Category Archives: Brand Management

Brands that make you scoff – Subaru

I’ve been doing a series of blogs about brands that make me scoff – that is, brands that are incredulous.

Usually this incredibility comes from specific ad campaigns rather than from a brand platform. How do I know? Because they’re vacuous.

Strong brands are built upon core values. They’re differentiated from competitors based on attributes the brands actually possess. Thus, believability and credibility are inherent in the brands themselves.

But let the ad agency “creatives” begin writing taglines and headlines as they interpret that platform and the research that accompanies it and the ideas get skewed and exaggerated.

Take today’s example, for instance.

Subaru’s newest TV ads depict folks, one after another, “lovingly” caring for their Subarus. The payoff is this insipid tagline: “Love: It’s what makes Subaru a Subaru

It’s a distortion. I’m sure Subaru research says that a certain percentage of their customers say they “love” their Subarus. That’s fine. But from there to the idea that love makes Subarus is a giant step.

I’d also suggest that the slogan does not differentiate Subaru from its competitors, nor does it resonate with car buyers who may admit to loving their vehicles but don’t switch to another make because Subaru says their cars are made from love.

No, Subaru was sold a bill of goods. Their agency short-changed them.

It’s a campaign and a brand without substance.

Martin Jelsema

Brands engender long memories

People remember bad experiences with a brand and assume the experience will be just as bad the next time. I’ll bet you’ve also had those kind of experiences when you swear you’ll “never go back there again”” and mean it.
But there’s another side of the coin: When you have a positive experience with a brand, you tend to continue to favor that company for years and years, even to the point of overlooking more recent weaknesses.
Case in point: I once purchased a go-go mutual fund, but they made a mistake in processing the paperwork. I wrote the CEO telling him their error had cost me several hundred dollars. By return mail, I got a letter of apology and a check for the amount I figured I had lost. Wow! That doesn’t happen with many mutual funds! Anyway, the fund hit some bad times and lost much of its value, but I felt a great loyalty to the firm and did not liquidate.
So here’s the point: long memories work against poor performing brands, and work well for well-managed brands. This is the basis for the rebirth of some old-time product names that have been neglected by their owners until they discovered many people still had fond memories of the brand.
I’ve even gone back to Vaseline Hair Tonic recently. And I sometimes shave with Molle if I can’t find Barbasol.
The moral is still, “Brand Smart from the Start”. And then just be consistent.

Martin Jelsema

Greening the brand requires credibility

Just like most claims in support of a brand, there needs to be credibility. And like so many today, those claims aren’t proven.

I guess that’s why they’re called claims, instead facts.

Lately I’ve become aware of the many marketers claiming their product/process/materials to be eco-friendly. But then you read the fine print, or you find there is no fine print. No substantiation. Or weak substantiation.

The research says “Green is good – people would rather buy green products”. So let’s give them what they want. Here’s an example.

I bought a bottle of water today (there was no bubbler in the building!) The maker, Arrowhead Mountain Spring Water Co., a division of Nestlé, boasted their water was contained in an “Eco-Shape Bottle™”. Then there’s a line stating, “Our bottle looks and feels different because it’s purposely designed with an average of 30% less plastic* to be easier on the environment. The asterisk points to this line, Versus comparable size, leading beverage brands.”

I took physics in high school. I remember something about volume. I seem to remember that the surface area of a container might change shape but would be constant for a given volume of liquid. So the only way this bottle could contain 30% less plastic and contain the same volume as other bottles would be that it is a third thinner.

Now this may be the case. But they didn’t say so. They made their explanation laborious. For those who didn’t study and think this through, it’s incredulous. It’s almost laughable. Specially designed to look and feel different and be eco-friendly.

My point: if you have to explain a complicated concept, or if you must just make an unsubstantiated claim, perhaps it’s not in your best interest to promote that feature.

Or just admit you’ve found a way to make flimsier bottle that’ll still do the job, and that we’ll save 30% of our materials cost. Ann yes, it might have a favorable impact on the environment.

By now, you’ve probably guessed I’m after Andy Rooney’s job on 60-Minutes.

Yes, I may be cynical. But again, I want my brand to stand the test of cynics and then be loved by them, in part for my honest and simple presentation of the facts.

Martin Jelsema

Adding the Opex brand to my list of “bad guys”

Hold on, everyone. I’m going to rant.

I’ve been using a company called Opex Communications for my phone needs for quite some time.

First, they were my long distance carrier. Then they provided my cell phone service. And when we moved two years ago, my voip phone system.

I no longer use a cell phone – found I could do without very nicely, just as I had for some 60-plus years.

I had great things to say about Opex – both price and service were top-notch.

Then something happened.

Suddenly on February 26 I began getting a “disconnect” beeping sound on and no service. I went to their web site and found that they had me not paying my bill for the past two months.

Now I’ve taken to paying many bills through my bank’s epay program. Saves stamps and gets my creditors on-time payments. That’s Wells Fargo bank: quite reputable with a good system for epayments.

Anyway, I checked with Wells Fargo and found the payments I made to Opex weren’t going through. So I paid Opex over their epay program with a credit card.

I then borrowed a friend’s phone and called Opex to get the phone re-connected.

An aside, Opex promotes its “Best in Class” Customer Service. And until last week, I would have agreed with them, even though I hadn’t had occasion to contact them for over two years.

Anyway, after about a 15-minute wait, I talked to a rep. He verified that I had made the payment. He also said they had moved from Illinois to California in 2007, and possibly that’s why my payments weren’t being processed. Sure enough, Wells Fargo was still using the old address. But no one had informed me or Wells Fargo of the change.

Anyway, the rep then said the service would be restored within 24-hours. That was last Wednesday. I still have no service.

