Category Archives: Brand Management

MasterCard: I’m sorry

I received a phone call from a MasterCard spokesperson after he read my recent blog on their new, poorly-conceived tagline.

He denied the slogan was MasterCard’s.

I apologized.

I did state, however, that I was pretty sure it was theirs.

He said that MasterCard had been using the very same slogan and ad theme for ten years now. You know, the one that ends: “MasterCard: priceless”.

I give MasterCard kudos for sticking with a theme for ten years. Most advertisers get tired of their messages – some even before they’ve had a chance to penetrate the collective minds of the target population. These advertisers get impatient. After all, they’ve seen the commercials and heard the words hundreds of times. They want a change, especially if they perceive sales aren’t advancing fast enough or steep enough to affect this quarter’s bottom line.

But I digress.

The MasterCard spokesperson did think it was possible that a MasterCard product or division could have used a new slogan without him being aware of it. He said he’d check that out.

He did agree with me that “the card that won’t hold you back” was vapid.

So if I just dreamed this new slogan and attributed it to MasterCard, I do again apologize. If it belongs to another credit card service and I wasn’t paying attention until that tagline “yelled” at me, I apologize.

But the first blog made a point about taglines and that’s what was important to me. I’ve never been “out to get” anyone.

So MasterCard, I’m sorry if I misrepresented you. I’m also sorry if you let this tagline slip by your corporate communications people because that’s an error in brand quality control.

Martin Jelsema

A tagline that actually differentiates the brand

If you get here often, you know I’ve been decrying the poor taglines some very large and sophisticated marketers have recently adopted.

To whit: American Airlines: we know why you fly, and MasterCard: the card that won’t hold you back.

So it’s time to feature one that’s a winner.

The commercials eBay has been running are, in my estimation, really well done and based on the way eBay is different because it’s an auction (or can be an auction, anyway). There are everyday people competing for a prize object. They may be fighting in the end zone for a “Hail Mary” pass of an unusual vase, or cantering with the hounds chasing a valued 1950’s lunch box. In each spot the winner is triumphant.

And the accompanying tagline: shop victoriously.

Right on, eBay. You’ve played to your strength and your defining characteristic: running auctions. Auctions are fun and thrilling and competitive. The tag captures all that and very clearly differentiates eBay from common retailers.

Contrast eBay’s slogan with MasterCard and American Airlines.

If you’re a copywriter, or an approver of ad copy, use this blog as your guide. By finding the emotional trigger that communicates your difference, you’ll come up a winner, too.

Martin Jelsema

Naming Tips – Number 39 in a Series

Here are a few comments and opinions about naming product features. First thing is, like most issues, there are pros and cons to naming features. And also there’s the ultimate weasel phrase, “It depends”.

So let’s explore names for features.

First of all, is the feature a product in and of itself?

Certainly the GM North Star system is a feature of higher end autos, and an option for lower-priced vehicles. As an option North Star is a product. As an included sub-system it is a feature. And because this system is exclusive and has become a valued reason to buy a GM car or truck, it has been promoted and advertised as a product. It helps differentiate the vehicle from competitors in a significant way. So, yes, naming this feature/product makes sense and contributes to the success of GM vehicle sales and profits.

But not all features deserve a name in my estimation. Many product features do not differentiate the product in a meaningful way. The marketer may believe that naming a feature common to a product category will make a difference, but I believe that kind of naming strategy only drains credibility from the offering – at least in the eyes of rational, informed buyers. 

I was once involved with evaluating names for four features being incorporated in a new line of lawnmowers. The features were all common to most high-end power mowers. Once we looked at the list of “winning” name candidates, we found there was no real advantage in naming them, particularly since the common descriptive phrases were already known and accepted by the respondents to the survey.

Having a list of feature names people are not familiar with, coupled with a product line name and a model name is just too much for a buyer to handle.

So here’s my rule-of-thumb guide to whether to name a feature or not: If the feature is truly a differentiator like North Star, and you plan to promote that feature at least at the point-of-sale, name the feature. But if it’s a “me-too” feature you just want to hype, forget it.

Also, keep in mind buyers want to simplify the buying process. By introducing a new name into the mix is just another factor to weigh, and may make the decision more difficult.

Remember, a confused prospect will not buy.

Martin Jelsema

Here’s a modest product with pro-like branding

Usually you’ll find me criticizing a branding travesty on these pages.

