Author:Philip Durbrow

How Identity Stays Constant in Changing Times

In some ways, the work to define and express brand identity has completely transformed over the past 30 years, and in some ways, it’s stayed exactly the same. The internet has been transformative in creating new distribution channels, like social media, and opening up access to audiences. Brand marketers and advertisers now have more tools, better information, and troves of data they can use to craft and hone their strategies. READ MORE

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Spokespeople are No Substitute for a Strong Identity

Spokespeople are No Substitute for a Strong Identity

We have encountered prospective clients who believed that the best way to build awareness and enthusiasm for their corporate identity or brand was to find a charismatic and compelling spokesperson to represent them.

My personal favorite Spokesman is George Foreman. His delivery and personality are infectious (See his current TV pitch for Inventhelp), but when you sign up with George Foreman, you get a human being who could become inappropriate despite his charm.

Hiring celebrity spokespeople can be a dicey strategy. People, or their circumstances, can change. Consider the following situations:

When Lance Armstrong finally admitted cheating, he was dropped like a stone by all his sponsors. When Tiger Woods was caught cheating on his wife, however, Nike stuck by him.

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The Smart Way to Use Market Research

The Smart Way to Use Market ResearchIn agency life there is a spectrum of projects that range from all-research on one end to all-creative on the other. I could never sell Steve Jobs research. He didn’t want to hear about it. And it was the same with Steven Spielberg. Both men had gut feelings about what they wanted. And all the research in the world wasn’t going to change that.

Now, if you’re working with visionaries of their caliber, you might be able to proceed with huge costly projects based on their gut feeling.

But that’s not the reality for most of us. The question is, then, when should you use research, and how much research should you do?

Research is expensive. It adds cost and takes time, but it also reduces risk. So it’s important to understand how to allocate your research budget to different types of projects.

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Brands in Crisis: You Can’t Hide

Malaysia AirlinesAfter the back-to-back tragedies of Malaysia Airlines flights MH17 and MH370, we’ve seen some news reports that the airline is looking to rebrand and change its name.

While I can understand why a brand in crisis would want to distance itself from these terrible events, I think it’s a mistake. Here’s why:

The damage is already done: These tragedies have dominated the news for many months, and the misfortunes of Malaysia Airlines are seared into the mind of the world’s population.

Superficial rebranding looks like hiding: When a brand has been through a disaster, a superficial change in identity makes it look like you’re trying to hide something. Instead of helping, it can backfire, provoking condemnation that further sinks the brand’s reputation, revenue and market value.

What really matters is demonstrating integrity: Instead of hiding, brands going through disasters need to demonstrate a real and total commitment to making meaningful change. For Malaysia Airlines this means rethinking every aspect of the airline and implementing major changes in critical areas (safety, management, training, operations, policies, service and transparency). In this way the brand could signal its commitment to ensuring that these tragedies did not happen in vain.

Brands in crisis can turn tragedy to triumph. But doing so requires investment and integrity. Malaysia Airlines could successfully change its identity and name if they introduce these changes as a high-visibility sign of their commitment to completely re-vamp their airline, and to be held to the highest standard. If the airline is truly changed, its identity could be changed. Handled correctly, that’s an opportunity.

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The ‘Best’ Designed Beer Can Is the One That Sells the Most Beer

Best Designed Beer Can Is the One That Sells the Most BeerI recently read an article in Adweek called “What Are the Best Looking Beer Cans in America.” Apparently we are in a Golden Age of beer can design. And some of them are pretty fun (see a gallery here). But I believe that while these designs are creatively interesting, they divert from a beer can’s real job, which (aside from its function as a container) is to get beer drinkers to buy the beer.

Design should have an objective. Design is purpose-driven and client-driven, and these qualities are what differentiates it from art. Good design can certainly enhance our lives and create an aesthetic response in its beholders. But I believe the best design is the one that sells the most product and builds the biggest market.

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The Benefit of Organizational Identity

Having worked on more than 300 identity programs over the course of our careers—for all types of clients, ranging from startups to Fortune 100 companies like GE, Boeing, Apple and Walt Disney—we’ve seen that the value of a strong brand identity cannot be underestimated. It can be the difference between success and failure for an organization, no matter how big or small.

From marketing and advertising to operations, investments and recruiting, everything you do begins with identity. It’s the organizing principle that makes your organization unique and meaningful. And because it is of such strategic importance, a strong identity drives tremendous value through your organization.

We recently made a video that distills our thinking about the value of organizational identity—why it’s important and what it can do for you.

Please take a look and share to anyone you think might be interested in learning more about why identity matters.

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Lessons on Being (and Staying) No. 1

Lessons on Being (and Staying) Number OneAt Marshall Strategy we’re fortunate to work with many clients who are ranked No. 1 in their fields. These range from Caltech (No. 1 on the Times Higher Education World University Rankings  for the last three years) to Google (No. 1 in search) to the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago (the No. 1 rehabilitation hospital in the U.S. for 23 straight years).

Many of these companies enjoy status as household names. What unites them, and what lessons can others learn from them?

Congrats on Being No. 1: Now, How Do You Stay There?
In some respects, you might expect our client roster to be made up of companies that are struggling. After all, aren’t they the ones who need the most help?

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Did the Olympics Help Russia’s Brand?

Did the Olympics Help Russia's Brand?

Philip is an Olympian who represented the U.S. in rowing.

By most accounts, the 2014 Sochi Olympics were very well run and thoroughly enjoyed by athletes and spectators with a minimum of protests or distractions. A recent poll conducted by the Guardian asked “Were the 2014 Winter Olympics a success for Russia?” According to 77 percent of respondents, the answer was “Yes.” And with the games coming in at a reported cost of $50 billion, Russia certainly spared no expense.

