Friday, August 31, 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 the best-branded food retailers are creating successful new brands that have no resemblance to the original - like Target's Archer Farms line. This is an example of intelligent brand architecture - a parent brand spinning off a child brand that makes no mention of the original. (There is no connection other than being housed by it in the parent's retail environment.) This is not always the right call to make, but in a case where the parent brand's equity would not enhance the child brand's equity, it can work well to build a new brand starting from scratch. For Target, "chic at reasonable prices" equity does not translate directly into house-branded items, but it does work well at bringing in other brands into the Target umbrella.
This is an example of good branding at work--creating added value out of items that would normally be sold at generic prices.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

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 of the affected citizens of the area. I am not an expert on the situation in New Orleans, but Cooper gave a clue as to what one of the key problems might be: communication by the government to affected individuals. People don't understand where to go for help, said Cooper; the government has left people to figure it out on their own. I didn't watch the whole show (probably like many people, I got just a few bits and pieces), but my impression is that a better communication plan by the government, and FEMA in particular, might help enormously in routing people to the services they need, and in turn improve impressions of the public regarding what the government is doing to help.

This is a good example of how simply throwing money at a problem does not necessarily help. Because separately from relief funding, what is called for is a coordinated brand campaign demonstrating what has been done, what the remaining needs are, and what the plan is for closing the gap. (Yes, that will cost money too.) It's not just a communication plan, but a brand communication plan, because it affects the entire image of the White House, the federal government, and FEMA. Not only that, but there should be some sort of listening mechanism, if there isn't one already, instituted by the government to pay heed to what affected citizens have to say about their experiences obtaining relief. At a minimum, every call and email should be acknowledged; optimally, incoming cases would be managed from beginning to end to make sure that every last citizen is being taken care of.

Brand is a promise made and delivered. More can be done to communicate to citizens how the promises associated with Katrina are being handled effectively—and what is being done to improve things where they're not.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

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 wait in the check-out line for a manager to reverse a purchase she did not want. Long story short, the cashier loudly called out for a manager, stating that Barlow did not want the item becaue it was too expensive. 
Would branded management training have helped in this situation? In a way, yes...because if managers are taught to help staffers uphold the brand promise that "The Customer is #1," the manager will have tools to help staffers do so. But in a way, no...because treating the customer as #1 is a rather generic brand promise. It is really, in fact, nothing more than a customer service promise. And you don't need brand training to help employees deliver excellence in customer service.
I think the bottom line is, if the brand is truly unique or different in a demonstrable way then branding should be a key component of frontline manager training. And not every brand is demonstrably different when it comes to managing people. For example, if someone intends to work at Southwest Airlines, then they need to understand that a sense of humor is key to handling typical job situations. However, if someone intends to work at Starbucks, it is harder to teach them to offer a satisfying "third place" (not home, not work, just a hangout) experience...simple training in positive employee interaction and customer service would cover that.
To sum up: Branding is important, but it's important to use it wisely and sparingly - not every situation calls for it. Sometimes excellence alone will deliver the brand results that are sought.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

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, contributes appropriately." Apparently there are those kind of customers out there in states like Washington, Utah, and Colorado. But I'm not at all sure that the model extends to urban metropolitan centers like New York, which is where One World Cafe founder Denise Cerreta plans to open a pay-what-you-want cafe. You never know--but it seems unlikely to me that the model will gain mainstream traction.

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 customer? This, I think, depends on how well the plan is executed. As the article notes, Schrager is "obsessive about details" that can seem quirky, like leaving the lights dim or putting "stylish" notepads in each room, while Marriott is more "mainstream" and cost-conscious--the lights will likely be brighter for safety reasons and the notepads may be too expensive.

How will they collaborate? Which brand will have the larger share of voice, if you will? And which customer will they serve--the potential Marriott customer looking for a boutique-like experience or the boutique customer looking for a more Marriott-like experience? My guess is that it's the former--which means that Marriott will need to let Schrager's voice be heard loudly and clearly in order to have an impact.

