Brand Management – where should it reside?

Brand management is usually a marketing function in traditional organizations.

Strategic Brand Management session

Well, it had to start somewhere. The idea of branding products in a multi-product business led to brand managers responsible for advertising, merchandising, supply chain relations, and most importantly, profitability.

Thus, brand management became linked to short-term goals, measured by the fiscal quarter. This has led to many a brand being presented in one way one year and then presented a different way the next – unless the current tactics were working. Ad agencies were (are) being hired and fired based upon this premise.

Branding: strategy or tactic?

I believe in today’s environment that branding should be a strategic process. For either a product or a company, the idea of branding for the short term means tactics that do not usually serve the brand well. Looked at from a strategic point of view, the brand itself should not be “tinkered with” once the strategy is approved at the top levels of the business.

The strategies I’m referring to have to do with the things inherent in the product or company that differentiate it from competition, that provide unique benefits to customers, and that reflect the corporate commitments to stakeholders. It includes developing and sticking with a brand’s personality, story and tone over the years. Commercials and promotions may change over time, but they need to emphasize these brand attributes, not attempt to change them in mid-stream.

Who”s Responsible for Brand Management?

So, who should be responsible for developing those strategies? I submit the product development team at the very inception of the new product idea – with guidance from a strategic branding unit, either residing within the organization and reporting to the CEO, or an impartial outside branding consultant with direct access to the CEO.

In this way, corporate values, mission and vision are served. Trends are recognized and factored into the planning. Competition is evaluated with more impartiality. Risk is spread and individual careers are not measured by immediate profits.

Thus, the brand can mature and develop relationships based upon a consistent brand promise.

Addressing Additional Brand Management Issues

In my next blog I’ll speak to managing the corporate brand, and then do a post concerning brand management in sells-driven companies.

Naming Tip 74 – Name for the Long Haul

An early icon of technological retailing is changing its name.

Radio Shack changing its nameRadio Shack will become known now as “The Shack”.

The old name was just too restrictive. True be told, it was always too restrictive, even when they were mostly selling do-it-yourself electronic kits.

I don’t know what transpired to make Radio Shack management decide it was time to change after all these years. They were certainly tenacious for decades.

So here’s the tip: look at name candidates with at least one eye on the brand’s future. Can you imagine a scenario when the candidate you’re considering just might not be appropriate and more?

Now “The Shack” eliminates the restriction. But if I were The Shack, I’d have considered going all the way. Why hang on to part of an inappropriate name? Do I, in the 21st Century, want my company associated with a shack?

They had an opportunity to break away from the “rinky-dink” and forge a new, modern image.

But I can see their reluctance as well. They felt they had equity in Radio Shack, and that some of that good-will and personality could be saved with a transitive name instead of a clean break. But how long will management – and the public – want to be associated with a shack?

I’ll bet they’ll want to make another change within five years.

A little fortitude builds better brands than hedging can.

Brands That Make You Scoff – FirstBank

Branding boo-boo by FirstBank, the largest regional bank in Colorado.

Bad branding: FirstBank's cloned lambTheir latest commercial says they’ll give you $50 if you open a checking account with them. That’s the good news. All the rest is downhill.

I wish I could let you view the entire commercial, but no one has put it on YouTube as yet. But the picture to the left states the gist of it.

This character, a regular used car salesman in a banker’s office, strokes this “clone-gone-wrong” throughout the 20 seconds as he presents the $50 incentive for those opening an account. Then he claims the money was not cloned. Throughout twenty seconds he “lies” about the money not being cloned, and as the camera pulls back, we see another “him” sitting off to the side, obviously his clone.

I’m sure the agency is excited because people have been drawn to the image of a double-headed lamb and the subject of cloning. I’m not at all surprised an ad agency proposed this. I don’t believe in agencies any more. These guys have sacrificed brand integrity for sensationalism. And FirstBank management approved it. Shame on them

Why would FirstBank, a regional leader, want this greasy character who’s obviously a liar, to represent the bank. Just his voice inflections make you not like this character. And why would you or I every think this bank would pass out cloned – read counterfeit – money?

And please answer me this: how is the negativism of cloned money, coupled with cloned lambs and salesmen, going to make a good impression? And how can it be relevant?

Thumbs down. I don’t want to do business with a bank that would hire this guy, or would approve such an inane commercial.

Naming Tip – Number 73 in a Series

Comprehensive lists of all sorts of “stuff” can be the source for brand name candidates. They may or may not be directly related to the product brand, but that doesn’t keep some list members from being appropriate name candidates.

For instance, I ran into this list quite by accident: Birds of North American Species List at the website of the publisher of Smithsonian Field Guide to Birds of North America, Scott & Nix. I followed a link from an e-mail from Chuck Green of IdeaBook – an always-looked-forward-to monthly combination of great design-oriented links and promotional offers from Chuck’ Design Store – to the Scott & Nix list of 50 favored type faces. Next to that article was a link that peaked my curiosity, and sure enough, there was a very long list of bird names.

You can access this particular list by clicking Bird Names.

Keep you eyes open for other comprehensive lists that might yield name candidates. If you know of one or two, or as you discover them, please come back here and post their location in the comments section of this blog. Who knows, we may establish a database of name candidates here that could be of value to all brand name developers.

Martin Jelsema
303-242-5975

Branding an Internet service provider

Another BrandingWire case study – Keeping the Books

The BrandingWire, is a loose network of bloggers about brands and branding – we call ourselves “a posse of pundits” – who offer entrepreneurs and others a chance to ask for help concerning their brands. They provide a branding brief and allow us to comment, suggest, question, challenge, admonish, carp and pontificate concerning their branding needs. Actually, anyone can participate by going to BrandingWire website and commenting on the posted brief.

