Monday, February 18, 2019

Will Brands Even Be Around in Ten Years?

As a brand strategy consultant, I have ridden the upward trajectory of brands and branding for the past 20 years. In the 1980s and before, brand management was mostly practiced by consumer packaged goods (CPG) companies. By the mid- to late-1990s, large companies were beginning to manage their corporate brands at an executive level. This was the timeframe during which I was put in charge of the Hallmark brand. Since then, brands and brand management has become ubiquitous. I have been called upon to brand museums, universities, trade associations and other not-for-profit organizations. I have also branded municipalities and geographic regions...and restaurants and medical practices and health care systems and medical devices and individuals. It seems that everything is branded these days. 

And yet, there have always been prophets predicting the end of brands. Naomi Klein argued against brands (and, in particular, the consumptive environment they fuel) in her book, No Logo in the late 1990s. And many have come out since then either predicting their demise or calling for their demise. In fact, I have always wondered how long the phenomenon of branding would last. 

So, here are my arguments for and against the end of brands.

Arguments for the end of brands:

  • Big data analytics, automated sales funnels and individual targeting make brands far less important in the purchase decision process.
  • Product and service quality have gotten so good across the board that almost any brand will meet or exceed our needs. Therefore it doesn't matter which brand we purchase.
  • Information access provided by the Internet creates much greater brand transparency and gives consumers much more power over brands.
  • No brand lasts forever and with the rate of technological disruption, increasingly, brands will come and go in a matter of years rather than decades or centuries.
  • Because of the maturity of markets, few brands are really that different from any of their competitors.
  • Most markets have gotten so hyper-competitive that most purchase decisions are now based on price.
  • Mergers, acquisitions, venture capital (VC) takeovers and other significant changes in ownership lead to inconsistent brands that cannot be relied upon. This reduces the value of brands.

Arguments for the end of all but a few mega-brands:
  • Very simple, Amazon, Google and Facebook will end up owning the world. No other brand will matter.

Arguments for the continuation of brands:
  • Brands are all about relevant differentiation and unique value propositions. If your products or services do not have these, they are commodities and their sales will largely be driven by price. No one wants this.
  • While technology lowers industry entry barriers and allows for the emergence of new brands at a very rapid pace, it is only the long-term reputation of a brand that guarantees quality, service and desirable attributes. Brands are the way to break through the marketplace clutter to purchase something that you know you can rely on.
  • Brands imbue products and services with human qualities. This is the only thing that can result in emotional connection with consumers and consumers are mostly driven by their emotions. 
  • Strong brands still result in many financial and other business advantages: increased sales, market share, profitability, stock prices, shareholder value and customer loyalty, decreased price sensitivity, increased ability to charge a price premium, increased ability to attract and retain talented and motivated employees and increased bargaining power with business partners.
  • Brands can share powerful values with their customers, so much so that they can become the self-expressive vehicles for those shared values and the organizers of communities for people who share those values. This is an extremely powerful "glue." 

As you can see, there are some arguments for brands slowing fading away and arguments that they will continue to be an important part of our world. I would love to hear your thoughts on this.

Friday, February 15, 2019

How Brand Experience Can Overcome Time Constraints

Generally, people feel two types of scarcity in their lives. They often feel as though they do not have enough money to do everything they want to do. And they often feel as though they don't have enough free time to do all that they want to do. So, the two scarce commodities are time and money.

And it is now almost a cliche when someone responds to the question, "How are you doing?" with "I am busy, really busy." It seems to be the standard answer to that question by most people these days.

So, how is it that some brands can make time seem to stand still for people as they interact with the brand? Have you ever interacted with a brand that seems to put you into a flow state? You lose all track of time and really don't mind it if you have spent too much time with the brand. These are the brands that create amazing experiences.

As a brand guy, I think of almost everything as a brand or at least as being capable of being branded. So, rock brands and other musical groups are brands. Colleges and universities are brands. Cities are brands. Museums and art galleries are brands. Amusement parks are brands. Restaurants and night clubs are brands. And people are brands too. I am sure you have lost track of time when interacting with some of these brands. And I am sure you have wanted to spend more time with some of these brands.

Convenience and accessibility have become very important to today's consumer. He or she wants everything "now." Consumers have been spoiled by everything being a click away on their smart phones. Long copy, long ads, long anything can not seem to hold people's attention anymore.

And think about how people feel about long commutes. This is a major contributor to quality of life or lack thereof. It's hard to keep up with all of our work. We don't have enough time for our families. We don't have enough time for our hobbies. We don't have enough time to exercise. Our vacations are too short. We don't have enough time for ourselves.

And yet, some brands seem not only to overcome this feeling of scarcity but literally to pull you into an experience for which time doesn't seem to matter.

Not many brick and mortar retailers can compete with online retailers regarding price or selection or being open 24/7. So brick and mortar retailers must create a better experience to attract and retain customers. Von Maur department stores feature pianists playing music in the stores. Bass Pro Shops have large aquariums filled with fish.