Monday, August 27, 2007

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 profane (those who don't)

"Religion is also often described as a 'way of life.'"

  • The brands that people are loyal to often describe their way of life

"'Religion' is sometimes used interchangeably with 'faith' or 'belief system,' but is more socially defined than that of personal convictions."

  • Brands are used by individuals but their meaning is defined socially.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

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's input shapes the presentation of the brand nearly completely.

However, brands that endure impart an idea to the public and then keep the public engaged with the brand over time - it is not easy to create a substitute for them. That is what branding is all about - establishing a strong, distinctive meaning that customers can then work into their lives as an enduring symbol of something that matters to them.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

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 stupid to tell people that they should leave their products undefined and let the marketplace do that work. No, marketers have a responsibility to establish a meaning for the brand in advance of presenting it to the consumer. The consumer may appropriate the brand in different ways, may reshape and refine and rework its ultimate meaning, but the essence of the brand is, or should always be, in the hands of the marketer.

This is not to say that there can't be a happy accident, where the marketer has defined the brand one way and the market soars it to popularity along another track entirely. As Wipperfurth demonstrates in Brand Hijack, that can happen. But most of the time, it is the marketers' responsibility to study the marketplace, understand the target audience, and go forward with a brand proposition that speaks to them. Otherwise how can the brand even go to market?

Friday, August 24, 2007

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. It is what excellent companies know is the core to success: treating vendors like partners, treating customers like guests, treating employees like friends and family." (p. 163)

2. Southwest Airlines--Colleen Barrett, president: "The Golden Rule is pretty important here." (p. 178) Barrett "despises empty walls, so nearly every square foot of company walls features framed pictures of employees in action at work, pictures of their kids and families, pictures in their high school cheerleading uniforms. Like a proud mama, the company even frames its employees' artwork and hangs it on the wall....Barrett chairs a committee of employees from every area of the company. Known as the Culture Committeee, its purpose is to build on the company's effervescent personality throughout the employee ranks. The results allow Southwest to retain a familial atmosphere amidst rapid growth."

Thursday, August 23, 2007

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 premise of Purple Cow by Seth Godin, that only remarkable products and services stand a chance of survival, I also see the merits of toning down one's distinctiveness to be acceptable to a mass market. Hillary has intelligently moderated her image so that she appears to be centrist rather than aggressively left-leaning. And I believe that has won her additional support.
5. Don't apologize, explain: She will not apologize for supporting the war. And she is right to uphold her actions, because she believed in them at the time. Remember -- unless the brand has violated its own promise, in which case an immediate apology is warranted, it is best to maintain an image of consistency by explaining where the brand is coming from rather than resorting to an apology for unpopular choices.
It has also been pointed out ( that Hillary is consistent in her messaging: "Tell it again and again, and tell it the same way"--another sign of a strong brand.
For those who are interested, here is an article on Hillary's unique political brand:

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

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 change--and communicate changes back to customers."
What should you ask customers? The authors state (p. 34)
"1. Do they recommend your product, brand, or company?
2. If yes, why? What's the one thing they value most? What do they say when they recommend you to others?
3. If no or don't know, why? What must you improve to earn their recommendation? When was the last time you angered or disappointed them?"
As you gather feedback, remember not to change your brand to suit customer tastes; rather, use the input to make sure that you are delivering on the brand promise. To go back to the case of Disney, if I write and tell them that I find the brand "artificial," that doesn't mean that they should change anything--artificiality is part of the brand. However, if I write and tell them that the theme park is too crowded, they should do something about that--as part of the brand promise is ACCESS to the dream.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

