How a Brand Dies or How Not to Leave Your Brand to Fate
David Brier, President/Creative director, DBD International, Ltd.
David Brier is a well-known branding expert. He is the president and creative director of DBD International, a consortium of industry experts providing an entire range of branding services, including brand identity development, package design, brand integration, and corporate literature. David has received more than 350 professional awards. He is the creator of the OneVoice™ Image Management technology, which helps to promote customers’ brands so as to "overcome gravity and rise above the level of noise produced by numerous brands in the marketplace". David’s customers include Revlon, Estee Lauder, Rolling Stone Magazine, Sunbelt Software, and the El Paso Chile Company, among many others. David Brier can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
Recently seen in the WSJ
In the US$36 billion dollar beer market, the brand strength of an American beer is sometimes its most powerful "reason-to-buy." The Wall Street Journal recently had this to say about the Stroh Brewery, the nation's fourth largest brewer, now being sold off: "The sale of Stroh, a 149-year-old Detroit brewer that was once a strong contender in the beer market, is the result of poor brand management in a flat market, distributors said.... It (Stroh) didn't take advantage of its strong regional brands..."
The above story doesn't just happen overnight. For every right thing a brand can do, it can also take as many actions that simply don't contribute anything worthwhile to a brand's presence, personality, strength and, ultimately, its sales.
Let's briefly review some identity basics. Any company, product or service has an image. So...
What is image?It's the public perception, not what the company, product or service is, but how it is perceived. It lives, or doesn't, in the mind of your public.
What creates this image? Everything from packaging to identity–these being the messengers affecting the marketplace's perception. PR and word-of-mouth are also soldiers in this battlefield.
What is identity? Not to be confused with "corporate identity" or "brand identity," identity is how the company, product or service really is, before its message has ever been exported into the marketplace, i.e., your consumer's mind and senses.
A "brand" is something that ultimately exists in the mind of the customer. Its concept comes from "branding" cattle to tell which herd it came from. That is the goal of a well-conceived brand identity: To allow the consumer to easily and rapidly "identify" the product from "the herd" of products in the market. A good brand identity that covers the entire spectrum of applications (name, graphic identity, package design, advertising, etc.) is one that has "One Voice" and this voice cuts like a knife through the noise in the market allowing that product to rise above the noise and seemingly "defy gravity."
Corporate Identity is very much the same but usually on more of a company side or on a business-to-business side. The primary difference between Brand Identity and Corporate Identity is if it is a "brand" that the consumer will buy versus a company (and its products) that the consumer can embrace. Example is SONY has a Corporate Identity but its product, Walkman, has a Brand Identity. Apple, while a Corporate Identity is very closely a Brand as well. But its products, the iMac and the iPod are Brands, 100%, and would never fall into being considered Corporate Identities. IBM is more of a Corporate Identity even though it also is a brand.
There are distinctions and there are overlaps between the two.
What is branding? These are the collective actions–design, packaging, message, color, personality, media-taken by a company, product or service to create its image. Not done pro-actively, the brand "just happens." This is where "brand management" mentioned in the above article comes into play.
To better manage your brand's "fate," we've compiled a checklist for anyone managing, or affecting, the building of a brand. Basically a "things-not-to-do" checklist, the "Seven Deadly Sins of Branding," should help make any branding efforts succeed with greater ease.
Sin #1: The superior product fixation
In our global marketplace, the apparent differences between products has reached an all-time pinnacle of grey, meaning the differences aren't so black and white. So he who gets to the market first and stays present (and with online media increasing every hour of each day, the battlefield is grimmer than ever), can outsell a similar product that is vastly superior. With the lines of communication around the globe literally a click of the mouse away, one can no longer rest on one's laurels for very long.
To "be better than" doesn't mean as much as it used to. The solution is first, creating a brand and second, ensuring that that image connects your product–not simply it's superior attributes–to your audience. Successful examples of this are Nike's "Just Do It" and Apple's "Think Different" campaigns.
Sin #2: The "no-one-can-touch-us" syndrome
This pitfall rears its ugly head whenever a company reaches any level of complacency. Xerox and IBM are two examples in which each had reached an enviable level of brand equity. But time, technology and trends didn't and don't remain the same.
