Saturday, September 29, 2007

Giuliani’s brand problem

Presidential candidate Rudolph Giuliani has a brand problem: he is perceived as being mean.

“Rudy Giuliani’s temperament is well known in New York. He’s quick to anger, an egomaniac, very stubborn, throws tantrums and is generally, well, mean. Newsweek columnist Jonathan Alter: ‘His ridiculously thin skin and mile-wide mean streak were not allegations made by whiners and political opponents. They were traits widely known to his supporters.’” (

Right now, what’s saving him is the collective memory of Giuliani on 9/11: ashen through the streets of New York City, uttering brave and reassuring words.

But there is a darker underside to the candidate: “Many probably now regret their decision (to elect Giuliani) after seeing Giuliani's mean-spirited assaults on the poor and on freedoms guaranteed by the bill of rights during his term in office.” (

And again:

“Giuliani was mean enough to be New York’s greatest mayor. Is he too mean to be president?” (

The irony of it is that if you read Giuliani’s book Leadership, you begin to understand that what comes across as meanness may actually be a steely rationale behind his governance strategy. He is willing to make the tough choices needed to make a city (country) work and he has the numbers to back up his strategies.

Nevertheless, he can’t be elected if he is perceived as mean. And the problem is, he looks mean too. Time for some major image upgrades, especially if he is going to run against Hillary. She, I’m sure, can be mean when she takes off the gloves, but her image is that of a composed centrist above all. Right now, he is simply no match for her.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Brand metrics -– when to bother and why

I have been thinking about brand metrics for awhile now, as numbers help to demonstrate the value of a brand to the organization, but in my experience are seldom actually used. A couple of questions arise around the concept of brand metrics:

  1. What is most important to measure?
  2. Do people use brand metrics?
  3. What happens if you don’t measure?
  4. Are the advanced brand measurement techniques you read about really worthwhile or just a lot of gobbledygook designed to make someone look smart?

Let’s take these one at a time.

1. What is most important to measure? According to Prophet Brand Strategy, it is only important to measure things that help you make strategic business decisions. ( So for example, a certain retailer wanted to upgrade their image from low-end to high-end so that they could sell more high-margin goods. Therefore, they instituted a measure called “basket composition,” basically measuring what percentage of each sale had been composed of high-margin items.

The connection between brand and basket composition is simple and causative. You change the image of the retailer, the consumer is more willing to purchase high-margin items. But it’s not always so easy to determine the connection between brand and business results. For a government agency, for example, increased retention might be one goal of an internal brand initiative. However, that brand initiative will likely be bundled with increased benefits from Human Resources. So if turnover is reduced, it is difficult to say how much the brand contributed to it vs. how much the HR factor did. In that case, what do you measure? Perhaps you go back to awareness (asking about the ability to recall key brand messages) and impact (literally asking the extent to which branding messages have affected the desire to look for a job elsewhere).

It goes without saying that if you're not making strategic business decisions that involve the brand (which is possible), you don't need to measure anything except perhaps awareness, because that affects everything else.

2. Do people use brand metrics?

Some have pooh-poohed awareness (, saying things like “If awareness is your be-all and end-all, you’ve got a long way to go,” but I think that is definitely the place to start, especially given that so few companies measure any aspect of brand at all. As Prophet notes, its “2002 Best Practices study showed that only one-third of the 90 companies surveyed in 2001 measure the performance of their brands.” Similarly, Chief Marketer states that VisionEdge Marketing found the exact same thing: “two-thirds of all marketers do not include metrics in their marketing plans.”

I am personally not surprised that so few companies use brand metrics, because it is difficult to definitively relate brand realities to business outcomes. Also, many marketing decisions are based on whim, intuition, gut instinct, etc. and not measurable business arguments. Finally, organizations can tend to do marketing/branding because everyone else does, and there may not ultimately be pressure on the marketing director to show results.

3. What happens if you don’t measure?

Sometimes, nothing bad will happen. But other times, if you don’t measure, you are in danger of having two things happen to you, as Chief Marketer notes. The first is that your marketing budget may be used as a “slush fund” for executives who need to get budget money from somewhere. The second is that you may be fired for failing to demonstrate bottom-line results.

So even though it may be difficult, you’ve got to measure something, and that something has to connect with business objectives. I say, start with awareness. Then find a way to connect it to a business result. This means coming up with the right cause-effect relationship, the right survey questions, and the right target population to ask those questions to.

4. Are the advanced brand measurement techniques you read about really worthwhile or just a lot of gobbledygook designed to make someone look smart?

I do think that frequently, advanced techniques are designed to make someone look smart and are not really useful for the average marketer. A helpful article in this area, by Prophet Brand Strategy, is called “Brand Metrics: Gauging and Linking Brands with Business Performance.” ( I like the way they advocate the following: “Metrics should be: simple to use…meaningful…actionable…repeatable…time-bound.” (SMART)

  • They explain that the measures should be simple because you want to spend your time managing the brand, not measuring it. Overly complicated measurements are a total waste of time.
  • They should be meaningful in that they tie the brand to a business result.
  • They should be actionable in that you can do something about them (make a business decision).
  • They should be repeatable to ensure consistency in measurement.
  • And finally, they should be time-bound in that you can take the pulse of the brand and compare it to other brands and the competition regularly.

To get just the right metric, one that meets all of these criteria, takes a lot of thinking and you might even want to hire a consultancy to help. At the same time, I still say that awareness is not a bad place to start…it is how you carry it forward and create cause and effect relationships that makes the biggest difference. Ultimately, of course, the measure is sales volume: is brand awareness leading you to move the merchandise? (Of course that metric is not useful for everyone, if for example you are in a nonprofit or government agency setting.)