And let me tell you about my experience with Tesla. I love riding in the car so much (because of the quiet, high performance road handling, the acceleration, the spacious uncluttered interior, the Tesla streaming radio and the amazing sound system) that I look for excuses to get in the car and drive around. Now that I have a Tesla, I am running many more errands for my wife. "Honey, is there anything you need me to pick up while I am out?" "Where are you going?" "I don't know. Just out." To create a legitimate purpose for spending more time in the car, I have taken to driving for Uber and Lyft. It results in barely a blip in my income, but it allows me to drive around in my spare time and to share the experience with others who may not have experienced riding in a Tesla before.

The point of this blog post is to encourage you to create a brand experience that is so desirable that people not only do not complain about it taking too much time but rather complain about not being able to spend enough time with the brand. What sort of brand is yours? One that people are too busy to interact with? Or one that people can't wait to interact with? And one, that when they do interact with it, they lose all track of time.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Positioning Your Brand to Win!

I am pleased to announce that I am now offering an online version of my highly acclaimed brand positioning workshop. The workshop provides you with everything you need to create a unique and emotionally compelling brand promise along with every other element of a comprehensive brand positioning statement. For more information, click here.

Saturday, February 9, 2019

55 Ways to Sabotage Brands

If you are looking for ways to sabotage your brand, here are fifty-five different ways to do that, taken directly from real life examples encountered during my brand strategy consulting experience.

  1. Change the brand identity system every time a new marketing vice president is hired. 
  2. Change your brand's positioning or messaging as frequently as possible. 
  3. Increase profitability by eliminating product functions and features.
  4. Extend a luxury brand into the mass market segment to reach a broader audience.
  5. Institute a telephone customer support system that is fully automated, requiring multiple layers of choices and no real contact with a person.
  6. Skimp on customer facing customer service employee training.
  7. Implement a system that makes it difficult for someone to purchase your brand's products.
  8. Compensate for revenue shortfalls by slashing the marketing budget.
  9. Begin selling a luxury brand in Walmart and other discount stores to broaden distribution and increase sales.
  10. Do not link your online retail store to your brick and mortar retail network.
  11. Ask for the same customer information (email address, credit card information, etc.) multiple times during a transaction.
  12. Suggest add-on sales aggressively and often.
  13. Cram as many messages as possible on the product packaging. 
  14. Include as many brand benefits as possible in brand messaging.
  15. Create ads in which the brand identification is only incidental or even nonexistent.
  16. Make sure your technical support, customer service and other customer facing departments cannot share information with each other instantaneously. 
  17. Don't worry about clean bathrooms in your restaurant or retail outlet.
  18. Keep on raising prices to see what the market will bear.
  19. Make the same claims as your competitors.
  20. Revise your brand's identity system to look similar to your competitor's brand identity system.
  21. Maintain banker's hours (9 am to 5 pm) at your retail locations.
  22. Create lots and lots of brands and subbrands.
  23. Target the wrong markets with your brand. 
  24. Enter the market without any understanding of who your customers are or what they want.
  25. Use a brand spokesperson who turns out to be a pedophile. 
  26. Offer your expensive luxury products at extreme discounts in other channels of distribution to unload the skus that are not selling.
  27. Focus on short-term profitability (and meeting Wall Street's quarterly expectations) at the expense of investing in things that will result in long-term growth and market domination.
  28. Create the products first. And then, only after they are created, think about how you are going to market them. 
  29. Define your brand as a product category (or make it synonymous with that category) rather than designing it to own a unique and compelling brand benefit or shared customer value.
  30. License your brand out to other product categories to make a little extra money without regard to whether those other categories reinforce the brand's promise or unique value proposition.
  31. Extend your brand into as many product and service categories as possible so that it completely loses its meaning.
  32. Create new brands or subbrands for internal purposes regardless of whether the new brands or subbrands make any sense to external audiences. 
  33. Allow special interest groups to turn your brand into the "poster child" for something they hate.
  34. Treat the brand management function primarily as a logo cop function.
  35. Don't worry about whether the organization is actually delivering against the advertised brand promise.
  36. Claim what everyone else is claiming.
  37. Try to own brand attributes or features that can be easily copied or superseded by competitors. 
  38. Try to be the best at something versus the only brand that is delivering something important to the target customer.
  39. Don't keep up with industry innovations.
  40. Don't set up any central control system for execution of your brand's identity. 
  41. Define your target customer as broadly as possible to get the most sales, for instance, all women or all people.
  42. Offer a cheaper version of your brand to more downscale markets.
  43. Choose a generic name such as Information Systems or Furniture Outlet.
  44. Spend as much money as possible on price promotions and trade deals so that there is little to no money left to build the brand.
  45. Don't assign responsibility for brand management. Leave it up to everyone.
  46. Don't worry about decisions made by other departments or divisions that might hurt the brand.
  47. Don't waste your time on customer research. 
  48. Don't waste your time on customer journey mapping, customer touch point design or customer experience design.
  49. Choose brand colors that are the same as or similar to every other brand in your brand's product or service category.
  50. Don't bother building brand metrics into a balanced scorecard or common measures. 
  51. Don't waste time or other resources measuring your brand's equity.
  52. Don't link brand plans with other business plans. Better yet, don't create brand plans at all.
  53. Ignore research findings if they do not agree with what you want to do.
  54. Just think of brands and products as the same things and treat them accordingly.
  55. Don't worry about your brand's consistency or reliability. Who cares if people can trust your brand to deliver a consistent expected result time after time.

