Showing posts from August, 2007

Branded store brands at Target, Wal-Mart, Safeway, Kroger, and Costco - a brilliant move

The Wall Street Journal reports (8/29/07) that "food retailers are growing more sophisticated about developing and branding their own products." In a far cry from previous years, when store brands were relatively generic offerings, U.S. retailers like Target, Wal-Mart, Safeway, Kroger, and Costco are offering new brands that compete with manufacturers like Sara Lee and Kraft. It's a brilliant strategy. As the Journal notes, "sales of private-label products carry higher profit margins than the goods they buy from the traditional food companies." And the food retailer-created brands are doing well: "private-label sales of food and nonalcoholic beverages in the U.S. rose 4.3% to $44 billion in the year ended July 14" (not including Wal-Mart) vs. a 2.2% rise for branded food and nonalcoholic beverages during the same time period. It is ingenious how grocery stores are elevating their commodity offerings to the status of a brand. And it is interesting how …

Katrina and the White House, federal government, and FEMA brands

Two years after Katrina, the FEMA brand is still tainted (as is the brand of the White House and the entire federal government) by the relief efforts that took place after the hurricane. The question is, why? If you look at the White House factsheet ( on Hurricane Katrina relief efforts, you see that the government has spent many billions of dollars to assist hurricane victims and strengthen infrastructure against floods, and President Bush and his wife personally visited the area, reinforcing their commitment to help in the recovery. Yet as recently as yesterday (8/29), on the Oprah Winfrey show, CNN's Anderson Cooper talked about the inadequacy of government efforts to help people in the area, and a story was told of a family suffering continual illness as a result of living in a FEMA trailer. Clearly there is a disconnect between the efforts being made by the federal government and the experiences and perceptions o…

Branded training for front-line managers

Front-line supervisors who undergo management training learn how to provide feedback, resolve conflicts, assert authority, communicate, delegate, and motivate employees, reports The Wall Street Journal in "Firms Step Up Training for Front-Line Managers" (8/28/07). Companies like Dell and Home Depot are expanding their programs in an effort to "better motivate and engage workers in an increasingly global and fast-paced environment." The question from a brand perspective is, should these programs include training on how to deliver the brand to employees (and by extension, customers) or should they focus simply on excellence in management? In short, is there a benefit to having a brand component of the training? The answer is, yes and no. In Branded Customer Service (2006), co-author Janelle Barlow recounts an embarrassing experience she had in a Rite-Aid store (which was branded with a large sign stating that "The Customer is #1"), in which she was made to wa…

Can you brand a brand that charges nothing?

Today's Wall Street Journal (8/28), in an item titled "Voluntary Pricing Lets Small Eateries Give - and Get Back," talks about cafes that sell food without charging for it. That's right--places like Terra Bite Lounge, One World Cafe, and Six 89 operate on a pay-what-you-want basis. The idea is to make money from those who pay a little more generously than they need to, while helping out those who can't afford a meal.

Does this kind of payment system make branding sense? On the one hand, notes the article, "the marketing buzz such a scheme generates can help a business stand out from the pack." On the other, I think, having a no-price payment system, with a unique selling proposition that involves feeding the poor, makes the whole thing seem like a soup kitchen. That is not an appealing image.

The success of this kind of business depends on finding the right kind of customer, as the article notes, "one who understands the concept and, therefore, contr…

Ian Schrager + Marriott: A marriage made in heaven?

The International Herald Tribune (August 21; reports that boutique hotelier Ian Schrager and Marriott are joining forces to create a line of about 100 boutique hotels. The new brand, which is so far unnamed, will combine the "master of the ultrahip hotel" with a decidedly "unhip" but much more powerful, mass-market leader. The question is will this marriage of opposites be successful?

The answer is, it depends. Certainly it fills a need for both Schrager and Marriott. As the article notes, the partnership will instantly put Schrager "in his rightful place as a major player in the lifestyle market segment and in the longer term will position him to build a mass customer base for his innovations, a la Apple, Nike, and Sony." As for Marriott, though it "has $12 billion in annual sales worldwide...the company is notably absent in the boutique segment."

But does the partnership fill a need for the hotel-going custo…

What branding has in common with religion

Religion gives meaning to life. So do brands. (The latter may or may not be a sad fact, depending on how aligned you are with organized religion.)

