Branding

Great Branding Starts with a Promise

Recently in Fast Company Design, I read an article that claims “great branding is invisible,” and goes on to make the point that the little details, like the satisfying thunk of a closing BMW door, or the stitching in a Gucci purse, create and reinforce our relationships with great brands.

The article also makes the point that a catchy tagline or attention-getting logo is relatively unimportant in establishing that brand relationship in the first place.

I agree with these observations, but there’s something missing. Thoughtful details – the “invisibles” that create great brand experiences – are only meaningful if they come from a unique and meaningful central promise. What do you aim to provide that nobody else can? Why does it matter? If you don’t have an answer to these core questions, all those details have no center of gravity. They become tactics that can be easily copied and commoditized.

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How Branding Is Helping GM Survive Recall Disaster

The news about GM this year has been grim. We’re not even through 2014, and so far GM has had more than 60 recalls. The total cost will likely top $1 billion and involve more than 26 million vehicles.

And yet, GM just paid its shareholders a quarterly dividend in September. Despite everything, GM’s stock valuation is holding relatively steady.

How can a company that has been in the news all year for extremely negative reasons, continue to be valued on the stock market? Partly it’s a matter of brand management.

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CVS Quits Smoking, Scores Rebrand Win

CVS Quits Smoking, Scores Rebrand WinMy mom quit smoking recently, after fifty years of it. The fact that CVS is no longer selling cigarettes had nothing to do with this, of course. But the company’s decision to go smoke-free, now—a month ahead of schedule—had particular resonance with me.

Opponents of this move argue that it’s hypocritical, a stunt. They have a point—but in that case it’s a pretty expensive stunt (more than $1 billion in lost annual revenue). This is a clear example of a brand-driven business decision. In addition to pulling tobacco, CVS has changed its name from CVS Caremark to CVS Health, indicating a commitment to something bigger than themselves.

So how much financial loss is CVS willing to sacrifice for a bold brand promise? Does that mean they’re pulling Frito’s and M&M’s off the shelves? (I hope not.) The store will still carry plenty of products that contribute to major health problems, so can it really be the flagship of health it’s aspiring to?

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Why Large, Complex Organizations Need a Strong Brand Identity

If you read a lot of the branding and naming advice that’s out there on the Internet, it would be easy to think that the only time an organization should worry about its brand identity is when it is first getting started. What should you name your company? How should you position it against competitors? These are important questions for startups and new brands, but the truth is that large, complex organizations are just as often in need of identity strategy.

 

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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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Relevance: A Brand’s Fountain of Youth

Relevance: A Brand’s Fountain of YouthRecently I read an article in the San Francisco Chronicle by Leah Garchik. She recapped a story that involved a pilot, who, while navigating a flight to the East Coast, suggested over the intercom that passengers look out the window for a scenic “Kodak moment.” As Garchick reported, one flight attendant then asked, “What’s Kodak?”

Once a ubiquitous tagline, “A Kodak Moment” made its way into casual speech to describe a moment worth remembering, but awareness of Kodak’s popular tagline, as well as its brand relevance today, has almost completely evaporated.

This is a huge lesson. Success can be fleeting, even for the most iconic brands; The question is, how can you prevent that from happening?

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Managing Brand Complexity: Staying Ahead of the Curve

Managing Brand Complexity: Staying Ahead of the CurveLarge companies—like GE, Google, Samsung and others—know this law of branding firsthand: As you grow in size, you will grow in complexity. Acquisitions, organic growth, market segmentation and product and service extensions all add complexity to brand portfolios. How should large successful brands such as these manage brand complexity?

Growing companies realize they need to support the strength and cohesiveness of their corporate identities, while also accommodating the needs of their individual brands and sub-brands. We call this “brand balance.” This balance gets harder to control as you grow; there is a very real complexity curve that gets steeper with a company’s size. To remain successful as you grow, it is important to learn how to stay ahead of this complexity curve.

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Brand Diversification: When Is it a Good Idea?

Brand Diversification: When Is it a Good Idea?In April I posted a SlideShare presentation (below) about tech startups and key brand considerations as they grow. In it I described Facebook’s decision to retain the WhatsApp and Instagram brands as part of a brand diversification strategy. Retaining acquired brands (rather than renaming and assimilating them into the parent brand) can be useful if they appeal to audiences, or deliver services that are not aligned with your core brand. While Facebook has 1.2 billion users, both Instagram and WhatsApp have hundreds of millions of loyal users. Since many of these users prefer these acquired apps over Facebook, it may make sense to keep those brands separate.

I also remarked that Facebook could continue to grow by following this type of diversification strategy, although it risks cannibalizing some of the popularity of its flagship brand. Now Facebook has publicly committed to this diversification strategy, which has been dubbed by some as “unbundling.”

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