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February 2007 issue of TK's Korner

Brand Warfare

"Many know the importance of Branding, yet nothing in American business is as widely misunderstood as the questions of how to use it", according to David F D'Alessandro and Michele Owens.

In this issue of TK's Korner, I'll recap some of their insighst on, "10 Rules for Building the Killer Brand", that have allowed some of most successful companies to turn their brands into the most trusted names in business.

Billions of dollars are squandered every year in the name of the brand. Yet, businesses:

  1. Routinely milk their brands without investing in them,
  2. Extend their brands without asking consumers what they think of the idea,
  3. Dilute their brands with ill considered mergers and acquisitions,
  4. Mishandle scandals, and embarrassing sponsorships.
Even brand-savvy companies sometimes stumble because they fail to recognize that a brand is: Everything a company does: what you communicate as well as the information that is communicated despite your best efforts.

By definition, your "Brand" is whatever the consumer thinks of when he/she hears your company's name. This includes: your labor practices, quality controls, environmental record, customer service record and every rumor about you.

D'Alessandros's 10 Rules of Brand Building:

Rule #1, It's the Brand Stupid:
Focus on it.
Some have arrogantly assumed that customers would accept inferior products & services because they were marketed under the brand name. They should have worked harder and longer to create even better offerings to uphold the brand reputation.

Three very important events toppled the giant brands:

  1. Consumer's attitudes have changed. They're more well-educated and more cynical. They don't believe in big institutions.
  2. Barriers to entry have lowered. Instead of spending millions on TV, a company can now get its message out for a fraction of the cost.
  3. Consumers now have an unlimited access to information. It's a marketing economy in which the consumer dictates what they want and pulls it out of the system.
With their new found powers of choice, consumers have become more sophisticated, making finer distinctions and demanding more. This makes the brands themselves weaker for they have no inherent hold on the customer. People can switch with the click of a button. They have so many choices today that your brand had better give them pleasure and an experience to talk about.

One way to compete, is to turn the commodity into an experience. Starbucks doesn't sell coffee, it sells a lifestyle, attitude and perhaps a fantasy of going to Italy without getting on an airplane.

Rule #2, Codependency Can Be beautiful:
Consumers need good brands as much as good brands need consumers. Ironically, the more choices people have, the more they tend to cling to one trusted brand in each category. They just don't have time to sift through the features of competing brands.

A good brand provides 3 benefits:

  1. It saves time-No need to survey entire product category. Even when two are the same, they tend to choose the one with the bigger brand name. The closer a product gets to the consumer physically, the more the brand matters. IE Childrens Tylenol vs Generic. IE. Chiquita with tiny stickers vs Generic
  2. It sends the right message-even if you choose it and it goes wrong, won't be faulted
  3. It gives people an identity-and makes him a member of a group or "Brand Tribes." Our tribes today are determined largely by education, accomplishments and brands we consume. Offering comfort, trust, convenience and identity in a complicated world.
One final warning about such brand loyalties is that they cut both ways. As firmly attached they become, they can just as easily become loyal enemies of a brand.

Rule #3, Hold Onto a Great Brand Message-
It is crucial to your survival
The most important challenge for any brand builder is the brand message: figuring out what it should be if the brand is new, and understanding what it is if it is already established.

Advertising a brand, the job is to get a concrete message out to consumers, who are going to be expected to buy into that message with real money. The customer MUST understand what the company does and why they should care.

To succeed, the message of your brand must do three things:

  1. Suit the product
  2. Speak to the consumer
  3. Be relentless.
Brand Killers:
  1. Sticking to dowdy image that even enormous infusion of cash, make overs can't save.
  2. Temptation to change brand message when it's working.
  3. Trying to extend it in the name of growth. Brands may be extended, but only with great caution. You must think long/hard about the risks, because if a customer has a bad experience with the new product, they'll hold it against the whole company and may never come back.
Rule #4, The Endless Fight for Great Advertising-
Yet, most commercials are so clichéd and meaningless that they never penetrate people's consciousness.

The key to great advertising is to never allow people to tinker with the agency's work. Twenty-two people (Executives, Ad manager, attorneys etc) cannot create a single, clear message for a brand. Here's a rule of thumb: If you find that more than 3 people in the company have "improved"on the ad, throw it out and start over.

So understand your own message, convey it to the agency's creative people, and then give them the freedom to be brilliant. To get great advertising, be a great client. Don't interfere, and don't allow anyone else to interfere. Protect the creative people, and they'll reward you.

Rule #5, The Dos and Don'ts of Sponsorships-
Usually the most effective and least understood method of brand building. The proper sponsorship can move your brand farther faster than any other marketing ploy. IE Ben & Jerry's ice cream with social causes, Visa with Olympic Games etc.

On the other hand, they can be dicey ventures. IE Hertz with O.J. Simpson

Another danger is called the Ambush, in which a competitor pretends to be sponsoring the event. IE Reebok bought rights to 2000 Olympics, but Nike got some top athletes to wear their own brand of shoes.

