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“Classic marketing” vs. “Classic Branding”

Last year, Google was the #1 brand in America as rated by brand design agency Landor Associates’ annual national Image Power ® Newsmaker Brands survey. What do we learn from the rise of a brand that has no essential identity other than to serve as a platform for consumers to search the Web—the ultimate “blank screen”?

And what further do we learn from the fact that three other “blank screen” brands were in the top 10—YouTube (#4), eBay (#5), and Yahoo! (#6)? For those who are unfamiliar with these brands, YouTube is a platform for consumers to post videos; eBay is a platform for consumers to sell merchandise to other consumers; and Yahoo! is a portal for users to obtain personalized content online, from email messages to news and more.

It is possible that the rise of these brands represents the triumph of the Internet. But there is another way to look at it: all of these brands are “classic marketing” driven brands. That is, they have no intrinsic identity other than the wants of the consumers who use them. This is in opposition to “classic branding” driven brands, which have no intrinsic identity other than the vision of the businesspeople who created them: Oprah (#8), Sony (#9), Target (#7), NFL (#10), iPod (#3), Las Vegas (#2).

I developed the concepts of “classic marketing” vs. “classic branding” based on Jacques Chevron’s argument nearly a decade ago in Brandweek (5/31/99; “Marketing vs. Branding: Separate Pieces”) that marketing and branding are not the same thing but rather represent two different disciplines, in large part because “marketing is extraverted while branding is introverted.” By this he meant that brands can follow either a marketing approach—looking primarily at what customer want and then tailoring the brand to it—or a branding approach—looking inward at what the brand represents and focusing on communicating it outward.

In a way, marketing and branding are more than two opposing disciplines. They are two different visions of the world. The marketing-oriented brand thinks about “consumer wants above all,” while the branding-oriented brand thinks about “what consumers should I channel into my brand?”

There are so many differences between branding and marketing. Branding is about living with consistent values, like swimming your laps; marketing is about taking one good shot at the basketball hoop. Branding happens slowly; marketing is fast. Branding is a multifaceted personality; marketing is one aspect of that personality. Branding is talking; marketing is shouting. Branding is value driven (example: Office Depot has a note on its computer screen for salespeople, reminding them to tell customers when office chairs are vinyl and not leather); marketing is amoral. You brand a name; you market an initiative. And on and on.

The rise of marketing-oriented brands reflects a customer whose wants are always changing and changing fast as the things available to them become more advanced more rapidly. More than that, it reflects a sense of entitlement among customers who expect that brands will ultimately be tailored to them: “an audience of one.” These brands serve the customer who has moved away from mass brands and beyond niche brands to the customer-created brand. It’s impossible to keep up with customers like these because virtually as soon as a new brand framework arises, it is outstripped by the customer’s advancing wants. (Social theorist Georg Simmel called this the eternal conflict in modern culture.) Thus Google, YouTube, eBay and Yahoo!, as well as the top brand, all decline to offer the customer a brand framework, preferring instead to let the customer define the brand.

At the same time, the strength of Oprah, Sony, Target, NFL, iPod, and Las Vegas reflects the fact that for other consumers, the need for a solid brand remains eternal. Rather than seeking to create brands themselves, these customers seek to connect their wants to the image projected by the brands offered to them. They cry with Oprah, are entertained by Sony, become chic on the cheap at Target, crunch bones through watching the NFL, escape the world with their iPods, and experience “what goes on here, stays here” in Las Vegas.

There is another way of looking at this issue—by the level of customer involvement in the brand.
  • “Classical brands” exist without reference to the customer—they are iconic, like Coca-Cola, Tiffany, Oprah, Disney, Starbucks, “24”. That is, they are so deeply introverted, or rooted in their set of brand beliefs, that they almost don’t require a customer to exist. Even when they depend on the customer to exist, the customer plays a scripted role (as in the crying and clapping on the Oprah show).
  • Integrated brand/marketing brands allow the customer a voice in determining the direction, voice, and values of the brand. Think of and its rating system, or American Idol and the co-creation of brand between judges and contestants.
  • “Classical marketing” brands allow the customer to determine the entire identity of the brand – the “blank screen” brand discussed previously.
What kind of brand has the most earning potential for the future? Are we looking at a future based wholly on the marketing approach, where companies welcome customers “hijacking” their brands and determining their meaning and direction? Or is the success of brands like Google and YouTube just a fluke, and the real value lies in the Oprahs and the Starbucks of the world?