I can’t help it. There are so many of them and they stand out because they cause discord and disharmony. (And don’t give me the old story that any notoriety helps your brand. Not when with a little care and attention good vibes can be achieved for the same amount you’d spent on lousy branding.)

 Anyway, today I’m here to praise.

I saw an ad for a tattoo removing solution in last week’s USA Weekend. A 3/4 page, modestly colored ad with the headline “Finally…TATTOO REMOVAL. Beneath the headline a picture of the box was tied to the tagline, “It’s easy as opening this box.” The copy, a column on the right interspersed with visuals, speaks to the product’s advantage over laser procedures and a risk-free guarantee. Then an 800-number and an “ask for order” with bonus close.

Now I can’t vouch for the product, nor am I a prospect. I dodged a couple of “lets go get a tattoo” episodes in my college days. Sometimes I wonder how I survived those days, but that’s a subject this blog will not explore. Ever.

Anyway, the product’s name is WRECKING BALM.

 Wrecking Balm package

Isn’t that a great name for a tattoo fading product? See the tension? Isn’t it memorable? Won’t that be the kind of name people will enjoy repeating to friends and associates? 

The logo goes well with the name even though it smacks of patent medicines of a hundred years ago. Yet it does depict a character, Doc Wilson, who may or may not be real. Nevertheless his name lends some credence to the product.

 Wrecking Balm logo

The color palette, a faded rust and black, provides contrast and seems appropriate. If Wrecking Balm ever makes it to store shelves, it will display very well.

All in all, I’d say this was a first-class branding and advertising effort.

Now that this product’s on the market, perhaps I’ll look into getting that tattoo I nixed 50 years ago.  Nah.

Martin Jelsema

Protect your Trademarked Brand from Going Public

The laws and federal codes defining and regulating trademarks provide a bit of flexibility concerning brands. And that flexibility, or ambiguity if you wish, leads to litigation and a body of trial precedents that provide intellectual property attorneys plenty of business.

Once you have registered a trademark with USPTO, you are not completely free to do as you wish with that trademark. For one thing, you want to prevent your trademark from falling into the public domain. Think it can’t? Here is a list of well known words that had been trademarks until the courts decided, because someone wanted to use the trademark in a generic way to identify a type of product, that they had truly become generic terms through neglect.

 Asprin             Cellophane
 Corn Flakes    Cube Steak
 Brassiere         Dry Ice
 Escalator         Lanolin
 Light Beer       Mimeograph 
 Nylon             Super Glue
 Thermos         Trampoline
 Yo-Yo           Zipper

So what did these brand owners do wrong?

Essentially they allowed the trademarks to become nouns and/or verbs. Trademarks are, by regulation, adjectives that identify the source of products, they do not describe the product itself (i.e., they do not substitute the trademark for a generic product description).

It is tempting to want to have people think of your product when they think of a product category, but by encouraging people to  make the substitution you are on the road to making your trademark a generic name for the entire product category.

Now Talcott J. Franklin, an intellectual properties attorney, in his book, Protecting the Brand, cites six rules to keep you save from turning your brand into a generic name. In all your written materials…

1 Always use the mark as an adjective.
2 Never make the mark plural or possessive (either makes the word a noun).
3 Never use the mark as a verb
4 Always distinguish the mark from the remaining copy.
5 Always indicate the trademark status at least once when you include the trademark.
6 Do not give the mark a definition, except as a trademark for the company. 

Those are pretty self explanatory except for number six. I believe Franklin’s meaning here does not preclude a phrase such as “Xerox® brand copy paper”. This isn’t a description of the trademark, rather the trademark is an adjective modifying “copy paper”. Rather, using a tagline like “Xerox®: leader in paper imaging” actually makes the trademark a noun. And that’s the issue.

So if you own or are planning to own trademarks, I’d suggest you get Franklin’s book, and I’d also seek the advice of an intellectual properties attorney.

Martin Jelsema

This IT company needs focus

So this month the BrandingWire posse of pundits, of which I’m a member, blogs about branding a small IT firm serving B2B and non-profit organizations. It is a real company but prefers to remain anonymous.

After reading my blog be sure to visit the blogs of other BrandingWire pundits. Those links are located in the right column of this blog page, and listedagain at the end of this blog. Or you could click the image here to start at the BrandingWire home page where this month’s assignment is presented.