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 situation. And it is true as well for service brands, although trickier to see because you're dealing with service provided by people.
In my view, people REMEMBER a good customer service experience and ESTABLISH a relationship with the BRAND not the person they deal with. I'll go to any Starbucks coffee shop, not just the one on the corner where I recognize the people who work there. Every Southwest flight attendant has a humorous attitude; every Build-A-Bear workshop attendant provides a "heartfelt" experience to a child buying his or her bear for the first time. The service they provide is not spontaneous but BRANDED...and I think most people recognize that. You pay for the brand and expect the brand's promises to be fulfilled, whether by a product or by a person...that's it, end of story. 
Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Microsoft, Johnson & Johnson, Nike, Google, GE, Nokia, Toyota,  Intel, McDonald's, Mercedes...people go where the product and service best suit them.
Believe me, all those little girls walking around in princess outfits at Disney are not loyal to a person, they're loyal to a brand fantasy that exists only in their heads.
Other points of view are welcome, of course.

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 focused on an external, objective task, rather than on each other (what she said or he said, who is supposed to do what, why they will or won't do what they're supposed to do, etc.). Second, it reduces misunderstandings by clearly documenting roles, responsibilities, and timelines.


On the other hand, checklists can actually lead to the organization avoiding communication. Because the communication team can easily set up a checklist that makes it look like communication has happened, when in fact nothing of any significance has taken place. (Remember, the message must be received and understood, if not acted upon, in order to be worthy of the term "communication.")


Here is an example of what I'm talking about:


Checklist for Project X Communication Initiative


__Send e-mail to all managers today

__Hold all-employee webcast next week

__Follow up with telephone recording of webcast a day later

__Post summary to intranet in two weeks

__Place article in employee newsletter next month


Let's say you accomplish all of these tasks, but people still don't know what is going on. How is that possible, you say? Well, in this fictitious example:


  • Most of the managers deleted the email without reading it.
  • Half the employees didn't watch the webcast, and the other half didn't understand what the CEO was trying to say.
  • Nobody ever goes to the intranet except when they are forced to visit a specific link for benefits information or something like that.
  • Most people read the humorous parts of the employee newsletter and disregard the rest.


So you need more than just a checklist to make the communication happen.


What can you do?


I'd say, keep the checklist, but add four tasks to it:


  • Concept testing: Run the communication past a few people before you send it to everyone.
  • Refinement: Based on early feedback, edit the content of the message, or the style in which it is delivered.
  • Measurement: Find out 1) how many people received the message 2) how they understood the message and 3) whether they intend to act on it in the way you want.
  • Feedback sharing: Make the results of your measurement public. This demonstrates your confidence, builds your credibility, and motivates you to improve your performance.


Are you scared by the idea of really measuring the effectiveness of your communication, let alone making the results public? Of course you are! Traditional business writing (and speaking) is absolutely boring, not to mention difficult to understand. This is no secret to anyone, but the situation continues because communication senders stubbornly insist on ignoring how their messages are received.


As long as communicators fail to measure how their words are received, and pretend that checklists are a good-enough substitute, the people on the receiving end of their words will continue to ignore, misinterpret, and poke fun at the mix of buzzwords, clich├ęs, and jargon that pass for the transmission of actual meaning from one human being to another.

Monday, August 20, 2007

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 tiger, an anteater and some bats). Other than the roller coaster ride, the rafting ride, and the jungle safari (which we didn't even attempt because we were told the wait time was too long) there was nothing to do that was of any interest to us. And although I paced around nauseously (from the roller coaster ride) looking for some regular food to eat, there seemed to be nothing for sale besides ice cream and sugar drinks (like I said, we couldn't navigate so if there was other food we couldn't find it.)
  • Epcot was by far the best park in Disney, but was also a shameless advertisement for a number of other companies that sponsored various presentations there including IBM, Hewlett-Packard, and Nestle. (I have to admit that the Soarin' ride, in which you seem to ride above the earth, was worth the incredibly long wait.) I was a little offended at the extent of corporate sponsorship of what should have been a "pure" Disney experience.
  • MGM was good in terms of having good stunt shows to see, but was also crowded and impossible to navigate.
  • At Magic Kingdom, which was flooded with literally a crush of people, we waited 1.5 hours for Splash Mountain then got thrown off the ride because it was broken. The railroad ride was also broken and the haunted mansion was closed, and the monorail that got us to the main part of the park got stuck in midstream. The worst part of it was when we tried to leave but were blocked by a Disney parade from getting through. They literally will not let you pass when the parade is in session.
  • The Disney theme park cards (the cards you use to gain entry to the park) didn't work and had to be reprinted. Further, the cards were keyed to each individual user by fingerprint but had no space to write our name on them - causing confusion each time we entered the park.
I still want to believe in Disney, even after this experience...but it is tough. I think it's still a great brand, but as far as the theme parks go, I did not have a good customer/brand experience.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

