Category Archives: Brand Management

Brand Management: What It Involves & How to Do It.

Management sessionEstablishing a brand management team can be a complex but very “personal” activity for a small or mid-sized comany. But the following article offers some guidelines and considerations that can prove valuable if it’s time to really be serious about brand management. Continue reading Brand Management: What It Involves & How to Do It.

Brand Management needs involvement and collaboration

So just how do you get brand changes approved by management and embraced by employees?

In a recent Forbes article, John Ellett interviewed Verchele Wiggins, Holiday Inn’s  Vice President of Global Brand Management, about the chain’s recent rebranding efforts. It’s a wide-ranging article that ends with this exchange: Continue reading Brand Management needs involvement and collaboration

Branding with a USP is Short-Sighted

From the late 1950’s, the term Unique Selling Proposition, more informally known as USP, has been part of the advertising and marketing jargon. I believe it was coined by Rosser Reeves, head of Ted Bates Advertising, and best exemplified by the commercials for Anacin. Bate took the major advantage of this headache preparation, speedy relief, and presented over and over and over. It demonstrated the headache by a hammer to the side of the head with an animated diagram while the word “FAST” was flashed un-screen time after time.

Anacin USP was fast relief, but where are they now?

Thus, Anacin claimed and defended this USP for a number of years. But along came Tylenol, followed by Advil, and then Aleve and a host of others. Anacin couldn’t keep up. And look where that brand is today. I don’t know the numbers, but one indication of its popularity: no longer does it advertise on TV.

The USP is a tactic

The unique selling proposition should not be confused with a positioning statement. The USP is just what it says – a sales proposition that no one else is promoting at the time. It’s a short-range competitive tactic. It may take competitors quite some time to discover that a particular USP is helping a marketer boost market share, and another little while to counteract that USP with an offering that’s even more attractive. Devising and broadcasting a new theme (USP) is done very well by most advertising agencies. I’m of the opinion that that’s the only value provided by today’s agency. (That’s the subject for another post rater.)

The positioning statement, though not necessarily a consumer message, is a statement of what you’d want your brand to be. If Anacin had adopted a positioning statement that read: We will do all in our power, through research, development, production and packaging, to always have the fastest pain reliever on the market, then Anacin would have won that position in the minds of consumers by consistently demonstrating their dedication to fast pain relief through their actions. With that kind of mind set, let the agency develop a USP that reinforces the positioning statement.

The positioning statement is strategic

The commitment of any organization to provide a consistent level of performance, and to dedicate major resources to accomplish that performance, builds the brand, not a USP.

But today, we still hear those connected with branding use these terms interchangeably. They miss a major difference between a brand strategy and a sales tactic. They also confuse those that aren’t paying attention, namely the executive staff who’s wondering anyway why marketing can’t seem to be held accountable.

I might have stepped on a toe or two with that last paragraph of rant, but it rankles. And don’t get me started on the ad specialty salesperson who wants to sell you a couple gross of imprinted pen because it’s “effective branding”.

Anyway, there’s a place for the USP. It can enhance the brand if it adheres to the positioning statement and the branding platform. And if one isn’t increasing sales, just ask your new agency to create another.

Patrons define the brand, and they’re integral to it

Last week I blogged about targeting your brand to not only attract your most favorable market segments, but also discourage any unfavorable segments. Those are the folks your targeted customers and prospects would be uncomfortable being around.

Bar magnet demonstrates how a brand can attract and repel at the same time

Your patrons are part of your brand

That is, not only is the brand defined by stakeholders, the stakeholders are part of the brand just as much as your name, logo, trade dress and tagline.

In the context of “rubbing elbows”, our primary stakeholders are the customers. But there are also the employees, the retail reps, the associated companies and products, the suppliers and in some cases, investors. (After all, If ol’ Warren is invested in the company it must be doing something right.) So to some extent, all these associated groups are integral to the brand.

Customers reflect and resonate with the brand

Customers and prospects are the single most important group, other than your employees, that shape the brand itself.

As far as market segments are concerned, be very specific right from the beginning. Then determine who that target market would like to see excluded from the “family”. As I said previously, this is especially relevant to retail and services marketers.

Then in developing your brand platform and then your brand elements, attempt to encourage the attractive prospects and discourage folks your prospects wouldn’t want to associate with. This is a tight rope where balance and tact are required, but the messages, however subtle, need to be clear.

And even if an “undesirable” wanders in, your good customers will know it’s just by accident and the incident won’t destroy their loyalty.

I know this is an elitist point of view, but I don’t apologize for raising the issue and offering advice. It is the basis for what some branding consultants call “cult branding”.

