Naming Systems that Enhance Your Brand

What makes some brand naming systems stronger than others, and what’s the benefit of a system when naming your products and services?

Because your company will likely establish multiple products or services over its lifetime, it’s important to think about the system your product names create so your products will reinforce your brand promise.


Ask yourself these questions:

1. How does the new product deliver your brand promise?
2. How does each product deliver uniquely?

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To Universities: Don’t Let Rankings Define Your Brand

Don’t Let Rankings Define Your Brand

Don’t Let Rankings Define Your Brand

The annual flurry of university rankings has recently flooded the media. These lists serve mainly to sell magazines, not meet the needs of the reader, and they do little to convey the true value a school offers to its students, community and faculty. The statistics employed can be – and have been – distorted and manipulated. If your school’s brand strategy is centered on rankings, your brand strategy needs rethinking.

The flagship of college rankings is U.S. News & World Report’s ‘Best Colleges’, which, the magazine says, is built using “quantitative measures that education experts have proposed as reliable indicators of academic quality, and on our researched view of what matters in education.” [].  As a recent NYTimes op-ed pointed out, the results are counter-intuitive to much of what education needs today, positive long term returns on a significant investment. The U. S. News rankings reward the opposite, and schools spend money hand over fist to improve their score.

One of our clients, U.C. Berkeley, produces remarkable facts and figures, and demonstrates a solid rankings performance year after year. These rankings were not doing enough to avoid concern for the school’s reputation, however. We helped Berkeley develop a brand story that is built on the intangible attributes that differentiate it from its peers. This essence is timeless, not reliant on rankings, and will not be compromised as long as Berkeley is Berkeley. Facts and figures can help validate a brand strategy; they shouldn’t define it.  Our expectation is that communications based on what makes UC Berkeley a uniquely great place will draw students, researchers and donors for the right reasons, not just for rankings.

A college is more than a number – when your school understands what makes it great, it does not need to rely on magazine rankings to communicate its value. Brand value is inherent in your students, faculty, culture, history, reputation, and community. If you don’t define your university’s brand by taking all of these into account, you’re losing out on an opportunity to demonstrate your value in the education marketplace.


Brand Focus: Standing For Something

Apple sold over 5 million iPhone 5’s the first weekend they were made available, setting records once again. We can count on Apple to be successful because they stand for something specific, valuable, and desirable, and because they deliver every time. Over the years Apple has mastered simple, compelling, and direct brand messages. When they launch a product like the iPhone 5, the campaign is memorable, disciplined, and focused. There’s no ambiguity as to the message or the target audience, and their sales numbers prove the power of this approach.

Brands differentiate themselves in the marketplace by clearly articulating what they represent, who their audience is, and why they matter to that audience. By developing a brand strategy that is focused, simple, and meaningful, they deliver a message that connects with consumers. This brand focus lets them stand out from the crowd.

American Express is another great example. By portraying themselves as the card of choice for the sophisticated, smart, and worldly, they have become one of the world’s top destination and travel industry brands. American Express entices consumers to be a part of their world, and they have become one of the most recognized brands in the market.

Developing brand focus is only part of what it takes to be a strong, differentiated player in your market. Once a brand takes a stand, it must maintain that position by providing a clear voice, creating compelling and succinct messaging, and ensuring that all behaviors are on strategy. And of course, like Apple and Amex, they must deliver. When brands try to be everything to everyone, they end up being nothing to anyone. Brands that establish a strong position and deliver on their promises are the ones that make a difference in the market.

[photo credit: TheQ! via photopin cc]


Brand Leadership: Navigating the Changing Landscape of Silicon Valley

Marissa Mayer

Marissa Mayer
[photo credit: jdlasica via photo pin cc]

Last month, two Silicon Valley stalwarts saw leadership changes, reinforcing the reality that in times of change, those at the top must inspire excitement for the brands they lead.  Marissa Mayer, a longtime public figure at Google and responsible for some of the company’s most recognizable products, took on a new role as CEO at rival Yahoo!, while Paul Maritz, the CEO of VMware, who led a small virtualization startup to become a $5B leader in data center transformation and IT-as-a-Service, will move on to take a broader role at parent company EMC. In both cases, people are watching closely to see how effectively these new leaders can establish a clear brand vision for their companies.

Mayer has her work cut out for her. As the fifth CEO in the last five years at Yahoo!’s helm, she must define a vision and set a clear path for the company to follow – a feat that her predecessors failed to accomplish. Yahoo! has not evolved with technological changes in advertising and the rising influence of social media, and continues to struggle to define itself. Until Mayer can steer the Yahoo! brand in a clear direction, the company will not attract and retain the talent, advertisers, and investors it needs to return to its former powerhouse status. Not surprisingly, this week several top Yahoo! executives left the company.

In contrast, Maritz is leaving VMware well-positioned to expand its role as an industry leader (full disclosure: VMware is a client of ours). The brand vision and direction he instilled at VMware over the last four years set a foundation the company should be able to build from in the coming years.