As I see it, this firm is having trouble defining who they are.

Their services, mostly provided through small, hourly contracts, range from 24-hour emergency problem-solving to installations, conversions and upgrades. They serve health care, non-profit, financial and retail clients.

Apparently most of their existing clients and their prospects are not used to paying for good IT services. They don’t perceive the value. As the company freely admits, they are looked upon as an “IT repair service” when their desire is to become a “business partner”.

Reading their goal of becoming a partner with their clients harkens me back to my days with IBM. That was – and still is – their modus operandi.

Building a sound business model

Now I’m getting away from the branding aspects of strategy for a moment because I believe branding needs to be based on a firm business foundation, and that the brand should then align with the business core. I would first want to develop the company structure and orientation.

Is it driven by technocrats or business/marketing people? IBM was driven by marketing and sales, particularly sales. Their sales force was trained and rewarded to be business consultants, working with client IT people and with executives within the company. They held seminars and workshops to promote (in my day) such leading edge technologies as time-sharing systems, linear programming and CAD/CAM. Sales people (called Account Managers) worked conceptually with top customer execs to develop long-range plans and systems based on ROI considerations. They wrote proposals much as a McKinsey consultant might, from a strategic platform.

Then each account had a Systems Engineer (or a crew of SE’s) to work hand in glove with client IT people to implement the systems and help with everyday problems and fixes. Also, Field Engineers were assigned to take care of hardware installation and maintenance on a contract basis.

Even in a small IT company, I believe you need evangelistic account people selling the concepts and benefits of particular system solutions. These folks need to be business oriented instead of technicians. They’ll do most of their work at executive, non-IT levels. The services themselves would then be carried out by top-notch technical people working within the customer environment with customer IT personnel to implement and then trouble-shoot as required. Now you have the basis for a partnership.

Characteristics of viable niches

You’ll need to identify a niche with three minimum characteristics:

1) It’s large enough to provide cash flow and profits for your company and your top three competitors.

2) The niche and its participants can be readily identified and approached.

3) Niche participants feel enough pain from the problems you promise to solve that they will listen and ultimately pay for a solution.

Three ways to differentiate a B2B business

If this structure is in place, you can now differentiate your service in one or more ways:

1) By industry you serve. This particular company was started serving non-profits but found they were not cash-rich. Perhaps they can specialize in retail for example. Find or educate an account rep in point-of-sale data capturing, sku tracking, trend reporting, etc.. Identify those retailers within a 100-mile radius and develop top-level relationships through seminars, association membership and regular information exchanges.

2) By application specialty. This needs to be a broad enough application to make it viable. It might be database development and mining which might appeal to marketing functions in retail, wholesale, fund-raising and medical research. Again, the spokes-evangelist must be hired and provided the technical backup to sell the concept as well as install and maintain such a system.

3) By the way you do business. Here you’re not focusing on a market niche, you’re just selling your approach to helping companies achieve their business goals through IT applications. This is harder to pull off for a smaller organization because their people probably don’t have the knowledge to meaningfully partner with prospect execs. But by focusing on, let’s say, three allied niches you might make it work.

Branding equals information dissemination

Now about branding this new, niched structure: For a service business, providing information – not just promotional literature and data sheets but knowledge prospects and customers can use to develop strategies and tactical plans – is the best way to brand the business. Becoming an expert and letting your market know it should be the main thrust. That means knowledgeable people first and informational materials second.

That doesn’t mean you ignore traditional branding elements. In addressing them, starting with a business name, I’d make sure it wasn’t too “techy”. It shouldn’t be Associated Systems Solutions, or as people will call it, ASS. Rather, the name should reflect the bigger picture. In fact, “Big Picture” might be a good name for this entity.

And of course the logo, tagline, graphic standards and trade dress will need to be compatible.

But of most importance is that the mission, vision, brand story, code of conduct and elevator pitch should be aligned and communicated to and through every single employee. In the service business, employees are really the key to your brand. They not only represent the brand, they are the brand in customer’s eyes.

Employees are the brand

This includes how they dress, how they interact with others, how they communicate enthusiasm and exhibit a helpful attitude. Oh, yes, make sure they’re competent.

