Category Archives: Branding

Good Taglines are NOT Platitudes.

Whether you call them taglines, slogans, or positioning statements, they are almost mandatory for today’s brand. These five-to-eight-word phrases are supposed to differentiate your business, product or service from your competition. But just as often, they just state the obvious. Or even worse, they cause confusion.

Here’s one way to evaluate a tagline. After hearing or reading it, if your reaction is “Well, I should hope so!”, you’re hearing or seeing a platitude, not an effective tagline. Continue reading Good Taglines are NOT Platitudes.

Brand vs Bland

Branding can be game-changing for a corporation.

Several years ago I bashed UPS for their “What Can Brown Do for You?” campaign. I thought it was vacuous and certainly did not position UPS in the field of FedEx and DHL. What’s more, just like the color, the slogan and the idea behind it were bland. Except for voicing the color there was no differentiation, no relevancy, no idea expressed.
UPS logo

But how things have changed at UPS. Their current campaign, “It’s Logistics” is 100-percent better and on target. They have found a differentiator, a word upon which they are positioning themselves as more than a fast, reliable delivery service. I’d go so far as to say this was the absolute best branding strategy exhibited this past year.

The idea that UPS now owns the word “logistics”, and that it is a function admired and wished to be attained by the corporate world, makes their messaging most compelling to their markets. I’ll bet they’ve found the board room doors open to UPS reps since the campaign began.

UPS is growing strong

But like all great branding victories, I’ll bet this one began by UPS looking at their business – their corporate aspirations, their strengths, their assets and their culture – and developing a strategic plan to make logistics an overriding feature of their services. If need be, they changed the way they were delivering their services (both literally and figuratively). Only then would UPS enjoy the benefit of messaging about their differentiator.

Substance, not sizzle. Relevancy not ruffles.

That’s branding based on corporate strategy and corporate willingness to be customer oriented. It’s what makes brands strong and long lived.

What is branding? Apparently, anything you want it to be.

That’s what I conclude as I peruse the discussion, “In one sentence, what is branding?” started 14-months ago in the Branding Professionals group of Linked-In. People have been adding to it ever since. It will not die.

So far, 333 comments have been added. Not all offer a definition. Some just scoff at the idea of defining branding in one sentence. Others take exception to someone’s definition. Yes, there’ve been some ego clashes leading to vitriolic exchanges.

But mostly, people have thought through and crystallized their submissions. And they run all over the lot. Many view branding as tactics, but most approach branding strategically. There are thoughts about promises, personalities and products; about names, logos and taglines; about customers, employees and shareholders.

Are brands formed by companies or customers? Do they appeal emotionally or logically? Is it driven by marketing or management? You’ll get all sorts of answers to those questions.

Check it out for yourself at Linked In, and maybe even add your own one-liner to the discussion. But you’ll have to have a Linked In account and sign up for the Branding Professional’s group.

Perhaps you’ll come to agree with the scoffers – you can’t define branding in one sentence. But if you can, please leave that definition as a comment below, and then contribute it to the Linked In discussion.

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.

Brand icon should be relevant

I finally “got it.”

In the American Express commercial featuring Ellen DeGeneres on a movie lot, there’s a man costumed as a Roman centurion who triggers Ellen’s memory: call American Express for concert tickets. What?

Then I vaguely remembered that American Express used the icon of a helmeted centurion. And I guess they’re bringing “him” back as an identifier.

American Express CardI don’t know why. In fact, I don’t know why they used it in the first place. What does a Roman soldier from 2,000-years ago have to do with America (discovered about 500-years ago)? He represents neither America nor Express. The winged messenger, Mercury, delivering flowers for FTD works fine. It’s not only relevant, it makes a point about speed.

But American Express should be represented by a minute man or an Indian scout, not a Roman.

The official logoThey have used a square with the words American Express for several years while the soldier took a back seat in their branding. I guess their research showed customers wanted something a little more personal. So someone remembered they had adopted a figure from the past in the past – never mind that it never fit the company – so let’s revive it.