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 Bear.) The first part of
that statement is debatable, but what is clear is that by alienating its dealers from the family they once had, Deere is creating the risk that they will go elsewhere for business opportunities for themselves.

Smart brands create and encourage the perception that employees, customers, and other key stakeholders are all part of one big, happy, warm family. The high performance team aspect of that family relationship cannot be forgotten, but it is subordinate to the family relationship.

Do you think that brands can operate as families and high performance teams at the same time?

Saturday, August 18, 2007

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.

This is not to say that a brand cannot make itself over into a new image. Look at what former monopolist IBM did by embracing open source brand Linux. But even then, the old image still sticks -- IBM will always be "Big Blue." The difference is that IBM updated its image to adapt to the context of technology services today, and as a result looks jazzier and more nimble -- a needed change.

Samsonite has a goldmine in its "sturdy" image. Wanting to be something you're not -- to go from middle market to upper-class brand -- seems like mere CEO vanity. What do you think?

Friday, August 17, 2007

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 is about your personality that is different and therefore valuable. You will draw on it later on as you determine what kind of words sound like you, which colors reflect your personality, and so on.

2. Narrow down who your customer is. Private industry or government? The boss or a frontline staffer? Entrepreneurs or corporate staffers? Baby boomers or Gen Xers? Americans or Europeans? End users or vendors that sell to them? It can be annoying to do this, but remember: It's a crowded playing field. You need to narrow your audience to be effective.

3. Make sure you have a unique selling proposition. This is one sentence that states the value you deliver to your customers. It is the business proposition through which you deliver your brand. Just like CNN ("the most trusted name in news"), say it at every opportunity.

4. Get your blog going. Register your blog name - it is YOUR NAME (you are the brand) - and start submitting it to the search engines – Google, etc. Once it's up there you will be motivated to get the design and content going.

5. Choose your color. Own red, blue, orange, yellow, purple, green, whatever. This is the color you are going to use in all your marketing materials. You may not have the money to develop a logo, but your choice of color is free.

6. Join an association that matters to your audience and help organize an event for the local chapter.

7. Find a conference to attend. It doesn't have to be the most expensive gathering in the world, but it should focus on your specialty area and focus on an audience that is likely to buy your services.

8. Arrange for a small speaking engagement. Your local university is a good place to start: They always need guest lecturers.

9. List yourself as an expert with a wire service such as PR Newswire.

10. Take on pro bono work for a local organization you feel comfortable with. For example, if you have school-age children, you may want to start with their school.

11. Start writing. Begin with short articles, which you will post to your website. They don't have to be scholarly. In fact, it's better if they're not. Keep it practical and include numbers: 5 ways to do XYZ, 3 things to keep in mind, 10 myths vs. facts, etc. Eventually you will put all of your articles, e-posts, and online advice into a meaningful package: your first book.

12. Start e-networking. Find blogs, mailing lists, and websites that allow comments, and get involved in the conversation.

13. Get on the editorial board of a respected industry publication. Start by volunteering to review manuscripts. Work your way up to the board.

14. Collect 3 testimonials and post them to your blog in the helpful links section.

15. Write 5 one-page case studies showing results you have generated and post them to your blog in the helpful links section.