Today’s entrepreneur plans to open a bookkeeping service for e-retailers. His brief can be read in full at BrandingWire. My comments are listed here as well as on the BrandingWire site.

How is your business different from your competitors?

Like many – or should I say most – entrepreneurs, our bookkeeper friend has jumped the gun. He immediately wants a name, logo and tagline but has given no thought to how he will differentiate his business from his competition.

Ask yourself, is the market real?

I see no indication that our friend has determined whether there’s a real market for this type of service. He has not specified the geography of his business, but I assume he’s offering this service over the Internet to e-retailers no matter their location within the U.S.. Alternatively, he may be attempting to establish relationships with e-retailers he can service face-to-face locally.

I would be surprised if even the most dedicated e-commerce retailer would look to the web for accounting/bookkeeping help. Just like legal counsel, I suspect a trusted accountant is one with whom you want a personal and local relationship. (There were no web searches for “e-commerce accounting” or “e-commerce accountant” according to Word Tracker).

But let’s assume there is a market, and it’s one that a sharp person with a “crash course” education in bookkeeping can serve.

How do you differentiate that business?

You start by finding something potential clients want that competitors aren’t providing. At least competitors aren’t promoting and making their differentiating strategy. That’s why I suggested concentrating on the one thing that worries every entrepreneur: cash flow.

If your business can establish and promote systems and procedures that enable a small business to weather the storms of poor months, if you can offer solutions and advice that will help them become more financially stable, you will certainly differentiate your service from ordinary bookkeepers. If this is beyond your area of expertise, then find another way to make your service unique and valuable while also being different from your competitors. (Use the search box in the upper right for “differentiation” to see suggestions about this important subject.). But before using any differentiating concept in your promotions, be sure you can deliver.

So what about a name, logo and tagline?

They should evolve from the differentiation (positioning) strategy. The name is particularly important in this branding approach. It should be based on these criteria:

Allude to the differentiating concept without being descriptive or business-defining.
Be unique and fresh.
Be short.
Be memorable.

With the perfect name, a tagline shouldn’t be needed, but that’s seldom the case. The tagline, if needed, should also arise from the positioning strategy and should re-enforce the name.

A logo needn’t be a big deal for a small service provider. The name rendered in a unique but legible typeface, perhaps with some unique kerning or letter combinations, should do the trick. You may wish to “box” or reverse the type into a solid background as well. Choose a color you like and then use it consistently. If you decide on an icon to accompany the signature treatment, be sure it’s not just another accounting cliché because that’s the way your competitors think.

So, best of luck entering a business where the basic service is identical to you competitors, where most new business comes from referrals, and you’ll find many not believing they require the services you offer.

Martin Jelsema
303-242-5975

Naming tip: Number 72 in a series

If your brand is a local/regional business, use the telephone book as a check for originality.

Look up your preferred name candidate in the alphabetical listings. If there are three or more business names beginning with the same first word, you should try the next candidate.

Too often people like to name with a local flavor with the mistaken idea that the residents will be more comfortable with a home-town enterprise. This thought hardly ever persuades a customer to choose a service provider.

More important is a name that’s unique and memorable. It needn’t be “cute” or localized.

If multiple companies share a name there’s a good chance confusion will keep customers guessing, and possibly moving on to a competitor.

Martin Jelsema
303-242-5975

Brands that Make You Scoff – Michelin

Why would such a respected brand stoop to such nonsense?

The white-tired Michelin man drives into the country to find his Michilen dog who comes running and jumps into the character’s arms. As they drive off the voice-over speaks of the imortance of having a “relationship” with your tires.

Have you ever thought about having a relationship with any inanimate object, much less a set of radials? This is just ridiculous. Now I know and can accept the concept of safe tires and the benefit as Michelin used to advertise with a baby snuggled in the tire’s diameter. Very cute and compelling. A great way to visualize the idea of safety for those you love.

There are just some products and product categories that might lend themselves to a relationship appeal, but radial tires just don’t fit. It’s too much a stretch. Michelin management is engaged in self-dilusion if they think their ads about relationships with tires might enhance brand loyalty.

I wonder if even a single account exec or creative on their account, or indeed anyone employed by Michelin has or will ever have a relationship with their tires? No? Then how can they expect that of us?

‘Nuf said

Martin Jelsema
303-242-5975

Packaging your brand: do you give it the attention it deserves?

One vital ingredient in the branding mix is packaging, particularly for consumer goods.

In today’s Brandchannel feature, Brandspeak, Ted Mininni writes a commentary called, Advertising Is Dead, Long Live Packaging. It’s a well-reasoned argument for more attention to packaging as an integral branding element, and worth reading.

Packaging is obviously important in consumer purchasing of foods, cosmetics and health products. I’ll bet every one of us have stood in the grocery or drug store isle looking for a particular brand, only to have to ask an employee to point it out for you.. It’s embarrassing, but it’s not my fault. It could be my choice is packaged like all the rest. Or my choice might be so popular that others think they can “steal” sales by copying the familiar package. Or my favorite might just be packaged poorly.

But other product categories, from auto parts to computer printers, can be differentiated through packaging. HP – Hewlett-Packard – does a pretty good job of identifying their products through the multi-color package designs. Their HP blue, logo treatment and placement, product illustration and type selection are consistent throughout their product line. But they’re the exception.

“Packaging” for personal and business service companies is expressed through signage, décor and arrangement. It’s best known in the service industries as “trade dress”.

It is just as vital an element to service providers as packaging is for consumer goods.

So, as you develop your brand, as you build your branding platform, be sure packaging is an integrated element, not just an afterthought.

Martin Jelsema
303-242-5975