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Posted by on Mar 29, 2015 | 0 comments

9 Tweets for Smarter Branding from BrandSmart 2015

The Branding Roundtable at BrandSmart 2015

I’ll admit it; I often think that conferences are more an excuse to get out of the office, glad-hand and drink (not that there’s anything inherently wrong with that) than to really learn and discover anything new. I was pleasantly surprised, then, at the substance-over-style affair that was BrandSmart 2015 his past week.

Yes –full disclosure here – I had the privilege of moderating a live Branding Roundtable (which I typically do in print every month for Branding Magazine), and leading a discussion with the luminary likes of Scott Davis of Prophet, Tim Simonds from the Kellogg School of Management, Bob Domenz of Avenue and Julie Springer from TransUnion.  But not only was the Roundtable terrific, as these client/agency teams revealed the “how” of collaborating for brand relevance – the rest of the day also presented a fairly constant stream of practical brand and marketing insights backed up by meaningful (and often quite transparently presented) case histories.

I didn’t get to see every presentation, as I was also conducting video interviews for Branding Magazine (watch for those coming  up soon), so I thought I’d do at least a partial review as seen through the eyes of other attendees and expressed in their tweets. This is hardly an exhaustive list, but it’ll give you a good idea of why you may want to put BrandSmart 2016 on your calendar.

BrandSmart Lesson 1: Brand it and own it.
The subhead above is actually a riff off of Prophet Vice-Chairman David Aaker’s advice: Brand it or lose it.  In the opening keynote, Aaker’s colleague, Prophet Chief Growth Officer Scott Davis (who was also in my Roundtable) demonstrated the value of a strong, concise, meaningful theme to encapsulate your brand promise and own it. The title of his speech, Building Relentlessly Relevant Brands, echoes one of his firms current themes… and through his funny, engaging, honest and purposefully repetitious use of it, the theme was repeatedly picked up – verbatim – by other speakers throughout the day to help reinforce their own points. It became the de facto theme line of the entire conference.

BrandSmart Lesson 2: Brand relevance is a continuous cycle, not a one-off. You may argue with the exact points on the Prophet cycle of relevance, but the fact that it is a cycle, a continuous effort, is difficult to dispute. You can’t just position your brand and try to, fortress-like, defend it – you have to stay in motion, in learning and creating mode, true to your brand but not static.

BrandSmart Lesson 3: Go for the truth
I start my own brand consulting projects – beginning with the proposals – by clarifying that the effort is not about positioning as in posturing. It’s about finding a brand’s simple, self-evident truth. This was emphasized by more than one BrandSmart speaker, starting with Andrea Javor of Beam Suntory, who presented a wonderful example of leveraging the love-it-or-hate-it nature of Laphroaig single malt scotch (and Andrea, please note that I’ve included you here, even though I didn’t win the Laphroig door prize… and I can practically eat peat).

BrandSmart Lesson 4: Start from within The way Julie Springer told it, reclaiming relevance at TransUnion meant starting with the core of the brand – the employees who bring the it to life. She detailed the lengths to which agency partner Avenue took them to get to the heart of how the people of TransUnion feel about what they deliver, and what it does for customers. This yielded the core insight that, as she tells it, is succeeding in transforming the company from a negatively-perceived credit bureau to a provider of “Information for Good.” She also shared the factoid that branding is the second most important element in gaining good employee engagement.

BrandSmart Lesson 5: It’s not what you say, it’s what you do
The old axiom that actions speak louder than words is often forgotten in a business that is so much about communication.  But Lisa Rountree, tasked with helping CapitalOne climb out of the hole that the entire financial industry has dug for itself, gave a straightforward talk on what it takes to retrain a corporate mindset… and how it starts with actually doing what you claim before ever opening your mouth to claim it, internally or externally.

BrandSmart Lesson 6: Push the envelope, and keep pushing The Allstate “Mayhem” campaign, now a few years old, was its own effort to make the brand newly relevant to a younger target. But as Pam Hollander, the Allstate VP of Integrated Marketing Communications made clear, sitting on your laurels leaves your brand a sitting duck.  She shared the story of how this once traditionally cautious insurance giant learned to keep listening to its consumers.. and from that learning, to keep pushing the envelope in relevant ways. Her case in point: the edgy-and-in-the-moment Mayhem Sugar Bowl effort, in which a couple of young “social media over-sharers” had all their stuff “stolen” – and sold live during the game. The results continue to be fairly phenomenal (and I  liked how she pointed to the ultimate metric – an upward bound stock price).

BrandSmart Lesson 7: Small insights can have big impact Larry Deutsch of Blue Chip Marketing, and his client Brendan Honan, Director of Global Marketing for John B. Sanfilippo & Son, Inc. teamed up for a terrific case of how a less-than-mega-budget-marketer can achieve tremendous transformation and marketshare impact.  They shared many good insights, from how to use influencers to how to compensate for lack of budget with “a bias toward content.” But perhaps my favorite point was that of how small insights – often right-in-front-of-your-nose opportunities – can make a huge difference… such as simply taking the nuts out of the traditional can and putting them in a clear container, making their taste appeal, and freshness, perfectly clear, too.

BrandSmart Lesson 8:  Brand Strategy is Business Strategy There was a good deal of discussion in The Branding Roundtable about clarifying – to all concerned, but especially C-Suite decision makers – that brand strategy isn’t just about creating a platform for marketing, but is a inseparable from business strategy.  As Tim Simonds put it, “Your brand is your business.”

BrandSmart Lesson 9:  It’s not magic, it’s just hard work. This hard-won bit of practical wisdom cam from Bob Domenz, during the Roundtable Q&A, when someone asked how to get all the requisite departments within an organization to cooperate and deliver a consistent brand experience. I believe, however, that it applies to every aspect of branding and marketing. While ours is a business that loves the latest thing and the newest, shiniest object, when it comes down to it, executing, executing, executing against the basics is where the “magic” really happens.

These are just a very few of the worthwhile takeaways from BrandSmart 2015.  You can find more searching for #bsmart15.  Better yet… join me next year at BrandSmart 2016.

This post first appeared on, in the blog written by Chuck Kent.

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