Category Archives: Branding Strategies

A new definition of branding.

Here’s a little different definition of branding. Branding is establishing a two-way relationship by matching your needs to your company core competencies with the needs of specific, selected market segments.

The emphasis is building a two-sided relationship. It’s knowing your prospects and their needs, both physical and emotional needs. It’s fulfilling those needs and helping them achieve their desires.

By finding those segments that you can serve better than your competitors can is the first step in establishing your brand.

The elements of the brand (name, logo, tagline, package design, etc.) and its associations (spokespersons, alliances, media selection, etc.) can be deliberately and specifically tailored once you match segments to competencies.

Now you have a strong foundation for a brand. Segments and competencies are two of six planks I’ve identified as essential in building a brand platform. (The others are positioning/differentiation, analysis of industry and product category, analysis of competitive SWOT, and brand hierarchy.)

But most essential in developing a power brand is the match of market to your strengths so that both company and customer benefit.

Martin Jelsema

Think networks, not markets, when building a power brand

From a branding perspective, I’ve come to appreciate a potent comment by Scott Degraffenreid, author of Embracing the Nude Model – The Art and Science of Referral Marketing. In a conversation several months ago, he suggested we think about networks rather than markets.

No one says, “I’m a member of the market for pink, hip-hop-toned cell phones”, but they’ll passionately admit to being part of a MySpace community of teen-aged girls who adore Eminem. Networks have common interests and might even have an agenda. They are populated by like-minded and like-motivated individuals. Some “reside” on the Internet and some are locally connected.So our goal in branding and marketing is to become part of selected, relevant networks. Don’t try to “manage” those networks or even manipulate them. Just relate in positive ways. Contribute meaningfully to them. Support them in their common quests to achieve whatever the network represents.

Once members “resonate” with you, once they see your goals are their goals, you build trust, and for some, an obligation to do business with you.

For larger companies with national or global distribution and traditional infrastructures, this will be a significant paradigm shift; one that most will not make even if they so desired. Too much baggage. Too many “old school” practitioners. Too few visionaries.

But small organizations, particularly those oriented to local markets, can surely benefit from thinking in terms of networks. Individual entrepreneurs and franchise operators could certainly embrace marketing to networks.

Here’s an example. If I were a dry cleaner with shops throughout a metro area, I might approach schools about helping to raise money for band uniforms or to finance a bowl trip. If I both contributed to those funds and made my shops collection centers, I’d gain recognition and appreciation. I might even clean uniforms for half-price and clean flags and banners for free. I’d not only gain appreciation from band members and their families, I’d probably get their regular cleaning business as well.

The idea of branding on the Internet takes on greater significance if you wish to explore Web2 and the implications for social networking. Here the possibilities become almost limitless. I’ll be blogging about this phenomenon and how it could affect your branding process in the coming weeks.

Martin Jelsema


Naming Tips: Number 17 in a series

Here are two proven sources of brand names. And even if names don’t sprout directly from the techniques described, often they will at least open your mind and expand the domain in which you normally live and think.

Number One: Create a list of metaphors that might represent your brand. Think about how your product is like: a famous person (who from history would be a passionate spokesperson?), an animal (think of the characteristics of natural prototypes), a sport (and all its terminology, equipment and techniques), an activity (what type of dance is most appropriate for your product?), an event (where would I use the product except at home?). You can expand this list by reviewing the attributes and characteristics of appropriate metaphors.

Additional categories might include mythology, geography, literature, movies, tools, astrology, fictional characters, colors, shapes, science and music.

Number two: You can name your brand by creating and naming a character. By naming that character, you’ve also named the brand, and given it a personality as well. Precedents include Marie Callender, Sara Lee, Uncle Ben, Orville Reddenbacher and The Pep Boys. My own contribution to the gender: Weldon Wright.

Although the examples above may not relate directly to a brand benefit or attribute, through use and story-telling they begin to become associated with the desired position and niche envisioned by their creators. If the name and representation of the character are appropriate, there’s no better way to convey a brand promise than through a character who not only speaks for, but actually is the brand.

