Tag Archives: Branding

Patrons define the brand, and they’re integral to it

Last week I blogged about targeting your brand to not only attract your most favorable market segments, but also discourage any unfavorable segments. Those are the folks your targeted customers and prospects would be uncomfortable being around.

Bar magnet demonstrates how a brand can attract and repel at the same time

Your patrons are part of your brand

That is, not only is the brand defined by stakeholders, the stakeholders are part of the brand just as much as your name, logo, trade dress and tagline.

In the context of “rubbing elbows”, our primary stakeholders are the customers. But there are also the employees, the retail reps, the associated companies and products, the suppliers and in some cases, investors. (After all, If ol’ Warren is invested in the company it must be doing something right.) So to some extent, all these associated groups are integral to the brand.

Customers reflect and resonate with the brand

Customers and prospects are the single most important group, other than your employees, that shape the brand itself.

As far as market segments are concerned, be very specific right from the beginning. Then determine who that target market would like to see excluded from the “family”. As I said previously, this is especially relevant to retail and services marketers.

Then in developing your brand platform and then your brand elements, attempt to encourage the attractive prospects and discourage folks your prospects wouldn’t want to associate with. This is a tight rope where balance and tact are required, but the messages, however subtle, need to be clear.

And even if an “undesirable” wanders in, your good customers will know it’s just by accident and the incident won’t destroy their loyalty.

I know this is an elitist point of view, but I don’t apologize for raising the issue and offering advice. It is the basis for what some branding consultants call “cult branding”.

Remember, your customers are part of your brand. When others see who patronizes your establishment, it says plenty about who you are. That’s branding.

I’d welcome any comments, pro or con, concerning this aspect of branding.

Brand Management in smaller companies

Brand management need not be a full-time job in small organizations. Yet it is just as important to the on-going success of the business as it is in larger organizations with entire departments responsible for brand management.

Brand management a top staff function

The smaller the company, the higher up the corporate ladder responsibility for brand management should reside.

Brand management requires strategic perspective

That’s not only a matter of headcount, it’s a matter of vision. That’s because there’s so much more to branding than maintaining its exterior trappings. Almost every important decision involving employees, customers, suppliers and other stakeholders will have an effect on the brand, as will decisions concerning the business model, product development and corporate structure.

Every decision should be factored by this question: “How will this decision impact our corporate brand and our product brands?” The vision to answer this question comes only from the strategic perspective of the top executive.

So if you’re managing a business, I implore you to not delegate the corporate brand.

Corporate branding: not a marketing function

A common practice is to make the corporate brand a responsibility of the marketing department. In the old paradigm of product branding, brand managers were usually part of the marketing organization. And rightly so because their duties were to market the products they were assigned.

But a corporate brand is much larger and valuable than a product brand. It’s a long-range strategic asset that differentiates the company from its competitors by establishing and maintaining an attitude and personality to which stakeholders are drawn. It’s the corporate promise, its story, its demonstration of values and its consistency of action. These are not the elements by which marketing is usually judged.

One additional caveat: By no means allow a sale-driven marketing force – one in which a sales manager and a marketing manager report to a marketing VP – hold sway over the branding function, corporate or product. In my experience, sales people in this situation will out-shout their marketing counterparts and always opt for decisions of a short-sighted nature. I mean discounting, couponing and other tactics that might boost sales so they can meet this quarter’s goals.

Sacrificing the corporate brand is not worth it

This may seem to provide an additional responsibility to an already full agenda, but is there anything more important than building a reputation upon which your corporate growth will depend?

Remember, branding is a strategic process. It should be in the hands of the Chief Strategic Officer.

Corporate Branding is not a middle-management activity

Branding the Corporation needs top management involvement big time!

Corporate brand is executive responsibility
Corporate brand is executive responsibility

When it comes to branding the company, direct access to the CEO and other senior staff members is essential. After all, they are the folks who set the direction, determine the values, vision and mission for the company, and reflect the corporate personality and culture.

So if the corporate brand – aka corporate identity – is to be true to corporate conduct and goals, top management must set the tone and approve both the process and the outcome.

Should outside consultants be brought on board? What kind of structure within the company will be in place to develop and monitor brand activities? How will the brand “age” when future planning is considered? How will new products be branded under the corporate brand? All these issues and more need to be considered by senior staff.

Unless top management is involved and passionate about branding and positioning, there will probably be a fragmented branding effort. You may find the need to modify or even attempt to acquire a new brand identity in a very short time without management involvement in the initial branding process.

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.

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.

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