However, I’m not sure Russia got the beneficial image impact such an effort should have yielded. That’s because Russia was sending out two powerful and opposite messages. Never a good strategy.

Unrest Detracts from Impressive Games
The Olympics surely helped us admire Russia and Russians. The sheer scale of the undertaking in Sochi was impressive. And the Olympics are always a chance for the host country to show off its best qualities.

But even as the Games were being played, images of chaos and discontent in Russia’s sphere of influence undercut the general goodwill. The continuous shipment of armaments and ammunition to the Syrian government for use against its citizens continues to hurt Russia (at least in the West and among supporters of human rights). So does support for the authoritarian regime and strong-arm tactics of recently ousted Ukrainian leader Viktor Yanukovych.

Less than a week after the Winter Olympics closing ceremony, Russia is conducting military maneuvers on the Ukrainian border and the cover of The Economist shows a figure silhouetted against a flaming backdrop with the headline, “Putin’s inferno.”

The Sochi Olympics have been the most expensive Games ever. From such an expenditure, one would expect a benefit to the host country’s image. And that has generally been the case. But while the Olympics are likely to offer a short-term benefit to Russia on the world stage, its geopolitical tactics will continue to be a long-term problem.

The lesson here, for all organizations, is that your organization’s behavior will have more long term impact than any short-term communication initiative. Ideally, your behavior should be consistent with your communications.

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Corporate Naming Lessons From Naming People

Marilyn Monroe

Many Hollywood stars have changed their names and gone on to successful careers that would be hard to imagine if they hadn’t made the switch. For example, Marilyn Monroe’s real name is Norma Jeane Mortensen.

Back in the 1970s, Herbert Harari, a psychologist at San Diego State University, found evidence that teachers discriminate against “oddly” named pupils. Eighty teachers were asked to grade four different papers written by fourth and fifth grade students. No matter which papers the names Elmer and Hubert appeared on, they averaged one full grade lower than the same papers attributed to Michael and David.

Since that time, other researchers have noticed the strong first impression that names create and demonstrated their role in creating expectations for the people they’re attached to (“What’s in a Name? Maybe it’s a student’s grade!”).

Corporations can also have loser names, something that can be confirmed by research or general intuition, and such names can unfairly and negatively influence perceptions of their performance or potential.

Changing a “Loser” Name
Many Hollywood stars have changed their names and gone on to successful careers that would be hard to imagine if they hadn’t made the switch. Archibald Leach became Cary Grant. Marion Morrison became John Wayne. Norma Jeane Mortensen became Marilyn Monroe.

While name changes in the corporate world are possible, the process is more complicated. New corporate names need to be accepted and supported by employees, customers and investors, and they can’t infringe on the good will of other corporate names.

Professional firms and corporations often get consumed by trying to preserve equity in existing names. Advertising agency Batten, Barton, Durstine & Osborn had a name that was a tongue twister, so they switched to the initials BBDO, just as PricewaterhouseCoopers became PwC.

But if thoughtful enough, corporate name changes can benefit corporations as much as—if not more than—they benefit individuals.

Lessons Learned
Through the work we’ve done with past clients like GE, Disney and Adobe, we’ve put together a list of tips that may help you through a name change:

  • Individuals and companies have a choice in how they name themselves
  • Some names can be perceived as losers and some as winners
  • Loser names can be successfully changed to winning names
  • It’s important to live up to the conveyed or implied promise of a name
  • Short names are generally more impactful than long names
  • There is a fine line between names that are unique and names that alienate
  • Don’t let “equity” in ineffective names prevent you from developing better names

The main reason companies give for not fixing a sub-par name is that they don’t want to lose their “brand equity.” But, you have to give up something that’s not working to gain something that’s better. Advertising and promoting an ineffective name is throwing good money after bad.

Visit our website for more information on our naming services.

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In the Face of Stiff Competition, Focus on Differentiation

applesAs companies merge, grow and gain global status, our job as branding experts is to preserve their relevant differentiation, keeping their brand unique.

There is a strong tendency for two competitors engaged in a long-time battle to begin to adopt the other’s tactics, appearance or behavior. This is called the Iron Law of Emulation. Look at Avis and Hertz, Chevron and Shell, Coke and Pepsi, and United and American. Doing competitive analysis is one thing, but doing it so much that you begin to resemble your competitor—that’s when your brand can run into trouble.

Setting Yourself Apart
There are a few questions that we ask as we begin working with clients who fall in this category:

  • What is your company’s vision for the future?
  • What role does your company want to play in that future?
  • What is your company best at?
  • What does your company really care about?
  • If your company didn’t exist, what would the world lose?

These questions provide ways to help a company focus on its unique identity and purpose. If a company can’t answer these questions clearly, they risk becoming just a commodity that can only compete on price.

When I was just starting out in this business years ago, Edwin Land, the co-founder of the Polaroid Corporation, sat in on a presentation I gave on differentiating yourself in the marketplace. Afterward, Mr. Land said to me that my presentation wasn’t relevant to him or his business, because at that time, Polaroid was the only place that provided instant photography—if you wanted instant photography, you had to choose Polaroid. Polaroid’s differentiator was that it was the only provider of instant photography. Eventually, Mr. Land and I ended up working together on his company’s packaging and display presence around the world. Even though he felt Polaroid didn’t have competition to worry about, he wanted his brand to be presented powerfully and consistently worldwide. He wanted people to understand how his brand was differentiated from all other traditional cameras and film.

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