Of course, we haven't even gotten into the discussion of whether measures mean anything, because you may not be able to trust what survey respondents tell you. But that is a discussion for another day.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Social Marketing is a Scam

The book Social Marketing: Why Should the Devil Have All The Best Tunes? by Gerard Hastings is all about the notion that traditional marketing concepts can and should be applied to promoting socially desirable behavior. This is called “social marketing.” The book has a laundry list of case studies on everything from cancer prevention to safe driving to junk food advertising, racism, suicide, obesity, diabetes and more.

My question is, why do we need the term “social marketing” at all? Marketing is marketing, whether you’re selling soap or reduced fat consumption.

The author writes that “social marketing is not just valuable—it is a matter of life and death.” (p. 4) Well, social marketing may be powerful. But in the end it’s just the same thing as marketing itself. This word “social” makes it sound like something different, but it’s not.

If you ask me, I think someone developed the term “social marketing” as just another way to sell books. But what’s really offensive about it is that the discipline seeks some kind of moral high ground, when it’s doing the same thing as every marketer does. The author writes: “These twin notions of both learning from and scrutinizing commercial marketing are encapsulated in the concept of social marketing.” I don’t see any scrutiny going on in the critical sense; rather the traditional marketing discipline is being looked at to see how its principles and practices can be applied to drive systemic social change.

And I have to say that I find it troubling, this term called “social” marketing. As if one can uncritically accept any and all agendas for social change as positive. For although the causes described in the book are generally undebatable in terms of their contribution to a better world, I think there is a fine line between promoting a better world and promoting one’s political or personal agenda for that world. Take obesity for example. In promoting a world where overweight is vilified, aren’t we also driving people toward eating disorders who may otherwise have been satisfied with living at a slightly higher weight than is usual? Or on a related note, fat consumption. There are arguments to be made on both sides of the coin, that fat is good and bad for you. Or how about sugar-free medicine? The social marketing case being made in the book is that eliminating sugar in medicine is an uncritically positive move, but some would argue that sugar substitutes are dangerous and should not be used. So we need to be careful about who gets to define what “social marketing” is—and that seems to me to be a somewhat political matter.

In the end, marketing is marketing and branding is branding. Let’s focus on the discipline and making it better, not on the idea of whose marketing agenda is “right” and “good.” If we have to use another term for "social marketing," I vastly prefer "cause marketing" as this term doesn't imply the rightness of the cause.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Branding -- always a team effort

Branding should never be a solo exercise, for the following reasons:
  1. It requires the commitment of all parties in order to work—not only the parties involved in the branding process, but also those involved in delivering the brand—the frontline employee.
  2. It requires a deep understanding of the competitive position of the organization—and obtaining that knowledge should ideally result from intensive research and discussion with both internal and external stakeholders.
  3. It is extraordinarily rare that one person has the breadth of vision and depth of operational knowledge required to truly instill the brand.

At the same time, someone has to champion the brand and drive it throughout the organization. That is why the best operational structure for a brand is the chief branding officer (solo artist) + the brand council (team). The chief branding officer is:

“responsible for creating and strengthing brand names, and drawing real and measurable value out of them. This often involves not just product positioning, targeted marketing, but the identification of the components of a product or service that differentate a business from their competitors. Most CBOs work hand-in-hand with the head(s) of Marketing and Sales” (

The brand council is the team counterpart to the chief branding officer. See below:

“If the company is going to orientated (sic) itself around an 'on-brand' ideology, cross functional teams are essential. These teams, consisting of staff members from across the internal hierarchy, are the only method through which to place the brand itself at the heart of the business. 'Our experience has shown that the creation of a company brand council, consisting of staff members from all levels, is critical,' says Spark. 'This council can cut through internal dynamics and power plays inherent in any organisation and focus on the health, relevance and role of the brand itself within the company.'” (

I know I talk a lot about brand councils, but they really are critical to the success of the brand. The brand cannot belong to the public relations/marketing communications department alone. It must belong to the entire organization. And for that to happen, a team must form to take the brand forward, even if it is led by an individual whose entire job is to shepherd the brand.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Parent brand and baby brand, part 2 -- finding the right balance

Recently I posited ( that “every organization is at war with its parent brand, if there is one. This is because, unless it is extraordinarily strategic-minded, the parent tends to have a sort of identity conflict and to want to take credit for the achievements of the child brand, or at the very least is conflicted about setting the child brand free to mark its achievements on its own.”

The implication is that it is always legitimate for the child brand to establish its own identity. However, this is not always the case. There is at least one instance when a baby brand should stay close to the fold of a parent brand: When the unity of the parent brand is at stake. That is, if the baby brand’s having its own identity will threaten the parent brand’s unity, there is a problem.

One solution to this dilemma is to fold the baby brand back into the parent brand (renaming it, at least partially). The benefit is to flow brand equity from the baby brand back into the parent brand. The risk is that brand equity will flow out of the baby brand, but not flow into the parent brand – with the result that there are two flattened brands.

If it is not possible or desirable to fold the baby brand back into the parent brand, the parent brand should indeed let the baby brand go and surround it with “siblings”—related subbrands that can establish a kind of “melting pot” family for the parent brand. E.g., Coca-Cola has not only its namesake cola brand, but also Minute Maid juice, Powerade, Nestea (with Nestle), Fruitopia, and Dasani (source: All of these subbrands have their own identities, but all of them are also known to be related to each other as part of the Coca-Cola family.