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

The Power of Simplicity in Branding

In branding, less is more. Whether it is a simpler logo, a simpler tagline or a simpler elevator speech, less is more. Copywriting and graphic design are extremely important to brands and brand communication. The simpler the design or message, the more impact it will have and the more memorable it will be.

I have spent a career writing brand plans, brand promises, brand elevator speeches, brand taglines, brand missions, visions and values and brand advertising copy. A real talent is to be able to take something complex and present it simply so that everyone will understand it. I have taken many writing courses in high school, college and elsewhere. The most useful one I ever took taught me this - use an economy of words. The writing exercise I remember most was one in which we wrote a paper after which we were told to cut it in half without losing any meaning - again, again and again until we got the paper down to one paragraph. Our professor said, "Now you have mastered the art of writing well."

Blaise Pascal, John Locke, Benjamin Franklin, Henry David Thoreau, Cicero, Woodrow Wilson and Mark Twain have all been quoted as saying something similar to this - "If I had more time, I would have written a shorter letter." Anyone who has written taglines knows that eloquently capturing a brand's promise in three words or less is no easy task. 

When I worked at Hallmark as a marketing executive, our CEO suggested that if we could not fit our communication on a 3 x 5 sheet of paper, we should rethink our communication. 

One of the best print ads we ever ran at Hallmark featured white space except for a black and white rendering of the Hallmark logo and one very short Hallmark brand positioning statement artfully  related to the magazine's content on the magazine's back cover. It was such a successful ad that dozens of magazines approached Hallmark to run the ad in their magazines. The ad was mostly white space. That is why the brand and its message had such impact.

I have had clients whose businesses were extremely complex with dozens or more subsidiaries in different lines of business. Yet, they wanted brand elevator speeches that tied everything they did together under one brand umbrella while communicating the breadth of their business offerings. Crafting that is also more difficult than it appears. If crafted well, it will seem to be a simple and easy statement to those who read it. Much like a world class figure skater's routine seems much simpler than it is when executed flawlessly and with style.

And to add science to this, research has repeatedly shown that the more complex the message is with more benefit statements, the less the message is remembered. 

So, if you remember one thing in crafting brand communication, it should be "keep it simple."

The Power of Socially Conscious Brands

Brands that are socially conscious outperform brands that cater to Wall Street's quarterly expectations. Being mission-driven, making mission-driven decisions and creating an employee-empowering culture lead to far above average financial results. 

There are three concepts that socially conscious brands should consider:

  • Conscious Capitalism - this recognizes some of the dysfunctional byproducts of modern capitalism - lack of equality and opportunity, worker exploitation, growing disparity of wealth and income, corporate moral and ethical irresponsibility (such as wholesale export of critical manufacturing jobs, complicated corporate maneuvers to avoid taxes and excessive participation and influence on the political process and policy making) and ecological disasters.There are the four components of conscious capitalism: (1) having a higher purpose, (2) sustainable integration of all stakeholders -  employees, customers, vendors, business partners, the communities in which they are embedded, the environment and shareholders, (3) conscious leadership by people who are ethical and are willing mitigate the greed impulse to achieve long-term value for all stakeholders and (4) sustaining a culture of trust, accountability, caring, transparency, integrity, learning and egalitarianism. 
  • Triple Bottom Line Companies - this is a concept that broadens a business' focus on the financial bottom line to include social and environmental considerations. A triple bottom line measures a company's degree of social responsibility, its economic value and its environmental impact.
  • B CorporationsIn the United States, a benefit corporation is a type of for-profit corporate entity, authorized by 33 U.S. states and the District of Columbia that includes positive impact on society, workers, the community and the environment in addition to profit as its legally defined goals, in that the definition of "best interest of the corporation" is specified to include those impacts. Traditional C Corporation law does not specify the definition of "best interest of the corporation" which has led to profit motivations being used as the main driver for best interests during the period of late capitalism.
Here are some interesting books on the subject:

Friday, February 1, 2019

Unleashing Brand Power

Why do some brands command premium prices, while others are forced to compete on price? While some companies are racing frantically to the bottom, others are gliding effortlessly to the top. These world class brands win the admiration of their customers, the envy of their peers, and claim the lion's share of their market's profits. 

They achieve this through something I call "brand insistence” – a state where your customers don't just have a preference for your products and services . . . they demand them. 

Ultimately, these brands can become a “category of one,” standing alone without peers. After having helped 200+ companies create powerful brands, I have crafted a 17-minute presentation to show ambitious companies how they can unlock the full potential of their brands to become a “category of one.”