16. Determine your fee structure. When you finally get asked about your fees, this will save you from stammering and stuttering your ill-thought-out response.

17. Create a proposal template or list of products/services. You want to focus on the content of your value to the client, not fuss about the package at the last minute.

18. Put together a list of professional helpers. You will need a decent website developer and a marketing communications consultant. Ask for some references from schools in your area if you're strapped for cash.

19. Write your bio. You will need it for speaking engagements, "about the author" descriptions, and of course your website.

20. Generate an "advice" column that promotes what you do. Of course, you will write the questions and answers, at least at first. Post it to your blog.

OK, now for 5 bonus tips of a more conceptual nature:

21. Be consistent. I define a brand as "a set of consistent processes that define, differentiate, and add value." Basically, you have to set expectations and then meet them. Everything counts: what you say, to how you say it, your clothing, your billing processes, everything.

22. Plan for fame. You lose your personal life. Is that what you want? Think it through. You may have to settle for a lesser level of renown.

23. Weigh the economic risks. If you get in legal trouble, your company could sink. (Martha Stewart, enough said.)

24. Understand that the quality of your product or service has to be impeccable. You can't put lipstick on a pig.

25. NEVER compare yourself to the competition. You need to keep your head clear and be proactive, not reactive.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

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 think of.

Given that groups are so important these days, it is even more frustrating that they tend to fail. For we live in the age of specialization, when most projects require collaboration by a diverse team of specialists. Even the most basic brand communication plan, for example, can require the input of copywriters, designers, multimedia specialists, web content specialists, change management specialists, human resources representatives, diversity managers, cross-functional representatives, line specialists, and more.

But there is good news: Every group has the potential to confront and overcome this innate tendency. And if the group can manage to do so effectively, it can literally soar, by far, above the sum potential of its individual members.

Assuming that the group is enlightened enough to confront its own destructiveness, what, specifically, can group members do to stop it?

The answer is simple but powerful.

Be authentic.

Say what you are thinking or feeling, as directly as possible while still being constructive and appropriate.

Why does authenticity work?

Because secrecy and collusion feed the dysfunctional system. You know what that looks like—everybody getting together and pretending that everything is OK when it's not. Everybody smiling, but underground, the negative energies of the group fester, breed, and grow stronger.

Authenticity is absolutely nothing new. It's a staple of every good movie, even: The main character says what she or he is feeling—tells the group—and their words quickly clear out the cobwebs of secrecy, silence, deception, irrational pain. The group is refreshed; it can go on and live another day. The character is a hero.

Of course, real, positive change takes more than you deciding to be authentic. And the way one person acts may not make much difference. But the fact of the matter is, you can't control what other people do—only what you do. You have the power in you to be authentic, and to encourage others to do the same. The only thing that may stop you—and this is a judgment call on your part—is if the group is just too far down the path of destruction. In that case, you may be punished for taking the risk.

But if things are that bad, you may want to think about what you are doing there—and how long it will take before those negative energies go after you.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

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 the initiative is successful, you can brag about the results later.

4.      Sell branding as a solution to a business need (increased market share, enhanced customer loyalty, higher employee retention rates, etc.) rather than as a solution in and of itself. Long-term, nobody can stand the discipline associated with genuine (as opposed to  cosmetic—logo/tagline only) branding unless they can see a tangible benefit.

5.      Expect resistance. No matter how well you prove your case from a cost-benefit perspective, the group has to be emotionally ready to change the way it does things.

6.      Be prepared: Some projects are called "branding" but really have nothing to do with branding at all. (Other times the opposite is true.) When to make an issue out of these things depends on your unique organizational culture and political climate. Tread carefully.

7.      Know that branding removes power from certain people in the organization, who will fight tooth and nail to keep that power. That is why 1) CEOs are the best brand champions 2) brand people have to be people-smart—because branding always divides people before it unifies them.

