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?

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.


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.


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.

 


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.

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 (http://www.brandassetvaluator.com.au/). 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 http://www.interbrand.com/best_brands_2006_FAQ.asp -- 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) (http://www.allmarketersareliars.com/), 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." (http://publications.mediapost.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=Articles.showArticle&art_aid=63128) 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 (http://blog.futurelab.net/2006/07/the_ten_truths_of_branded_stor.html), 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 (http://www.brandchannel.com/features_profile.asp?pr_id=109) 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.

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