In general, although there are baby brands that supersede their parents and deserve to have their own spotlight, it is not desirable for a master brand to have a proliferation of subbrands—unless each subbrand contributes something concrete and valuable to the master brand portfolio. If the master brand does not exert control over its baby brands, it will be overrun with divisions and offices each wanting to brand their own activities, each leaching equity from the master brand probably before being ready to exist on its own.

So it is a careful balance that has to be struck between parent brand and baby brand—proceed with caution.

Part 1 of Parent brand vs. baby brand is here:

Friday, September 21, 2007

Branding is war – confront the enemy (hint: it's not always who you think)

Because the pace of branding is slow compared to that of marketing, you might think that branding is a leisurely activity. Nothing can be further from the truth. Branding is an urgent, strategic activity driven by the fact that every organization faces three enemies:
  • Itself
  • Its parent organization, if there is one
  • Its competitors

Let me explain.

  • First, every organization is at war with itself. Ask two people and you will get at least three different opinions about what the identity of the company is or should be relative to competitors, what the tagline is, what the name is, and what the strategy should be (well, sometimes; not everybody cares about this.) This is particularly true if the organization is divided into separate lines of business, as most companies are: then you can expect fairly consistent disagreement along party lines. So when you brand, you take sides in a battle that has a fairly lengthy history and can be expected to go on for a while.
  • Second, every organization is at war with its parent brand, if there is one. This is because, unless it is extraordinarily strategic-minded, the parent tends to have a sort of identity conflict and to want to take credit for the achievements of the child brand, or at the very least is conflicted about setting the child brand free to mark its achievements on its own. See
  • Third, every organization is at war with its competitors, which is obvious. What is not so obvious is who those competitors are. You may think that you have a monopoly, but when you talk to your external stakeholders (primarily, customers) find out that they have you confused with someone else. That “someone else” is your competitor and your enemy, even if you actually do not compete.

When you brand, brand as though an enemy were at your back. What does that mean? It means

  • Treating the whole initiative with a sense of urgency;
  • Rallying people around the brand as though it were a cause; and
  • Bringing people along to the brand, not assuming that they are automatically on the “right side.”

It also means listening carefully to internal and external feedback: find out who your enemies are, learn what sides have been drawn and who stands where, and determine how best you are going to navigate the politics.

Finally, it means branding with a sense of passion about what you are doing: If this is a war, you want to end up on the winning team. And that means standing with the group which promotes the right brand image throughout the organization, successfully, overcoming all (or most) of those who resist.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Branding is not a luxury—it’s a necessity

I continue to be amazed at the sentiment that branding is a kind of luxury to be undertaken when there is time. There is no time. Don’t people understand that in order for marketing to have credibility—forget credibility, to be listened to at all—it has to be backed up by a brand?

There is this big fat rush to get to market…but without the product or service being properly branded, it’s a waste of time. Nobody is listening.

Ideally you would brand first, then market whatever it is you’re selling.

In the real world, you often have to market without branding.

Consider yourself lucky if you get to brand and market at the same time.

What is the difference between marketing and branding? See my post at Basically branding is the slow, strategic process of establishing an identity for your product or service whereas marketing is spreading the idea rapidly about what you have to sell. Also see

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Moving the brand forward initially – also known as "thriving on chaos"

The key to branding the organization is to be able to do a number of things simultaneously. It’s not going to work in a, b, c order. You can expect a bit of chaos.

For one thing, you will work on the brand SIMULTANEOUSLY with other marketing and awareness campaigns. The whole world is not going to stop and wait for you to come up with a name and a tagline. Things are dynamic. Deal with it.

For another thing, you have to start lining up your “ducks in a row.” Meaning, you have to get the strategy together. Do you have a brand touchpoint analysis done yet? In other words, do you know all the places where employees, customers and other stakeholders encounter the brand? Time to write it down and prioritize: which are the most important encounters, the ones that have to be controlled most seriously? You also need to do a situation analysis: what is the history of the brand, what is the rationale for branding today, what are all the risks and challenges associated with branding and how are you prepared to deal with them? The analysis should include all the initial actions you want to take to create brand awareness; one of those actions should be the creation of a brand council (see below for a bit more detail on this).

Third, are you settled with the name and tagline? Time to get the team brainstorming…even if the name is set in stone the tagline needs to be agreed upon. There has to be agreement within your marketing group, and then you need to radiate outward to the brand council, composed of individuals from all lines of the business, which will agree on one. Branding doesn’t work unless there is strong consensus that propels the initiative forward.

Fourth, you must get some basic background collateral together: a brand vision/mission/values poster and pocket card, a brand reference book/website for employees, and public affairs guidance (talking points) for your media group. These documents set the stage for all the other brand communication you will be doing because they set expectations not only about what the brand is, but about how it should be expressed verbally and visually.

This is only the beginning…but ideally you and your team should be getting more involved, more excited about the brand as you go along. Are you feeling it? If not, go back to the drawing board, because something is wrong.

More on this theme to follow in future posts.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Two missions, one tagline

Ideally companies are driven by a single mission, to be expressed in a single tagline. But life is not always ideal and a situation may come about where you have multiple missions, each one begging to be expressed. What do you do?