Here are some other similarities - drawing from Wikipedia ( as the source; my thoughts in bullets.

"Religion is a set of common beliefs and practices generally held by a group of people....Religion also encompasses ancestral or cultural traditions, writings, history, and mythology, as well as personal faith and mystic experience."
Strong brands prescribe a set of values and practices (use of the product or service)Strong brands have traditions and myths associated with them"In the frame of...European religious thought, religions present a common quality, the "hallmark of patriarchal religious thought": the division of the world in two comprehensive domains, one sacred, the other profane."Strong brands divide the world up into the sacred (those who use the brand) and the profan…

Which comes first - the chicken or the egg?

When you're creating a brand, which comes first - the meaning that the brandmaker assigns it or the meanings that consumers assign it? Ideally, it should be the meaning that the brandmaker assigns it. The brand owner should establish a vision for the brand and then work to sell that image to the public.

Some people believe that it is the opposite - the consumers assign the brand its meaning first and then the brand manager facilitates that co-creation between the customer and the brand. ("Classic marketing.") That may indeed happen.

But 9 times out of 10, when you are dealing with a strong brand, you are dealing with a brand where the owner had a vision for what it would mean and then imparted that vision to the outside world. Target, Starbucks, Nike, Microsoft, Oprah - all of these and more are examples of "classic branding."

It is true that "classic marketing" appears to be on the rise with Internet brands like YouTube and Google -- where the customer&…

Who creates the brand - the consumer or the producer?

By now it is widely acknowledged that consumers and producers co-create brand meaning. But in Brand Hijack (2005), Alex Wipperfurth (see takes this a step further, arguing that for maximum traction, brand makers should let go of the brand entirely and let consumers appropriate, define, and sell it in their own ways. As Wipperfurth puts it:

"Consumers are in charge, and they have proof of their power....The next consumer will be an active participant in shaping brand meaning and marketing the brand to others. This will no longer be the sole responsibility of the marketing department." (p. 126)

The implication, at the extreme, is that marketers should stop trying to tell consumers what the brand is about and instead offer up a blank canvas that consumers can paint their own meanings on. But frankly, this approach just does not work for me. The marketplace is extremely crowded these days, and it is simply …

Brands as families part 2

Continuing the recent post about John Deere and brands as families... Great brands provide a respite from today's world of broken families and disconnected individualistic behavior. They create a sense of community that is so strong it feels like being part of a family. This is especially true within the branded organization. While it is a stretch to make customers feel like they are part of a close-knit family, it is very possible to draw in employees into a familial environment. If that is done successfully, employees will extend the family metaphor out to customers (as well as other stakeholders) so that at the very least they feel they are part of a closely knit community or "tribe."

Two examples from Creating Customer Evangelists by Ben McConnell and Jackie Huba:
1. Build-A-Bear Workshop--Maxine Clark, founder: "Having a heart is more than a company strategy, it's a way of doing business. It extends to how people are treated in every aspect of the business. I…

5 brand lessons from Hillary Clinton

Whether or not she becomes our next president, with her distinctive look and style, Hillary Clinton can teach us a lot about branding. 1. Don't take criticism personally: I can't think of another political figure who stirs up as much emotion as Hillary does. But whatever people say, she seems to rise above it, even as she responds forcefully. Whether you are building a brand, sustaining it, or defending it, don't let your critics get your goat.
2. Know your subject matter: Say what you want about her, but Hillary knows her stuff. When you are promoting your brand, be a subject matter expert. Speak knowledgeably about whatever it is you're selling. Image alone is not enough.
3. Look the part: Again, say what you want about her, but Hillary looks like a president. Her hairstyle, her clothing, her demeanor, all bespeak presidentiality. When you aspire to promote a brand, it is critical that your look match the brand image.
4. Play to the center: Although I agree with the …

Why customer feedback is critical to your brand

It can be tempting when one is building a brand to simply stick with the vision, and assume that your core customers will find you and follow along. However, this is not necessarily the best way to approach things. For you will encounter people who WANT to be loyal customers but have some issue with your product or service that they need to express to you in order for you to better serve them. In short, you need to hear what your customers have to say. In Creating Customer Evangelists by Ben McConnell and Jackie Huba, the authors call this "Customer Plus-Delta." The Plus part is what customers like; the Delta is what they don't. They offer "10 golden rules" in this regard; they can be boiled down to the following 5 (quoted from p. 32 of the book): "1. Believe that customers possess good ideas. 2. Gather customer feedback at every opportunity. 3. Leverage technology to aid your efforts. 4. Share customer feedback throughout the organization. 5. Use input to make…

Are people loyal to other people or to brands?

