Monthly Archives: August 2009

Brand Management in smaller companies

Brand management need not be a full-time job in small organizations. Yet it is just as important to the on-going success of the business as it is in larger organizations with entire departments responsible for brand management.

Brand management a top staff function

The smaller the company, the higher up the corporate ladder responsibility for brand management should reside.

Brand management requires strategic perspective

That’s not only a matter of headcount, it’s a matter of vision. That’s because there’s so much more to branding than maintaining its exterior trappings. Almost every important decision involving employees, customers, suppliers and other stakeholders will have an effect on the brand, as will decisions concerning the business model, product development and corporate structure.

Every decision should be factored by this question: “How will this decision impact our corporate brand and our product brands?” The vision to answer this question comes only from the strategic perspective of the top executive.

So if you’re managing a business, I implore you to not delegate the corporate brand.

Corporate branding: not a marketing function

A common practice is to make the corporate brand a responsibility of the marketing department. In the old paradigm of product branding, brand managers were usually part of the marketing organization. And rightly so because their duties were to market the products they were assigned.

But a corporate brand is much larger and valuable than a product brand. It’s a long-range strategic asset that differentiates the company from its competitors by establishing and maintaining an attitude and personality to which stakeholders are drawn. It’s the corporate promise, its story, its demonstration of values and its consistency of action. These are not the elements by which marketing is usually judged.

One additional caveat: By no means allow a sale-driven marketing force – one in which a sales manager and a marketing manager report to a marketing VP – hold sway over the branding function, corporate or product. In my experience, sales people in this situation will out-shout their marketing counterparts and always opt for decisions of a short-sighted nature. I mean discounting, couponing and other tactics that might boost sales so they can meet this quarter’s goals.

Sacrificing the corporate brand is not worth it

This may seem to provide an additional responsibility to an already full agenda, but is there anything more important than building a reputation upon which your corporate growth will depend?

Remember, branding is a strategic process. It should be in the hands of the Chief Strategic Officer.

Corporate Branding is not a middle-management activity

Branding the Corporation needs top management involvement big time!

Corporate brand is executive responsibility
Corporate brand is executive responsibility

When it comes to branding the company, direct access to the CEO and other senior staff members is essential. After all, they are the folks who set the direction, determine the values, vision and mission for the company, and reflect the corporate personality and culture.

So if the corporate brand – aka corporate identity – is to be true to corporate conduct and goals, top management must set the tone and approve both the process and the outcome.

Should outside consultants be brought on board? What kind of structure within the company will be in place to develop and monitor brand activities? How will the brand “age” when future planning is considered? How will new products be branded under the corporate brand? All these issues and more need to be considered by senior staff.

Unless top management is involved and passionate about branding and positioning, there will probably be a fragmented branding effort. You may find the need to modify or even attempt to acquire a new brand identity in a very short time without management involvement in the initial branding process.

Brand Management – where should it reside?

Brand management is usually a marketing function in traditional organizations.

Strategic Brand Management session

Well, it had to start somewhere. The idea of branding products in a multi-product business led to brand managers responsible for advertising, merchandising, supply chain relations, and most importantly, profitability.

Thus, brand management became linked to short-term goals, measured by the fiscal quarter. This has led to many a brand being presented in one way one year and then presented a different way the next – unless the current tactics were working. Ad agencies were (are) being hired and fired based upon this premise.

Branding: strategy or tactic?

I believe in today’s environment that branding should be a strategic process. For either a product or a company, the idea of branding for the short term means tactics that do not usually serve the brand well. Looked at from a strategic point of view, the brand itself should not be “tinkered with” once the strategy is approved at the top levels of the business.

The strategies I’m referring to have to do with the things inherent in the product or company that differentiate it from competition, that provide unique benefits to customers, and that reflect the corporate commitments to stakeholders. It includes developing and sticking with a brand’s personality, story and tone over the years. Commercials and promotions may change over time, but they need to emphasize these brand attributes, not attempt to change them in mid-stream.

Who”s Responsible for Brand Management?

So, who should be responsible for developing those strategies? I submit the product development team at the very inception of the new product idea – with guidance from a strategic branding unit, either residing within the organization and reporting to the CEO, or an impartial outside branding consultant with direct access to the CEO.

In this way, corporate values, mission and vision are served. Trends are recognized and factored into the planning. Competition is evaluated with more impartiality. Risk is spread and individual careers are not measured by immediate profits.

Thus, the brand can mature and develop relationships based upon a consistent brand promise.

Addressing Additional Brand Management Issues

In my next blog I’ll speak to managing the corporate brand, and then do a post concerning brand management in sells-driven companies.

Naming Tip 74 – Name for the Long Haul

An early icon of technological retailing is changing its name.

Radio Shack changing its nameRadio Shack will become known now as “The Shack”.

The old name was just too restrictive. True be told, it was always too restrictive, even when they were mostly selling do-it-yourself electronic kits.

I don’t know what transpired to make Radio Shack management decide it was time to change after all these years. They were certainly tenacious for decades.

So here’s the tip: look at name candidates with at least one eye on the brand’s future. Can you imagine a scenario when the candidate you’re considering just might not be appropriate and more?

Now “The Shack” eliminates the restriction. But if I were The Shack, I’d have considered going all the way. Why hang on to part of an inappropriate name? Do I, in the 21st Century, want my company associated with a shack?

They had an opportunity to break away from the “rinky-dink” and forge a new, modern image.

But I can see their reluctance as well. They felt they had equity in Radio Shack, and that some of that good-will and personality could be saved with a transitive name instead of a clean break. But how long will management – and the public – want to be associated with a shack?

I’ll bet they’ll want to make another change within five years.

A little fortitude builds better brands than hedging can.

Brands That Make You Scoff – FirstBank

Branding boo-boo by FirstBank, the largest regional bank in Colorado.

Bad branding: FirstBank's cloned lambTheir latest commercial says they’ll give you $50 if you open a checking account with them. That’s the good news. All the rest is downhill.

I wish I could let you view the entire commercial, but no one has put it on YouTube as yet. But the picture to the left states the gist of it.

This character, a regular used car salesman in a banker’s office, strokes this “clone-gone-wrong” throughout the 20 seconds as he presents the $50 incentive for those opening an account. Then he claims the money was not cloned. Throughout twenty seconds he “lies” about the money not being cloned, and as the camera pulls back, we see another “him” sitting off to the side, obviously his clone.

I’m sure the agency is excited because people have been drawn to the image of a double-headed lamb and the subject of cloning. I’m not at all surprised an ad agency proposed this. I don’t believe in agencies any more. These guys have sacrificed brand integrity for sensationalism. And FirstBank management approved it. Shame on them

Why would FirstBank, a regional leader, want this greasy character who’s obviously a liar, to represent the bank. Just his voice inflections make you not like this character. And why would you or I every think this bank would pass out cloned – read counterfeit – money?

And please answer me this: how is the negativism of cloned money, coupled with cloned lambs and salesmen, going to make a good impression? And how can it be relevant?

Thumbs down. I don’t want to do business with a bank that would hire this guy, or would approve such an inane commercial.