Essentially there are four choices. You can:

  1. Choose one of the missions and elevate it to “most important status,” expressing only that in your tagline
  2. Choose two or even three of the missions and express them all in the tagline
  3. Go higher-level than all of the missions and express a vision
  4. None of the above—just say something memorable

Strategy #3 seems to be the most popular if you look at the “top 10” taglines described at (quoted below; my interpretation after the dashes)

“1. Got milk? (1993) California Milk Processor Board – very direct and product oriented; no vision here

2. Don’t leave home without it. (1975) American Express – vision-oriented; the idea of being “indispensable”

3. Just do it. (1988) Nike – vision-oriented

4. Where’s the beef? (1984) Wendy’s – just memorable

5. You’re in good hands with Allstate. (1956) Allstate Insurance –vision-oriented

6. Think different. (1998) Apple Computer –vision-oriented

7. We try harder. (1962) Avis –vision-oriented

8. Tastes great, less filling. (1974) Miller Lite –mission-oriented

9. Melts in your mouth, not in your hands. (1954) M&M Candies –mission-oriented

10. Takes a licking and keeps on ticking. (1956) Timex” – mission-oriented

I myself prefer a more literal tagline, one that sounds almost like a mission statement, if only because a company name rarely describes what it does, and it’s a crowded market: you have about two seconds to make it clear what value you contribute, and your name probably doesn't signify what you do. (Not everybody can be a superbrand and go abstract.) But I can see where option #3 works – it has a unifying quality that brings out a higher-level purpose to all the diverse things the company does.

Bottom line: If you’re stuck for a tagline, go higher. But try to keep it memorable AND distinctly related to the product or service.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Some radical brand advice for Hillary Clinton

Ten years ago, in my “sociology phase,” I wrote a book, Women and Soap Opera: A Cultural Feminist Perspective (Greenwood Press, 1997), which argued that soap operas are empowering for women because they allow women to express high emotionality, something that is taboo in a masculine-oriented society. (Implicit in the argument was the notion that society is still predominantly tilted in favor of men.) This is the perspective of cultural feminism: that women can become empowered by enjoying traditionally female ways of expressing themselves, and by taking on traditionally feminine roles and responsibilities.

In my view, Hillary Clinton is running for president of the United States on precisely the opposite assumption: that women can become empowered by erasing the difference between themselves and men, by participating fully in masculine society, and by rejecting any kind of role definition that is masculine or feminine. In fact, if I had to think of a “brand symbol” for Hillary, it would be the pantsuit: a traditionally male outfit reshaped for women to wear. This is liberal feminism: the concept that women and men are fundamentally the same, not just equal, that there are no inherent differences between them.

Now, I could be wrong, but I suspect that Hillary Clinton is deeply wedded to the idea of gender neutrality. This is something that fundamentally defines her. And she has risen to the elite of American life by envisioning herself as able to do anything that a man can do. But ironically, her very gender neutrality is, I suspect, something that turns people off about her. As much of a front runner as she is, she is equally disdained by those who “just don’t like her,” and I suspect that her refusal to assume a traditional gender role is part of that dislike. Remember when she said that she wasn’t some woman standing by her man baking cookies? That was a huge turnoff for a lot of people who think there is something very nice about a woman standing by her man baking cookies.

I am not saying that she shouldn’t run for President—not at all! What I am saying is that she should embrace her femininity, or at the very least show the world that she has a feminine side. She has already embraced some traditionally feminine issues/causes, such as childcare and healthcare. But she is still refusing to inhabit the female gender. She should get on television and be emotional, even shed a tear or two. I’d like to see her be a guest on more daytime television, on The View. I’d like to see her be a personal role model for women who want to achieve everything that men can, but as women not pretend men. Now THAT would be a radical turnaround for Hillary—and whether the polls show it or not, it would be a move that I think would push her into the White House.

Brand touchpoint analysis--how to get it done

Everybody knows that a brand is only as good as its communications with internal and external stakeholders. If you only communicate the brand in some places, but not in others, you are creating an inconsistent image and the brand message will not take hold. The question is, how do you get the organization to look at all the ways it communicates (both to employees and the outside world) and come up with a true inventory?

I suggest that this is where the brand council comes in. Headed up by subject matter experts from every line of business and back-office function, the council should meet and together brainstorm all the typical places where the brand is showcased. It is likely that the council will find out that there are numerous touchpoints that need to be controlled, starting with the marketing/PR departments, continuing with customer service, and ending with...who knows?

If you haven't conducted a brand inventory yet, now is a good time to start.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Citi’s “Let’s get it done”—a pale imitation of the Royal Bank of Scotland’s “Make it happen” campaign*

I know I’m coming late to the party, but the new (May 2007) Citi brand campaign stinks; to me, “Let’s get it done” is a shameless copy of the Royal Bank of Scotland’s “Make it Happen” brand campaign (at the very least in message, if not in execution). Why did Citi drop the “Live richly” theme, developed by Fallon, which was doing so well? (Even if it was a bit controversial -- or because of the controversy -- see reports that “Starting in January, Citi brought research from its rebranding effort to meetings with representatives from Fallon and Publicis, with the goal of creating a campaign that would be suitable for retail and credit card customers, major advertisers, and investment banking clients.” (

What does that mean? What research? The bank wasn’t happy with the results that its “Live richly” campaign was driving? It couldn't stand being high-level, high-concept, and idea-based?

What a waste…what a loss of a good brand. notes that the new campaign is supposed to connect with audiences’ financial aspirations: “The basic theme of the campaign is Citi’s outstanding portfolio of financial products and services drives its clients towards financial success. The advertising has been customized to appeal to different markets and cultures in a variety of languages.” (

The Royal Bank of Scotland campaign is so much more effective than Citi’s effort: “At The Royal Bank of Scotland Group we believe actions speak louder than words.” ( That’s it. Simple. The same message as Citi is trying to broadcast with the new campaign, but so much higher-level.

