Category Archives: Branding

Differentiating Your Brand By Design

Last week I wrote about corporate culture being a powerful branding differentiator. I mentioned IBM, one of my almamaters, in this context and also alluded to their alliance with Paul Rand in developing and policing the corporate brand.

That triggered my memory of an idea Tom Peters advocates in his book, Re-Imagine. He devotes a chapter and a lot of passion to DESIGN. He begins by speaking to product design but then expands his “rant” to cover design in all its aspects.

I agree with his passion and his all-encompassing approach to design. To me design is a definite differentiator of a brand, or at least it can be. Certainly the design of the Dyson vacuum cleaner is the thing that differentiates that brand and demands a premium price. And I’m not just addressing the exterior design and color, I’m writing about the inherent product design here.

When Jack Trout (with Steve Rivkin) wrote the book, Differentiate or Die, he (they) did not allude to design as a differentiator. They did identify “new” as a differentiator, but not design per se. Yet today design has become probably the single best and most appreciated differentiator fore consumers.

Look at two obvious examples: Target has embraced design as their major reason to be. People have come to associate Target with fine design at an affordable price. The furniture maker, Ikea, not only designs unique products, this Swedish company has also designed a unique shopping experience. I’ve not personally shopped an Ikea store, but I’ve heard that it is a unique activity that is memorable and stimulating.

Now in its broadest sense design can be interpreted much broader than product, logo, and store layout. As Mr. Peters declares, design is present in almost all functions of a company. It can be good or bad design, even unconscious design. It can be more than visual, too. Service companies design their offerings. A Wolfgang Puck’s recipe soup is designed. A DVD player’s manual is designed. The financing of a new plasma HD-TV is designed.

Tom Peters advocates that the chief designer within a company should have a seat at the director’s table, or at least participate at the chief executive level. The designer’s input is a strategic activity as much as a tactical one. She or he will help shape the design approach, establish standards, educate employees at all levels and functions, and police the environment to make sure the standards are met consistently.

I for one would like to hear about an insurance company putting a design advocate in a position to influence the various products as well as the way the company communicates, administers, sells and finances their brands.


Martin Jelsema

Naming Tips – Number 45 in a Series

I just finished a naming project in which I generated a couple of hundred brand name candidates in a couple of days. All were at least relevant to the client’s company, but only about fifty met other criteria, including my “sense” of what a great name should “sound” like.

As I was doing my “thing”, I thought about the several procedures I use that I believe may be helpful to any naming project.

I’ll share them over the course of the next few weeks.

First thing, I sent my client a form-filled document that eventually leads to a naming brief. This document has two purposes: 1) to give us direction in developing candidates, and 2) to provide a list of criteria from which candidates need to be judged. Once I get the completed form, I write a naming brief and get my client to “sign off” on it. I do not rely on the client’s input without “interpreting” and resubmitting it to them so we make sure I understand his/her goals and needs, and that they understand the approach I’ll be taking.

As part of this form, I ask clients to suggest the five “characteristics and attributes” that best describe the business. I provide the list below and ask them to circle the five most appropriate terms.

 Attributes clients can select for brand name project

 Then a provide a second checklist and ask my client to circle the five descriptors that best reflect the “personality” or desired “image” for the company. Here’s that checklist:

 Brand/Company Personality Checklist

Now I have a place to start. I’ll begin by doing a synonym check and a word association check for those ten words preferred by the client.

As I do this, some name ideas pop to the surface, but the main idea is to get on paper as many words I can use as a foundation that might lead me to unique combinations. They, in turn lead to other ideas and directions which I’ll share in the next tips blog.

Martin Jelsema

PS: The same checklists I’ve shared here can be used for naming products, services, events as well.

Ramblings about Corporate Culture and Your Brand

A big part of the brand, particularly a corporate brand, is the company culture.

I spent five years at IBM during the “glory days” of the 1960’s. Then, even though shipments of the brand-new System/360 solid-state general purpose computers were being delayed, customers “forgave” IBM because the IBM sales, service and field engineers kept telling them it’s worth the wait. An ad campaign documenting how easy the install and transition was for those who were lucky enough to have had their’s installed in the first wave.

IBM was worth the wait. Nobody got fired buying IBM. The corporate rallying cry was “Excellence in all that we do”. Business people believed in IBM. Those were heady times.

Even in the early days of computing, IBM had a heritage and a tradition. There were legends, some still among us, who pioneered a particular application. I remember Bruce Smith, the instigator of the American Airlines Sabre reservations system. I was “privileged” to make a presentation to him and his elite crew concerning a marketing communications program, and knew a thrill afterwards because he said “good job”. I used to read quotes from Mr. Smith about forward thinking or systems sales or the state of the airline industry long after leaving the hollowed halls..

I had a similar experience when a very-young Archie McGill was Director of Distribution Marketing and trying to dethrone NCR as computer king in the retail trades.