In Creating Customer Evangelists (2007), Ben McConnell and Jackie Huba state: "When we set out to understand what created evangelists for our case-study companies, we discovered a simple yet undeniable truth: People are loyal to people, not necessarily brands. That's the magic bullet about word of mouth and how it spurs evangelism." (p.3; emphasis in original) The authors go on to describe how companies like Southwest Airlines, IBM, Build-A-Bear Workshop and others are enjoying the benefits of customer word of mouth. While Creating Customer Evangelists is a great book, and I'll be talking more about it in this blog, I couldn't disagree more with the authors on their conclusions about branding. I say, people are not loyal to the customer service representatives they deal with. They are loyal to the BRANDS that those customer service representatives represent! This is definitely true for consumer packaged goods, where there is no customer service aspect to the buying …

Checklists are not a substitute for brand communication

The Wall Street Journal once published an article about people who keep to-do lists. It caught my attention as I am forever carrying around a list of things to do and consider it a small victory every time I check off one of those tasks as done.One of the points the article made was that some people get neurotic about checking things off their list. For example, if they've done everything on their list, they will add a couple of things just so they can feel like there is something left to accomplish.So checklists can be useful, but they can also be used in neurotic ways.This brings me to the use of checklists in professional communications. On the one hand, these checklists can be a powerful tool for getting things done, especially in organizations that are relatively undisciplined about project management, or that experience frequent misunderstandings about timelines and deadlines. Having a list that everyone can refer to reduces conflict in two ways. First, it keeps people focus…

Disappointment at Disney

Just returned from Disney Orlando. I had expected to be treated to a master class in branding. Instead, it was a near-total disappointment:
The parks were crowded beyond belief and we waited a minimum of an hour to an hour and a half for every ride. In general, as well, the rides were very short given the wait time to get on them. This is a far cry from the imaginary world of the brochure and Disney video that ran in the hotel, which prepares you for an action-packed day. If we managed a few rides in a day, that was a victory.
Customer service staff (greeters) were in short supply and they did not greet us with any kind of Disney "signature" hello. Though helpful when we could find them, there was nothing that set them apart especially as Disney employees. They also didn't seem to have a standard Disney uniform, which was surprising.Animal Kingdom seemed dirty and the directional signs were incomprehensible. Moreover, there were few actual animals to be seen (we did see a…

John Deere and brands as families

On August 14, John Deere CEO was quoted in the Wall Street Journal, saying that the company and dealers of its farm equipment are "not a family. What we are is a high performance team....if someone is not pulling their weight, you're not on the high performance team anymore." The company is getting rid of some smaller scale dealers as part of its business strategy. This is not to debate the merits of that strategy but rather to note the danger of telling your business associates that they should not consider themselves part of your family, especially when they are fiercely loyal. In the case of Deere, the Journal reports, dealers have been known to say they "bleed green," the company's signature color.

In the book Creating Customer Evangelists, authors Ben McConnell and Jackie Huba note that people are loyal to people not to brands, and that top companies create a sense of family both internally and externally. (Examples are Southwest Airlines and Build a …

Samsonite's brand folly

The Wall Street Journal reported yesterday (August 17) that Samsonite luggage is trying to go high-fashion.

What a waste of a good brand.

The company owns the "sturdy" image, a critical niche in the luggage (and handbag) space. Yet the CEO wants to be more like Burberry or Coach and has hired British designer Alexander McQueen to make suitcases that can compete with these brands.

The designs pictured in the Journal are terrible--who is going to buy a suitcase shaped like a ribcage and what does that communicate about the brand, anyway--and the Samsonite name is still being used, so all the brand associations that go along with Samsonite still exist.

