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Brand Overkill – Why Less is More

Everything is a brand today. Brand experts even tell us that we must build our own personal brand. Everywhere we look we are being attacked by brands. We are lucky to get through a day without being bombarded with over 5,000 brand messages (Yankelovich study) of which only about 12 get any brain attention. There is over 4 million new brand names every year added to the brand shopping list. There is a serious problem of brand overload. Is it really important to have over 50 different shampoo brands and hundreds of specialized types to give you the perfect bouncy, curly, wavy, shiny or smooth tresses?

 

 

The biggest problem facing companies today is the world is running out of pronounceable brand names. We are making it almost impossible for consumer to keep up. The World Intellectual Property Organization report that in absolute terms, trademark demand quadrupled from just under 1 million applications per year in 1985 to 4.2 million trademark applications by 2011. In developing countries such as China, India and Brazil the rise in trademark applications is exploding. In the last four years there has been approximately 16.8 million new trademark applications.

 

Are we reaching a point of saturation where the proliferation of brands are doing more harm than good? Our memory banks just can’t keep up.

 

Barry Schwartz, PhD, a Swarthmore College psychologist and author of The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less explains “there’s a point where all of this choice starts to be not only unproductive, but counterproductive – a source of pain, regret, worry about missed opportunities and unrealistically high expectations.”

 

 

Have we reached a state where a brand is no longer able to differentiate itself from other brands? How many deep brand relationships do we really want or can handle in our busy lives? A Gallup research study (2004) suggests that on average, Americans say they have about nine ‘close friends’ and the older you get the number maxed out to 13 close friends. Can we expect any more from a consumer concerning a meaningful relationships with brands?

 

The Beginning of Brands

 

We can blame Japan for starting some of the world’s first and oldest brands such as Kongo Gumi which was established in the year 578 and Hoshi Ryokan founded in 718 according to William O’Hara book Centuries of Success. Kongo Gumi is a construction company that built Buddhist temples, Shinto shrines and castles. But after surviving 14 centuries (1,428 years!) as a family business it closed its doors in 2006. There wasn’t a huge demand for  building temples anymore which occupied 80% of their business focus. Hoshi Ryokan is a Japanese inn located in Komatsu for over 1300 years. You can book a room today on booking.com. In a study conducted by the Bank of Korea they discovered over 3,146 companies that are over 200 years old in Japan, 837 in Germany, 222 in the Netherlands, and 196 in France.

 

Brands Come & Go

 

But brand age doesn’t guarantee brand success. Jim Collins, a co-author of Built to Last—Successful Habits of Visionary Companies, says brands must follow a set of unchanging and sustainable principles of who they are, yet constantly change in what they do and how they do it. Today, we have many examples of brands who knew who they were but didn’t have the courage to change what they did such as old favourites as Kodak, Blackberry, Blockbuster, Nokia and Hummer. Check out the article Lessons from the Brand Graveyard.

 

If you go back to the Fortune 500 in 1955, 88% of those brands no longer exist on the 2014 Fortune 500 list. Brands continually get destroyed by mergers, acquisitions, bankruptcies or break-ups. There is a healthy churn in brands coming and going. Steven Denning reported in Forbes that fifty years ago, the life expectancy of a firm in the Fortune 500 was around 75 years. Today, it’s less than 15 years and declining all the time.

 

That being said, there are about 250,000 new brands launched globally each year which keeps the world’s advertising agencies very busy. Lynn Dornblaser, an analyst at market research firm Mintel who tracks new products, says the typical failure rate of new product launches can be anywhere for 85% to 95%. That’s a lot of new business cards and advertising wasted. Schneider Associates and research partners SymphonyIRI Group and Sentient Decision Science did a consumer survey (2010) that found 45% of participants couldn’t name a single new product brand.

 

The Virgin of Everything

 

But all of these setbacks in launching a new brand hasn’t stop brand extension and introducing new products.

 

Many brands have tried to extend their brands from the classic offering to capture new markets and target groups – some successfully and others with less clarity. I call it the “Virgin of Everything.” Sir Richard Branson has taken the irreverent and fun Virgin brand and has stretched it across 350 different products from life insurance to lingerie. David Taylor blogger on Brand Gym said in his article Virgin: the worst or best of brand extension? that this was a “brand ego trip, where the brand gets too big for its boots.”

 

Then there are sub brands of brands with unique attributes, quality and value levels. For example, Coca Cola with its line of Classic Coke, Diet Coke, Caffeine Free Coke, Caffeine Free Diet Coke, etc. Nothing is simple today. Too many choices.