Then there was the fountainhead, Thomas Watson, Sr. It was he who anointed the sales force king at IBM. It was he who began the much-publicized 100% Club annual extravaganzas. It was he who made “Excellence” the byword for all employees, and it was he who introduced the famous “Think” signs and notebooks. He also made sure salesmen (few women then) wore white sirts only with a conservative tie and dark suit.

Now none of these people and their accomplishments were thought of as part of the IBM brand. The brand was important, but it was the name and logo and the color (think Big Blue) of the equipment. Paul Rand was the corporation’s brand “policeman”. As an independent consultant and designer, he oversaw all design produced within and for IBM. If he thought something was not compatible, you’d hear about.

But the real heart of the IBM brand were the leaders who would not compromise, who wanted the best from the employees, and developed a pride among them. We were invincible.

And the attitude of employees, seen within customer installations throughout the world, was and is the brand of a company. There were also the legends of the number of millionaires on the production lines because IBM had a stock purchase plan. And the 24-hour, weekend work-arounds to get a customer’s system up and running after a flood. And the IBM volunteers helping third-world villages get their first computer along with a power generator.

These stories, these legends resonate with people. These are the things people remember about a company. These are the things that matter.

No matter your type of business, your corporate culture is the single most obvious and important factor in your customers’ eyes. Get that right and the rest will follow.

If it worked for IBM, why wouldn’t it work for you?

Martin Jelsema

So what do I know that you want to know about branding?

That’s the question for today. I’ve been blogging about branding pretty consistantly for the past year at TheBrandingBlog. I’ve been showing off. I’ve been bashing some folks. I’ve even thrown a few cudos.

But I’m not sure I’m serving  readers as effectively as I could be. I’d like to grow the readership of this blog> I guess everyone that blogs has the same goal, but with all the years I’ve been around, I’ve accumulated quite a bit of knowledgeSo I’d like some feedback.

Here are five branding subjects. They’re numbered 1 thru 5.

Please review the list and then find the tiny “comments” link below the blog. After signing in, just give me your feedback. Either rank the five numbers representing the topics or list the first one or two you’d like me to address.

  • 1 – naming tips
  • 2- branding strategies
  • 3 – brand management issues
  • 4 – positioning
  • 5 – graphic brand representations

Of course, if there’s another topic you’d like addressed that’s not covered above, just write it down in your comment.

Helping me with this will help you and future readers get the most out of coming back for more.

Martin Jelsema

If I offer a “Choice” have I differentiated my brand?

So I was watching the Broncos lose this afternoon. And here comes another commercial that dilutes, no absolutely destroys, the brands they’re advertising.

I watch commercials with half an eye. When they’re on I’m usually doing the Sunday suduku.

So I’m not really clear about what I saw today. I know it was a hotel/motel chain called “Choice”. I never did get what they’re USP was if they had one.

But the thing that really confused me and caused me to make a note to write this blog – they signed off with the names and logos of four or five different

chains. They said something like “be sure to stop at one of our facilities and then named “Clarian”, “Quality Inn” and others I couldn’t remember even though by now I was fully attentive to their ad.

I had to go to the Choice Hotel web site to identify the other players, and to find out they had another five chains in their stable that weren’t advertised. But even on the website each brand was not differentiated from the next. Each web page was almost exactly the same for each brand.

Here’s the point: advertising five different brand names in the same commercial is really confusing. Does each brand have an identity of its own? Is this a case of egos in an acquisition orgy where the old names had to be retained to enable sales to go through? Did Choice think by retaining five chain names and advertising all five together would somehow help people think of Choice?

Or were they thinking, “If Marriott can have a stable of chains, so can we, and we can retain the unique identities of each of our acquisitions by advertising five at a time.” But Marriott differentiates between their chains. And they use the unifying Marriott name with each. And I’m not sure the way Marriott is doing it is the correct approach to differentiating one from another.

There’s a whole body of work concerning brand architecture and internal brand organizations. Because I’ve mostly concerned myself with smaller businesses, I’m not an expert on brand families and the tensions occurring within companies with multiple brand managers. But it does seem to me that what Choice Hotels is doing is not aiding any of their brands, including the Choice brand.

In fact, I’d say there really isn’t a Choice brand, just as there isn’t a prominent Proctor and Gamble brand. But Choice doesn’t understand that if you have brands in your stable, each should have its own identity differentiated from its siblings. You don’t see Proctor and Gamble promoting Tide, Era, Gain, Dreft and Cheer in the same ad.

I have a hunch that Choice is in this predicament because it’s very costly to convert the diverse facilities to a single brand, and they haven’t the budgets to advertise them separately. I would hope that in the long run they’ll convert facilities to a single nameplate, that within four or five years there’ll be a single brand that’s meaningful to their market members. I hope consumers will still give them a chance when they’ve finally gotten their act together.