Publicis, which is responsible for the new campaign, shouldn't take all the blame, though. By October 2006, Fallon had already veered away from "Live Richly" with the "Very Rewarding" campaign "which features two eccentric East European-sounding characters, Roman and Victor showing the many ways they can earn Citi rewards points." (

As ThirdWay points out,

"By displacing rather than supplementing the 'Live Richly' campaign, however, Citibank is essentially swapping a branding campaign based on the type of user who might be attracted to Citibank (the consumer who understands that life is not just about money) for a 'features and benefits' brand positioning. The 'Live Richly' brand positioning was clear and defendable. By using television and huge spend levels, Citi is creating new brand positioning with these product spots whether they like it or not."

All of this points up a major problem with brands today: a lack of continuity. Instead of updating “Live richly” to incorporate the key message of “Let’s get it done,” which could have been done, the bank dumps a successful brand in favor of a very bland, commodity-like imitation of a bank positioning that has already been taken. Sad.

*Note: I have no way of knowing whether the campaign is actually an imitation or just happens to look like one. It doesn't really matter, though...because this is really a matter of perception. The RBS ads hit the streets before the Citi ads did (, and that's what counts.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Branding: Balancing the right and left brain

Yesterday I talked about creativity and branding, referencing the book Juicing the Orange (2006), by Fallon Worldwide cofounders Pat Fallon and Fred Senn. I made the point that you need to be creative before you brand, then repetitious afterward. Today I want to talk about creativity and branding again, but from a different angle: How you need to balance the creative and analytical sides of the brain in order to arrive at a truly good brand campaign.

There are numerous examples of research informing creativity in Juicing the Orange. Here are a few:

  • Citi: Fallon held focus groups (which yielded little) on the role of banks in consumers’ lives…then figured out that the focus groups should focus on the role of money in people’s lives. From there the agency discovered a group they call “balance seekers,” people who see money as “a means, and little more”. The research they conducted led to a whole campaign about the importance of living life without chasing the almighty dollar. The “live richly” brand campaign influenced many aspects of Citi’s business, eventually leading to Citi becoming a “global power brand.” “Credit card acquisition went up by 30 percent, home equity loan applications increased 14 percent, and small business card accounts rose 20 percent.”
  • Holiday Inn Express: Fallon spent time with the target market, entrepreneurial road warriors, videotaping them while they drove across the country. “We talked to them about their work, their families, and their daily experiences,” write Senn and Fallon. What they learned was that this kind of traveler wanted to travel smart—get the most for their money—and get respect for their hard work. “They were working hard and working smart,” they write, “and that was going to be their ticket to success.” They got an “emotional reward” for staying at a limited-service hotel, the reward of satisfaction for choosing wisely. This led directly to the “Stay Smart” campaign, which features people demonstrating feats of intellect and then proclaiming that they’re not experts, they just stayed at a Holiday Inn Express the other night. The campaign successfully differentiated the Holiday Inn Express brand from Holiday Inn itself. Result: the hotel’s revenues per available room are growing at 15 percent (vs. 9 percent for the category). And the hotel is even able to charge a small price premium, living “at the upper end of category pricing.”
  • Purina Dog Chow: Fallon’s account planners read research and tracking studies then actually spent time with dog owners, watching the interaction. From this they learned that dog owners either tend to feed their dog a steady diet of the same dog food or give them a variety of dog foods from the store. From there they launched an educational kind of ad which reminded dog owners that the best diet is a steady diet, and Purina Dog Chow is ideally suited to provide it. Result: “In the first two years of the campaign, sales grew 12% a year….(meaning) $35 million in additional revenue with no change in pricing or distribution.”

Can you dump the research and just be creative about developing your brand? Sure. But this strategy probably won’t work unless you are 1) unusually insightful to begin with about your target market or 2) visionary about what the market will want in the near future—i.e. you are providing something they didn’t know they wanted.

For the rest of us, good research—as much as you can get—is the key.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

How branding both stifles creativity and sets it free

There are some people who think that branding has a dampening effect on creative self-expression. They are right! However, that is a good thing. Having too much freedom of expression is bad for the brand, because you end up expressing too many visuals and messages for any one of them to catch hold with the marketplace.

Imagine how boring it is to say the same thing 7 times. Now imagine saying the same thing 70 times, 70,000, or even 70 million. Naturally it stifles your creativity…but the more you say the same thing the more people will remember it. I once heard that in corporate communication, you have to repeat a message something like 7 times before it sticks in people’s heads. (See for example, “Studies show that the average consumer needs to hear or see your message about seven times before he or she will buy from you.”)

On the other hand, the act of branding itself can be very creative. There is a 2006 book called Juicing the Orange, by Pat Fallon and Fred Senn (of Fallon Worldwide, “one of the world’s largest advertising and media conglomerates”) that is worth a read if you are afraid that branding means that you can’t step outside the box and do something new. I wish I could reprint the entire book here, it’s so good.

An especially applicable case study from the book is about the islands of the Bahamas. The Duffy Design group of the Fallon team (formerly part of the agency) gave the entire 700-island country, with its “staggering range of geography, culture, activities, and personality,” a distinctive graphic identity that managed to capture the diversity of the islands within a single framework (see According to Fallon, “All Bahamians felt represented” by the graphic. Having a single visual identity makes it possible for the Bahamas to package itself while at the same time presenting itself creatively. And the results are measurable: Among other things, “The integrated campaign helped drive a 14.5 percent increase in total arrivals to the Bahamas from January through April 2004, compared with the same period in 2003…The year before, the Bahamas had lagged behind the region’s growth by 38 percent…this year it had turned things around, finishing 28 percent ahead of the Caribbean regional average.” This is an example of a creative approach that works because it is implemented consistently.