8.      There will always be people who hate the brand. Instead of wasting energy fighting them, invite them to the table to complain. You may or may not learn anything useful, but simply giving them a voice will neutralize some of the negative energy they create.

9.      Branding is not an endeavor for "lone geniuses"—you will have to assemble a "coalition of the willing" in order to get it done right.

10.  Remember: No trust = no brand. Similarly, no heart = no brand; no leadership = no brand; no sincerity = no brand; and so on. Branding is ultimately a people business, not an arid intellectual program.

11.  You may think that there is no hope. You may endure long periods of silence, punctuated by ups and downs. Nevertheless, keep talking about the importance of branding; keep trying to find ways to make it serve a business need. Eventually someone will pick up the thread and run with it. Brand thinking is contagious.

12.  Don't be afraid to draw on industry best practices in order to build your brand. At the same time, remember: Real-world branding can't be found in any book. Nobody is going to write a case study about how they actually got their brand to work, because often, the dynamics involved are not a pretty sight.

13.  On the one hand, "those who fail to plan, plan to fail." But on the other, it's an unpredictable world. Be strategic about your brand initiative, but be willing and able to change course rapidly if you need to.

14.  Start small, and celebrate small successes. Admit your failures publicly, too—preferably on an "our brand in progress" webpage where you invite comments from all interested stakeholders. (Depending on your organization, you may want to limit these stakeholders to employees.)

15.  Choose something to measure as an indicator of your success—preferably a metric that is aligned with the business results you are trying to achieve. Then, measure it consistently and report on the results.

16.  The two most important internal partners for brand professionals, aside from other marketing/communications/PR people in the organization, are Human Resources and Information Technology. There is no way around it; you will need their support in order to succeed.

17.  When you mess up with a brand-related initiative, don't dwell on it. Discuss what went wrong, and then move on.

18.  Remember that everything contributes to the brand, but that doesn't mean the brand is everything. Learn to see the brand from the perspective of those who either don't know what branding is, or don't care. Speak to such people accordingly, in business terms—for the more brand jargon you spout, the less seriously they will take you.

19.  Read, read, read. Even if you think you know all there is to know about branding, you don't—the field is ever-evolving. You can also gain education and inspiration from myriad sources that have nothing at all to do with branding.

20.  Never give up. Branding can be a tough job, but it is ultimately a worthwhile and rewarding one.


Monday, August 13, 2007

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 of the parents' own actions and a reflection on her. In that case the baby brand must constantly reflect the parents' name in every communication, declaration, and conversation.

* At the other extreme, the parent brand can grant the child brand independence, and hope that the child decides to thank the parent every once in a while.

* A middle of the road solution is for the parent brand to allow the child to be semi-independent, keeping the parent's name and "living on the same block" but asserting its own identity.

How the decision gets made in the real world has to do with a lot of things--rational considerations, political interests, and so on--but partly it has to do with psychology: how secure the parent brand is in its own identity. The more insecure the parent brand, the more it fears that it is not contributing value, the more it clutches on to the child. On the other hand, the more disorganized the parent brand, the less it clamps the child's identity to itself as part of a cohesive whole and the more it just lets the child brand "do what it wants." The optimal balance, usually is for the parent brand to at some level acknowledge the existence and importance of the child brand, but at the same time to let the child brand have its own identity and operational freedom. (That is, unless the child brand is so radically different from the parent that it would be better to pretend that there is no relationship there; or if the child brand is so dysfunctional that the parent brand needs to care for it totally.)
In your organization, if there is a conflict between a parent brand and a child brand, it may be worth having the important conversation of where the child brand sits in relation to the parent, and how an optimal balance can be achieved. It is a difficult balance to obtain, but one that is worth pursuing.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

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 their Differentiation and Relevance report the greatest increase in operating earnings."

Well it's a short leap from increased operating earnings to increased stock price -- can anybody say "ka-ching"?

