I always have two questions in my pocket:

  • "How Do I…" — What don't you know? What are you trying to solve? What do you want to learn?
  • "What's Next?" — What is the product or service that you plan to introduce during the coming 12 months?

This post is about that second question.

Some History
Alan Bumpus taught me (among other things) the power of clarity. 

As creative director for a generation of rising advertising agency writers and designers, Alan understands the handoff between the strategists and the creatives. And, as a member of several agency management teams, he knows projects too often start over, again and again. Alan taught me that there has to be an intelligent, affordable sequence.

He taught me: simplify before amplify.  Simplify: state the strategy concisely. Then, Amplify: implement the strategy according to the strategy. (Then, use the strategy as a measure of success.) 

Alan came up with what we called the North Star. It was a one-page brand message strategy that served the team like Polaris, the north star, in our creative navigation. By confining the strategy to one page, Alan said, "You won't have anyone deliver only Item 12 on Page 6 and claim victory. If it's on one page, we will all know — at a glance — whether we are on strategy."

But this isn't about marketing. This is about product and service development.

Marketing Orientation
Since I came up through public relations, investor relations and advertising, I have a marketing orientation. That means I start any product development (or anything else, like how I put my hat on my head) with marketing in mind. Who is the target audience? What does the target audience want? How can we express — and deliver on — a promise to the target audience? 

With a marketing orientation, other bases for other orientations come later: manufacturing, funding, legal, managerial. We solve those once we know what the marketing would look like. (This is why people with other orientations often grumble about those of us with a marketing orientation.)

But, since most good happens when the customer embraces the offer, I favor the marketing orientation. 

Here's How
Alan Bumpus's North Star focused on five strategic aspects:

  1. Audience — Who are we trying to convince? Be specific; it must be clear who is not in the target audience. 
  2. Behavior — What do we want the audience to do — the specific next step?
  3. Belief — What must the audience believe about us (positioned among the competitive alternatives) to take that next step?
  4. Motivation — What motivates the audience to take that next step?
  5. Trust — Why should the audience trust us?

During the years, the North Star statement has changed names. I think of it these days as the Top 5. And the five evolve (and sometimes are more than five).

Still, there have been constant underlying ideas:

  • The statement ("North Star" or "Top 5") is an internal statement, not to be shared publicly. It's not the eventual message in the market. It's the underlying strategy.
  • All — from reception to the boardroom — must be trained with it. Everyone in the enterprise is playing the same game.
  • As we evolve, we must revise it. I heard once that Coca-Cola revises its own one-page brand message strategy every Monday, because the world is a big place and things change. (Today, when I looked at my example below, I reflexively revised it. I can't look at it without messing with it. It keeps the document current and healthy.)
  • Keep it sharp. Minimize. I try to compose it in one (long and grammatically awkward) sentence.
  • There must be something peculiar about it, so that we are differentiated from all others. Alan said, this was "teeth, something with which we can bite into it."

An Imperfect Example
As the Top 5 is developed, alternatives arise. We don't choose the perfect one, because there isn't a perfect one. We choose the least imperfect one.

I have a cabinet full of examples, but I can't share them. They were stamped confidential long ago. And so they must remain confidential.

But I can share my own. I don't usually put this into the market, because it is an internal strategic statement, but perhaps this will help.

(Click to enlarge.)

Brand Message Strategy Vistage 2017

What now?
Use this template to describe your next product or service. Clarify your thinking with a marketing orientation.

Brand Message Strategy blank template


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