Fast Company

How to Maintain Brand Elevation in 2010 With No Loss of Cabin Pressure

Noted branding expert David Brier chimes in on what it takes to overcome one of the key obstacles to effective branding: Brandus Interruptus

The Dream
You wake up with a brilliant idea, a new concept no one has thought of before. You develop a flawless marketing plan over morning coffee, word gets out and by noon, the best teams of specialists all call you. All these world-class designers, marketing consultants, media planners and brand management professionals offer you their services free, just to be part of your breakthrough concept. By 3:00 p.m., four major global corporations have had their legal departments fax over contracts to form co-branding efforts....

Hey, let's get real. If it were this easy, there wouldn't be brand development and image management firms, nor all the activities (not to mention all the books on the market) designed to develop and manage brands. So until it gets this easy, brands either do well, so-so, or poorly-depending on how well they are conceived and maintained. If it's going well, good. If not, then you're suffering needlessly from a dreaded affliction: Brandus Interruptus.

The Symptoms of Brandus Interruptus
A brand exists for one key purpose: to be the bridge that connects a product's or service's promise (e.g., "To help you become a world-class athlete") with the consumer's desire (e.g., "Just do it"). So how do you tell whether your brand is living up to its potential or giving you the short end of the stick (i.e., Brandus Interruptus)? Some of the early warning signs include:

  • Trying to be like another company is one (violating every basic premise of positioning).
  • Trying to be everything to everybody is another.
  • Having no (or random) design consistency is yet another.

Identifying the branding objective is the key step in preventing or halting the dreaded Brandus Interruptus and its accompanying symptoms. Is it to reposition an ailing brand? Is it to invent a category that no one has claimed yet? Or is it to handle a real oversight where the brand has lost its relevance? Below, you'll find the qualities necessary in creating and managing a world-class brand, a clarification on the differences between brand strategies and brand tactics, and why we hear so much about brands reinventing themselves (and what problem this is really solving and how to avoid this pitfall in the first place).

A Category of One
The grandest objective and ultimate dream-come-true would be becoming-and sustaining-a category of one. Being best in a category is admirable, but being in a category of one is truly the prize trophy. An installment in the Wall Street Journal's branding series featured David S. Pottruck, then Co-CEO of the Charles Schwab Corporation. In this interview, he stated, "We're not trying to become the traditional model of a full-service firm. We're establishing the new model. That's a very challenging brand position to build because people want to pigeonhole you. Oh, you're like this firm or, You're like those guys. Well, what we want is to be unlike anyone else. In other words, a category of one."

Maintaining Brand Stamina
So let's say you've had the good fortune to develop a sound brand. How do you manage it so it doesn't suffer from "Brandus Interruptus"? Let's look at some examples. Examples of consistent brands are Dyson, Apple, Harley Davidson, Under Armour, Nike and Fossil. None of these brands is capricious about how their brand is presented to the world. None allow chaos to compromise the brand. Harley's rebel position is embraced at every corner whereas Apple's "cool innovation" can be seen from a mile away.

Prevention Is the Best Medicine
Just as prevention is the best medicine, understanding is the best form of prevention. The best-managed brands utilize the brand as an anchor.

To understand this is to understand the difference between a brand strategy and a brand tactic.

A brand strategy is a long-term plan, with bigger and broader objectives. Brand tactics are those actions designed to forward the brand's strategic objectives. Example: A brand strategy could be to develop the best online service for cat lovers. A brand tactic would extend from that, such as evaluating all possible competitors to see their strengths and weaknesses, developing certain marketing goals from that information. An even more basic tactic could be forming an alliance with the best cat food manufacturer. Brand strategy=big picture plan. Brand tactics=day-to-day implementation that makes it possible to forward the strategic plan.

The Cure
We read about it everywhere. Reinvention is an all-too-common term these days used in branding and marketing circles. Let's look at the reality of this popular concept. Reinvention=purpose reinforced. Well, if a purpose needs reinforcement (or refreshing, like popping a breath mint), that tells us the purpose and mission of that brand went off the rails somewhere—maybe all at once, or slowly through gradual erosion. It's like forgetting one's name, or career, or reason for getting up in the morning. Each results in a diminishing of both drive and clarity for doing what one is doing. So, let's go earlier. A company starts out (hopefully) with a purpose: to solve "X" for some identified public. Things take off. Word gets out. Production demand increases. Day-to-day needs flood everyone's plate. The brand goes on "automatic." Everybody's really busy-busy forgetting about brand presence, brand purpose and the reason all this activity was started in the first place.

Well, nothing runs on automatic for too long. That's why the world's great brands-Nike, Apple, Bausch + Lomb and evebn Starbucks to name a few-all went through a "reinventing" process for their brand. What they really were doing was refueling their "lost" drive, their lost purpose, reclaiming ownership of what had been theirs to begin with. Keeping a brand alive involves a consistent and continuous assessment of the marketplace-the same type of assessment that was done when any enterprise first came into existence.

When this is all left unattended, all of a sudden you'll find everyone talking about the need to "reinvent" the brand. It's a poor substitute for forgetting why one was doing what one was doing in the first place. And the cure? Keeping one's brand alive, fresh and consistently relevant.

About David Brier
"There is little worse a company can do for its brand than to have a product or service that is different, with a pitch that sounds the same as everyone else's." Those are the words of designer David Brier, a specialist in brand identity development, brand makeovers and brand leadership. Clients include global, national, regional and local clients who each have one goal in common: Becoming a brand leader rather than a brand follower and having a brand that's too compelling to ignore. The recipient of over 300 industry awards, David Brier can be reached at David@RisingAboveTheNoise.com His "10 Exceptional Business Ideas for Transforming Your Company into a Compelling Brand" is available for FREE at http://www.RisingAboveTheNoise.com

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