The world's top brands have higher stock prices than nonbrands, but to my knowledge nobody has ever invested in a brand methodology per se -- started a mutual fund based on a brand strength methodology. Creating such a fund would not only prove that brands have a higher value than their generic counterparts (which would be good concrete tangible evidence for the academic), but it would also create an investment vehicle for people who believe strongly in the power of brand.

Well Y&R, what are you waiting for?

Or Interbrand could do it - they have their own financial formula for calculating brand value -- see -- and they annually calculate what the top brands are.

I'll stand by and wait for the announcement.

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" - you immediately grasp what that means

6. "Don't appeal to logic, but they often appeal to our senses" -- think of the smell of Starbucks coffee

7. "Are rarely aimed at everyone" -- think of Harley Davidson (although Harley is now going after women motorcycle riders, so they may be violating this rule)

8. "Don't contradict themselves" - every element of the story hangs together -- think of Saturn cars and their continuous emphasis on the individual and customer service from point of manufacture to point of purchase

9. "Agree with our worldview" - which is why not every brand story is for everyone -- think of Coca Cola vs. Pepsi, each appealing to a distinct kind of customer

Jeep is a once-great brand that ruined its story. It used to be a tale about surviving in the rugged outdoors. Now, they have reduced the brand to "fun." ( It's horrible. I don't buy the new Jeep story; it breaks rule #1 and #8! Fun is completely inconsistent with the concept of survival, which is at the heart of Jeep's brand heritage.

An example of a brand with a good story is Apple, which tells a story about "freeing creative spirits while slaying the Microsoft dragon." This is from Marketing & Strategy Innovation Blog (, which has a good "ten truths of branded storytelling." They urge marketers to have a unique STORY proposition in addition to a unique SELLING proposition.

Of course the ultimate brand storyteller is Disney, which has managed to maintain a story about a magical happy place ( for decades. They don't call it the "Disney magic" for nothing.

You can turn your brand into a story. Make it a great one.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

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 the Purple Cow litmus test. Is what you are doing remarkable and you just need to get the word out better? Or are you selling something mediocre or "just good enough" to start with? If you are truly doing something remarkable with your product or service then you should feel free to experiment with different ways of branding it--and that can mean going back to the drawing board several times. On the other hand, if the problem is with your product or service, then you need to go back and look at what you're selling. Don't even think about the brand, think about the essence of what you are promoting. Make THAT remarkable. The brand will follow naturally...any changes you make after that will just be tinkering.

Either way, you need to fix the mistake, even if it will be costly. It's just a question of how you approach it.

Are you implementing a mistaken brand?

Friday, August 10, 2007

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 with other people. This begs the question of whether people involved in delivering the brand should always be displaying branded behavior, or whether they can and should take a break when they are in private. For example, let's say a certain brand of fast food represents itself as "fun." Its customer service representatives will generally be expected to convey the concept of fun to the customers--and so the employee should act as though he or she were having fun on the job. The question is, when they step away from the counter, is it in the best interest of the brand to allow the customer service representative to drop the mask and act ordinary?

Well, yes and no. From a mental health point of view (and the organization should serve its employees mental health where possible), nobody can be expected to portray "fun" for a full 8 hours a day, 7 days a week. So it is normal for people to relax and go "off-brand" when they're not facing the customer.

On the other hand, from a brand point of view, there are other stakeholders in the organization besides customers -- how about other employees? If people do not act "fun" then the fast food business is not a "fun" place to work and that will inevitably be conveyed to the customers at some point.