Another good story from the book concerns United, and the “It’s Time To Fly” slogan/campaign. The agency used an extraordinarily creative approach to the brand, bringing in animation and classical music, then executing variations on the visual "look," and content themes, with the consistent tagline “It’s Time To Fly,” in numerous ways and places. The result: “Among all business travelers with access to United flights, its rating as ‘airline most preferred’ shot up from 9 percent to 20 percent.” Another creative approach that works because it is executed in a similar way all over the world.

1) Branding works. 2) Branding works. 3) Branding works. 4) Branding works. 5) Branding works. 6) Branding works. 7) Branding works.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Greedy fashion designers destroy their own brands

The Washington Post (September 10) has a front-page article in the Style section, “Proving Their Worth,” about designers—like Badgley Mischka and Vera Wang—who undercut their own brands by selling lower-priced lines of their own clothing. “The signature collections form these designers sell for 10 to 30 times as much as what they delivered to the Gap,” writes the Post about Rodarte designers Thakoon Panichgul, Doo-Ri Chung and Laure and Kate Mulleavy, “So why spend the extra money?”

Why, indeed. “There have always been those who cast a skeptical eye on the expensive and esoteric merchandise peddled on designer runways, but now the designers themselves are forcing the question,” notes the paper.

Designers who sell lower-priced versions of their own lines aren’t smart. They’re stupid and short-term greedy. Branding, in fashion, is about creating the illusion of premier status, and part of the illusion involves the extraction of enormous amounts of money from consumers’ wallets. When designers sell themselves short, they literally destroy the halo that surrounds their work. They drag the price of the brand down and with it the entire image.

Contrast this with Ralph Lauren, who, notes the Post, has been in the fashion business for 40 years this year. He celebrated by showing his spring collection in Central Park then “following it with a black-tie dinner that had all the breathtaking elegance that only Jay Gatsby himself could conjure.” In addition to lauding his collection, the paper notes that “few designers are as facile at myth-making as Lauren. They have the pressure of being judged on their clothes alone, not the stories they weave.”

Ah, but the whole point is to tell the story. Ralph Lauren does this majestically. When we pay for the fashion, we’re paying for the story. Designers who sell the clothes are missing the point.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Why are people still confused about “what is a brand?”

Branding has been around for over two centuries (, yet when I type "what is a brand" into Google I get these comments like people still are confused by what a brand is.

Colin Bates: "What is a brand? Too often even marketing professionals don't have an answer, and too many have their 'own' answer. Which makes life very confusing!" (

Debbie MacInnis: "If you were to look at what people have written about branding, chances are you'd be confused about many things, not the least of which is the term "brand." What is a brand, anyway? What does it mean? How is it different from "brand image" or other terms?"


I think I understand what is so confusing about branding. It's that there are "simple brands," like trademarked names for packaged goods, and "MAJOR BRANDS," free floating associations with companies that include anything and everything from goods to services and more. A simple brand is Ajax laundry detergent. A MAJOR BRAND is Oprah. To make things more complicated, a "simple MAJOR BRAND" is Tide.

What do they have in common? Ajax, Oprah, and Tide all signify an identity.

What do they not have in common? Unlike Ajax, both Tide and Oprah—MAJOR BRANDS—stand for something more than what they physically are. Tide stands for "power" (as in the power that comes from the ability to scrub something really clean) and Oprah stands for "spiritual self-improvement and empowerment."

What is the difference between a simple MAJOR BRAND and a (regular or major) MAJOR BRAND? Tide is easily reducible to a tangible thing while Oprah is essentially intangible. Oprah's products and services are tangible, Oprah the individual is tangible, but Oprah's brand effect cannot be captured under a microscope. It can barely be captured in words.

People tend to get mixed up between the tangible and the intangible aspects of brand.
That is why when you say to someone, "we have to work on our brand," they might think that you are talking about creating name awareness of the organization, while you are really talking about creating positive associations with the organization's name. It's a subtle but really powerful difference.

People also get mixed up because everything is a brand, but not everything is a BRAND. Just by virtue of existing, everything and everyone has a brand (name), but not everything and everyone has a distinct, clear set of associations that make that name special.

So remember: A simple brand is just a name. A MAJOR BRAND is a name with a set of mental associations to it. And branding is the art and science of creating a set of associations around a name. Simple, clear, and hopefully this will be the end of the confusion.

Brand Theory vs. Brand Practice

There are two ways to go about building a brand: I call them brand theory vs. brand practice.


Sometimes you might read brand books and articles and get grand ideas about how you are going to build your brand. You might proceed as I have advocated in this article: (

  • "It starts with brand assessment, that is, finding out how your key stakeholders see you versus how you see yourself…
  • Next comes brand strategy. Based on research inside and outside the agency, you articulate the vision, core values, common culture, positioning and other key attributes…
  • Third are brand communication guidelines: How do you want your graphics, Web site, press materials, recruitment documents and other materials to look? The goal is to arrive at a consistent identity that allows for some variation to keep things interesting. You want to reinforce the vision, mission, values and culture in all you say and do.
  • Fourth is a brand launch. You'll need a change implementation program to prepare your employees and customers for a shift in the way you communicate about yourself."

Or you might follow guidelines of the kind set forth in BrandSimple, where author Allen Adamson advocates a five step process as follows:

  • Step one: Establish your brand idea
  • Step two: Capture the essence of your idea
  • Step three: Get your employees engaged in the idea
  • Step four: Consider your brand's name
  • Step five: Create branding signals beyond the name


But other times you might not have the luxury of following an elegant pre-defined process. Sometimes, because you don't have full buy-in from the organization, you have to do things piecemeal, working from the ground up, going step by step without going according to a grand plan. You may not even have the luxury of market research to define your target. Then what do you do?

