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Blizzard Entertainment, BlizzCon

Becoming a Beloved Brand

In 2017, when the Golden State Warriors won the NBA Championship for the second time in three years, the Bay Area exploded with excitement.  The victory parade drew more than one million fans in their blue and gold to cheer and bask in the glory of “our” victory. The Warriors are truly one of San Francisco’s few beloved brands. They are respected and adored by men and women, young and old, in winning and losing seasons.  People want to wear their colors, they know the players like neighbors, and they internalize the team’s struggles and celebrate its victories. This highly emotional connection is known as community branding, and is the envy of most brands.

Are there business benefits of community branding?  The W’s have sold out every home game for the last several seasons. The Warriors have become a major attraction for out of state and foreign tourists. Win or lose, W’s fans are behind their team in every way, emotionally and economically.

How does community branding work, and how do you become a beloved brand? If we think beyond sports teams, what other brands can truly say they carry this esteemed mantle?  Certainly many universities could make the claim – whether you are a Harvard Man or a Cal Woman, your alma mater is often a beloved brand worthy of your lifetime support. Other brands are a beloved part of their communities and even the world at large.  Blizzard Entertainment’s BlizzCon gathering is an epic celebration of their game universes and their communities. Some players spend months crafting elaborate costumes of their favorite characters. Coca-Cola energizes Atlanta GA; the NYFD has become one of New York’s most beloved and respected brands, (beyond its sports franchises); Disney is a beloved brand trusted by families and their children around the world; and Chevy and VW have captured our imaginations and elevated our pulses more consistently over time than other car brands have been able to manage.

What do these community brands all have in common? Each satisfies a universally human motivator.  Sports teams ignite the thrill of victory. The Fire Department embodies bravery and valor. Beloved consumer brands provide happiness and escape. These motivators are deeply and universally felt and part of our shared human experience. Brands that are successful enough to become and remain beloved are those that most consistently address, and fulfill, these instinctual needs. They become a part of how we define ourselves.

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managing brand reputation

Managing Brand Reputation: Media Brands Live or Die by Their Integrity

The news of AT&Ts attempt to acquire Time Warner without shedding CNN brings the value of media brands back into the spotlight. CNN has seen its share of criticism over the last year –primarily from one powerful voice – but its position, and the debate over “fake news” raises an important issue for media brands everywhere. Embellishments and dramatizations may be acceptable in politics and in the corporate business world, but in journalism, they violate a universal standard: integrity. When a writer or editor runs afoul of that hard line, it reflects on the overall media brand. Inability to earn and sustain public trust can kill a brand, or forever damage a business. That balance, trust over mistrust, fact-based journalism over sensationalism, is harder to achieve than ever.

managing brand reputation

The News of the World phone-hacking scandal from a few years ago is a perfect example of how to mismanage brand reputation. Executives of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. covered up allegations and evidence of gross misconduct instead of exposing those responsible and holding them accountable. Now, with criminal investigations under way and News Corp. employees in jail, News of the World has folded and Rupert Murdoch’s personal and corporate brands are damaged beyond repair.

Some media brands have managed their brand reputation effectively under challenging circumstances. When Stephen Glass of The New Republic and Jayson Blair of The New York Times were exposed as frauds, their editors immediately made it known to the public and took steps to make it right. This American Life took the extraordinary step of retracting a story when it was discovered that a nonfiction storytelling piece on Apple supplier Foxconn was rife with falsehoods. Editor and host Ira Glass went on air to explain the failures in his and his team’s fact-checking that allowed the story to air. Oprah Winfrey confronted author James Frey for lying in his memoir, A Million Little Pieces, which she had promoted. Each of these media giants avoided long-term damage to their brands by being forthright about their errors in judgment.

Managing brand reputation is essential to any organization, but especially to media organizations. At the end of the day, it’s the brand that takes the biggest hit when credibility and integrity are questioned and restoring the integrity of the brand is most critical. How media editors, publishers, and executives respond in crisis can dictate their brand’s survival.

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people standing in front of "BRAND" to signify brand architecture models

Brand Architecture Models: Modern and Traditional

At Marshall, we define Brand Architecture as the degree of relationship that should exist between brands within a company’s portfolio. A brand is typically thought of as a promise to a customer – therefore many brands mean many promises. It’s important that those promises align, otherwise they could create confusion. In more complex brand portfolios, defining the relationships of product or service brands to the company brand, and to each other can help create brand coherence. While there are many different approaches, brand architecture can be thought of as having two general models: segmentation and community.

Segmentation Model

The traditional approach to brand architecture is what we call ‘segmentation”:  Find a market segment, create a product or service that meets its needs, and create a brand that appeals to the segment.  If you have multiple segments, you have multiple brands, none of which relates to the others. This creates complexity and can result in high marketing costs, because the more brands you have, the more brands you have to pay to support. Proctor and Gamble and GM are historic examples of this segmentation approach.

Community Model

At Marshall Strategy, we increasingly support the “community” brand architecture model.  This model assumes that when you have a brand that appeals to one audience, you may have other brands that also might appeal to that audience.  Similarly,  you may be able to attract multiple audiences to one or more related brand promises. The clearer the relationships between those brands are, the more likely you are to build a community of customers who value your brands. Think of how Google, Apple, and Facebook have built thriving communities around their related, complementary brands.

Key Brand Architecture Questions

How well do existing brands support our strategic positioning, name and identity?

What conflicts exist between our offering brands and our strategic position, and how can those conflicts be addressed?

How do we efficiently manage the different offerings within our portfolio or ecosystem?

How should we manage individual offerings to maximize our brand coherence?

A graphic showing both brand architecture models, conventional (segmentation) and new (community).

See how we solved a brand architecture challenge and created brand coherence for a global hospitality provider: Hilton Grand Vacations Case Study

Ask Marshall About Brand Architecture for Your Business
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Brand Matters – The Power of Strategic Identity

The following content was presented at the AIRI 2017 Annual Meeting. Click here Marshall_AIRI_Presentation-2 to download a PDF of the slide presentation itself.

Brand has many definitions, and most of them line up within marketing and advertising.  In this presentation, I hope to shed some light on the power of strategic identity – being true and clear about who you are as an organization and why you matter. This should have influence over all an institute says and does, from who it hires, to how it fulfills its mission, and of course, how it engages, and inspires support from, its critical audiences.

Here’s one important reason brand matters to research institutes: The top ten federally funded institutes depend upon government funding for 71% of their budget on average. But our government appears to value research less and less.  In fact, according to AAAS, “The FY 2018 funding cycle has been rather mixed for Science and Technology on the whole, with many more agencies looking at reductions than increases.”

What this means is, a good portion of an institute’s budget is necessarily going to need to be replaced by other sources of funding.  Where is that going to come from?  Who is going to understand and value these institutes enough to participate in their future?  Why should they?

The challenge is even bigger than funding.  It is about awareness, relevance, and perceived value to multiple audiences, including new research talent, partners and collaborators, and the public who this research is intended to benefit. While in the past, your accomplishments may have spoken for themselves, now you’ve got to ensure that you are understood, appreciated and supported – in an environment that is more competitive than ever. You need to become a “preferred” place to invest in, to work for, and to rely upon for new knowledge.READ MORE

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