Unfortunately for investors in Google and the like, it is likely that the “classic marketing” approach will not have lasting value. The lack of a strong brand identity for the company—despite the well known personalities of its inventors—means that as soon as another company comes along which is equally functional and reliable, customers will turn to it as eagerly as they embraced Google.

At the same time, brands which are so introverted that they fail to embrace customer evolution will inevitably collapse inward. Look at the Gap, for instance, which once defined classic clothing for those in their late '20s and early '30s, but failed to grow and mature as times changed. And one could argue that the Home Depot brand, similarly, has lost favor precisely because it’s not listening to what customers want in a home improvement store—and that Lowe’s has stepped in to pick up the slack.

Likely, the winning brands will be integrated brand/marketing brands—those who embrace “classic branding” while integrating the lessons of “classic marketing”— defining a strong identity framework for the brand while allowing consumers (or representatives of consumers) to add their own unique stamp to it. An example that quickly comes to mind is the Disney television channel for kids, which stamps the idea of “realizing your dreams” on a widely diverse array of shows aimed at children in the 5-12 age group. Brands like this stay true to a vision, values, personality, and culture that give the brand name its value in the first place. At the same time, they stay current by adapting the brand framework to consumers’ ever-evolving understanding of what the brand means in their lives.

That, forever, is a winning formula.


The Microsoft brand - better after Bill Gates leaves?

The question is will Microsoft remain a dominant brand once Bill Gates leaves the company?

Or maybe the question is, will Microsoft regain its brand dominance once Bill Gates leaves the company?

Microsoft’s image is currently being battled out. On the one hand it was recently named as the #8 “best brand” among consumers in a Harris Poll, beating out Apple. On the other it is the subject of a devastating and popular series of attack ads by Apple on how old-fashioned and clunky it is. (QuickTime needed to view)

I believe that Microsoft will actually get better once Gates goes. The company has a strong culture – look at the number and outspokenness of Microsoft-related blogs. From that point of view, there is a great deal of potential there, just waiting to be unleashed through new leadership.

Perhaps the way forward will be through Gates’ strategic-thinking successor, Craig Mundie (subscription required to view full story), who plans to improve the brand by changing the company’s image as a lumbering giant, unable to innovate on its own.

Microsoft’s advertising tagline is “Your Potential. Our Passion.” That tagline seems to apply to the company itself – it needs to rediscover its own locked-up potential. What is the company good at, and good for? (Can it break through the dark side of its image, as a company that seeks to dominate computing at the expense of new and better ways of doing things?) That’s what the public wants and needs to know.

When the brand competes against itself

What happens when you have multiple identities within a single organization, each one competing for dominance? From a brand perspective, there are several brands housed within a larger brand, and each one wants to express itself as the main brand. This leads to competing messages that end up confusing the audience or canceling each other out.

Essentially, you can look at this as a brand architecture dilemma. Brand architecture refers to developing an optimal strategic relationship between multiple organization names. The goal of brand architecture is to create maximum “brand equity”—meaning the added value the brand name brings to the product or service beyond its functional value.

There are three types of brand architecture:

  • Monolithic: The corporate name, or “master brand,” is stamped on all products and services offered – like Starbucks.
  • Endorsed: The corporate name endorses sub-names – like Polo by Ralph Lauren.
  • Freestanding: The corporate name is a holding company and each product or service is individually branded – like Procter & Gamble and Tide.

The monolithic solution to the problem is to combine all the brand equity from all entities into a single brand, called by a single name. Organizationally, this means that the culture of each brand has to change to become one single entity. This is extremely difficult, maybe even impossible, if you have an entrenched subbrand.

