Branding Tag

It Never Pays to be a Copycat

It Never Pays to be a Copycat.

A recent WSJ Article trumpeted “Copycats Rule the Skies.” It was about how the three largest U.S. airlines have all become so much alike.

Why are the Delta, American and United brands so much alike? Patrick Moynihan, the former Harvard professor and U.S. Senator had a theory called, “The Iron Law of Emulation.” His theory held that nations that competed against each other became more and more like each other. This certainly seems to be the case with our airlines, hotels, banks, etc.

Moynihan pointed out how the U.S. and Russia once emulated each other: We got the bomb, they got the bomb; we got intercontinental missiles, they got intercontinental missiles; we got nuclear submarines, they got nuclear subs, and on and on.

During my 20 years at Landor, we designed the brand and identity strategies for dozens of leading airlines. Our purpose, always, was to differentiate each airline in a way that was relevant, true and compelling. To create a preference or command a premium, we built on each airline’s unique brand characteristics which were often its national characteristics: British Air was about their understated global competence. Singapore Air was about the pride that Singaporeans take in providing personal service. Alitalia was about Italian style. Hawaiian Air was about sunshine, flowers and relaxation. These identity strategies influenced all the decisions each airline made. Whom to hire, how to train, what kind of fleet to operate, and what passenger offerings and style of operations would reinforce their particular identity.READ MORE

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Why One Identity is More Powerful than Many

Why One Identity is More Powerful than Many

Many organizations – whether corporations, non-profits, or educational institutions – develop broad stables of identities to segment their offerings to different audiences. Some of them succeed with this strategy, but many of them do not. Our client, The University at Buffalo (UB)’s recent success can help explain why a singular identity lends more collective strength to an institution than can a handful.

UB is an AAU institution, which means it has been carefully selected to sit among only 61 peers in the American Association of Universities. It is the largest and most comprehensive research university in the SUNY system, and has multiple nationally ranked departments. Over the years, however, UB has had multiple names, and adopted specialized identities for athletics and other departments. These changes had a dampening effect on awareness, appreciation and internal pride.

Now, the university is committing to a singular identity, backed by a strong and unifying brand strategy, and is already reaping huge rewards in local pride and national momentum.

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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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An “Olympian” Brand Attribute

An “Olympian” Brand AttributeHow much do you really think about the words that you use to define your brand? What are their definitions, what feelings do they inspire in people?

As the excitement of the winter Olympics fades—a week spent watching some the world’s best athletes compete against each other—I’ve thinking about the word “Olympian.” What does it mean to be an Olympian?

The American Heritage Dictionary lists “Olympian” as both a noun and an adjective. In the context of the Olympic Games, the noun is the literal definition: “A contestant in either the ancient or modern Olympic games.” To be an Olympian is to be recognized by your country as the best they have in a given sport at the time of the Olympic games. It is an elite circle and the level of athletic excellence, competitive drive and dedication to their sports that Olympians have is unquestionable.

The more interesting expression of the word for me, though, lies in the adjective’s definition: “To surpass all others in scope and effect.”The highlight Olympian moments are the ones that demonstrate a courage, determination and desire to leave it all on the field—the ones where the athlete finds an inner strength to rise beyond the competition, despite all obstacles.

Sometimes Olympian efforts are gold medal winning, like ski racer Mikaela Shiffren’s cool recovery to win the slalom. “No matter what else was happening, I kept thinking that I had to keep my skis moving down the hill. Keep going, don’t quit, don’t stop…Then see what happens.” Other times they display a fierce resolve, like Jeremy Abbott, the American ice skater who fell disastrously early in his routine, but got up and finished to a standing ovation with some of the most spectacular jumps of the evening.

Why do these definitions matter? In our business, we often describe a brand with key attributes or personality traits; words that capture the essence of a brand. Often these words are descriptive, but not deeply meaningful. I’ve never seen “Olympian”used as a brand attribute, but maybe in time. A brand that included “Olympian” as one of its attributes and aspirations would be inspiring, and one I’d love to be a part of.

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Focus First on Your Brand’s 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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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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To the New President of UC: Start With an Audit!

Janet Napolitano

Former U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano was appointed president of the UC system on July 18. Her first day as president is today, Sept. 30. (Photo courtesy Steve Rhodes)

As many of you may have already heard, today is the first day of work for former U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano in her new position as president of the University of California system. We’ve worked with UC before, and we’re eager to see what Ms. Napolitano’s tenure brings to this great institution.

The First Thing Any Leader Should Do

As a student at the Harvard Business School, when my classmates and I aspired to one day serve as presidents of our organizations, I remember a professor of ours posed an interesting question: “What is the first thing you should do when you become president?” he asked.

For us, the first thing that popped into our heads was the thought of cracking open a bottle of champagne for our success. But other than that, we were puzzled. The advice this professor gave has stayed with me to this day: The first thing you should do is take an audit.

Here’s why:

  • To establish which assets you have been entrusted with and for which liabilities you have accepted responsibility.
  • To put a stake in the ground showing the condition of the organization when you took over, so that you can measure and demonstrate the improvements you’ve made during your term as president.

