Category Archives: Brand Management

Brand Basics – Step 4

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

That plank is differentiation.

It’s a description of how you are going to differentiate your offering from competitors. 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.

Jack Trout, co-author of Positioning: a Battlefield for Your Mind, also wrote a book on differentiation. His 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.

Back to Basics – 3

Step 3 has to do with positioning.
Positioning was first presented by Al Reis and Jack Trout in their 1981 book, Positioning: The Battlefield for Your Mind (I own a first edition).
The main idea is that the marketplace actually positions (ranks and/or stereotypes) a brand within the collective mind.

Now most marketers believe they are responsible for positioning their offering – product or service – in the marketplace by practicing certain strategies and tactics, particularly through setting price and creating compelling messages.

Well, the truth is they do influence what market members think. But the key consideration here is the market perceives the product in their own context and through their own experiences, some not even related to the product itself. This includes experiences with competitive products and products in adjacent categories, their histories with similar products over time, and their social backgrounds among other factors.

A provider can certainly influence and persuade people that their product ought to occupy a certain position (number one, the first, the least expensive, the most responsive, etc.). However, if a competitor is already making – and backing up – that claim, you’ll most likely never dislodge the competitor from the position you’d like.
It’s therefore vitally important that you find a positive, unoccupied position in which to compete. That means research.
The first thing to determine through research is what attributes are really important to your prospects. That is, what motivates them to buy. Then you need to find out how your prospects now position your competition within the product category. Once you know those two pieces of intelligence you can begin looking for an unoccupied position with favorable attributes.

To read more about positioning and see how the research process works, I’ve a section about positioning on my Signature Strategies website. Just click Positioning to review that process.

Anyway, based on the research, whether a formal study or a “seat-of-the-pants” analysis, you begin to identify unoccupied positions with potential appeal and velocity.

Now you are ready to develop a product/service tailored to that position, and to begin the alignment of marketing factors to support the position.
As an example, let’s say you sold replacement windows, and you determined that the market and the category had a gap in the high-end remodeling market. Here, your customers are the contractors, not the ultimate consumer. You would then provide the essential help a contractor would need to design in your windows. You would want to establish a reputation for being there when the contractor wanted you on the job site. You’d also provide the contractor with marketing aids to help him/her convince the home-owner that both the contractor and the window were of good value and prestige.
In other words, you would plan to do what is necessary to make that position yours. But you must always remember it’s the market that does the positioning. All you can do is anticipate, participate and validate the market.
Now we’re ready to begin building our brand platform
More on that in Step 4.

When should you perform a brand audit?

There are several situations that require a brand manager to review and reevaluate the brand. Quite often this is an activity dictated by an unexpected event or circumstance which intuitively calls for the review. These often occur because of competitive activity, particularly when inytroducing a technologically superior product. The event may also be something as “trivial” as a critic’s product review.

Yet there are some more predictable situations where your brand management people should perform this review, also called a brand audit. Ideally, brand audits will be scheduled annually and receive as much attention as the brand plan. But if not, they should be reviewed when any of the following situations occur:

When contemplating a decision to enter a new market or product category in which you have not as yet established a position.

When assessing the pros and cons of extending a brand into a new product category or developing a new brand for that category.

When determining whether to sub-brand or utilize a corporate brand – and to assess the balance between the two.

When a brand’s market share is slipping or is not meeting realistic expectations because of competitive activity.

When considering the establishment of a new product category in which your brand will be the first participant.

When you are not certain of your brand’s position, strength or effectiveness in relation to competitive offerings.

When it’s time to establish a cohesive branding plan, and implement it through the creation of relevant branding elements: name, positioning statement, logo, packaging, graphic standards, associations, events, etc.

On my Signature Strategies website, I’ve outlined the elements of a complete brand audit. Just click on the name Signature Strategies to review and print out this doc.

Martin Jelsema

Power 150: ranked 118

Brand associations: be careful of the company you keep

This week it was announced that a pilot program will allow advertisers to expose an ad message to airline passengers through the medium of airport security tubs that pass through the X-ray with your belongings. The message is silk-screened to the inside of the tub, so as you unload your computer, shoes and whatever else required by any given alert, you can read the advertisement.

Now I need to ask you, is this an appropriate medium for your brand to be associated with? Would you consider advertising in airport tubs if you had a relevant message?

If my pocket knive/nail file had just been confiscated, I might find an ad for Swiss Army Knives timely. But after that incident, I’m not in any mood to receive a message reminding me of my loss. I’d judge Victorinox (the company behind Swiss Army Knives) to be opportunistic and I’d resent that as much as the fact I have had to wait in lines, get to the airport three hours before a flight, and then have my property taken from me. I’m not in the mood. Being exposed to ads in this captive situation does not enamor the advertiser to me.

