<strong>Joshua SMITH</strong>
Joshua SMITH

Executive Trainer & Edtech Co-founder @ Coursely.eu. Head of Higher Education Partnerships & Adjunct Teacher Recruiting in France.

151. Nicolas Minisini of Brand Union on Branding, Whiskey & Epicurean Culture

Nicolas Minisini, Strategic Planner for Brand UnionStrategic Planner for Brand Union and one of the co-creators of Distilleurs.fr, Nicolas Minisini has +6 experience seeking, compiling and interpreting information about his client’s industries to better understand their target consumer demographic and how the brand can best reach them.

How does your job fit into advertising process? Strategic planners are typically involved either:

  • At the beginning of a project such as answering new business pitches to find new projects and clients for the agency.
  • To breathe fresh air into the projects, campaigns and branding strategies of the agency’s existing long-term clients.

Over the past few years, I’ve worked mostly on alcoholic beverages such as Chivas, Ricard, Desparados and Absolut Vodka as well as other Fast Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG) such as Ferrero and Plume & Compagnie.

What do you mean by ‘breathe fresh air’ into long-term strategies? A lot of what strategic planners do involve a combination of benchmarking and trendwatching to identify interesting opportunities and up-and-coming trends within the industry to identify often overlooked consumer behavior patterns. Strategic planners seek the information out, compile it, and then interpret it.

By ‘breathe fresh air’ I mean applying what we’ve learned through the strategic planning process to the client’s branding strategy to give new ideas and perspectives to the decision-makers in charge of their brand’s direction.

What techniques do you commonly use? This involves a great deal of staying up-to-date on blogs, relevant articles and research publications, social networks, twitter, etc…

This also involves identifying future trends: niche markets, ideas and philosophies which are still mostly underground and haven’t yet visibly reached mainstream awareness, and so aren’t really common but are starting to gain speed. Identifying future trends requires a combination of skill, experience, and luck.

A random example that I’ve recently been interested in is how disease is represented in fashion. It starts as a whisper with one or two people talking about it in articles on off beat websites, and then a small community of people begin uniting behind it. Those small numbers, sooner or later, turn into consumers; enough consumers that brands notice them and so begin talking about it. The strength of strategic planning lies in finding tomorrow’s next big issues before they have reached the radar.

[EDITOR’S NOTE: For more information on how disease is represented in fashion, watch the documentary The Next Black: The Future of Clothing & The Quest For Climate-Positive Products.]

In the real world, of course it, it’s not so cut and dry. Which is why I said that it comes down to your skill, experience, and luck. Your success as a future trend spotter is noticing something interesting that could potentially relate to social trends or transitions in consumer behavior and thus habits, and then dig deeper.

What are some misconceptions brands have about your job? A good thing about being a strategic planner is that having ‘strategic’ in your job title

brings an added professional expert position, and so clients implicitly take our recommendations more seriously. Some clients, however, think we only spend our time socializing online, watching videos, and basically not doing our job.

What are some questions you commonly ask new clients you work with? In addition to the list of strategic planning questions in your  Strategic Planning & Creative Brief Template, the strategic planner’s – along with the advertising agency’s – job is to sell ideas.

Quality agencies know how to design strategies and campaigns to sell to consumers, but if we can’t effectively sell the idea to the person making decisions on behalf of the brand, then a great idea will never see the light of day.

Advertising isn’t just for the company; there are personal and hidden objectives from the campaign and therefore you need to know how to read between the lines:

  • What is the person thinking? What’s important to him or her?
  • How will they interpret what we present to them?
  • Is the person more creative or more scientific?
  • Must we present through photos or with statistics, facts and pie charts?
  • What is this person’s personal interest in this project? Not their company’s, theirs?  Will this campaign make them eligible for a promotion? A bonus? Etc.

This is why it’s important strategic planners attend all meetings with the person and brand because the words they choose to describe a problem or issue are very important. You can say one  thing in so many different ways, and so we need to understand their motivations and inner quest. In this sense, strategic planners act as a function of the sales department to help the agency win new clients and sell to them.

What are some universals you’ve discovered about consumer behavior? Not so much universal truth. It is, like a said, a feeling. I know how consumers think and act towards the alcoholic industry because I spend so much time researching the industry and its consumers, and I uncover general behaviors among that specific niche. I can be of help in the alcoholic industry, but perhaps not as helpful in others.