Change is a constant in the dynamic business environment of Silicon Valley.  As top leaders swap companies and titles, however, they must be able to build, sustain and enhance the brands they lead. The success of any company depends heavily on leadership’s ability to instill confidence in what lies ahead, by clearly articulating their brand vision, generating enthusiasm internally and externally, and navigating the company forward in single direction.


IBM Adds Dimension to its Brand Promise through Social Responsibility Initiatives

Building a Smarter Planet is at the core of IBM’s brand promise. Yes, the brand platform is smart and the campaigns it inspires are compelling, but at IBM the promise runs deeper than that. A brand promise should drive how an organization behaves, and IBM shows its commitment to “Smarter Planet” through socially responsible initiatives and partnerships.


Take one of the IBM’s latest programs, Smarter Education Solution, which is part of the company’s broader Smarter Cities initiative. This is a partnership with Desire2Learn, a learning solutions company, to provide improved learning and teaching experiences in school systems. IBM provides advanced analytics software for use in conjunction with Desire2Learn’s educational platform to improve the learning environment for students. “Today, technology is redefining learning,” said Michael D. King, Vice President of IBM Global Education. “Curriculum can be delivered on a mobile device to follow the student home after school, and intervention strategies can help identify potential problems before they occur. By applying IBM’s advanced analytics technology to the cause of improving education, we hope to help every child succeed.”*

Partnerships like this show that IBM is delivering on its Smarter Planet brand promise. It goes beyond corporate objectives, advertising, and business strategies to actions that are real and meaningful. Social responsibility initiatives, when tied to a corporate brand strategy, can be a powerful differentiator in the marketplace.  Corporations with a compelling brand promise can affect the behaviors not only of their employees, but of the people and communities they touch as well. By partnering with Desire2Learn and other organizations and government agencies to highlight and address the shortcomings of the educational system, IBM shows how a company’s brand promise can make a meaningful difference in the world.



Brand Identity Personality Should be Behavior-Based

Brand Identity PersonalityBrand Identity Personality
Last year’s loss of Steve Jobs was a real-world test of the effect an iconic personality can have on a brand’s identity. Many people wondered if the Apple brand would be as valuable without him. There is already strong evidence that Apple’s strong organizational culture and focus on insanely great products will continue after Steve. If Apple can stay true to its promises, it remains a valuable brand, vs. a brand dependent on one man’s personality.

It’s not unusual for an emerging company’s brand identity to be connected to a charismatic or visionary leader. Tony Hsieh with Zappos, Jeff Bezos with Amazon, Mark Zuckerberg with Facebook, and Richard Branson with Virgin are all great examples of such brands. The real challenge for a brand, however, is to be recognizable, relevant and meaningful over time regardless of who is in charge.  Corporate identity should be built through shared organizational philosophy, not solely on a leader’s personality.

For a brand to survive in the long term, its leaders must embody the values of the company, not the other way around. Any company whose identity is linked solely to an individual should move away from being a personality-driven brand and move toward being a behavior-driven brand. Behavior-driven brands reflect how the company, its product, and its people, fulfill their promises. These behaviors can be inspired, or introduced by a strong leader, but must also be deeply embedded within the culture of the company to be sustainable over time.

Many companies have proven that they are fully capable of maintaining a strong brand without always having high-visibility leadership. Richard Branson is instilling sustainable differentiation for the Virgin Brand—building the “Virgin Experience” into a variety of existing products and services.  Nike adopted 11 core principles based on the vision and leadership of Bill Bowerman, but not dependent on his personal stewardship. As a result, both brands are associated with delivery of a clear promise, and not solely with the constant public presence of their founders.

Brands achieve greatness when people—customers, employees, and investors alike—feel an affinity to the product and want to be associated with it – not just with its founder or leader.  Companies with highly-visible leaders need to clearly show that the company as a whole embraces a singular vision, and doesn’t just rely on the cult of one personality.

Marshall Strategy

Do you want to improve your branding and corporate identity efforts? Marshall Strategy has a proven track record of making a difference for our clients. Make a business inquiry today to find out how Marshall Strategy can do for you. Find out what we’re doing in the social world by “Liking” us on Facebook, following us on Twitter and subscribing to our YouTube channel. Also, find us on LinkedIn and follow our blog for more useful industry information.



Political Campaigns – A Lesson in Brand Management

The Republican presidential primaries and debates have been fascinating, if not whiplash-inducing, to follow. The candidates continue to float on the winds of public opinion rather than their own personal convictions and vision. On any topic, they appear more interested in setting themselves apart from the competition than in having firm positions that constituents can rally behind. Focus groups form politicians’ positions on issues, instead of politicians working to help constituents understand and value what they really stand for. The absence of a clear frontrunner so far is evidence that candidates are failing to define what they stand for and that they lack resonance with the American electorate.

Politics & Brand Management

The word “politician” has taken on negative connotations; it is more and more likely to define a person who will say or do anything to get elected.  There are plenty of politicians in the world, and it seems few are irreplaceable. Brands should not fall into the same trap. To be effective in the marketplace, a brand must clearly communicate what it represents and what it aspires to become, and then deliver on that promise to its customers. The opposite approach – building a brand based exclusively on customer opinion or desired image – is a recipe for failure, as the brand in the end will lack identity, and will likely be forgotten when the next new product comes along. The more effectively a brand communicates and delivers on its promise, the more likely customer experience and feedback will reinforce the brand’s position.