A lot of entrepreneurs have invented unique advertising media. Think public toilet doors, for instance. They’ver also promoted all sorts of opportunities for advertisers to “display their wares” – events, organizations, odd and unexpected “billboards”. It’s part of the whole “experential marketing” craze.

In just about every opportunity to either use a unique medium, co-brand, sponsor an event or associate with a personality, you have to ask, “Will this association be appropriate for the brand?”

Some associations might look great on paper, but a little digging might prove otherwise. Here’s an example: about a year ago, Sweet’N Low embraced the Pink Panther as its advertising mascot. But remember where that panter’s been – for many years associated with Owens-Corning insulation. So I begin to associate Sweet’N Low with asbestos. That’s where my mind goes. (Yes, I have a long and perverse memory.) I haven’t seen that campaign in several months now.

So before you sponsor or participate or advertise, think of the ramifications of the association. Be sure it fits your brand and its image, that it conveys the right message to your market, in the right context and with the right associations.

Martin Jelsema

Branding Basics: Step 1

As a branding consultant for smaller businesses, I’ve found it beneficial to assume my first-time clients lack knowledge of branding and of the branding process. This may sound presumptuous, but even those with some half-formed opinions (a little knowledge is…) find it helpful when we begin with a “back to basics” approach.

I call this educational process “Branding Smart from the Start”.
Okay, that admonition makes sense, but the question it raises is “how do I do that?

Well, I’m going to blog on that exact question: How should a start-up approach and implement a branding program right from the start? It will take a few weeks to cover the topic – there will be at least 10 blogs. But if you or your client can’t wait even a few weeks to implement a branding strategy, email me at and I’ll be happy to send you my drafts of the series.
Now many of the factors that dictate your initial business model and business plan are integral to your brand plan. In fact you can do to begin the branding smart process even before you have a business plan. I believe that branding is part of the fundamental strategic groundwork that dictates your business plan.
So the first question I usually ask is, “What markets will you serve and what are their major problems, needs, desires and characteristics?” 
I won’t let someone get away with defining their market as, “anyone who (fill in the blank)”. That’s not specific enough. If it’s a consumer product or service, speak to gender, age, income level, problem or desire addressed, their motivation, etc., etc. There may be more than one set of consumers, so define and profile each group and their importance (group size, purchase frequency, probable lifetime value).
If you’re serving business-to-business customers and clients, describe the industry(s), organization size, buying cycles, organization structures, buying motives, buying influences by company size, etc., etc.
In other words, profile the buyers in the market or markets you will be serving.
Once you’ve defined your market(s) and their needs for your product or service, you have established the foundation of the market structure on which you will build your brand. It’s also information that should influence your strategic plan as well as being a major section of the plan itself.
Just an aside: So often an entrepreneur will name his startup even before thoughts of brand, market, competition or business model are addressed. Isn’t that putting the cart before the oxen? That’s branding “from the start”, but not “branding SMART from the start. See my previous blog on Branding Sequencing.
I believe that the name – the foremost branding element – should be derived from the strategies developed and documented in the business plan.
Next: Competition and differentiation.

Martin Jelsema

Branding in a Vacuum

Do you think companies have egos? Do you believe they intentionally ignore reality and ask their employees to behave as if competitors don’t exist, and that prospects are blissfully ignorant?

I believe companies actually reflect the egos of top management and their advisors. And that top management ego is the cause of many branding decisions that cause the brand to lose credibility.

Every so often that collective ego can override good business practices, basic marketing tenets and good, old common sense. This is particularly true of branding activities because they can be so subjective. Quite often these leaders will advance, or at least approve, communications at which the general public can only scoff. I’m sure you have seen this in action, and your reaction, just as mine has been, is: “What were they thinking?”.

That brings me to the subject of this blog entry.

In Audi’s latest commercial, they have introduced a superb tagline: “Never Follow”.

Those two words actively position Audi as an innovator, an engineering and style leader. I’m sure Audi management enthusiastically embraced this stance.

But then they had to show the Audi Avant. Holy, cow: it looksa lot like a Chrysler 300. The big grill. The high door panels. The smaller-than-average windows. Let the photos below speak for themselves.

Chrysler-Audi look-alikes

In this particular instance, Audi is a style follower, and we all know style is the major purchase consideration for most of the population. No matter how innovative under the hood the Audi may be, the visual evidence in this 30-second commercial contradicts its claim.

