How a Brand Dies or How Not to Leave Your Brand to Fate

Seen in the Wall Street Journal
A few years ago, the WSJ reported that in the $36 billion dollar beer market, the brand strength of an American beer is sometimes its most powerful "reason-to-buy." The Wall Street Journal further stated that the Stroh Brewery, the nation’s fourth largest brewer, now being sold off: "The sale of Stroh, a 149-year-old Detroit brewer that was once a strong contender in the beer market, is the result of poor brand management in a flat market, distributors said.... It [Stroh] didn’t take advantage of its strong regional brands...."

Tempting fate
The above story doesn’t just happen overnight. For every right thing a brand can do, it can also take as many actions that simply don’t contribute anything worthwhile to a brand’s presence, personality, strength and, ultimately, its sales.

Some Basics
Let’s briefly review some identity basics. Any company, product or service has an image. So...

  • What is image? It’s the public perception, not what the company, product or service is, but how it is perceived. It lives, or doesn’t, in the mind of your public.
  • What creates this image? Everything from packaging to identity—these being the messengers affecting the marketplace’s perception. PR and word-of-mouth are also soldiers in this battlefield. 
  • What is identity? Not to be confused with "corporate identity" or "brand identity," identity is how the company, product or service really is, before its message has ever been exported into the marketplace, i.e., your consumer’s mind and senses.
  • What is branding? These are the collective actions—design, packaging, message, color, personality, media—taken by a company, product or service to create its image. Not done pro-actively, the brand "just happens." This is where "brand management" mentioned in the above article comes into play.

The Seven Deadly Sins of Branding
To better manage your brand’s "fate," I’ve compiled a checklist for anyone managing, or affecting, the building of a brand. Basically a "things-not-to-do" checklist, these "Seven Deadly Sins of Branding" should help make any branding efforts succeed with greater ease.

Sin #1: The superior product fixation
In our global marketplace, the apparent differences between products has reached an all-time pinnacle of grey, meaning the differences aren’t so black and white as they used to be. So he who gets to the market first and stays present (and with online media increasing every hour of each day, the battlefield is stiffer than ever) can outsell a similar product that is vastly superior. With the lines of communication around the globe literally a click of the mouse away, one can no longer rest on one’s laurels for very long.

To "be better than" doesn’t mean as much as it used to. The solution is first, creating a meaningful and relevant brand identity and reason for being and second, ensuring that that image connects your product—not simply it’s superior attributes— to your audience. Successful examples of this are Nike’s "Just Do It" and Apple’s "Think Different" campaigns.
 

Sin #2: The "no-one-can-touch-us" syndrome
This pitfall rears its ugly head whenever a company reaches any level of complacency. The branding battelfield is strewn with caualties: Nike was outdone by Under Armour. Electrolux and every other vacuum brand was outdone by Dyson. Small hip cars were outdone by the Mini Cooper. Smart phones were thrown a curve ball by the iPhone, leaving everyone scrambling to catch up. If you start feeling complacent, take a fresh, honest look at your brand and you'll find, like life, nothing stays level for long.

The son of IBM’s founder, Thomas Watson Jr., stated while chief of IBM, "...We do not think that good design can make a product good.... But we are convinced that good design can materially help make a good product reach its full potential." Isn’t it time we all listened and used the power of design?

Sin #3: The brand called "Fear"
Simply, if you’re overly concerned about what associates think versus being overly concerned about your brand, then getting anywhere near branding is a bad career move for everyone involved. The opposite side of this coin is a firm belief in one’s product, a willingness to deliver what’s promised, and a strength of conviction. One doesn’t need to be an ogre, but one must believe in one’s actions. That doesn’t include being overly concerned with internal political popularity contests. Looking over the best brands, the majority came into existence driven by one person’s vision—and belief—in that brand’s potential and their persistence in seeing it through.

This cousin to complacency—essentially an unwillingness to investigate, face facts, evolve and challenge— has killed many possibly great brands, leaving only the competition happier, and stronger.

Sin #4: Ignoring the design and image your brand conveys
You’ve seen these products. You’ve maybe even bought them. They’re everywhere as products...and nowhere as brands. Go into a store, any store, and look. Simply look. You’ll find a gazillion products. You’ll also find many great products but, with most ignoring their design and image, only a handful have become great brands. The difference between ordinary and remarkable will found in the details of branding.

What part does image play in the real world of branding? Everything. Fact: Minute Maid® found that other orange juice companies were "borrowing" their signature black carton. What once was a point of distinction had now become "generic." Add to this the expanding choices given to consumers—bottled waters, flavored waters, iced teas, and bottled coffee beverages—and retaining marketshare had become a major issue for Minute Maid. The answer? Revamp the Minute Maid packaging line. The outcome? Volume sales increased more than 24%, with convenience store sales exceeding 34%. When you’re dealing with 28 million servings per day, a mere one percent increase, 280,000 more servings per day, is considerable.

Sin #5: Brand schizophrenia and anarchy
Imagine this conversation: "Oh, you want to change the golden arches to day-glo pink? Sure, no problem." Not in this lifetime. You might as well print a new resume and look for another job.

The confusion between building a brand, being consistent, keeping a brand alive and reinventing a brand can be so mishmashed that disaster strikes. Random change is not the same as planned evolution of a brand. Just as true is that boring, stagnant messaging is not the same as brand consistency.

A good rule of thumb is one laid down by Sir John Egan, chief executive for the world’s leading international airport group, "Defining the experience that customers want becomes a criterion by which you can judge the design work you commission."

Other points to consider are, "Does this effort contribute to our brand image and equity? Does this dilute our brand position? Will this enhance our consumers ‘experience’ of our brand?"

This is all based on the fact that there is a foundation to build a brand upon.
 

Sin #6: The human connection ratio
The frailty of a brand is in direct ratio to the extent a brand fails to connect with its consumer. Flaunting one’s wares is about as popular, and effective, as cramming in a term paper in overnight. What’s good for Visine sales (remember "Takes the red out"?) isn’t necessarily good for the grade.

Every strong brand has in some way become a product that represents what that customer is seeking: ease, convenience, power, stamina, pride, beauty. But in each case, it’s the human factor that can be missed. Every product does have, as its end use, a human who is buying the product for a reason. Find the reason, keep it on personal terms, and you’re well on your way to avoiding this pitfall.

Sin #7: Forgetting where brands live
If you were to ask brand managers where brands live, they might say, "On the shelf with our product. In our annual report. In our advertising." Wrong. Those are how a brand gets built, not where it lives.

Brands do not live anywhere but in the minds and hearts of the consumers and prospects. The job of branding is to get your product to the point of having an army of believers who stand by that brand, and what it means, in their mind.

The job of branding is to get in the front door and become a comfortable fixture in the mind of the consumer. Avoiding these seven pitfalls will help.

David Brier, Chief Gravity Defyer at DBD International, is the recipient of over 300 industry awards creating brands for such company's as Estee Lauder, Revlon, New York City Ballet, Legacy Chocolates, Sunbelt Software and many more.

Award-winning and result-driven examples can be seen at http://www.risingabovethenoise.com and a side-by-side comparison of before-and after-client identites can be seen at http://www.famousnapkins.com

Want one the country's leading designers of identites and more? His talent can be yours. Contact david@famousnapkin.com

 

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