Ideally, the first step is to establish a unified infrastructure within the organization to manage the brand function. Normally this includes a chief branding officer (someone designated to manage the brand) and a brand council that brings together subject matter experts from frontline functions to determine how best to present the organization to the outside world.

But the above may not happen—there may not be sufficient understanding of branding within the organization to devote those kind of resources to it. You may need to start by deciding on a unified look for the brand as well as a tagline first. Again, you may not have the luxury of doing research to arrive at what this will look like, but you can use instinct to arrive at something that "looks right."

Next you can host small group familiarity media tours – targeting key media players – educating them regarding the new brand.

Following that you can do any of the following:

  • Create a living story for the brand—an enactment via the website or video of characters who tell the audience what the brand is about in a dramatized, fictionalized way
  • Redesign the website!
  • Make sure that people answer the phone with the new brand name and tagline
  • Deliver a vision/mission/values poster to all offices and have it posted prominently (and have a pocket card to go with it to be distributed to all employees)
  • Purchase giveaways, such as T-shirts, caps, and tote bags, as well as postcards which portray the brand
  • Create a coffee table book that tells the story of the brand in a lasting format
  • Develop a brand reference handbook for employees that describes what the company is all about and how to communicate on behalf of it
  • Hold meetings with employees to discuss other ways that they can be encouraged to reinforce the brand
  • Purchase advertising, once you get a sense that you are on the right track

It's not a perfect approach, working from the ground up, but it's better than nothing. And it may lead to a grander brand plan, in the end. All roads can lead to brand awareness and business results.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Gain vs. Kentucky Fried Chicken: Smart Scents vs. Nonsense

The good: The Wall Street Journal (September 4; for subscribers only) reports that Gain has risen to #2 in the laundry detergent market by positioning its brand as "a heavily fragrant detergent." Wisely, Procter & Gamble didn't go after the mass market (for whom strong-smelling laundry detergent isn't necessarily appealing) but rather targeted "the scent-loving consumer segment." As the Journal reports, it was an out of the ordinary move for P&G to focus on a niche rather than the mass market, but they've succeeded. And P&G is knocking the socks off Unilever (literally); Unilever is selling its U.S. laundry business. Already, Colgate-Palmolive has abandoned that market due to P&G's strength. So score 1 for P&G!

The bad: Consumerist ( aptly reports the "badvertising" news from a Kentucky Fried Chicken press release ( stating that KFC, "in a marketing first," is placing the scent of KFC in "the halls and offices of corporate America." That's right, in a pilot program, "Along with carrying inter-office mail, overnight packages and bills, mail carts in Washington, D.C., Chicago and Dallas delivered the aroma of freshly prepared Kentucky Fried Chicken during pre-lunch mail drops." The scent was delivered by a $2.99 Deal - "a plated meal including KFC's world famous chicken, a side item and a biscuit - on the actual mail carts that pass the offices of hungry workers." So now you can get your office mail "greasy" or "extra greasy"--just kidding. (And in an age of email and IM, who even gets interoffice mail anymore? But that's another story.)

I don't even pretend to understand this part of the release: "To bring the sweet-smelling promotion to life, KFC collaborated with in Dallas; the Trade Association & Society Consultants of Washington, D.C.; and the Chicago offices of the Salvation Army." What, did they send around an actual plate of food spiked with chemicals? Yuk.

Yet chief marketing officer for KFC seems to think it's the most brilliant idea around: "There is truly no better brand ambassador worldwide than the signature aroma of freshly prepared Kentucky Fried Chicken," said James O'Reilly."

The key brand lesson is that odors should be confined to situations where people want them. In the case of Gain, there is an avid bunch of raving fans involved. And P&G admits: "We deliberately made it more intense, more polarizing -- they (the detergent's smells) weren't designed to appeal to everybody." (P&G North America laundry marketing director Kevin Burke). And even then, you can't smell the scent on the outside of the container (at least I don't think so), so the brand identity is literally well contained.

In the case of KFC, they are going into an environment that is NOT SUPPOSED TO SMELL LIKE ANYTHING, the office, and injecting a smell that some people like and some people don't. Stupid! The only scent that people may REMOTELY want to smell in an office is coffee (and maybe, just perhaps, fresh doughnuts?). Not a strong-smelling takeout food smell.

Another key brand lesson is not to abuse your scent identity. KFC's brand is indeed equatable with the smell of its chicken, but that doesn't mean that the smell of fried chicken should be everywhere.

The things that people think of...

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Oprah's brand -- will it make a difference for Obama?

The Washington Post reports ( that Oprah Winfrey, who has endorsed Barack Obama for president, "is in discussions with his advisers about playing a broader role in the campaign -- possibly as a surrogate on the stump or an outspoken advocate -- or simply bringing her branding magic to benefit his White House bid." Oprah this weekend will host a presidential fundraiser for Obama.

The question is, will Oprah's brand create a halo effect for Obama? As the Post notes, she has a huge constituency: 8.4 million viewers daily of her TV show, 2.3 million unique viewers of her Web site each month, 2 million magazine readers each month, etc.

Initially the Post is skeptical, noting that "historically, there's little evidence that celebrity endorsements have done much to draw voters to political candidates." However, the political analysts interviewed for the article felt that Oprah's magic might be different. Then, the paper notes, there is the case of the 2000 George Bush interview, in which the candidate moved up twelve percentage points to tie with Al Gore after talking to Oprah.

The Post goes on to state that a professor of African-American studies at Duke University, Mark Anthony Neal, says the prospects for the partnership are "immense but uncertain."