In my view -- to take a lesson from Seth Godin's book Purple Cow -- Samsonite should stick to its knitting and build even more remarkable sturdy luggage and handbags than it ever has. If they want higher margins, the company can brand its suitcases a la the Panasonic Toughbook and charge a price premium for their ultra-durability…

Since you need to -- 25 practical things you can do to brand yourself NOW

The other day I said that personal branding is unhealthy. It can be. But on the other hand, it is often a business necessity. Here are some tips on how to do it right (without doing too much damage to your psyche). The key is to shape your personal brand around who you really are - so that you do not have to go through self-manipulative machinations as you go through the day.
1.Search your soul and spell it out. In essence, a brand is "personality in a bottle." Personality, in turn, is simply how you behave when confronted with the world. So ask yourself: "How do I act, in general?" and then write down as many personality characteristics as you can think of. (Be honest: Seemingly negative traits brand you as well as positive ones. Just ask American Idol judge Simon.) Then, list all the brands you love, the ones you are absolutely drawn to: clothes, cars, coffee, celebrities, and so on. This stuff is not for the world to see, but for you to use in defining what it i…

Branding and the importance of being authentic

How many times have you . . . Needed help from another individual or department to resolve an issue, but they put obstacles in your path rather than help you—for no real reason at all?Had a pressing matter to discuss at a meeting, but the meeting kept being deflected to other, trivial matters?Participated in a "brainstorming" session, only to have your ideas dismissed out-of-hand?Been asked for feedback,then had your feedback dismissed when the listener didn't like it?Why must this be so? Oddly enough, it is simply the nature of the group. The key, psychoanalysts say, is a destructive force called "regression." What that means is that joining the group sends us back in time, to a more primitive mental state, where we are driven by irrational feelings of fear, hatred, and jealousy. So we hoard information, deflect productive conversations, put other people down, and deny any responsibility for things going wrong—and none of this for any good reason that we can t…

Branding in the real world: 20 lessons learned

In my experience as a brand specialist, I've learned many lessons. Some of them I've often seen in print; others, never. Here are a few. 1.Some people think they need to make a "big splash" out of a branding initiative. I disagree: Until you're absolutely ready to launch (and that means you have buy-in across the board), making a lot of noise only provokes cynicism and opposition. 2.What should you do while you're keeping quiet? First, gather as much information as you can about the culture, context, and interests of key stakeholders. Second, lobby for support among management opinion leaders and key influencers in the employee community. 3.When you absolutely have to announce the branding initiative, limit the scope of the message to naming the new brand director and explaining the scope of his or her authority. Similarly, do not unveil a new logo or tagline until you've sold it, very thoroughly, internally, and tested it among external stakeholders. If …

Parent brand and baby brand

Once upon a time there was a proud parent brand that gave birth to a baby brand. The parent brand was so proud of the baby brand that she bought baby all sorts of fine posters and website designs and other paraphernalia declaring the baby's birth to the proud parents. Then the baby brand grew up and wanted an identity of its own. Suddenly the parent brand was not so happy and proud; it wanted everyone to keep on declaring the baby brand "child of" the parent. The child brand, now a full-fledged young adult, verbally declared its independence of the parent brand and told everyone who would listen about his independent identity, but still needed its parents' money so couldn't break out completely. Neither side was happy.

What is the optimal relationship between a parent brand and a child brand, a brand that is part of the parent brand yet distinct from it?

There are three choices.

* At one extreme, the parent brand can declare that everything the baby does, is part o…

BIG $$ IDEA for Young & Rubicam (and/or Interbrand): Start a brand index mutual fund

I have a major, major idea for Young & Rubicam: They should start a brand index mutual fund based on their Brand Asset Valuator ( The fund should tie to current strong and emerging brands based on the BAV methodology of identifying brand strength along the pillars of differentiation, relevance, esteem and knowledge. Look at the "Financial Returns" tab on the BAV website. It states:

"Brand strength promotes strong earnings. BAV® has plotted pillar data against revenue growth, margin, NOPAT (whatever that is -- DB) and economic value added (EVA) in over 400 cases over a ten year period, across 18 economic sectors. From this, BAV® has produced a consistent pattern of results. Differentiation is the margin driver - brands that grow their Differentiation have about a 50% higher operating margin on average than those which allow their Differentiation to decline. Relevance is the key to market penetration. Those brands that grow both…

Great branding is storytelling - Why Jeep's new campaign won't work while Apple and Disney will sell forever

In All Marketers are Liars (2005) (, Seth Godin urges marketers to tell a compelling story about their brands. Great stories, he says, have nine components (pp. 8-10). They (summary is Godin's; examples are mine):

1. Are true in the sense of being "consistent and authentic" -- think Nike and its "just do it" slogan

2. Make a promise - one that is "bold and audacious and...exceptional" -- think Target with its determination to make chic affordable for all

3. Are "trusted" -- think Johnson & Johnson with its baby shampoo that you wouldn't hesitate to get in your eyes

4. Are "subtle" - they leave something to the imagination -- think of Google and its "don't be evil" tagline - what does that mean? You have to mostly make it up yourself.

