Branding

High-Risk Naming: Can Google Trademark “Glass”?

High-Risk Naming: Can Google Trademark “Glass”?Google, which we’ve held up as an example of both good and bad when it comes to branding, recently applied for a trademark for the word “Glass.” Not Google Glass, just Glass. Not surprisingly, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office is not going to give in so quickly. Everyday terms, such as glass, are usually not ownable by any one company, especially when they are descriptive of the product or service itself.

Trademarking Generic Terms
Generic terms are typically difficult to trademark, and for good reason. They are undifferentiating and cause confusion in the marketplace. The reason Apple was able to trademark an everyday word was that a word for a fruit does not in any way describe computing hardware. Glass, however, describes the appearance, apparent composition and function of the Google product. (Although, as this Mashable article attests, the product is not actually made of glass)

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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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What Is Brand Architecture?

What Is Brand Architecture?One of the corporate branding disciplines that we receive the highest number of inquiries about is brand architecture. We find that for many clients however, it’s hard to grasp what brand architecture really means. Some organizations think of it as market segmentation, others think of it in terms of rationalizing portfolios or acquisition strategy. These are all important concerns, but we think about it at a higher level. Brand architecture explains the degree of relationship that should exist between the corporate brand and its various product and service brands. Should they go with a monolithic Master Brand strategy, corral multiple brands into a “house of brands,” or some combination of the two? What is the strategic rationale for an approach? Without clarity on these issues, your brand promise can become unclear, which creates confusion and can even reflect a lack of confidence.

What is Brand Architecture?

Let’s First Understand The Root of Brand Complexity

Anything that is ever created, whether it’s an app, a product or a service, wants a brand. And why not? Every creator wants to draw attention to his or her creation. By this philosophy, however, one company could easily have numerous brands. Companies often revert to micro-market segmentation as a surrogate for brand architecture. Google, for instance, has set an unusual precedent. The tech giant has many independently moving parts (read: brands) within its organization, but the sum total of those parts doesn’t necessarily create a comprehensive sense of what is “Google.” This is the most common problem we see with brand architecture.

The 3 Questions That Lead to a Strong Brand Architecture

What you call your product and how you identify it is only a tiny percent of the brand experience. Brand meaning and value is based on the promise each product fulfills and how it delivers that promise. Creating a strong and sustainable brand architecture requires answering these three questions:

  1. Do your various different offerings add up to fulfill a promise?
  2. What does each offer say about you as a provider?
  3. How does each one of those offerings help you build your audience, or deliver on your promise?

In our experience, when a new brand is created, there’s not much consideration for the greater whole until it’s too late. A number of tech companies have spent years and millions of dollars cleaning up their brand messes. For example, we saw Sony lose its position as a premium brand partly because its many sub-brands fragmented product teams and distracted consumers from Sony’s core promise. We look at Amazon’s recent purchase of WholeFoods and wonder how strongly Amazon will want to associate their technology and commerce brand with a brick and mortar grocer. Any obvious association is likely to change perceptions of both brands.

Relatively few companies make the hard decisions that we think are necessary to grow their brands responsibly. By doing so, companies can avoid wasted investments and confusion among their audiences.

Contact us to learn more about creating successful brand architectures.

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Focus First on Your Brand Message, Not Appearance

Focus First on Your Brand’s Message, Not AppearanceSeveral years ago I took a Harvard Business School course on business thinking for design leaders. Toward the end of the course, one professor told us that what we do as brand strategists and designers frightens some CEOs. Why? Because what we do, while vitally important to their success, is not always directly quantifiable. It’s hard to measure emotional connection with a number.

This unsurety and discomfort can cause business leaders to judge brand expression solely on its aesthetics, rather than on the idea the expression is meant to represent. Ironically, this can increase CEOs’ discomfort; what sits before them does not appear to be immediately satisfying. Without a clear understanding and appreciation for the meaning behind the brand expression, executives will miss out on the value brand thinking can create for their organizations.READ MORE

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Winners in 2013

Managing Director Ken Pasternak

When we look back at the client relationships we’ve enjoyed over this last year, there’s one word that sums up our experience: Inspiration.

