Category Archives: Brand Management

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

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

Why taglines go astray

Why do I find so many taglines not supporting the brands they’re attached to?

Why is there a disconnect, a discord?

I have a theory.

For many companies, the tagline, or slogan, is part of an ad campaign. When campaigns change, slogans change. That’s because ad agencies, even internal marcom departments, need to demonstrate their creativity. They believe the ad message is somehow different from the brand, that uniqueness in and of itself is more important than the brand.

Now the “creatives” will certainly not express such a statement. But for them, the campaign is separate from the brand, its heritage, its promise, and its associations. And the campaign includes the “concept”, the style, the headlines, copy and visuals, and…the tagline.

Then, management becomes enamored with the fresh ad idea and approves the entire campaign, including the slogan.

So these advertisers do not actively view a tagline as a branding element. A tagline is part of an ad campaign.

Now most companies do believe and demonstrate the power of a brand-oriented tagline. Quite often it is also referred to a “positioning statement”.

In this context the tag carries a visionary promise, a method of differentiating the company/product from competition, a positive and beneficial idea stakeholders can relate to.

By making the tagline part of the brand initially, and making sure that positioning statement is as sacrosanct as the name and the logo, with as much staying power as the other branding elements, continuity, association, awareness and comprehension will help to build a unified and powerful brand.

Martin Jelsema

Naming Tips – Number 42 in a Series

If you’ve given up finding a name for your offering and plan to use the services of a naming consultant, copywriter or ad agency, here are a couple of thoughts.

First share with him/her/them all the pertinent info about the offering, including background, competition, market targets, your brand architecture, your corporate vision/mission/goals, any market research you’ve performed, and lastly, any prejudices you and other top execs might have concerning a name.

What I’m saying, as I’ve said time and again in this set of tips, is develop and share a naming brief.

Quite often the person or organization you’re contracting with will have their own format for a brief. (If not I’d be suspicious from the start- probably wouldn’t hire them.) If they do, be sure to use it, but also provide additional data from your own planning documents that is relevant.

This brings up the second point. Whoever you use should sign a non-disclosure agreement (NDA). This is, of course, a legal document. There are templates available over the Internet, but I’d sure have an intellectual properties attorney review it before using it.

The NDA allows you to share proprietary info that could very well be important in the naming process.

The third item: Be sure you also have a letter of agreement that the name you decide upon will become your property. Unless you have a signed document turning ownership over to you, the writer/contractor will retain the legal right of ownership. Some contactors will want an extra fee for relinquishing title. Be sure to make arrangements within your contract for this turn-over prior to signing that document.

Lastly, be sure to have a contract you both agree to before beginning work. It should describe a scope of work, method of doing business, description of deliverables, a schedule, pricing, an arbitration agreement as well as the ownership clause. I’d also want to spell out the method of performing and pricing second and third name generating iterations if they are required.

Since I’m usually on the vendor’s side of the contract negotiations, I’ve see and written plenty of contracts. They needn’t be over a couple of pages in length, but they should be created, signed and adhered to for both parties protection and understanding.

Martin Jeslema

A Tale of Two Taglines

Seems like this is tagline month. Examples of both good and bad – in my opinion – slogans have raised my consciousness concerning taglines.

The two I’m featuring today appeared within an hour or so as part of TV commercials for their respective owners on the Food Channel. Both companies appeal to parents of pre-teens in behalf of their kid-friendly play products. Both are companies with long and unblemished reputations.

First, there’s Playskool. Never mind they teach kids to misspell “school”. Their newest tagline is: “Believe in Play”.

Second is Crayola. Their newest tagline is “The Art of Childhood”.

What a contrast!

The Playskool slogan, in my opinion, just lays there. It’s a platitude for sure.

Not only does this slogan not differentiate the company and its products, it voices an obvious and pompous expression that’s border-line offensive. It’s an admonition. It asks you, the consumer, to “mend your ways” and believe in play. Because if they didn’t remind you, you’d probably take on your old Grinch-like attitude about play.

Now let’s look at the Crayola effort. They’ve nailed it as far as I’m concerned.

With The Art of Childhood, they’ve staked out their product category and made it their own. They’ve taken a leadership position, and they’ve done it with emotion and relevance. Doesn’t every parent want their child to be creative, to learn to express themselves positively?

And Crayola also speaks to understanding children and how to delight them with “The Art of..” phrase.

I don’t know if I could have hunted the Internet all day to find two better examples of :how to” and “how not to”.

If you’ve a different opinion, or even if you agree with a little of mine, let me know. Just click on the comments link below.

Martin Jelsema

Another fine branding resource

I’ve read and recommended books by David Aakers (Building Strong Brands and Managing Brand Equity) and by Scott Davis (Brand Asset Management and with Michael Dunn, Building the Brand-Driven Business).

Aakers, Davis and Dunn are authorities, Aakers with an academic background, Davis and Dunn with in-the-trenches credibility.

All are associated with the branding consulting firm, Prophet.

And the Prophet website is home for literally hundreds of articles, new releases and white papers concerning branding and brand management. Not only do Aakers and Davis contribute prolifically, so do various executive staff members, many of whom are industry specialists.

Not only are there archives articles and other resources to be found at the site, you can be assured that they continue to churn out materials, ideas and techniques as they become current. They don’t sit on their hands.

And there’s also a Prophet blog you might want to check out. It’s a co-op for Prophet pundits as well as a newsfeed for branding in the news. I’m adding their blog, called Backpocket, to my blogroll and I’ve subscribed to their RSS feed.

Check’em out.

Martin Jelsema