Martin Jelsema

Branding: a function of strategy

To me branding is establishing a two-sided relationship by matching the needs of specific market segments with your company core competencies.

It begins with devising the products, services, infrastructure and mindset to be of importance to your market. Then, you “dialog” with market members in a way meaningful to them. The entire branding process is based on interpreting the market’s needs and desires and communicating a solution in a unique, memorable, relevant and appropriate way.

Branding isn’t a function of the marketing department and ad agency alone. It’s the responsibility of the executive office residents to lead the development of the brand or brands through their actions as well as direction. The company drives the brand, and the brand drives the company.

The brand is the mission, the value proposition, the vision, the corporate goals and the corporate culture in action. It is the personality and the core of the organization.

This doesn’t just apply to the one-product company, either. Each product in the portfolio will be there because it “fits”. Each service might appeal to different market segments, but will be backed by the corporate commitment that differentiates it from competitors and makes it desirable to prospects and customers.

Each offering may be branded separately as far as having separate brand elements such as names, logos, packaging, etc., but all should have a consistent, unabashed connection to the greater brand – the corporate commitment to establishing strong and lasting relationships with market members through an honest desire to be of great service to them.

If this sounds much like something you encountered several years ago as “corporate image” or corporate identity”, I’d just suggest that “a rose by any other name would smell as sweet”.

Branding is a strategic function. It should have a champion at the very highest corporate level in charge of forming, communicating, policing, assessing and evolving the brand in all its facets and faces.

Martin Jelsema

An effective brand requires tension.

People are awakened and amused by novelty. But they are comfortable with the familiar.

For a brand to stand out and make a statement, it must begin by being unique. And by sticking with that personality, people will become familiar with it. It might take some time, but in the interim, people just may talk about the new brand because it is unique.

Novelty is a buzz-generator.

But I’ve seen near-panic from several clients reacting to a novel brand and/or brand elements. They are afraid to go where “no (professional) has gone before”. In an effort to be “open-minded”, they may resort to informal “market research” polls to determine if a unique brand concept is “meaningful”.

In most cases, the results were obvious: friends and associates want the familiar rather than the unique. They want to “protect” the entrepreneur.

Those clients are seeking comfort just as intensely as they are novelty even if they won’t admit it. Comfort often wins out at the expense of a differentiated brand, so the brand never raises above the static. But one unstated goal is met – no one is offended or challenged.

Commonality and conformity has never generated buzz.

Novelty in face of conformity produces tension, and if there’s anything that produces buzz it’s tension.

So a little discomfort in the branding process is both healthy and effective. Go for it! My advice: go for the unique and damn the faint of heart.

Martin Jelsema

Naming Tips: Number 13 in a series

This time I want to address some brand naming preliminaries.

I believe naming is a discipline that can be learned and practiced, and just like dance or jazz improvisation, a thorough grounding in the basics is vital before you can successfully take wing.

So here are two tips for preparing to tackle the task of naming your brand.

First, be clear about what you’re naming.

Quite often an entrepreneur will consider the company and the product as one in the same. This is probably a bad idea, particularly if there’ll be additional products or services later on.

Establish an “architecture” for your current and future name hierarchy. Consider how you’ll differentiate product extensions from the “mother” product. Determine how you’ll treat models of the same brand. Think about the relationship between the corporate name and the product name(s). Consider, too, any relationships between product lines, products and services, and the to-be-named offering with other brand associations already established within the organization.

The hierarchy can take the form of a genetic tree, or a mind map perhaps. It is a tool that can also be used in the strategic planning process.

Create a naming brief.

A naming brief will undoubtedly contain much of the same information as the brand platform. But it is usually condensed and made specific to the naming process. This is especially important if “outsiders” are hired to contribute name candidates because the naming brief does not need to contain confidential information, whereas the brand platform will.