IBM's famous striped logo was introduced over three decades ago. Only now is IBM using design and branding to reclaim their heritage. Their new e-business campaign is simple and phenomenally effective, positioning e-commerce with IBM. Why now? Because IBM found its mindshare amongst net users was low. One could say IBM had had "e-nuff."
The son of IBM's founder, Thomas Watson Jr., stated over 35 years ago, while chief of IBM, "In the IBM company, we do not think that good design can make a product good.... But we are convinced that good design can materially help make a good product reach its full potential." Isn't it time we all listened?
Sin #3: The brand called "Fear"
Simply, if you're overly concerned about what associates think versus being overly concerned about your brand, getting anywhere near branding is a bad career move for everyone involved. The opposite side of this coin is a firm belief in one's product, a willingness to deliver what's promised, and a strength of conviction. One doesn't need to be an ogre, but one must believe in one's actions. That doesn't include being overly concerned with internal political popularity contests. Looking over the best brands, the majority came into existence driven by one person's vision, and belief, in that brand's potential and their persistence in seeing it through.
This cousin to complacency–essentially an unwillingness to investigate, evolve and challenge–has killed many possibly great brands, leaving only the competition happier, and stronger.
Sin #4: Ignoring the design and image your brand conveys
You've seen these products. You've maybe even bought them. They're everywhere as products...and nowhere as brands. Go into a store, any store, and look. Simply look. You'll find a gazillion products. You'll also find many great products, but, with most ignoring their design and image, only a handful have become great brands.
What part does image play in the real world of branding? Everything. Fact: Minute Maid® found that other orange juice companies were "borrowing" their signature black carton. What once was a point of distinction had now become "generic." Add to this the expanding choices given to consumers–bottled waters, flavored waters, iced teas, and bottled coffee beverages–and retaining marketshare had become a major issue for Minute Maid. The answer? Revamp the Minute Maid packaging line. The outcome? Volume sales increased more than 24%, with convenience store sales exceeding 34%. When you're dealing with 28 million servings per day, a mere one percent increase, 280,000 more servings per day, is considerable.
Sin #5: Brand schizophrenia and anarchy
Imagine this conversation: "Oh, you want to change the golden arches to day-glo pink? Sure, no problem." Not in this lifetime. You might as well print a new resume and look for another job.
The confusion between building a brand, being consistent, keeping a brand alive and reinventing a brand can be so mishmashed that disaster strikes. Random change is not the same as planned evolution of a brand. Boring, stagnant messaging is not the same as brand consistency.
A good rule of thumb is one laid down by Sir John Egan, chief executive for the world's leading international airport group, "Defining the experience that customers want becomes a criterion by which you can judge the design work you commission."
Other points to consider are, "Does this effort contribute to our brand image and equity? Does this dilute our brand position? Will this enhance our consumers 'experience' of our brand?"
This is all based on the fact that there is a foundation to build a brand upon.
Sin #6: The human connection ratio
The frailty of a brand is in direct ratio to the extent a brand fails to connect with its consumer. Flaunting one's wares is about as popular, and effective, as cramming in a term paper in overnight. What's good for Visine sales (remember "Takes the red out"?) isn't necessarily good for the grade.
Every strong brand has in some way become a product that represents what that customer is seeking: ease, convenience, power, stamina, pride, beauty. But in each case, it's the human factor that can be missed. Every product does have, as its end use, a human who is buying the product for a reason. Find the reason, keep it on personal terms, and you're well on your way to avoiding this pitfall.
Sin #7: Forgetting where brands live
If you were to ask brand managers where brands live, they might say, "On the shelf with our product. In our annual report. In the people that work here." Wrong. That's how a brand gets built, not where it lives.
Brands do not live anywhere but in the minds and hearts of the consumers and prospects. The job of branding is to get your product to the point of having an army of believers who stand by that brand, and what it means, in their mind.
L. Ron Hubbard, a well-known specialist in the area of management, whose discoveries are used with great success by many companies of the world, has thoroughly elucidated this matter in his articles published under the heading of 'Marketing Series'. I insistently recommend everybody who seeks for fundamental knowledge on branding to acquaint themselves with his works.
The job of branding is to get in the front door and become a comfortable fixture in the mind of the consumer. Avoiding these seven pitfalls will help.
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