It’s not too often a Brand Planner has the privilege to gather amongst peers and likeminded individuals. Although we live in the agency world, we are our own breed. Instead of a zoomed in focus on a specific aspect of a campaign, it is our job to look at the big picture. Identifying what makes consumers behave the way they do, what they value and what they can relate to in terms of a brand are all crucial in a successful brand strategy. If you are thinking, “that sounds difficult, because that is constantly changing,” you would be right! Brand planning is never a set process and is continuously evolving. Therefore, an effective brand planner must also continue to grow and evolve. We are on an infinite quest for human truths buried within current events, trends, social movements and anything of relevance in this world that only seems to be speeding up. So just how does one manage that? There is no black and white answer, no right or wrong. However, this past week I attended the annual STRATFEST conference, hosted by the 4A’s, and I certainly left with invaluable insights. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the 4A’s, let me clarify. This is an industry leading organization that hosts various conferences and events throughout the year, along with providing exceptional resources, for members and nonmembers looking to further strengthen their industry knowledge and skills. Russell Herder has been a proud member of the 4A’s for several years, an accomplishment for which only 7% of agencies qualify. As you can imagine, it is an honor to be a member and an honor to attend such an impressive event!

STRATFEST is all about the discipline of strategy and brand planning. Let me reiterate, a gathering of brand planners with the same quirky passions and interests is a rare occurrence. This conference entailed workshops on everything from data, to insights, to our subconscious and the new technologies attempting to predict it all. As you can imagine, it was a very enriching experience, adding a few additional pages to the Russell Herder brand planning playbook. And while I cannot (and should not, for your sake) share everything we covered, I will let you in on a few key takeaways.

  1. Outcomes outweigh outputs. In our work, we become so focused on outputs and what we produce, that it is possible for some to lose sight of what is really important: the outcome. You don’t need a gigantic budget for some extravagant installment or a :30 second super bowl spot to make an impact. If what you do generates a desired outcome, no matter how minimal the output may be, it is worth celebrating.
  2. Technology has NOT changed the way we think, simply the way we receive the information. Humans have been hard wired to process information in a particular way. It is innate to our existence. Our brains and the way they work have not been altered because of VR or Snapchat. Technology has simply changed the way in which we access information, not interpret it.
  3. Decisions are based on emotional benefits, not rational ones. Sure, you want your consumer to know the features and value of your product or service. But that’s not what is going to persuade them to choose you over a competitor. How does your brand make them FEEL? As humans we choose to do things that make us feel good. You may tell yourself you bought your car for the low emissions, but why does that matter to you? Because you feel good about doing your part for the environment. It’s not about the features or rationality, it’s the emotion these things invoke that motivates us.
  4. Data without context means nothing. We could identify all kind of facts and statistics about a certain topic, but until they are connected and related to each other, they are irrelevant. Connecting data points to tell a “story” is how we are wired to interpret the world around us. This is how we as humans can make conclusions, discoveries and insights. Without ‘stories’ piecing together the data, we wouldn’t learn from our findings. Now to be clear, when I say ‘stories’ I don’t necessarily mean something you sit down to read your child before bedtime. A story is any connection we find between facts that relate them to one another. When a brand tells a ‘story’ the consumer can relate to, a connection is formed with that brand.
  5. Branding is a marathon, not a sprint. Unfortunately, the business world today is moving so quickly, we base our decisions on instant results. If a campaign that runs for three months is not hitting goals, we switch it. If sales are down from last month, immediate promotions are launched. Our expectations have evolved to seeing instant results. But good branding takes time. Think of it as a relationship, you don’t meet someone and the next day have their full trust, you need to build up to it. Longevity is the name of the game for well-established brands. Just as we humans interact, your brand needs to build a relationship with your audience.

There you have it, a brief peek into some of the tricks of the trade in the world of brand planning. Like I said before, it’s not black and white. It’s not a clearly defined discipline. It is in a perpetual state of change, growth, experimentation, evolution and discovery. A discipline that marries data and rational thought to creativity and intuition. While the ambiguity of brand planning can pose many challenges, it is that very ambiguity that allows us the freedom to push boundaries, question everything we know and create something truly inspiring.