The naming brief should contain specific and focused information concerning:

* Background about mission, strategy of introduction, brand hierarchy, markets served, product category characteristics, identification of competitors and their positioning and branding strategies, buying influences and practices.
* Product/Company attributes such as aspired position within a product category, differentiators, feature-advantage-benefit table, brand personality descriptors.
* Other pertinent information that might contribute to insight concerning the brand.

Use these tools in the beginning and your list of name candidates will be long but much more focused. From relevant comes relevancy.

Martin Jelsema

Branding Basics – Step 10

Now comes the question, “Do you need a tagline?”
The answer is, “It depends”.
There are several possibilities here. First, the brand name may not require an “expander”. In and of itself the name may identify and differentiate the company, product or service. This would be classified as an ideal name. They don’t occur frequently. That’s why almost everyone thinks they need a tag (aka, slogan).
A tagline can serve as many as four purposes, but normally no more than one or two. That being the case, you’ll have to choose which purpose you believe is most appropriate and important. If another function can be accommodated, so much the better.
First, a tagline can be a positioning statement. That means it’s the tagline’s function to express how the offering attempts to differentiate itself from competition.

Second, the tagline can define the product category in which the offering is based. Sometimes it will also include an unsubstantiated claim about the superiority of the offering within its category.

Third, the tagline can communicate an overt benefit that may or may not be exclusive to the brand. This can become a “preemptive” tactic to associate the benefit with the brand before competitors become known as the provider of this benefit.

Fourth, the tagline will identify the prospects for the product or service. This may be particularly valuable if you offer different “versions” of the product/service, and you promote each version to its intended market or industry.

For instance, he tagline for my business, Signature Strategies, attempts to serve two purposes: communicate a benefit and identify prospects. That line is: “helping smaller companies profit from the power of branding”.

But beware of the tagline as platitude. Y2K Marketing purports that most taglines are platitudes that mean nothing to the prospect or customer. Their test is this: if your reaction to a tagline is, “Well, I should hope so!”, then you don’t have an effective tagline that communicates with credibility or meaning. You have a platitude.

How well do you think the line performs those objectives? Comments welcome.

Martin Jelsema

Branding Basics – Step Six

Now you have a working document, the brand platform.

It is the “creative brief” as well as the strategic structure for the brand. From it can spring consistent and relevant branding elements and associations.

So now, and only now, are you ready for Step 6: using the brand platform to flex your “creative” wings. Actually, this step enhances and expands the brand platform from the customer’s point of view. It helps establish the consumer-brander relationship.
Based on the information you’ve collected and the decisions you’ve made and documented in the brand platform, Step 6 is the way of expressing the essence of your brand.

You begin to crystallize the brand in concrete ways that will help you devise messages and images that coherently and concisely represent your most compelling position.

There are several vehicles used by branding experts to perform this last foundation step.
One that has gained popularity in recent years is to develop the brand “story”.
The brand story speaks to the corporate vision for the brand, but usually in more personal terms than is expressed in a conventional business plan. It might contain a history if applicable. It might describe the “spark” or idea from which the product sprang. It will certainly be written from a customer’s point of view (assuming customers and prospects are the major stakeholders in the brand). It will likely paint a picture of the features and benefits in a way to differentiate the product from competitive offerings. It might only be a page in length and usually no more than three.
Another approach to expressing brand essence is to describe the product in terms the customer would probably use. This may come from focus group research or just informal discussions with customers. But the idea is to express brand from the customer’s point of view.
Then there are some “fun” techniques that may be appropriate for some brands. These are scenarios developed after asking the question, “If this brand where a wild animal, which one would it be and why?” Variations include “if this brand where a celebrity…” or “if the brand were a city…”. Once there’s some consensus, the scenario is put to paper.
The purpose of setting the brand essence on paper, no matter the technique in arriving at it, is to provide a foundation and guidelines to help in developing a consistent and on-target expression of the brand.  
Now, after performing these foundation steps, you’re where most entrepreneurs begin the branding effort: creating a name.

Yes, naming is Step 7, and I’ll share some observations about names next time.