 

Brand Apathy

 

Everything in life is moving faster and faster. Nothing is predictable and digital technologies are changing everything except our brains. Humans still have only so much memory power and capacity to retain and process information. Bob Nease, behavioural scientist and author of the book, The Power of Fifty Bits explains that the brain can process 10 billion bits of information each second but when it comes to the “decision-making part of the brain [it] only processes a maximum of 50 bits per second.” This is a major bottleneck in the decision making process that won’t change anytime soon. Just think, we have a bandwidth issue in our brains. The proliferation of brands and branding messages means fewer chances that new brands will find a permanent place in a consumer’s mind. Steve Jobs said on his return to Apple in 1997 that “For me, marketing is about values. This is a very noisy world, and we’re not going to get a chance to get people to remember much about us. So, we have to be very clear what we want them to know about us.” Almost twenty years later Jobs’ comment is even more relevant today. A simple route to the consumer’s head and heart doesn’t exist anymore.

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We can get a new product brand to market faster and more efficient than ever before. We have more channels to get our message out than ever before. But the resulting complexities has created brand apathy. As we continue along this path of madness, brands have less of a chance to be successful. Aldo Cundari, CEO of Cundari agency, explains in his book Customer-Centric Marketing, “The new customer behavior has serious implications for all brands. If organizations don’t commit to meeting their customers’ expectations today, customers will go elsewhere tomorrow.”

What Cundari says isn’t revolutionary thinking but the warning signs are everywhere–consumers are reaching a point of brand overkill. It’s like a stadium full of brands all screaming to persuade potential customers to reach for their brand. The noise is deafening.

Havas Media Group’s annual global Meaningful Brands survey (2015) has been consistent in the last five years in saying “most people would not care if 74% of brands disappeared.”

 

Survival Tips

 

Put our branding feet into the consumer’s shoes for a day. They truly need our support.

Help them manage the daily complexities, simplify the burden of choices and reduce the cognitive load. Be where they want your brand to be and be relevant. Solve their problems even before they become problems. Take away the need for them to have to make another decision or remember another brand name.

Automate to eliminate repeating issues or tasks. Make them feel good even when your brand isn’t about feeling good. Help them navigate a simpler life. Stop yelling and start listening more.

Your brand will be rewarded for its simple solutions and not for more choices. Remember less is more and always be empathetic and relevant.

Just be human.

 

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Making Employees Brand Crusaders: 5 Examples Of A Strong Brand [Cult]ure

Your greatest brand asset is starring right at you – your employees. So what are they saying about your brand? Are they selling your brand virtues to friends and family? Do they share great stories or bitch while they BBQ? Turning employees into brand advocates or ambassadors should be a major priority for any brand.

 

 

One big problem – most employees aren’t engaged in their jobs and workplace. Gallup has been tracking employee engagement for over 15 years and worldwide only 13% of employees working for an organization are engaged. The number improves to 32% in U.S. but that still means 68% of Americans are unhappy at work. Unhappy or disengaged employees spell trouble for branding.

 

If an employee isn’t engaged in your brand why should a customer be any different? This has to be the biggest missed opportunity for brands around the world. The Weber Shandwick Employees Rising report found that only 42% of employees can describe to others what their employer does. Only 42%! That’s better than my kids. Meanwhile 70% of adults online in the USA trust brand or product recommendations from friends and family says a study done by Forrester in 2013. Imagine if every employee recommended your brand to all of their friends and family. Sounds so simple? It isn’t.

 

With the advent of social media every employee can be a brand advocate or brand destroyer. But as Jay Baer, author and President of Convince & Convert, says “If your employees aren’t your biggest fans, you’ve got problems WAY bigger than social media.”

Brand Culture

The first step is creating engaged employees by building an enthusiastic culture and collaborative environment. Engaged employees feel empowered, trusted and valued and those who lead them show confidence, provide feedback and demonstrate appreciation. The workplace must be truthful, open, transparent and fun. Stever Robbins, a personal coach and podcaster, says “Transparency and authenticity build a trusting relationship in which people are more likely to bring their full creativity, commitment, and motivation to work. The way you treat your employees will be mirrored in the way your employees treat your customers. Treat your employees poorly and they’ll pass that treatment along to your customers.”

 

Employee expectations are also changing. Gone are the days of just using the carrot and the stick to motivate employees. Today employees are looking for companies that will pay them well, but just as important, they are looking for a job with a purpose. Daniel Pink author of the book DRIVE The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us says employees are seeking more autonomy with a clear sight of purpose that matters in the big picture of life. Millennials aren’t asking for much are they?