But humans are humans, and consumer behavior in one niche does spill over into other industries.  This is why strategic planners are constantly researching new markets and projects to connect behaviors across markets.

The alcohol industry is heavily regulated, and there are non-profits that fight against the industry’s ability to advertise… Yes, there’s always a conscious responsibility within industries such as alcohol, cigarettes, and petroleum, to name a few. In some ways these industries aren’t helping make the world a better place, but in other ways these industries do, and these industries exist for a reason: because consumers want them to. They are important issues to discuss, and what makes alcohol in particular dangerous is when it is abused and isn’t respected.

This issue is also cultural. The French, for example, are epicuriens who have a taste for fine food, drinks, good times with friends… and alcohol isn’t seen as dangerous when used in good measure.

Humans always try to find and play with the limit; we curiously do this with every subject. But it is the way humans use something that makes it dangerous or not.

Where do you see the alcohol industry in 5 years? Brands aren’t just “brands” anymore, and this is true for every brand in every industry. What makes your brand last long-term isn’t your promoting a good product, it’s your promoting a way of life people want to have and be associated with.

Your brand must identify and embody an inner quest consumers want to be a part of.

For example, Johnnie Walker’s motto is ‘Keep Walking.’ They aren’t talking about whiskey, but something more general that echos in the consumer’s mind and eveyday life. What does ‘keep walking’ mean? It means keep advancing and going to the end of everything you do in life. Never give up. Never fold or throw in the towel.

Nike’s motto is “Just do it.” Heineken’s motto is “Open your world.” Coca-Cola’s motto is “Share happiness.”

Where do you go to or inspiration? Blogs, websites… too many to keep track of! I use the Feedly application to keep track of them all. The sources you use fundamentally determine how good you are at strategic planning. Today, everybody has access to the same sources. it’s not the sources themselves which will lead to the great ideas, it’s what you do with those ideas and sources that makes the difference. This means though that if you’re following the famous people, you’re already a bit deep into the mainstream. You need to go off the beaten path.

This comes back to feeling and intuition, which develops through experience. The more subjects you work on, the better your instincts develop and connections are made and revelations happen.

You’re also a co-creater and writer for Distilleurs.fr… A few colleagues/friends and I started distilleurs.fr to share our expertise with consumers. As a strategic planner I work business to business. Distilleurs.fr is business to consumer. We talk about notes on premium whiskies and rhums because we want to bring the alcohol market to a level where we feel a part of it and you have all the information available to enjoy them correctly.

What are a few of your favorite campaigns at the moment?

Coca-Cola’s “Share A Coke” campaign is really true to the brand and the consumer. They’ve found something so powerful and they can play with it and do almost anything they want to. This campaign is a simple, well-designed and developed idea linked to the message they want the consumer to take away.

advertisement for pornhub.com

(image from here)

It’s hard for some brands to be innovative and push the envolope without going into something too vulgar. The porn industry is an example because the line between smart and vulgar is really thin.

Regardless of your position on the porn industry, from an advertiser’s perspective, Pornhub does a good job at advertising. They’ve reached modernity in something we thought would never happen. They can talk to a young generation and communicate their product without being too vulgar.

I have a small advertising budget, any advice? 

This depends on your market, product, and target consumer. With a small budget, the most important thing is efficiency because you don’t have enough money to waste on trial and error.

  • E-reputation management is something you can do by yourself and takes time, not money.
  • Find and connect with influential blogs. Create social campaigns on facebook and twitter, etc. Not just editorial.
  • If you can’t use photoshop, indesign, and other creation software you’ll need to invest that money in hiring a professional who can also give you their experience and intuition to take a good advertising idea and make it  great.
  • Keep it simple. Set objectives and organize them in order of importance, urgency, necessity and how each goal can help you reach other, future objectives.
  • On a small budget, you must be really creative. Just because everybody sees it doesn’t mean your advertisement will work. This is a misconception. You need the people who care about what you offer to see it as many times as possible. Find the smallest amount of people who care about what you offer and then saturate the advertising space around them.
  • Aim for word-of-mouth.

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