I would say that the best course of action is to hire people who are inherently "fun" (or whatever the brand type is), so that when they go off-brand they are actually still in brand mode. This is also the best way for the brand to convey authenticity to the customer -- to make it clear that the brand is real, not just a show. Remember, hire for brand and the brand will inevitably be stronger as a result.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

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 initiatives begin...with 'making the (logical) case for change.' If/when that doesn't work, some organizations try to do an even better job of convincing employees of the need to change. When that fails, "venting" sessions occur to address "irrational resistance." If that too doesn't work, the change effort is either "aborted, abbreviated, or forced." (p. 6)

What can be done instead to implement the internal brand so that it is accepted by the workforce? Translating Marshak, I would say that one has to appeal to all five hidden dynamics of change, in addition to making a logical case for why the internal brand is needed. Specifically:

1. Politics: Show people how the brand will empower them. For example, that they can now make decisions based on the brand that they couldn't otherwise be free to make before. (E.g. for a customer service situation, rather than calling one's supervisor in to resolve a situation, one can act based on the values that the brand promotes.)

2. Inspirations: Inspire people to want to be part of something greater than themselves by buying into the brand. (E.g., a brand promise might be to "make people happy" and the employee can make that happen in their work every day.

3. Emotions: Understand and respond appropriately to the typical emotional stages of reaction to organizational change: "denial, anger, bargaining, acceptance, and finally adaptive behavior" (p. 10) (as Marshak points out, similar to the stages of death and dying formulated by Elizabeth Kubler Ross in 1973). (E.g. don't be surprised if in the beginning people ignore the pronouncements about the internal brand, then express anger, etc. ...give them the opportunity to say what they have to say without marginalizing those who need to express anger or cutting the vending sessions short.)

4. Mindsets: Understand and appeal to the "assumptions, beliefs, and premises" (p. 11) that are prevalent in the workforce. Know the culture that you are dealing with. For example, in a hierarchical law enforcement culture, a brand that encourages transparency and two-way communication is going to be a tough sell. You must be able to overcome the ingrained mindsets in order to move the brand forward.

5. Psychodynamics: Realize that the change is going to provoke unconscious anxiety and unresolved feelings in people and that they will defend against that anxiety in various ways. As Marshak points out, they might "engage in 'fight or flight' behavior (by being argumentative or by avoiding the topic)". Or they might "engage in transference and begin to act as if the leader were a parent." Or the leader might act cold when warmth is called for (p. 14). The marketers of the internal brand must be able to identify and skillfully manage unconscious responses when they see them.

Internal branding is a serious organizational change endeavor. We must manage it accordingly if we want it to be successful. This might even mean bringing in an organizational development consultant if needed.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

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 justify their existence. If last year's slogan feels old, they'll spend a million dollars to invent and propagate a new one." It is better sometimes to do nothing: "If you do nothing, at least you're not going to short-circuit your existing consumer networks by loading them up with a lot of indefensible junk."
Website consultant Gerry McGovern (, in a recent lecture, said something similar. He said that good websites are often boring websites to those who create them (not to the public) because they do what they're supposed to do--get the public to their tasks--without steering them in directions they don't need to go.
Remember that your brand should be boring to you because you need to state the same thing over and over again in order to get the public to hear you. If you get the urge to redesign, rebrand, remarket, or relaunch your products and services over and over again, or if you start feverishly promoting product and program names to the outside world, you will LOSE CUSTOMERS to confusion. They will turn to a simpler brand, one that is easier to follow and to understand.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

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:
"Advertisers have tried to do exactly what this study is talking about -- to brand younger and younger children, to instill in them an almost obsessional desire for a particular brand-name product."
And? What about it? Kids get hungry and they want good food. Of course they learn to distinguish between what tastes good and what doesn't--they learn to trust certain brand names to provide them basic sustenance. It is up to their parents to steer them away from the junk, not up to companies to stop marketing to them.
I don't know why McDonald's is apologizing all over the place for marketing its food to kids (large and small)...("This is an important subject and McDonald's has been actively addressing it for quite some time," company spokesman Walt Riker told CNN. "We've always wanted to be part of the solution and we are providing solutions.")

The company should instead be taking credit. They are geniuses at making food appealing, and they're serving healthy food these days as well. If people choose to gorge (or to let their kids gorge), that is their problem.