The endorsed solution is to lend a master brand name to each sub-entity but let them retain their own organizational identities. The culture has to change less, because it is acknowledged that each entity takes a different approach, but there still has to be a common thread or theme tying all the sub-brands together into the main brand. If the sub-entities have a really strong identity, even this can be difficult.

The freestanding solution is to reserve the master brand name for a holding shell, and allow each subbrand to go forth and prosper on its own. This means that there are multiple missions with multiple cultures, and the subbrands may even compete against each other.

Keep in mind that there is no one right way to respond to a situation like this, but it is important to address the issue through one of the strategies above.

Rupert Murdoch to buy the Wall Street Journal - how will this affect the brand?

The Wall Street Journal is a titan brand in American journalism--very strong, well-respected, and elite.

Rupert Murdoch is an international king of mainstream entertainment--also a very strong brand in his own right, and owner of the strong FOX entertainment brand--but not elite.

How will the purchase by Rupert Murdoch of the Wall Street Journal affect the newspaper's brand?

An article today's Wall Street Journal (August 1, 2007) delves at length into Murdoch's possible plans post-purchase and the results are somewhat inconclusive. What is clear: Murdoch wants the Journal to make more money. He may expand the Journal's presence online. And he will likely position the Journal as more of a competitor to the New York Times by adding more general interest news.

The unspoken question on everybody's mind is: will the editorial quality of the Wall Street Journal remain the same?

Not only that, but will the BUSINESS editorial quality remain the same?

As Murdoch leverages the Journal's brand equity, he mustn't forget where that equity derives from: being a top source of in-depth business news reporting. If he does, the brand is doomed.

5 key steps to crisis planning for the brand

Kami Watson Huyse recently wrote a useful article published in Communication World Bulletin (membership required to read the fulltext).

The article is called "Crisis Planning in a Digital Age: Beyond Tylenol" and makes the following point: Modern crisis planning has to happen faster than ever. Johnson & Johnson responded to the Tylenol crisis within a few weeks. Today we are operating on a "30-minute news cycle, driven by the wild card of the Internet." "All it takes is one influential blog to take up the story, followed by accelerated coverage by online and mainstream media."

Huyse offers a number of ideas for communication channels for dealing with a crisis in today's accelerated environment. Most of them make sense to me; here are my top picks (see the full article to read all 10):
  1. Be ready to send email blasts out as needed.
  2. Connect with important online blogs and forums before a crisis ever occurs.
  3. Create an online communication center (like a blog).
  4. Be ready to send out messages by text message or pre-recorded phone call.
  5. Make it easy for your website visitors to use your information in blogs and social media platforms (she doesn't say how but I imagine that it's something like what you do in a social media press release where you give relevant pieces of content).

This article seems important for anyone who needs to be prepared for a crisis in the age of Web 2.0 (and who doesn't?)

Build your brand with ONE image, not many

When you are building a brand, it is critically important that you project one singular image. This may sound very simple and intuitive, but it always amazes me when companies get this wrong—and it also amazes me how powerful it is when they get it right.

An example of a company that gets it very wrong is GEICO, the American insurance company. GEICO is represented by two different advertising campaigns with two completely different messages.

  • One shows a gecko (lizard) featuring the message that a 15 minute phone call can save you 15% on your car insurance. Here the message is “convenient savings.”
  • Another shows a caveman who is insulted when he hears the message that the insurance is so easy to use “even a caveman can do it.” Here the message is “easy.”

It’s a shame because both campaigns have the potential to be enormously effective, but when you put them together, they cancel each other out.

An organization that gets it right is the American cable TV channel TNT, which runs the tagline “We know drama.” Their TV commercials repeat the message over and over again. And every show on TNT that I have seen is, indeed, very dramatic. An effective brand…a single message.

When you build your brand, make sure that you are saying ONE thing and that’s it.

The brand council -- an indispensable tool

The implication of being a brand-driven organization is that the organization becomes driven by the marketing function. This is sure to elicit hoots and howls from Finance, IT, Human Resources, and the other back-office mission support functions, each of which believes that it can and should be primary in the organization. The job of the CEO is to look all those other functions in the face and say NOT that they’re unimportant, but rather the opposite: “Your support is critical if our image is to be presented effectively to the public.”