I’ve emailed them four times. Each email received an automated response saying I would get a personal response within 48 hours. I did finally get an email last Friday stating they were sorry for the inconvenience and if it wasn’t restored by Monday to get back to them. Monday – no service. I sent another email. And another one today. No service, no response.

This is a company with “Best in Class” service? I wonder what class they’re operating in now.

Okay. End of rant. I’ll be without a phone now until I get Vonage as my voip carrier.

So, just what happened to the Opex brand? Their brand promise, Best in Class service, was broken, never to be rebuilt in my mind. They will not get a recommendation from me again. Yes, I had recommended them several times before.

How critical is customer service?  Greatly critical to someone without a phone. When that happens, I would expect my phone company to be concerned. In the first place, I’d want them to see the problem from my point of view. I’d want them to set up a system where people without a phone could get better than 48-hour response to an email. It’s vital that a company look at customer service from the customer’s viewpoint. When they don’t, what they do can no longer be considered customer service.

The brand is every touch point, i.e., every encounter a customer or prospect has with a company, be it web site, email system, phone rep, packaging, service quality, aroma, or many other signals and messages and attributes of a brand. The brand may not be able to satisfy all customers through these touchpoints, but the most critical, like service delivery, need immediate attention.

I first went to Opex because of great dissatisfaction with Qwest. I won’t go back to Qwest – like most folks, my resentments are deep and long-lasting. I’ll just be adding Opex to the list of bad choices and move on.

Their loss.

Martin Jelsema

Brand Smart from the Start

I’ve admonished entrepreneurs up and down the Internet to think about branding right from the start.

Yet for the most part I only get the “yeah, buts” in response.

Yeah, but branding is expensive.

Yeah, but we’re too small to think about branding now.

Yeah, but I’ve got to get this business up and running – branding can wait.

Yeah, but we’ve got higher priorities and no cash.

I’m a member of an organization called CEOSpace. It used to be called IBI Global. It’s an organization of entrepreneurs that are fortunate enough to have a very well-staffed, highly acclaimed workshop five times a year. It’s called the Free Enterprise Forum with a weeks worth of workshops, lectures and networking opportunities for all things entrepreneurial. Their faculty is top-notch. And one of the sessions is about branding. It’s well attended, but I sense a lot of reluctance by attendees to consider branding a priority.

They may put a line or two in their business plans, and maybe even budget some money for a logo. But very few understand the importance of branding, and only one in twenty-five are passionate about it.

Branding: a number one priority.

As entrepreneurs, these members have a lot of balls in the air – financing being one of the most immediate for people attending the Forum.

My contention is that a brand, complete with a positioning statement and a brand story up front, will help you get financed. If your brand is clearly differentiated and presented with passion, savvy investors will buy in.

Yet, a dull business plan and a private placement memorandum, perhaps housed in a nice binder, is their approach to attracting money.

But just as a brand can be a customer magnet, it can also be an investor attractor.

So think branding early and often. A brand can help you get to market faster and with more impact.

Brand smart from the start.

Martin Jelsema

David S. Cohen’s 3-R’s of Branding

David Cohen, blogging at Left Brain, Right Brain, has presented and explained the “Three R’s of Branding”.

The post incorporates the basic ideas of branding, and presents a very succinct and well conceived way of thinking about branding.

His three R’s are: Recognition, Reputation and Reaction.

I found his discussion of reputation particularly cogent. Here’s a quote:

“Reputation: In the end your branding is a suggestion that your company makes about relevance and meaning, and it is your customers, prospects and partners who get to decide what your brand truly means to them.”

And that’s the key: successful branding will influence your stakeholders, but in the long run, they themselves perceive and define your brand.

That’s a hard fact for Type-A executives to fathom. But until you’ve set long-term branding goals, developed consistent and integrated brand signals and messages, and made sure you are able to live up to your brand promise, you only confuse and sometimes disappoint customers and prospects.

Short-term “solutions” to sagging quarterly revenue numbers may damage a brand. Brand integrity must be maintained through the rough periods. Reacting to a five-percent drop in stock value by compromising the brand is foolhardy.

And so, remember where the brand resides – in the collective minds of stakeholders. Compromising branding messages and brand delivery will cause confusion and dilution of the mental picture you’ve spent time, money and energy to develop and sharpen.

Reputation takes time to build but perhaps only days to demolish.

To read David’s entire blog, click Branding’s Three R’s.

Martin Jelsema

A brand should be creditable and relevant

So the question is, why would K-Mart automate a blue light bulb as their spokes character? Why is a blue light bulb the way to demonstrate low prices?

Now I know the blue light bulb has a “history” with K-Mart. It was used in the “glory days” of K-Mart. “K-Mart shoppers, look for the blue light (in the store) that spotlights today’s specials.” The blue light was a traffic signal within the store.

But now it’s taken on an animated life that speaks for K-Mart. Yes, it’s novel. Yes, it’s attention-getting. But it’s no longer just a brand signal, it’s become the core of the brand. So how does it generate credibility? How does it become relevant to people’s life? How is it different from Wal-Mart’s “smiley face”? And most importantly, how does a blue light bulb differentiate K-Mart in a meaningful way?

A blue light bulb means nothing to me. Connotations are absent. Relevancy is absent. Credibility is absent. Differentiation is almost absent.

 K-Mart’s blue light bulb becomes spoke character

As an identifier of K-Mart the blue light bulb works after a number of ads exposures. But we all know there’s more to a brand than awareness and the association with a character.

If the icon were a Jolly Green Giant or Betty Crocker or Mr. Clean, then you’d immediately get the connection and relevancy between brand and character.

Sorry, K-Mart. Resurrecting and promoting the blue light bulb to brand status just doesn’t cut it. Find a differentiator that people care about.

Martin Jelsema

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