This is the same short-sighted decision-making that causes the improbable line extensions Ries and Trout lambasted in their book, Positioning – the Battlefield for your Mind.

Oh, well. People do get used to improbable and disconnected brand imaging. With enough money, repetition and consistency, American Express will probably succeed with their historic Mediterranean icon.

And what’s up with that name for a global financial and travel services company? I’ll save that issue for another blog.

Martin Jelsema

$25,000 logo junked.

This is a true story.

New OGC logoA new logo created by one of England’s top design studios for the Office of Government Commerce (OGC), a department of Briton’s Treasury. It was approved by execs and managers and then introduced with fanfare and brand new pens and mousepads to the employees. Only then had anyone thought to turn the new logo on its side. And then came the snickers, twitters and guffaws.

OOPS!The logo was supposed to signify a bold commitment to the body’s aim of “improving value for money by driving up standards and capability in procurement”.

Instead, it became an object of much embarrassment and chagrin.

Read the full story at the Tribune, UK, website.

This happened to me once.

The design I had recommended was a phoenix rising from the flames. But the bird’s head, with beak straight up and only the tops of its wings visible, was just too phallic. Luckily the client thought I was just joking because he saw the reference immediately.

That just goes to show you – check and check again. Get man-and-woman-on-the-street opinions. Review with the though, “what is wrong or inappropriate or just plain silly” with the design, the name, the tagline.

Martin Jelsema



OGC Logo a Brit of Humour?
OGC logo design gets a grip

Brands that make me scoff – Toyota Matrix

This series on brands that make me scoff is going to be easy.

Today I’m calling out Toyota and their bad Matrix model.

I’m using “bad” in its original context – I don’t mean it’s, you know, good.

So here’s their tagline: Get in Touch with Your Dark Side.

Just on the basis of this inane slogan I scoff. I shake my head. I roll my eyes.

Now I’m a Star Wars fan and I assume that’s the dark side they’re referring to. I’d say the Matrix has a dark side position only if R2D2 has defected.

Do you know the car? It’s a small, round under-powered economy car. I know, I rented one a couple of weeks ago and drive it into the mountains. Living in Colorado has its advantages. Now I grew up in Estes Park Colorado and I’ve driven that road in four cylinder cars since a had a Hillman Minx back in the early 1960’s. I never had any problems even on the steep inclines.Toyota Matrix

But this Matrix didn’t have enough power to pass a New Jersey tourist. In fact, one passed me. The shame of it.

The only dark side I experienced had to do with night falling before I got home.

The point is credibility. You could position this automobile in appealing ways that are true to the vehicle and the experience of driving it.

Dark side indeed.

Martin Jelsema

Branding a motel chain

No one seems to be doing a great job at it.

Holiday Inn used to be the brand leader in the category, but they’ve diversified and diluted their brand.

At one point, Motel 6 was doing a proper job of differentiating themselves from competitors even though they relied too heavily on the low price theme in my opinion. But their spokeperson and their homey, low key approach was certainly distinctive.

By the way, the name originally stood for 6-dollar rooms. As rates went up, I believe they still maintained two or three rooms at that price to justify their claim of 6-dollar rooms. Super 8 also named their chain to support their 8-dollar rooms. Both organizations were very short-sighted. I would never encourage a brander to make a specific price part of their brand. Both chains survived, but only after many disappointed travelers left the office with bad tastes in their mouths.

Then there are the multifaceted chains of Mariott and Quality, both with individually named facility types. Both chains want to promote all those choices in one ad. Neither succeeds in differentiating their subbrands or the master brands with this tactic. I know it would be prohibitive for each subbrand to launch and maintain individual promotional programs. I’d look at a consolidation program, perhaps maintaining three of the brands in each family, one for business travelers, one at vacation destinations and a third for general car travel.

La Quinta has launched a campaign recently where they feature their free breakfast bar. But that won’t cut it since many of the chains now offer that perk. Plus their campaign, directed mostly to business travelers, is irrelevant and inane.

Someone could step up and take a leadership roll in this category, but I’ve a feeling no one will. They’ve made their beds and now just lay there.

Martin Jelsema