Category Archives: Brand Management

Branding Basics – Step 8

So now you have one or two names you believe are absolutely perfect for the business. Now comes the frustration. 

You search the USPTO (that’s U.S. Patent and Trademark Office) on-line database ( only to find someone else already owns the precise set of characters you’ve chosen for your name, and they are competing in the same industry category. 

Or you may find by searching the Department of State databases in the states you plan to do business that there’s a competitor using the name.

It may be desirable that your name also be available as a domain name. (There may be a better domain name for your website than you company name depending upon how people will reach your website. You may want a domain name that speaks more directly to how your prospects think about your product category or keywords.) 

Creating a name that is available for trademark, domain name and state(s) incorporation registration can be frustrating and time-consuming.

I get more naming business from entrepreneurs who have fallen in love with a name they can’t own, and can’t move past it. They get stuck and just can’t generate any more adequate candidates. Since I’m not emotionally involved, I can continue generating appropriate candidates ’til one meets the criteria and is available. It sometimes takes multiple iterations.

But even if you’ve performed a successful preliminary search doesn’t mean there’s an end to it. You would do well to then go to a trademark attorney or one of several firms specializing in making comprehensive name searches. They will first search every state and territory. They will search databases with alternatively-spelled configurations for phonic infringement. They will review international trademark databases if necessary. 

You may be able to adopt a name that someone else is using if it’s in a different industry classification, or you may be able to buy a name from a registered owner if necessary.

Once you’ve found a name that you can legally use that meets all the branding criteria, it would be a wise move to trademark it, and to register it with the Departments of State in the states you will have a physical presence.

Developing and protecting a viable name is probably the single most important branding activity you will perform. That name will represent your company for many, many years. It will develop into an asset of great value over time – assuming it lives up to your promise.

So here again, I admonish you to brand smart from the start.

Next time we’ll look at logos.

Martin Jelsema

How Can “Plus” Differentiate a Brand?

As I’ve admonished anyone who’ll listen, the key to building a successful brand is to differentiate your company or offering in such a way that you stand out from competitors, and that your differentiator will be hard to imitate.

So, what do you think of those companies whose name states their prime business and then goes on to dilute their primary focus? Is this good branding? Does it differentiate or just confuse? It’s like being in thier prime business is just not enough.

I’m thinking of companies like Bed, Bath & Beyond; Brakes Plus, and Containers & More.

Did they rationalize that “more” differentiates them? Or were they afraid they’d miss customers if they really niched, so they “hedged their bets” with a name expansion?

Jack Trout, author with Steve Rivkin of Differentiate or Die, states that “breadth of line” is a difficult way to differentiate. It costs lots of money, competitors with money can copy this strategy easily, it blurs what the brand represents.

For really big box chains, having lots of inventory may be a customer plus in and of itself, but most of those stores – Home Depot, Pep Boys, CompUSA – never claimed to narrowly focus in the first place. Their differentiation is a combination of breadth of line, lower prices and customer service. Within their retail categories – home improvement, automotive after market, and hi-tech electronics – they can and do focus.

I’d like to hear from you on this subject: Is adding a name expansion helpful in establishing a solid brand? Does it dilute the company’s primary differentiator, or does it enhance it?

Martin Jelsema

Branding Basics – Step Seven

With your brand platform and an idea of the brand personality you believe to be attractive, and even compelling, to your target markets, you’re ready for the next creative step.

It’s the step most entrepreneurs begin with. Step Seven is name development.

For some, this is the fun part. For others, it’s just frustrating and energy-sapping. (If it gets to you, I can help. But you really should take a crack at it first so you’ll appreciate just what it takes to create a compelling name that’s not been adopted by someone else, and also meets your established criteria.)

First thing is to identify exactly what you are going to name.

Is it a single business that has no aspirations about going global? Is it a company you are naming, or is it a product line, a subsidiary, a family of products or a single service?

For companies with multiple product lines, and models and styles within them, you may need to establish a naming hierarchy early on just to make sure you won’t be confusing customers later on.

Perhaps you will be naming a product that will be replaced by newer versions in a year or two – like software.  If so, you’ll want to establish that ground work at the outset so you can establish continuity.

After clearly defining what you will be naming, it’s time to establish the criteria you will use to create and evaluate brand name candidates. Criteria for a particular offering can come from the list below. Not all need be considered and you may wish to add one or two of your own depending upon your branding project.

Each name candidate must (should) answer the following attributes in the affirmative:

  • Is it meaningful?
    Is it unique?
    Is it relevant?
    Does it suggest a benefit?
    Is it memorable?
    Is it appropriate?
    Is it easily pronounceable?
    Is it descriptive?
    Is it in good taste?
    Is it short enough?
    Is it vital?
    Will it “have legs” over time?
    Does it appeal to all stakeholders?