5. "Happen fast" -- engaging the consumer quickly -- think of Hewlett Packard when its says "the computer is personal again" - …

Fixing a brand mistake

In Purple Cow (, Seth Godin argues that the only way to be profitable these days is to sell a "remarkable" product or service. And along the way to trying to make one's product or service remarkable, one is likely to make mistakes and to get criticized for those mistakes. Yet "being safe is risky....It's people who have projects that are never criticized who ultimately fail." (p. 47)
What if you make a brand mistake? Let's say you:
1. Mis-named your company or product or chose a bad logo 2. Implemented the internal brand wrong and people don't follow it 3. Rolled out as permanent a "brand initiative" that should really have been a temporary marketing initiative 4. Misjudged who your real customer is 5. Failed to reach your target market with the brand
What do you do? Do you try to keep implementing the brand mistake--improve on it incrementally--or do you go back to the drawing board and start from scratch?
Take th…

Should customer service staff ever take a break from the brand?

In The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life (1959), sociologist Erving Goffman talks about the importance to people of controlling the impression that others have of them. He writes: "When an individual appears before others he will have many motives for trying to control the impression they receive of the situation." He goes on to elaborate that he is "concerned with some of the common techniques that persons employ to sustain such impressions."

Basically, Goffman looks at human behavior as taking place on a figurative stage, where behavior evidenced in front of other people is "frontstage" and private behavior takes place "backstage." "Frontstage" is where people try to manage the impressions that others have of them; "backstage" is where they relax and don't try to make an impression. People use "masks" to control the impression they provide to their "audience."

Branding takes place in interaction w…

Overcome the 5 hidden reasons why internal branding fails

In Covert Processes at Work: Managing the Five Hidden Dimensions of Organizational Change (see excerpt at, Robert Marshak describes the hidden dynamics that characterize organizational change at work--things that affect the organization, but which for the most part go unspoken. These include (the following list is quoted):

"1. Politics: Individual and group interests
2. Inspirations: Values-based and visionary aspirations
3. Emotions: Affective and reactive feelings
4. Mindsets: Guiding beliefs and assumptions
5. Psychodynamics: Anxiety-based and unconscious defenses" (p. 5)

Obviously, internal branding is an organizational change. It is therefore critical to pay attention to each of the above dynamics when implementing it. Unfortunately, however, most organizational change programs neglect them, instead drawing on reason, or "rational and analytic logics." Marshak notes that "most organizational change initiat…

Why your brand should be - yes! - boring to you

Take this quiz: 1. Does your organization have a proliferation of names and acronyms that it tries to promote among external stakeholders? 2. Do various projects and programs within your organization each insist on having their own logo for external use? 3. Do you ever hear people say that they're sick of using the standard PowerPoint template and want to be more "creative"? If you answered "yes" to more than 1 out of 3 of these questions then your organization is in "hyperbrand" mode. It is frantically creating new names and identities to distinguish innumerable projects and programs within the organization, likely confusing your customers and other outside stakeholders. Hyperbrand mode is a bad, bad thing. A similar problem has to do with marketing departments and their need to come up with "fresh" new exciting campaigns for every this and that. As Seth Godin writes in Purple Cow (p. 75): "Marketing departments often feel a need to justif…

McDonald's: A testament to the power of brand

To little kids, carrot sticks, milk, and apple juice physically taste better when they're presented in a McDonald's wrapper ( Those are the stunning findings of a recent study which found that the more TV sets children have in their home, the more likely they are to find McDonald's branded food to taste better than unmarked packages. (An interesting exception is hamburgers, where the preference was not "statistically clear cut.")

The media are all over this study, for multiple reasons:

1. It shows how powerful brands are (!)
2. It shows how vulnerable low-income kids are to TV advertising (it was a study of 63 low-income children ages 3 to 5)
3. It points up the problem of obesity in America and points a finger at fast-food companies for causing it

CNN quotes Dr. Victor Strasburger, an author of an American Academy of Pediatrics policy urging limits on marketing to children: "…