Remember, your customers are part of your brand. When others see who patronizes your establishment, it says plenty about who you are. That’s branding.

I’d welcome any comments, pro or con, concerning this aspect of branding.

Branding to exclude the undesirables

That’s something to think about:

Just who is your brand attracting?

The demographics and psychographics of your major customer types really is as much a part of your brand as its mission statement, name or logo -whether you like it or not! This is particularly true for the brand of a retail outlet, but also for a service provider.

So the question to explore is: are the people I attract to my business the ones I am actually targeting. Am I discouraging those not compatible with my customers and prime prospects?

Oil and water don't mix. Sometimes customers don't either.

Here are a couple of hypothetical examples

Let’s say I wish to cater to the men in a working class neighborhood. I’ve directed all my promotional efforts, including sponsoring a bowling team, to attract these guys. But what if, probably because of an influential local blogger, professionals and society types begin frequenting my establishment to partake of its “quant ambience and really spicy home-made sausage”. Suppose my “regulars” then move a couple of blocks south to my competitors bar, and in a few months the Yuppies also move on to the next “experience”. Now I’m known for a operating a “quiet place where a drunk can be left alone”. What has happened to my brand?

Or perhaps I’m a chiropractor with a thriving practice nurturing senior citizens, and all at once my reputation for laser procedures begins attracting marathon runners and downhill skiers. Do I change my brand to appeal to the new clientele, and possibly lose my original patient base? Do I discourage the athletes and refer them elsewhere? Or do I possibly form a parallel practice so I can accommodate and appeal to both segments? Or, if I’m like most unsophisticated branders, do I just enjoy a dual practice for as long as it lasts, and then become just another chiropractor: unfocused, undifferentiated, unknown.

I don’t know many branding professionals who address this problem, or offer solutions to it.

Here’s my first take about the whole thing:

Identify and target market segments early on and find out from representatives of that group (or those groups if they are compatible) what they want, not only in terms of product or service, but also where they’ll go to get it, how much they’re willing to pay for it, and what it will take for them to refer other like-minded people to the business. (Remember, the main reason people refer others to great places is so they’ll “look good and feel good”).

Next, I’d determine who my target customers would find undesirable to associate with. Yes, that’s snobbish, or at least exclusive. But the people who frequent Hooters probably wouldn’t want to sit at a table next to a group of Red Hatters of a Friday evening.

I’d also locate my business in the right neighborhood, advertise in the right media and participate in the right events and sponsor the right causes.

And I’d create a tagline that both attracts my target members and repels segments my target customers are not comfortable with. I’d reinforce this tag with trade dress, graphics and employees that attract my market members and discourage others. Then I’d make sure that part of my messaging would attempt to discourage the “undesirables” with subtlety and tack.

If you’ve ever accidentally walked in to a prestigious brokerage firm to ask the receptionist for directions, you’ve probably felt as uncomfortable there as I was the last time I was on the 24th floor of the Petroleum Club Building..

No one can prevent that rabid blogger from recommending a hole-in-the-wall restaurant, or a family of six wandering into an exclusive men’s club. But by defining segments precisely, determining what is comfortable/enjoyable for them, and being very specific in conveying the right messaging and imaging to embrace the target market and discourage the non-targeted, you’ll be able to control the brand and its meaning…most of the time.

I’d appreciate any comments regarding the problem and the solutions I’ve proposed.

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.

Packaging your brand: do you give it the attention it deserves?

One vital ingredient in the branding mix is packaging, particularly for consumer goods.

In today’s Brandchannel feature, Brandspeak, Ted Mininni writes a commentary called, Advertising Is Dead, Long Live Packaging. It’s a well-reasoned argument for more attention to packaging as an integral branding element, and worth reading.

Packaging is obviously important in consumer purchasing of foods, cosmetics and health products. I’ll bet every one of us have stood in the grocery or drug store isle looking for a particular brand, only to have to ask an employee to point it out for you.. It’s embarrassing, but it’s not my fault. It could be my choice is packaged like all the rest. Or my choice might be so popular that others think they can “steal” sales by copying the familiar package. Or my favorite might just be packaged poorly.

But other product categories, from auto parts to computer printers, can be differentiated through packaging. HP – Hewlett-Packard – does a pretty good job of identifying their products through the multi-color package designs. Their HP blue, logo treatment and placement, product illustration and type selection are consistent throughout their product line. But they’re the exception.

“Packaging” for personal and business service companies is expressed through signage, décor and arrangement. It’s best known in the service industries as “trade dress”.

It is just as vital an element to service providers as packaging is for consumer goods.

So, as you develop your brand, as you build your branding platform, be sure packaging is an integrated element, not just an afterthought.

Martin Jelsema
303-242-5975