 

 

 

Brand Purpose

Brand purpose should be the beacon that every employee understands and wants to follow within an organization. The recent pioneers of branding understand this and have levered their employees to the good of the brand. How do you instill employees with the feeling that it’s “their” business to the point where they take ownership through good and bad times? They must have a strong sense of what the brand stands for, understand where it is going and its ultimate mission, and know where they fit within the purpose. Here are a few brand examples of highly engaged cult-like brand evangelists:

Zappos

Zappos (now owned by Amazon), located in Las Vegas with roughly 1,500 employees, is an online retailer selling shoes and clothes. Their campus-style-meets-frat-house environment gives everyone the ability to make their space their own which doesn’t match any other office space I have ever seen. If you want privacy this wouldn’t be the place for you. Every new employee goes through five weeks of extensive training including call centre support and shipping. After the five weeks, they are offered $3,000 to quit. The purpose is to ensure the new employee is dedicated and motivated to support the Zappos customer value culture.

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CEO Tony Hsieh says “We believe that your company’s culture and your company’s brand are really just two sides of the same coin. The brand may lag the culture at first, but eventually it will catch up. Your culture is your brand.” Zappos number one core value is “Deliver WOW Through Service” through its employees who are ambassadors of delivering a customer-centric experience.

Google

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Google goes to great lengths to create an environment for employees with perks such as free gourmet food, beach volleyball courts, mini golf courses, and adult playgrounds. The goal is to create an environment that lets employees feel relaxed and comfortable with vocalizing creative, even wacky, ideas. But more importantly Larry Page, Google’s chief executive, says the people who work at Google “believe in what they’re doing.” He also explains that “We have somewhat of a social mission, and most other companies do not. I think that’s why people like working for us…”

Starbucks

epa04318933 Employees celebrate during opening of the first Starbucks coffe store in Colombia, in Bogota, Colombia, 16 July 2014. EPA/Mauricio Duenas Castaneda

The global coffee chain Starbucks is another company dedicated to building a culture where their employees matter and they invest in them. The retail industry isn’t known for employee engagement or retention but Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz claims that their relationship “with our people and the culture of our company is our most sustainable competitive advantage.” Starbucks doesn’t leave their employees to magically become brand ambassador. They have invested over $35 million into a ‘Leadership Lab’ designed help store managers better understand the Starbucks brand and culture. In Schultz’s book Onward he explains that “[Employees] are the true ambassadors of our brand, the real merchants of romance and theater, and as such the primary catalysts for delighting customers.”

SAP

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The German software company SAP has quantified what employee engagement means to their bottom-line. In their 2014 Integrated Report they estimate that for every percentage point on their employee engagement index the impact on their operating profits go up between € 35 million and € 45 million. Their secret ingredient? Their employees understand the “why” behind their jobs and how their personal inspiration ties to a bigger vision. The reason why they come to work each day.

 

Southwest Airlines

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Southwest Airlines has been around for over 40 years as a very successful airline in an industry that sees many businesses fail. As Herb Kelleher, founder of Southwest, explains any airline can buy all the physical things and copy our business model but “The things you can’t buy are dedication, devotion, loyalty—the feeling that you are participating in a crusade.” In 2013, Southwest updated their vision and purpose, and according to Southwest CEO Gary Kelly, “Southwest is a great place to work and brings the greatest joy because we have such meaningful purpose.” The purpose to “connect people to what’s important in their lives through friendly, reliable, and low-cost air travel.”

Making Crusaders

No surprise the strong and admired brands we know and love are also strong brands within their company’s walls. Employee brand advocacy is a competitive advantage. The power of employees who are truly engaged as brand advocates is difficult for competitors to replicate and for customers to ignore. The key elements required to make the right environment for employees to succeed as ambassadors are:

  • Strong understanding of the brand’s big picture and purpose
  • Clearly linking their aspiration with those of the brand
  • Freedom to speak and share via social channels about their brand experiences
  • Autonomy to enhance a customer relationship or fix a problem
  • Tools to help employees share the brand
  • Trust that the brand and culture has their well-being covered
  • Feeling appreciated and having an impact on the purpose

 

Brand crusaders don’t originate overnight nor does a strong brand culture just happen. It starts at the top and is clearly supported by all levels of the organization. Building a robust employee culture will help build a durable brand cult. Keep a pulse on your brand culture and employee engagement. Chances are if you have a strong customer brand you already have a very dedicated employee culture. Just make sure you give them the tools and support to help them amplify your brand. If you don’t start building a culture that will support your brand vision, you are only renting your employees, and in turn, your customers. As Hsieh said “The brand may lag the culture at first, but eventually it will catch up.”

 

May the employee brand force be with you!