I can hear the folks at Audi approve the tagline without ever considering its plausibility. They know they’re innovative. They don’t perceive themselves to be followers. It probably never occurred to them that prospects would not see the world according to Audi.

So now a perfectly fine automobile is blemished by what prospects (at least this one) see as a disconnect between what Audi wants them to believe and the reality of the contradiction.

Top manager egos are hard to control and many capable people lose their jobs trying. But in today’s competitive environment where a company better be up-front, honest and credible, those in charge need to listen to advisors who will stand up and say, “REALLY?”

Credibility must be present in all branding activities if a company wishes to establish and maintain lasting customer relationships.

Martin Jelsema


Can the Brand Short-Circuit Direct Response Sales?

I know several folks in the direct response business who believe branding gets in the way of the sales message and distracts the customer.

They don’t bother with a logo, or even a company name. Instead, they rely on compelling, detailed and benefit-packed copy; together with testimonials, references and endorsements; coupled with powerful offers, discounts, bonuses and coupons. They are all about the sale. Their only goal is to persuade and entice buyers to TAKE ACTION NOW.
And many of them seem to be successful with this tactic.
But I believe it to be short-sighted.
All direct marketers know that acquiring new customers is vital to their business, but that their real success comes from repeat business.
Most have figured out how much business an average customer will do with the firm over a number of years. It’s probably an order of magnitude larger than the initial sale because these marketers continually ask their customers to buy more stuff. They send catalogs, sales letters, bargain flyers, e-mails. Continually. Religiously. Obsessively.
All of these impressions develop in the minds of customers who may or may not respond to a particular offer. If the company behind the offer does not present a focused, differentiated image of itself, people will not generate any passion for the company. They’ll regard the company as just another provider that will be selected only if “the price is right”.
My contention is that paying attention to your brand is important to direct marketing long-term success. Perhaps not as important as a powerful offer backed by a no-holds-barred guarantee in the short-run, but every bit as important over time. I cite Land’s End, Kiplinger, Bose and Omaha Steaks as four who pay as much attention to brand as to product and offer, and have flurished.
Think of the direct marketing companies in which you have established a relationship. I’ll bet nine out of ten will have established and promoted their brand along with their offers. I’ll bet they are more successful in acquiring and especially maintaining loyal customers. I’ll also bet their life-time value per customer is higher than their competitors who have disregarded branding.
That’s my opinion and I’m sticking to it.
Martin Jelsema


How do you Manage Customer Loyalty?

I received an email notice of an American Marketing Association (AMA) training series to be held in three cities in early 2007.

The advertised training is called “Managing Customer Loyalty”. The copy begins:

“Customer loyalty is one of the most powerful weapons an organization has in its strategic arsenal.”

Well, I question “where they’re coming from”.

It just hit me wrong that people were attempting to manage loyalty. The more I thought about it, the more it seemed the AMA was out of step with current trends in branding and in what we know about how and why customer loyalty really develops.

The AMA announcement then went on to explain what we’ll learn in this 2-day, intensive workshop. Content had to do with defining and measuring customer loyalty, and applying analytical tools to our database (data mining). This is really valuable – information about your customers and their buying habits and motivations can only help establish customer-related programs to strengthen relationships.
But the crux of the content is the promise that you’ll be able to classify your customer base by the intensity of their loyalties, and then perform certain actions that will benefit the company.

And the “benefit the company” orientation is what bothers me about their approach to customer loyalty.
The entire orientation is wrong in my opinion. Perhaps the series title should have been “Taking Advantage of Your Customer’s Loyalty”. It seems so one-sided.

I’ve been reading about – and experiencing – how passionate consumers are taking over the “ownership” of brands. There’s certainly a pride of ownership surrounding many brands that’s a lot stronger than just the “repeat buy” habit.

The companies sponsoring those customer-revered brands would not be studying ways to exploit their customers. Instead, they would devote their energies to finding new ways, or intensifying old ways, to deliver a higher state of satisfaction.

See the difference? This training, except for the purely analytical data capture and analysis, “…will provide you with the information and tools to fully utilize customer loyalty and increase bottom-line results.” Their words. The orientation is one-sided and sales-driven.

Now most savvy businesses these days will use a customer-view approach to loyalty programs and marketing activities. They will be saying, “what would my customers want” rather than “how can I get them to spend more money with me?”

Now I suppose the AMA had this copy fashioned in this way because a large proportion of their membership thinks with a company-out perspective.

But wouldn’t it have been better to sponsor a training series called: “Managing the Company to Delight Customers”?

Martin Jelsema