Failure to understand the players and each ones goals is another. They may not have anything to do with yours. The players are:

  1. Event organizer- protect your investment/event. Fight for your exclusivity, advertising rights and displays.
  2. TV network-are ruthless about covering costs and come out of sponsors pockets. If you don't' buy whole pie, they may sell pieces to your competitors. Thus running so many ads that consumers are unlikely to know who's who.
  3. Athletes or celebrities and their agents and managers-caution against linking your brand to any particular person, even if they seem squeaky clean. People do stupid things. Also an agent may hold you for ransome by not having their client show up on time or at all.
Instead, looking for events where there is a balance of power among organizers, athletes, TV network and you is the best.

Rule #6, Sponsorship is Not a Spectator Sport-
Get in for the right reasons, choose the right events for your brand and manage aggressively. Remember, you're not trying to please the heads of your departments, you're trying to get through to the consumers with a clear, consistent voice in a recognizable style.

Once the puzzle of who and what to sponsor has been sorted out, use it for every line of business with every audience you have. Set up the right expectations by carefully choosing how to display your name. Use it all the time, not just around the event. Amortize the investment. IE Olympic rings on Letterhead, signs at baseball games, tours to meet athletes in the off season, web site where world can keep up with daily results etc.

Five Calculable kinds of return:

  1. Good publicity can equal enough advertising to cover cost of sponsorship
  2. Brand can experience a genuine boost in public esteem
  3. Can generate sales, gathering leads and building a new consumer base
  4. Use event to entertain clients and reward salespeople
  5. Use event to build and enhance your relationship with the people who mater to your business, both inside and outside the company.
Your sponsorship must pay for itself in at least one, if not all, of those ways. You should at least equal what you spend, or it is futile. If you can't prove it, you should get out of that sponsorship.

Finally, when you give your money to an event, make sure you get some control in return - for example, right to pull out at the first sign of impropriety.

Rule #7, Do Not Allow Scandal to Destroy Your Brand-
The most important strategy for handling scandal is to be prepared for it before it comes. Build so much good will for your company that people will give you the benefit of doubt.

  1. Build good products;
  2. Allow a generous return policy;
  3. Sponsor worthwhile events, including charities;
  4. Use corporate philanthropy;
  5. Be a good citizen.
All of these are effective ways to create trust in your company. But once something happens, it's too late to begin.

A company must be ready to counter even obviously false charges, rumors or claims.

It can take a century to build a great brand, but it takes about a month to ruin one. Treat every scandal-or even the hint of it-seriously. If you're wrong, admit it promptly. If you're not, prove it.

Rule #8, Make Your Distributors Slaves to Your Brand-
Your old-style distribution strategy is going to collapse anyway, so why not take charge and change it now, while you can still dictate the terms?

Smart brands are beginning to give customers what they want. One way to do that is to partner with the best on-line outfits.

Yet, one outcome is that companies are being forced to decide if they're going to be manufacturers or distributors.

If manufacture dealing with distributors, then you have to make your brand so appealing that you can dictate the terms. Create enough demand, and the distributor will do what you want.

IE Martha Stewart begged Kmart for shelve space and now dictates her terms. Drug companies stopped marketing to doctors exclusively and started addressing consumers directly.

So begin by selling your product in the ways that your target audience wants to shop, and then communicate so convincingly to consumers that you make your distributors slaves to your brand.

Rule #9, Market Your Brand to Your Own People-
Marketing to your employees is just as important as to the customer or the world at large. The best brand building efforts are a form of leadership. They show your employees where you want them to go. They set the standards that you expect them to live up to.

You want to be especially careful about the message you're sending to your employees through those efforts, because it shapes the way they work and ultimately shapes the company itself.

The best brands attract the best employees. The same goes for distributors and vendors. Sales people would rather work for a company with a recognizable and respected name as well.

A strong brand motivates the entire workforce. It gives them a sense of belonging, a sense of purpose and can give them intangible qualities such as integrity and empathy. That is especially important where the lowest paid employees are the ones who come in contact with the customer.

You have to live the brand if you want your employees to live it when they meet the public. Your employees can make you great, or they can sabotage you. Leading them to greatness is the true priority of the brand builder.

Rule # 10, The CEO Is Responsible For Brand Building-
Every action of the CEO and their top staff will affect the brand. Especially such moves as mergers, acquisitions and product extensions. In fact, every function of a business ultimately reflects on the brand and how the public perceives it.

That is why the brand has to be considered whenever a major decision is made. Basing decisions on politics, Wall Street or the bottom line can be disastrous for the brand and therefore the company. This especially true in acquiring or merging with a new company. Which name should be used.

When the CEO has a clear focus on the brand, it becomes contagious. The result is a tremendous competitive advantage, as thousands of employees become brand expers on your company's behalf.

How do you achieve this goal? Demand that everyone in your company ask, before making and decision, "Will this help or hurt the brand?"

The single most important question any CEO can ask, "Do people respect our company enough to buy from us?"

If you follow the 10 Rules for Building a Great Brand, the answer should be an unequivocal YES.

I hope you enjoyed this recap of David F. D'Alessandro with Michele Owens and you may want to check out the issue on , The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding

Referrals are greatly appreciated. If you know someone who I should contact, please let me know.

If you would like to join me on one of our upcoming tours, if there is something that you would like me to address, or if you know of someone who might like to receive TK's Korner, please let me know via e-mail at or phone. Take care and have a great day.

Tom Kubinski-Printing Consultant