Our clients have shown both resilience and initiative in a time of uncertainty and recovery. In coming to us for help, they’ve shown they are committed to a renewed identity, a stronger position, or a clearer message to communicate to their audiences. We have been thrilled to assist these groups through this process.

There are several examples from this past year of clients doing extraordinary work to further their missions, and build their brands in the process. Our higher education clients, such as Georgetown and Caltech, set examples everyday of their innovation and thought leadership. UC San Francisco and Highmark, our clients in the healthcare field, are working to improve the quality of care and increase patient satisfaction. And in the technology sector, VMware is technology that makes any service ubiquitous, efficient and within reach.

It is easy for an organization to tolerate fuzzy thinking, let costs rise and lose sight of their mission. We’re proud of the committed work our clients do remain at the vanguard of higher education, healthcare and technology, and we see many good things ahead for them. We are inspired as we go into 2014.

Highlights from our clients’ 2013:

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What I Learned About Branding From Aristotle Onassis

Aristotle OnassisIn 1975, I had the enjoyable experience of being the guest of Jackie and Aristotle Onassis at the El Morocco club in New York City. It was New Year’s Eve, and while I had worked with Jackie previously, I was meeting Mr. Onassis for the first time. I explained my profession in corporate branding to him, and his subsequent advice surprised me. It was completely related to image; not a word he said dealt with financial or investment advice.

“Drink where the rich drink, even if it means sipping one drink,” he said. “Live at an upscale address, even if it is the worst accommodations in the neighborhood. Exercise. Stay tan, even if you use a tanning lamp.” To me, his advice was this: To be successful, act successful and network with successful people. This is good advice for building your personal brand.

Using Your Personal Brand to Engage Others

But Mr. Onassis’s advice relates to more than just your personal brand or image. It also relates to how successful you are at reaching your intended audience—both within your organization and externally. When you think about what your personal image is, it’s really a combination of four things:

  1. Appearance: How are you dressed? Do you have good posture?
  2. Personality: How well do you communicate? Is it apparent that you have a good attitude?
  3. Competencies: Can you easily fulfill what’s required of you?
  4. Differentiation: What traits or skills separate you from everyone else?

These elements must be suited to your audience and the milieu you—and your organization—operate in.

Over the course of my career I’ve spent time in Hollywood, New York, Washington DC and Silicon Valley. Each place thinks it’s the center of the world and each has its own values, styles and characteristics. If you went down to Google’s headquarters wearing a three-piece suit, you’d be rejected. So just as you need to think about the signals you’re putting out with your personal image, you need to do the same when it comes to your audience. You need to understand, attract, and engage your audience.

If you’re going to operate across these different arenas you need to be sensitive to each audience and understand what resonates with them. Only then will you be successful.

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Brand Impact of Mergers

The Brand Impact of Mergers

Last year saw a n ear-record high in M&A activity, which at $3.5 Trillion was the highest activity recorded in seven years, according to the New York Times. Tiny startups (WhatsApp: $19 Billion) and major blue chip companies (DirecTV: $49 Billion) were swallowed up by larger acquirers for astronomical sums.

The conventional wisdom fueling these buying sprees goes like this: once a company gets to a certain size, organic growth becomes very difficult to sustain. Acquiring into new areas or capabilities is a much faster route to growth in revenues, capabilities, and ideally profitability.

But what happens to brand value in these transactions? How should brands be managed to retain or augment their combined value? Which company gets to keep its brand name and promise, and what happens to the other? In our experience, too few companies invest in the upfront strategic thinking and decisions required to get full brand value, and hence business value, out of their mergers.

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Branding Isn’t Skin Deep—It’s Your Connective Tissue

BrandingIn some organizations, branding is thought of as window dressing: It’s seen as superficial and peripheral to the organization’s purpose. In our experience, the opposite is true. We think of branding as an organization’s connective tissue.

When everything you say and do as an organization is driven by a unifying, meaningful and differentiated concept, it can create powerful results. But those who think of brand as simply promotional or attention getting miss the big payoff that strengthening their connective tissue can have.

3 Questions to Strengthen Branding Coherence

Brand is often confused with advertising. But branding is not only a marketing discipline, it’s a management discipline. (As our CEO Philip Durbrow has written, identity is the CEO’s tool.)