Martin Jelsema

Naming Tips – Number 44 in a Series

Here are another three word-generating web sites that may prove helpful in generating brand name candidates.

Like those generators I’ve mentioned in Numbers 28 and 43 of this series, the ones I present here are mainly recommended for developing long lists of word combinations that spark ideas for names.

In other words, the coined words they generate may not be usable as is, but might lead your mind into lateral thinking and creative alternatives. Then again, every once in a while you may see a combination that is just what you’re looking for.

That said, here’s the first resource:

Dislexicon provides a multitude of variations on the word you provide. I typed in “clue” and got the following (along with some gibberish I won’t share): clue-ant, clue-ologist, clue-ish, clue-gen, de-clue, uni-clue. Some food for thought, anyway.

The second resource, Word Constructor, generates coined words that may or may not resemble the word you “seed” it with. You type in a word and the generator provides a list of words from the letters in the seed word. For instance, I typed in “prattle” and got examples like: prangh, plinta and brotte.

Third: Word Mixer. With this system, you type up to five words (or letter combinations) and Word Mixer generates a list of 25 coined words created from, but not related to, the input words. It just uses the letters and syllables of the inputted words and an algorithm to space vowels and consonants. You get diverse output such as fralm, carape, alni, pefrit, omeste, along with 20 absolutely useless combinations.

So, three more word generators that may or may not generate your brand name or ideas that might lead to a brand name. Conversely, you may just label them timewasters if nothing comes. But remember the story of the optimistic boy who believed that with a room-full of horse manure, there must be a pony close by.

And all of these sites are free to use.

Martin Jelsema

Are You Kiddin’ Me?

That’s my reaction to the latest brand’s tagline I just have to bash.

I’ve heard that Dunkin’ Donuts serves a pretty good cup of coffee. But since I no longer eat sugar, I don’t frequent donut shops.

But I do drink coffee.

And now Dunkin’ Donuts is packaging and selling their brand of coffee in supermarkets. So I perked up when I saw a commercial for Dunkin’ Donuts coffee. But that ground to a halt when they got to the tagline.

Are you ready for this?

“American runs on Dunkin”

Have you heard anything as pompous and as exaggerated than that?

Isn’t your first reaction to scoff?

Dunkin’ Donuts may have the very best coffee in America, but claiming that America “runs” on it? You’ve got to be kidding me. No matter how much I crave coffee, I know coffee, from any source, is not what energizes me. I may get a caffeine buzz but coffee is not nutritious, not fortified with vitamins or minerals, and is not healthy if I drink too much. 

A tagline will often make an indefensible statement. But when it challenges credibility, and doesn’t even present a product benefit or competitive differentiator, I believe it’s useless.

What is more, a newcomer to the grocery shelves attempting to take a leadership position will almost always fail to live up to that position in a mature and competitor-filled product category such as coffee.

No, this slogan is misses on all fronts. It’s vacuous, pompous, irrelevant and just plain unbelievable.

It’s unbelievable that this piece of drivel was dreamed up by a copywriter, presented by the agency, or approved by the company.

Please, Dunkin’ Donuts, tell me why I should TRY your coffee. After all, that’s all it is – coffee.

Martin Jelsema

Naming Tips: Number 43 in a Series

Back in July 13, 2007, I blogged about several naming resources that might help you generate unusual, out-of-the-box brand names, company names and domain names. They’re at Naming Tips: Number 28.

Well, I’ve found several more web sites that generate name candidates. Each has its strengths and weaknesses. I’ll list them all and you can determine for yourself which, if any, will be useful for your particular applications.

First is Nameboy. It was invented specifically for domain name generation but works for any name type. It mixes two words you specify and then generates combinations of those words and several of their synonyms. It also generates alternate spellings of one or more of your inserted words. Nameboy generates about 25 entries at a time, of which 15 will be pure waste. I put in “strong” and “signs” and got back some good synonyms for “strong” – brawny, hefty, bullnecked, muscular. They were teamed with “words” like cue, sine, mark, signz.

Next is Make Words. This site is also a domain name generator with wider application. It generates combined words. You can select from 41 categories and then add your own word to combine with the words from the selected category. Categories range from “action verbs” to “sports”. I selected “misc affixes” as a category and inserted “que” as my contribution. I got a lot of gobbledygook and several coined words that might be appropriate as brand names – Quebet, Queday, Quematic, Cityque, Logique. For some, you’ll want to delete an ajoining vowel to make the word pronounceable.

Name Spinner is the last for this blog. It, too, is primarily a domain name generator. It randomly provides an additional syllable to a word you enter to generate new candidates. When I typed in “ram”, I got back six or seven nice combos along with the scap. These words emerged – Redram, Ramair, Bayram, Ramhorn, Rambus, Ramert. 

Incidentally, these sites were conveyed to me from the folks at Authority Site Center. If you’re doing business on the web, or want to, I suggest checking them out.

Martin Jelsema