Recently at a small business conference in Chicago I attended a few different seminars on marketing, promotion and branding. Being a self proclaimed finance geek, I find it is helpful to step outside of my natural habitat to broaden my knowledge base, and the best place for me to do that is by exploring marketing concepts.
You see, marketing & promotion is my Achille’s heal as a business consultant. Despite attending dozens of seminars, attending trade shows, reading books (actually I prefer audio books) on the subject and even listening to a few Zig Ziglar tapes I found at a garage sale…I still am not confident in giving advice on marketing.
I think the problem is that finance is finite and marketing is…well, subjective. Numbers never lie. Certainly people can lie by changing the numbers to misrepresent the actual condition of a company. But, anybody with an undergraduate level education in accounting knows that the practice, at best, is an estimate.
Marketing on the other hand is a whole other animal. Even with built in feedback mechanisms it is difficult to determine the effectiveness of an ad campaign. Trying to gauge the effectiveness of a promotional event over the long term…forget it. The Internet, however, has allowed businesses to see what is working and what is not by running multiple campaigns and tracking impressions, clicks and CTR or "click-through rate" to see which ads convert the most. Even then a quality ad may only convert 2% of the time time giving us an appreciation for the sheer effort it takes to attract customers, and that’s before making a pitch to try and get a sale.
Which brings me to the issue that is bothering me. Brand. It seems the marketing experts give company branding more credit than I believe it deserves. Most marketing gurus point to examples such as Apple, Coca-Cola and Fed-Ex as examples of how important brand management is.
These are great brands, all of them, simple colorful, memorable…but I wonder how memorable they would be if there wasn’t great companies behind them. Would an apple with a bite taken out of it still be a great logo if Apple wasn’t such an innovative company with ubiquitous products? Would it still be a great logo if say it was the logo for eMachines or some other lower tier computer company?
How about coca-cola…would RC be coca-cola’s size today if it had just thought of and implemented the fancy script logo with "coke bottle" shaped containers (I guess then it would be "RC bottle" shaped)?
Would FedEx still be the leader in overnight air mail if their logo didn’t have that arrow in the white space between the "E" and the "x"? According to the experts once you see it you will never look at the logo without seeing it every time. But, do people who have never look at the logo that way use UPS or DHL instead?
I guess the more important question I am trying to ask is this: Does a brand help a company become great or are these simply great brands because they represent great companies. These questions made me recall an article I read from Mac Berns, a marketing consultant here in Fargo, ND and someone I consider a friend. Below is the logo he regards as a great brand and you will have to read the article to find out why.
I think his article goes a long way toward answering the questions about the importance and relevance of brand. Until I figure it out, I will probably see you out there somewhere at a marketing presentation. I will be sitting in the second to last row scoffing the the instructor with a furrowed brow, wishing I was deep inside an excel spreadsheet somewhere else.