Whether they realize it or not, organizations are constantly communicating about themselves through their products and services, new hires, advertising and press releases. Everything you say and do as an organization can and should reinforce a coherent message about you—if you’re thinking about brand as your connective tissue. To achieve this level of branding coherence, ask about any message, behavior, and communication:

  • Is there a purpose for the way it’s identified?
  • Is there a purpose for its role in the organization?
  • Is there clarity about its contribution to the whole versus a separate business plan or identity?

The Dangers of Putting Brand on the Periphery

We’re working with a higher ed client at the moment who is responsible for some of the most cutting-edge research on (and off) the planet. Although they constantly do things that have never before been done, they don’t always get (or take) credit for their innovations, so these breakthroughs don’t add much to public understanding of who they are. They’re not as appreciated as they need to be in the face of increased competition for resources and talent. The lack of understanding about who they are results in lost opportunities. They need to strengthen their connective tissue so that everything about them communicates a clear, compelling, and meaningful story.

When you don’t pay attention to your connective tissue, you can run into a number of problems. Change is scarier. Progress is harder. The basis for making decisions is less secure. Most importantly, there’s a lot of wasted effort. The yield on what you say and do is much lower than the yield would be if there were some central concept for everyone to draw from.

But approach branding as a management discipline—as the connectivity in your organization—and you’ll tap into a strategic advantage you’ve always had, but just haven’t leveraged yet.

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How to Retain the Uniqueness of Acquired Brands

Picture of moving boxes
What happens when a brand that people trust and feel strongly about is acquired? Loyal customers have a strong emotional attachment to it; often they’re watching with trepidation, worried that the small brand is going to get big and “corporate” and lose what made it special. We’ve been thinking about this as we watch what’s happening with Tumblr. Fans are afraid that the Yahoo acquisition is going to ruin what makes Tumblr unique—and after seeing what happened to Flickr, another Yahoo acquisition, they may have good reason. Marissa Mayer, Yahoo’s CEO, went as far as to say, “We’re not going to screw this up.”

Questions for Acquiring Companies
It’s not necessarily a bad thing for smaller companies to be acquired and gain access to the resources of a larger entity. Often the move can provide a jolt of energy for both the acquired and the acquirer. Our enterprise clients face this challenge frequently. How can they retain and foster the spirit of the companies they’ve acquired?

Any acquisition has to be handled carefully from a brand management perspective. As an acquiring company you need to ask yourself:

  1. How does the acquired brand add to, or build upon, our own brand essence?
  2. Which attributes may be at odds with our brand?
  3. How much of that unique character do we want to keep?
  4. How are we going to elevate what we have decided to retain?
  5. How do we ensure that our new people feel valued and part of their new environment?
  6. How do we communicate these decisions in a meaningful way?

When the unique essence of a brand is important to preserve, acquiring companies have some options they ought to consider:

  1. Let the acquired brand stand on its own: In some cases, this makes strategic sense. Zipcar has been acquired by Hertz, but you don’t see any mention of Hertz on the mobile app or the website. Hertz is a largely invisible presence. The Zipcar brand is about independence and sharing: You just need “wheels when you want them.” It is a brand appeal to a very different kind of consumer and circumstance, one that Hertz would have trouble delivering under its existing brand. That independent appeal can be made stronger now that Zipcar enjoys the operational efficiencies and national reach that come with being part of Hertz.
  2. Demonstrate how you are better together: In the technology space, many successful acquisitions have shown how two brands coming together created more value than they could have on their own: Amazon with Zappos, for instance, or Google with YouTube. These companies didn’t try to simply absorb the acquired brand and its customers. Instead the attitude was, “Wow, we bought something incredibly special here, and it makes us all better. Let’s let it develop.” Having this complementary view is important if you want to retain the people, both employees and customers, who love the brand.

When done right, acquisitions of beloved companies appear almost seamless, but it’s  rarely easy. But behind the scenes,  parent companies must make careful, considered decisions about what makes the acquisition unique—and how to retain what it is that made the brand worth acquiring in the first place.

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Branding vs. Advertising: What’s the Difference?

What’s the difference between branding vs. advertising campaigns? And, is it smart to have both a brand agency and an advertising agency for your business?

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.

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