Now some will say that imposing criteria prior to generating name candidate lists will limit the quantity you’ll have to choose from. This may be true, but if those generating candidates have some direction and focus, my experience says you’ll get plenty of quantity and the quality will be much higher. (I related how I learned brainstorming from Alex Osborn while at BBDO circa 1959-60 in the blog entitled Naming Tips: Number 8 in a Series)

Next, you should distribute the tools you’ve previously developed – brand platform, brand personality document, description of what is to be named, and the naming criteria – to your naming team. After a day or two, get them together to answer any questions they may have and then have them clear a day on their calendars to brainstorm names. Give them at least two or three days, preferably a week, to “percolate” their own ideas.

On the appointed day, reserve a conference room with several whiteboards, appoint a person to record all the ideas so everyone can see those ideas and “hitchhike” on those that generate a spark. Remember, no negativism or discussion of ideas. There is no judgment taking place here; that comes afterwards. Go for quantity.

If you don’t have a group of people to brainstorm names, you might consider some of the resources available on the Internet that help you generate candidates, usually without paying any attention to criteria, though.

There are some tricks, tips and techniques to naming that can be beneficial in extending the brainstormed list. They can also be used if you’ve had to generate name candidates with no help. I’ve documented a couple of dozen of them in this blog – see the series Naming Tips under the category Name Creation. Once you have found the absolutely most appropriate, compelling and memorable brand  name candidate, you’re ready for Step Eight. And plenty of frustration.

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.

Branding Basics: Step Five

OK, you’ve identified the market. You’ve scoped out your competition. You’ve found a niche – or a position – you feel you can occupy and defend. You’ve identified or invented your significant differentiator. You’ve established you internal vision and guidelines.

It’s time to construct your brand platform.

The brand platform defines the position the company wishes to occupy in the collective minds of stakeholders, and provides focus for the development and delivery of the messages to obtain that position.

This document allows brand management, together with executive managment in most organizations, to consider the many elements that can influence, and finally delineate, a brand’s uniqueness, credibility, robustness and longevity. These elements will help establish a brand that is different from competitors, perceived to be of value in the marketplace, and provide a structure for consistent, cost effective messaging to all stakeholders.

Here are five elements – planks – that need to be placed into the brand platform.

* Company vision/mission/core values/description of corporate personality. Also, provide a description of the business model, including distribution channels, pricing and marketing/sales structure.

* Stakeholders: State who these groups are, their relevance and importance in the brand picture. Be sure to include market segments as defined previously. This should include their preferences and prejudices concerning products in the category in which you will compete. Also, some idea about the emotional “triggers” that might help prospects embrace the brand and resonate to its messages can be included here.

* Positioning: Define the specific business or product category in which you will compete, and define that desired and unoccupied position in the collective mind of your most important stakeholders within that category. Also describe industry infrastructure, practices, legal/legislative climate, technological trends, and barriers to entry.

* Competition: Identify and then describe the positioning, strategies and SWOT of the major players.

* Differentiators: Describe both strategic and tactical differentiators you plan to exploit, i.e., business model and practices, product/service attributes, product/service delivery, product/service messaging, unique value propositions.

Once the information of the individual planks are written, a management review and brainstorming session is appropriate. Considerations of internal and external factors will be integrated and balanced. Here you’ll integrate the information into a brand strategy, a strong unoccupied position, and ground rules for messages, images and associations for the brand.

The platform will become the essential guide for all branding decisions. It should be widely distributed within the organization, and available to all suppliers, partners and investors. Although a strategic document, it should not be a confidential one.

Once approved, the brand platform will become an essential part of the “creative brief” that gives direction to the development of name, logo, taglines, graphic standards, messaging and presentation.

Martin Jelsema

Power 150: ranked 118

Can Super Bowl Ads Damage Brands

Well, tomorrow’s the big day – Super Bowl Commercial day. I know we all wait in anticipation to see who can be the most irreverent and irrelevant.

Commercials as entertainment, and hang the concept of product promotion.

The thing I can’t understand is how top management types allow this to happen. Is it because they get great seats in the VIP loges? Or is it because they get bragging rights at the next trade convention? Is it because their ad agencies have creative mystics working on their accounts and they can’t say “no” to them and be in the “know”?

Last night CBS aired a look back at old Super Bowl commercials. They even had a phone-in/text-in contest so viewers could select the best of the best from years past. Apparently they’ve been doing that for years, and seven years in a row the “Mean Joe Green” Coke commercials won out. This year’s runner-up, a sheered goat “streaker” at a “ball game” played by draft horses for Budweiser.

To my mind there was no comparison. The Coke ad, with a small boy offering a game-weary Green his Coke. After drinking it, Mean Joe threw his jersey to the boy. Both participants “won”, and we had a warm feeling about giving and sharing. It was a humanistic moment, sponsored by a company not afraid to be humanistic. And there was plenty of product displayed. There were associations there that Coke could be proud of: the warrior, the kid, the game, the compassion. I’m so glad this “outdated” messaging won again.

Contrast this classic with a streaker goat. Hard to relate to this piece of fluff. The only thing that even remotely was associated to Budweiser were draft horses. But instead of pulling the traditional beer wagon, they were playing football? Perhaps that’s as close to an association as Budweiser wanted.