3 Intangible Assets That Should Be Part of Any Audit

For us at Marshall Strategy, we also recommend—and practice ourselves—to audit each organization’s intangible assets as well. If you know what you assets and liabilities are, then you know what your plan of action needs to be.

There are three main intangible assets we review with our clients:

  1. Awareness: When we begin auditing a company’s intangible assets and liabilities, we begin by listening to the executives about the issues they are facing, the challenges that lie ahead and what disadvantages they may have. You may have a great company in the public’s eye, but if there is low awareness about its potential obstacles among its executives, then that’s a problem.
  2. Image: We research our client’s image, which includes talking to audiences that are important to the organization, both customers and employees. We gather information on how they perceive the company. Whether employees have high or low morale, that’s something, for example, that gets sorted out in our initial analysis. Out of that we establish some identity objectives that would help alleviate the problems and leverage the advantages.
  3. Branding: Some of an organization’s strongest intangible assets deal with its brand identity. An organization’s name can be an advantage or disadvantage. Along that same line, its graphic expression may be detailed and intricate, but may also be meaningless. Our objective is to reduce those liabilities and increase the assets the company has to work with, which could be naming, messaging, visual expression or strategy.

My advice to Ms. Napolitano is to take an audit of UC, of both its tangible and intangible assets. Such an audit will not only help her understand the massive, intangible value of the university to the state, the nation and the world, but it will also help her identify the perceptual liabilities that threaten appreciation and support of UC’s great value.

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Secret Sauce As a Brand

Special SauceLast week, I wrote about B2B branding: Your audience may not be comprised of “consumers” per se, but it’s still made up of people. People have preferences, loyalty and affinity for certain brands.

So how do you make sure your brand communicates what’s unique and special about you? In essence, what’s the secret sauce that sets you apart?

Making Your Own Secret Sauce

Many clients hire us because they’re having trouble articulating exactly what it is that makes them who and what they are. A lot of our identity work gets to the heart of this—helping clients tell their stories. Even if you aren’t embarking on an identity project, you can still follow some simple principles:

  1. Realize that you never have nothing: If you aren’t widely known for your secret sauce, that doesn’t mean you don’t have it. It can be difficult to pinpoint, and even harder to communicate (and often it’s easier to engage someone to help you find it—which is why it makes up a lot of the work that we do). But there is something worthwhile that sets you apart, and finding it is worth the effort.
  2. Don’t try to be something you’re not: If what you’re attempting feels inauthentic, it’ll be hard to make a shift that will turn employees (likely your most important audience) into brand ambassadors. Take Marshall, for example. We may not the hippest kids on the block, but we’re thoughtful, strategic and big-picture thinkers. Because we know this, we’re able to focus on what we do best.
  3. Don’t be afraid of aspiration: You may need to consider how well your identity tells a clear and cohesive story about your company. When you set out in a direction that is aspirational and authentic, you’ve turned identity into a strategic priority, not just a communications tool.

You’ve got a secret sauce baked in there somewhere, and it’s an essential component of your identity that you should use to your advantage.

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B2B Buyers are People, Too

You might think that in the business-to-business space, brand awareness and loyalty is less important than it is for consumer brands.

VMware tattoo

One of VMware’s customers tattooed the company’s logo on the back of his head, a move that demonstrates a pretty personal commitment.

But some branding experts believe that brands matter even more in B2B than in B2C. Why? Many B2B companies compete in a confusing or fragmented marketplace. Often they’re trying to differentiate highly technical offerings by focusing on functional aspects. It’s a cliché of B2B marketing that it’s all “speeds and feeds,” and that connecting on a more personal level is for the consumer realm.

But initiatives that focus on creating value for B2B brands can have tremendous payoff. A Harvard Business Review study on B2B brands concluded that the corporate brand is responsible for an average 7 percent of stock performance. Depending on your market cap, brand equity can mean hundreds of millions of dollars.

People Make Emotional Decisions

Preference and loyalty decisions are not unemotional, logic-driven events—even in the B2B space. Forrester analyst Laura Ramos, who blogs about areas of concern to CMOs, wrote that many B2B marketers still don’t understand that “B2B is really about the people.”

When I was studying integrated marketing in graduate school, one exercise came up time and again: Answer the question: “Do you have a favorite brand, and why?” Responses were mostly consumer brands, and explanations were always fascinating. Ask yourself about anything “Why do I want this or not want it?” Is it the color? Is it the ingredients? Is it what you feel in your hands? Is it the price? Is it the name? You can apply what you learn even to complex B2B products. A client of ours sells sophisticated scientific instruments and faces a competitor whose arguably inferior product has benefited from significant brand investment, best demonstrated by its sleek-sounding name. Even a marketplace filled with highly logical and analytical thinkers can be swayed by the sense that a cool brand makes the product inherently more desirable.

Some of our B2B clients inspire fanatical loyalty that most consumer brands can’t match. One of VMware’s customers tattooed the company’s logo on the back of his head. A tattoo is a pretty personal commitment, but the product enabled this person to feel like a rockstar in his professional life. Professional decisions are emotional choices. What matters in the end is that you’re offering your customers something that matters to them.

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