps the direct route to success for categories and brands.  david@thecrowflies.co.uk; +44 (0) 7885 408367
© The Crow Flies, 2019