The Walt Disney Corporation stands as a perfect example of brand conviction and purpose. Despite the ups and downs of the entertainment industry and economy, the brand has never strayed from its promise to deliver high-quality, family-oriented entertainment in a variety of formats. As a result, consumers know what to expect from a Walt Disney product when it is released without questioning its authenticity, quality, or content.

To be considered a true political leader, a candidate must have and communicate a vision; an authentic theme that voters can focus on and associate with that person. The same is true of a brand.  Without clear vision and promise, a candidate becomes a politician, and a brand becomes a commodity. Both will recede from relevance when the next new “thing” comes along.


The Fallout of a Flip-Flop: When Brands Gets Political

Any brand that thinks it is above reproach need only look back as far as the recent Susan G. Komen Foundation debacle for a taste of reality. Organizations out of step with their audience find themselves foundering in the wake of public outcry when business decisions appear to be based in politics. Komen, arguably the most visible women’s health advocacy group in existence today, spent last week backtracking and apologizing to constituents and supporters for political missteps it made not once, but twice. The first when it apparently bowed to political pressures from the right to cut off funding for Planned Parenthood, and the second when it apparently bowed again, this time to political pressure from the left, to restore funding.

Susan G Komen

The original decision to stop funding Planned Parenthood appears to have been based on an existing internal policy. But the move outraged supporters, convinced it was politically driven. The Foundation was inundated with angry emails, tweets, and Facebook posts. After two days of threats, resignations, and retracted pledges, Komen ceded and reinstated funding for the organization, sparking a second wave of anger from the other side.[1]

The fervor has since died down, but the damage left behind to the Komen Foundation’s brand is irrevocable. Contributors who, in the past, may have had concerns about the Foundation’s political affiliations but chose to overlook them for the betterment of women’s health are now voicing those concerns, and donations to the Foundation may never return to their former level. In addition, some of the past affiliations of the organization’s leaders are resurfacing, complements of media groups adamant to keep the controversy alive. This is slowing whatever recovery the organization expects to make as it responds to these new allegations.

Brands deliver a promise – what customers should expect from a product or service. When expectations and reality are not aligned, the promise is broken, and it can be very difficult to regain trust. If a brand does misstep and must reverse course, the reversal should be swift and apologetic, and make things better than they were before; not just return to the status quo. The Susan G. Komen Foundation was out of touch with its key audience, and failed to appropriately judge the response of its supporters to a politically-based decision, real or perceived. How the organization got to be so distant from its audience is a mystery, but in the minds of many, the Komen Foundation broke its core customer promise, and its trust among many may never be regained.

[1] “Who is Behind Susan G. Komen’s Split from Planned Parenthood,” Feb. 1, 2012, Nicholas Jackson


Three Key Brand Success Factors: Clarity, Relevance and Engagement

Every afternoon, we get an email called the Chart of the Day from the Silicon Alley Insider, a unit of the larger content publisher Business Insider. This chart is always current, relevant, topical, and easy to digest in under a minute. A minute is about the amount of time that we give it each day, but we remember these charts, and the simple points they make, and find ourselves referring back to them often.

Brand Success Factors

These charts tell a simple story, visually, relevantly, and succinctly. They tell us who is responsible for the most bandwidth usage on the Internet (Netflix by far), where Apple’s astounding revenues come from (iPhone more than 50%) and who pays the most for software developers (Facebook, $110K). They never try to do any more beyond connecting the reader to a deeper article in which he or she may be interested.

These Charts of the Day, while highly focused and specific, represent a clear, relevant and engaging promise­ – one that can be delivered every day with consistency. Each chart tells different brand success stories, but the overall promise, of a quickly digestible snapshot into the business of technology, is fulfilled every time.

It is a helpful exercise to look at brands like this, and to consider the questions, “What is the promise we can make with our brand that gives us the flexibility to deliver over time, and the challenge to continue to fulfill customer expectations?” and “How can my brand deliver on its promise in a clear, relevant and engaging way, every day?” and, in this particular case, “If I had only one minute to deliver value to my customers, what would I say?” When brands get this right, customers recognize, appreciate and remember the value they create.


ViaSat’s Exede™

We’re proud to announce the new brand launch at CES of our client ViaSat’s new superfast satellite broadband service which we named exedesm . Delivered by ViaSat-1, their recently launched state-of-the-art satellite with more bandwidth capacity than all other North American satellites combined, exedesm is faster than DSL, and offers flexible volume plans to meet customer needs. The new service platform dramatically exceeds the speed and performance capabilities of existing satellite, DSL and wireless broadband. This is just one of many exciting new service offerings from ViaSat, a serious innovator in satellite technology.

So far the press coverage has been very positive. More people will soon have the chance to sample the exedesm speed when it becomes available for consumers, broadcast journalists, and in-flight on Jet Blue and Continental Airlines. Were confident that exedesm and its parent ViaSat will continue to exceed expectations around the world with their end-to-end, technologically advantaged communications services.