I tend to disagree. I don't think Oprah's support will make much difference for Obama at all. Oprah's brand essence is apolitical. She is about self insight, growth, and finding opportunities to make one's life better. While it's true that she was masterful at getting America to read books, her brand just doesn't translate into the political realm. The "Oprah bounce" that George Bush received after her interview does not equate to long-term ratings changes for a candidate.

On the other hand, I am a huge Oprah fan and always wanted her to run for president herself. So, it's an odd situation: on the one hand she has political capital with me, but on the other hand her brand doesn't necessarily extend to other candidates.

Time will tell, I suppose.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Blockbuster is going to mop the floor with Netflix

It is war between Netflix and Blockbuster. As the September 4 New York Times reports (, in an attempt to stanch the flow of customers who are leaving the service, Netflix has implemented an all-telephone customer service system, with no email option, because of the belief that customers prefer human contact to impersonal computer-based interaction.

It's an iffy bet. According to the Times, Netflix has started losing market share to Blockbuster ever since the latter introduced its Total Access program, which lets people return online rentals to stores and get an in-store movie in exchange. Netflix added 480,000 new subscribers in the first quarter of 2007 vs. 780,000 for Blockbuster. By the second quarter, Netflix lost 55,000 customers while Blockbuster added 525,000.

How long do you think Netflix is going to retain its approximately 3 million customer lead over Blockbuster in the online DVD-ordering business?

Consumerist ( thinks the all-telephone customer service system is an "Ace up Netflix's sleeve," stating that this is "an exceptionally prescient move by Netflix." Certainly it's in line with Netflix's brand emphasis on customer loyalty.

However, what Consumerist is missing is that Blockbuster simply offers a better service than Netflix. Blockbuster is leveraging its bricks-and-mortar presence to offer something that Netflix simply cannot.

There are limits to branding—all the customer loyalty in the world can't save Netflix from being only a virtual reality compared to its rival.

It's a shame, because Netflix had a good idea. But this is a case where an upstart brand is being challenged by an industry behemoth that copied its innovation, and may well ultimately lose out.

See a comparison between Netflix and Blockbuster here:

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Teen fashion brands - all the same?

Aeropostale, American Eagle, it just me or do they all sound and look the same?
(I know, there are more, but still -- teenage styles all seem very similar, at least in the U.S. The only exception I can think of is Hot Topic.)
Brands are supposed to provide choice to the consumer, but it seems like teenagers have a very limited set of choices to work from.
An observation.

Monday, September 3, 2007

A dying woman's obsession with eBay

"On September 17, 2003, in a chaotic intensive-care ward, just before being medically induced into a coma, my mother summoned all of her energy and whatever oxygen she could to make one request: 'Take care of my eBay.'''

So begins a story in the Wall Street Journal (Sept. 1-2, 2007) about a dying woman's request -- that her daughters safeguard her reputation on eBay by paying the bills for auctions "she might win while lying unconscious," so that she would not get "negative feedback from sellers that would tarnish her superstar status."

This somewhat bizarre story highlights a number of things about branding.
  • First, though it may be hard to believe, a dying woman's thoughts were consumed by her own brand--how others on the eBay community might perceive her. This is how ingrained branding is in some (many?) people's lives.
  • Second, top brands tend to connect people into communities. In particular, eBay has constructed a virtual community that is very real to its members. The article goes on to note how the dying woman made a connection through her auctions with another eBay member, and how the dying woman's daughter later looked him up to learn more about her mother's interest in auctions.
  • Third, top brands stand head and shoulders over their counterparts. It is hard to imagine this woman getting as worked up about her auctions on a no-name site: She is conscious of her own reputation in association with a superstar brand, eBay.

While some might view this as a cautionary tale about getting one's priorities in life completely mixed up, it can also be looked at as an example of the power of brand to organize our lives and create moral value systems. This particular woman did not want to die while leaving her auction bills unpaid -- she did not want to leave life having violated the norms of her chosen (brand) community. This makes me think that there are many ways branding can be used for good purposes in life -- not just conforming to the values set forth by the brand, but also uniting people around causes that they otherwise would not have found.

The bottom line: Brands are a serious moral force at work in the world today (for good and sometimes for bad, depending on what brand is being promoted). We shouldn't get carried away with branding, but we do need to recognize how much it affects people's psyches as well as their social and spiritual lives.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Advice for Starbucks - after the leaked memo

I recently read the leaked Howard Schultz memo (, in which the chairman of Starbucks states:

"Over the past ten years, in order to achieve the growth, development, and scale necessary to go from less than 1,000 stores to 13,000 stores and beyond, we have had to make a series of decisions that, in retrospect, have lead to the watering down of the Starbucks experience, and, what some might call the commoditization of our brand."

The memo goes on to talk about such things as the move toward automatic espresso machines, which, although they "solved a major problem in terms of speed of service and efficiency," also took away "much of the romance and theatre" involved in watching the barista create the coffee drink by hand. It also talks about the decision to move to flavor-locked packaging, which removed the smell of coffee from the stores -- "perhaps the most powerful non-verbal signal we had."

Schultz admits that "Some people even call our stores sterile, cookie cutter, no longer reflecting the passion our partners feel about our coffee."

I have an idea for Starbucks to add to the Brand Autopsy manifesto ( kill the brand while it's still at its peak, and replace it with another one. Right now. Today, the Starbucks brand is extracting the absolute most it can from its brand equity. It is at the top of the hill. It has nowhere to go but down. The company should pull back and create another, new brand "from the makers of Starbucks" which redefines the coffee category and gets back to the essence of what Starbucks used to be all about. They could call it "Brouhaha" (Brew-haha, get it?) They would benefit from a glorious mountainous buzz effect. Everybody would flock to the new brand - a Starbucks for the new millennium.

Just a thought - for what it's worth.