It may take time to hire the right people, establish the contacts and get up to speed on the industries and applications required. You’ll need to prepare seminar curriculum and materials; join associations and standards committees; participate in industry trade shows, symposiums and conferences, and constantly publish white papers, technical briefs, trade articles and executive application descriptions.

But to become known as a specialist, the “go-to” company for (name your niche), is a lot easier, faster and less costly than to attempt to become all things to all people. Yes, I know you might have to pass up a piece of business to focus on your niche. But in the long run, the company’s reputation and position in the chosen niche will be a magnet for other niche participants. You can become the authority. You can command higher rates. You will enjoy being a big fish in a smaller pond.

All you need to do is find that viable niche, one that is not already dominated by a big fish competitor, and start to focus your business.

Read the other blogs about IT

Now: read what the other BrandingWire pundits have to say on this subject. Just click here to go to the BrandingWire web site. The individual blogs are listed and linked below”

Lewis Green

Kevin Dugan

Valeria Maltoni

Steve Woodruff

Drew McLellan

Patrick Schaber

Derrick Daye

Gavin Heaton

Becky Carroll

Olivier Blanchard


Matt Dickman

Chris Brown

Cam Beck

I hope you’ll enjoy the discussion and pick up an ideas or two in the process.

Martin Jelsema

Branding for Referrals? Tell a Story

You’ve probably concluded if you’re a regular reader of The Branding Blog that I’m a fan of Scott Degraffenreid and his insights into referral marketing (Embracing the N.U.D.E. Model, The New Art and Science of Referral Marketing). I am.

He speaks to Novelty, Utility, Dependability and Economy as the four attributes a product or a service must have if it’s to be a good candidate for referrals. He further states that novelty and utility have a tension between them that helps people remember the brand’s story. He also proposes that dependability and economy also have an “opposites” relationship of the same type.

I’ve deduced from his work that the key to referrals is to develop a short, interesting and memorable “story” based upon the N.U.D.E. Model.

The model as Scott had formulated it really meant product or service attributes. But as a marketing communicator, I think the brand story incorporating those attributes is almost as important as the attributes themselves.

There’s been a lot written in the past several years about creating a brand story. But I’ve not read anywhere just what should go in to such a story, who should be telling the story, or to whom the story should be told.

Well, if referrals are important to your brand, The N.U.D.E. attributes should go in the story, those people doing the referrals should know and relate your story for you, and the people hearing the story will be part of the network of friends, family and associates of the story-teller.

Martin Jelsema

A Trademark is the Narrowest View of a Brand

At least that’s the way it’s viewed by intellectual property lawyers and the United States Patent & Trademark Office (USPTO). Not being a lawyer, or ever wanting to be, I’ve never attempted to advise clients on the legal aspects of protecting their brands.

But recently I ran across a small book – if it were a large tome I’d have left it on the shelf – entitled Protecting the Brand and subtitled A concise guide to promoting, maintaining, and protecting a company’s most valuable asset. It was written by Talcott J. Franklin, J.D., M.A..

I learned some interesting things and got clear on a couple of others. So I’d thought I’d pass some of that wisdom on.

First fact: A company’s name cannot be trademarked. Well, it might be in some cases but probably wouldn’t stand up in a federal court. The valid trademark is an adjective whose sole purpose, according to trademark law, is to identify the source of a product/service/entity/event rather than the object (or company) itself.

Thus, I cannot trademark my company name, “Signature Strategies, LLC.”

But I can trademark “Signature Strategies” as a source of branding and positioning knowledge and experience. That means I can’t use it as a noun, just as an adjective. In other words, I shouldn’t say, “Signature Strategies® is a branding firm”. Instead I should say “Signature Strategies® services are multitudinous”. In this way it identifies to the source of a service.

Incidentally, you can legally acquire the “®” only by having your trademark registration accepted by the USPTO. You can use the mark “™” even if you haven’t applied for a trademark.

Not even the most diligent of corporate brand police can always catch the misuse of a trademark in this way because people being people will use shortcuts. But a company must demonstrate its intent to comply if it ever comes up in court.

In a very practical way, business cards and stationery can comply by adhering to this simple rule: Keep the trademarked designation away from the legally adopted name and address, and  if you use the trademark be sure to use the legal name as well.

As I say, I’m not a legal eagle. So I’d say its best to get advice from an intellectual properties law firm before tackling the USPTO website and their “simple” registration process.

Martin Jelsema