I’ve long thought the Wannamaker’s quote that “half of my ad dollars are wasted, but I don’t know which half”, didn’t really approach the severity of the problem. I do consider it a problem. Agencies seem to thrive on being irreverent and irrelevant.

That’s one reason Al and Laura Ries wrote another minor classic book on marketing communications: The Fall of Advertising and the Rise of PR. They say it much more eloquently and with facts to back them up. I just know I’m glad that my agency experience (some of which I share with Al Ries because I followed him into Marstellar Inc. just after he left to form his first agency) occurred while we “creatives” were admonished to find differentiation and benefits within the offering, and to remember to respect the prospects we were attempting to influence.

I admonish advertisers: if you have a code of conduct for your employees…if you ask your customer service people to treat your customers with dignity and compassion…if you want to demonstrate fiscal responsibility to your share-holders…if your product or service has value and benefit, please find an ad agency that will honor those values and produce advertising worthy of the company and its stakeholders.

So go on and watch the commercials tomorrow. But ask yourself two    questions: Do you believe the advertising represents the advertiser’s brand well? Did they get their money’s worth?

Oh, and one more: do you remember the name, much less the underlying benefit, of the advertised product?

Martin Jelsema
Power 150: ranked 118

Branding Basics – Step 4


I promised in the last episode of this series we’d begin building our brand platform this entry. But I forgot one vital plank we must fashion prior to putting it all together.

That plank is differentiation.

Let’s start by defining differentiation. My American Heritage Dictionary defines differentiate thusly: “to become distinct or specialized; acquire a different character”.  That works for me, except I’d add this: “in order to achieve a unique and compelling competitive advantage”.

It’s the way you will fundamentally position your offering in an unoccupied portion of your product category. Or it may be the way you create an entirely new product category.

Marty Neumeier, author and consultant of the highest caliber, wrote an entire book around the concept of “ZAG”. When others zig, you zag. Incidentally, the title of the book is ZAG, and you can get it by clicking on the title. I recommend it.

Jack Trout, co-author of Positioning: a Battlefield for Your Mind, also wrote a book on differentiation. It is called Differentiate or Die. You can also buy this book by clicking the title.

Marketing a truly unique service, or a specialty product, or a new type of event can differentiate you.

Another class of differentiator can be deliberately achieved if accompanied by good timing and a modicum of luck. These include being preferred by authorities, being on the leading edge of a hot trend, establishing industry standards around your product’s proprietary strength, or being an industry (or neighborhood) leader.

Then there are the differentiators that a company can create deliberately through core competencies. It may be in the way a product is made (materials, process, patent), or the way in which a service is performed. It might have to do with the way you concentrate your attention on particular design aspects (like safety, ergonomics, or customization). Another differentiator might be the commitment you make to a particular market or market segment. It is possible to become a leader in certain segments through a concentration of resources. Or perhaps you can establish a unique distribution model.

Note that all these differentiators are derived from a strategic commitment to them. They are not marketing/advertising tactics. Unless they emanate from the business’s very core, they will be, rightly, viewed as so much hype.

Only one powerful and customer-relevant differentiator is enough.

Martin Jelsema

Beware of Complicated Logo Designs

I recently offended the proud owner of a brand new logo. She had just paid a lot of money to a well-respected design center for a logo in full-color with gradients, fine line work and copy-over-icon.
Even though it passed all the designer-important standards (good use of contrasting colors, relevant imagery, proper proportions, a distinctive typeface), it was too limiting for real-world applications.
There was no way you could have used the logo in a black & white ad. If it were reproduced smaller than an inch wide, it was illegible. There were no allowances for reproduction as jewelry or ad specialty applications. It had been designed to look good on fine paper and on the website, and without regard for any other application.

When I pointed that out, the owner accused me of being jealous and walked out. Sorry, she wouldn’t leave me a copy to show you.
Here’s another example of pushing an original logo design past its limits. Just south of Denver is a relatively new community, Highlands Ranch. It’s a planned community developed by big money. They went all out in designing streets, neighborhoods and, yes, their brand..

But their logo stinks.

They’ve taken a dramatic piece of art depicting an eagle (I think) taking off into the wind. Its feathers are in disarray just as they would be in nature. Quite dramatic. But then for almost every sign in the community – from major “entering” monolithic displays to street signs, they display the logo in silhouette as shown here.

Highlands Ranch logo - b&w

Without the explanation, I’ll bet you too would be hard-pressed to identify this icon, this symbol of a city.

A note: look at the small logo from Todd’s And Top 150 below my signature. In larger sizes, it’s a colorful, unusual and relevant logo. But look what’s happened to it when shrunk to a smaller size. You can’t read it or identify the Lego blocks as Lego blocks. Oh, well.

The moral is to ask your designer to design a logo that can be used in a variety of applications, from one-column “help-wanted” newspaper ads to four-color 24-sheet posters. Also ask them to sacrifice their “artistic” mind-set for something both relevant to the project and intelligible to viewers.

There are certain criteria I apply to logo design, but that’s the subject of a future blog.
Martin Jelsema

Power 150: ranked 118