This is where the concept of the executive brand council (or brand council for short)—a multidisciplinary team of executives from each line of business and support function—comes in. (This is strategic thinking item #4--see previous post.) The CEO cannot lead the brand forward alone—the informed advice of key leaders from across the organization is all-important. As Paula Dumas, a senior-level brand marketer at Kodak, says (quoted in Prophet--see previous post), having a brand council means that “brand stewardship is shared by everybody within the company.” Commitment comes from the top through the brand council, and is disseminated out throughout the whole organization.

Prophet says that the executive brand council tackles issues like acquiring new brands, launching new products (brands), and licensing agreements. However, in my view this doesn’t go far enough. In reality, one needs to address all the issues that affect the brand—from positioning, to portfolio management, to employee culture and more—by bringing them before the brand council regularly. This is the only way to make sure that there is genuine understanding of and buy in for the brand takes place, at all levels of the organization.

What the CEO needs to do to build the brand - good points from Prophet Brand Strategy

Going back to the Prophet Brand Strategy document referenced in the previous post, this is to summarize what the CEO of the brand-enabled organization must do in order to lead it forward effectively. Basically Prophet says that the leader must do two things: strategize and execute. Not a wondrous insight there, but it’s the “how” that matters:
  • By strategize they mean that the leader must bring “world-class strategic brand thinking” to confront “market opportunities and business challenges.”
  • By execute they mean the ability to “deliver,” or “operationalize,” the brand “in the face of limited resources and the need for prioritization and tough choices.”

Strategic thinking, they say, involves four actions (two of them have to do with portfolio management so I’ve combined them under #3):

  1. Knowing the customer
  2. Developing a brand identity and position
  3. Managing the range of brands represented under the major brand and shedding them when necessary
  4. Managing the brand from within the various functions and disciplines of the organization

Execution involves:

  1. Understanding where the brand touches the customer and prioritizing which brand experiences are most important
  2. Making sure that the purchase and post-purchase experience are optimal
  3. Executing the brand’s marketing across multiple channels
  4. Deciding what to measure and how to change the brand implementation accordingly
  5. Making sure that employees understand and deliver on the brand promise

The key question to ask re: execution, they say, is: “Do we want to reinforce the brand and its promise by controlling all our customer touchpoints or do we want the touch points to control us and risk denigrating the brand and its promise?”

When the CEO dismisses the brand

To brand an organization effectively, you have to start at the top – with executive leadership. The CEO (or equivalent) must be totally committed to the concept of branding and must drive the brand throughout the organization. Otherwise the organization cannot effectively display the right image at all the points at which it reaches its stakeholders.

If you understand the concept and the importance of brand, this much is obvious. But there are still leaders that “don’t get it.” I believe that there are basically two reasons why.

  • The first is that they literally don’t understand branding at all. To them a brand is Coca-Cola or Disney or Starbucks. It’s a marketing or an advertising gimmick. It doesn’t apply to the widgets they produce. It’s flighty and self-promotional and frankly, stupid. It has nothing to do with the organization believing in anything, or communicating a unified image to the outside world. Branding, to them, has to do with creating a TV commercial and maybe buying some ad space in a magazine or two. That’s it.
  • The second is that they refuse, on principle, to operate according to the rules of brand – which is that it is fundamentally your image that creates value for the organization. Even though that image is derived from real actions taken by the company, they don’t want to hear it. They want to focus on actions first, and image later or not at all. They actually believe that they can run the company without paying attention to the image that the company’s actions create. This belief is magnified by the fact that there is little in the way of well-known tangible evidence that “branding” creates real value.

What can you do when your organization’s leader dismisses the brand? That’s a good question…I wish I knew the answer to it. But the first step is to understand what is blocking the CEO in the first place—whether it’s one of these reasons or something else. The road to convincing him or her to implement the brand begins with unblocking the invisible barriers that are lying in the leader’s path.

(See this for more on the importance of the CEO leading the branded organization and for a couple of examples of brand return on investment.)