Monday, October 27, 2014

Brands Help Organizations Transcend Product Categories

Have you heard of Smith-Corona? If you are my age or older, you have. If you are 25 or under, you may not have. They made typewriters, a product format that became obsolete with the advent of personal computers.

Kodak was associated with photography and film, but mostly with film and film processing. Canon, Nikon, Olympus and others were better known in the camera space. It was easier for film-based cameras to translate to digital cameras than for film to translate to digital images in people’s minds. Film became obsolete with the advent of digital photography, something that Kodak created. And the decline of film brought about Kodak’s decline. Admittedly, it is easier for a large ship to avoid an iceberg than for Kodak to switch from chemistry-based operations and personnel to digital (software) based operations and personnel. But, what if Kodak had proactively and aggressively sought to broaden its brand’s meaning well beyond film many years ago, not only with marketing communication but also with products, services and other proof points?

I spent 15 years in marketing at Hallmark. While heading up brand management and marketing for Hallmark, my personal goal was to get its management team to view the brand beyond greeting cards to include all forms of maintaining and building personal relationships. We redefined the brand’s essence as “caring shared.” This expanded brand meaning would allow for “just a little something” gifts such as candy and flowers. It would allow for electronic greetings, romantic cruises, experiences as gifts (romantic dinners, balloon rides, spa treatments, etc.) and other new products and services. And, most importantly, it would allow for the brand’s survival and growth as greeting card usage declined. I am not sure how aggressively Hallmark pursued this path, especially after I left the company.  If it had, its revenues would have grown well beyond the $4 billion level that they were at when I left the company. If not, they are likely to have declined.

Defining its essence as “fun family entertainment” has allowed Disney to offer a wide variety of products and services (movies, theme parks, themed cruises, themed communities, etc.) that make sense to the consumer.

I have worked with Bush’s to expand the meaning of their brand beyond “baked beans.” Methodically extending into other types of closely associated products and uses will allow for years of additional growth for them.

Defining your brand as meeting a specific set of customer needs or delivering specific customer benefits or even as living by a certain set of values allows the brand to transcend historical product categories and therefore extend its life indefinitely. Brands don’t have to fade away. They only fade away if they are too closely tied to one or more product categories that may one day prove to be obsolete.

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