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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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The Power of a Brand

How to extract value from nothing.

Years ago in my economic classes I learnt that supply and demand determined the price/value of most products especially commodities. If this is true, why is bottled water more expensive than gasoline? This is the power of branding.

 

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Transparency Market Research estimates that the global market for bottled water was worth about $157.3 US billion in 2013. In North America more bottled water is sold compared to milk or beer in terms of volume. Canadean research estimated that the global bottled water volumes would reach 233 billion litres in 2015. With all of Canada’s fresh water, Canada only produces less than one percent of the world’s bottled water of around 2.29 billion litres. However, US remains the fastest growing bottled water market outside Asia mainly due to customers becoming more health conscious shifting away from sugary carbonated soft drinks.

In many emerging markets, the scarcity of clean water makes bottled water a necessary staple rather than a value-added refreshment beverage like juice or soda. In North America the water in your tap is generally the same stuff you buy in the bottle. The big difference is that tap water is constantly tested to ensure they follow the drinking water quality guidelines. Bottle water doesn’t have the same stringent guidelines but does have the overall requirement of not containing “poisonous or harmful substances”. Let’s hope that the big brands follow some type of quality control.

Clean drinkable water is generally available everywhere throughout North America where the bottled water companies’ need to position their brands based on quality (healthy choice) and convenience (portable and handy). From this foundation the category gets complex with pricing strategies, water source and lifestyle attributes.

Magician duo Penn & Teller in their show Bullshit did a spoof on bottled water in a fine dining restaurant in Southern California to prove the general public can’t tell the difference between tap water and $4 a litre bottled water.

 

ABC’s Good Morning America conducted a blind tasting experiment in 2001 where they sampled branded bottle water such as Poland Spring, O-2, Evian and the popular New York City tap water. The results shouldn’t surprise you – NYC tap water beat them all.

 

If the bottled water is general the same thing as in tap water the real difference is the brand. Tap water is a commodity with no brand. It comes from any unmarked tap – hot or cold. You take the same thing, build a formidable brand image and you can extract a premium from consumers – by the litre (or ounce) at a time. Here is the secret on how to create brand value from nothing:

Power of Emotional Connection

Byron Sharp, professor of marketing science at the University of South Australia and author of How Brands Grow, says growing a brand is based on “physical and mental availability” suggesting most brand purchase decisions are made with the emotional brain so keep it simple to help trigger instinctual responses.

Ammar Mian writer at SocialRank says the emotional tipping point for bottle water occurred back in the early 1980’s when Perrier launched its ‘Earth’s First Soft Drink’ campaign. This campaign embraced the belief that their sparkling water comes from the purity of nature, straight from mother-earth. This emotional connection resonated with consumers who were becoming more health-conscious and wanted an alternative to soft drinks. Other premium bottle water brands jumped onto the branding wagon touting the image of purity, youthfulness, healthy and earthliness. Water can’t get any better than this unless you turn it into alcohol. Here’s more on Emotional Branding.

 

Power of Convenience

The brand must be easy to buy – when and where you want it – ideally everywhere. Not unlike tap water. Remember the days of drinking fountains? We though they were convenient – if we could find one. But it was like drinking from a water hose – only one quick sip if there was a line-up. Perhaps the biggest development in the bottle water industry growth has been the mass distribution systems that are dominated by the same companies that have covered the world with sugar water like Coca-Cola (who has such popular brands as Dasani and Glacéau smartwater), Nestle (who has all the water champs such as Perrier, Pure Life, S. Pellegrino, Deer Park and Poland Spring) and PepsiCo ( with Aquafina). Where is Evian in the distribution mix you ask? In 2002, Evian signed a distribution agreement with Coca-Cola Co., Inc. which ended in 2014. Then Evian found new wings with distribution partner Red Bull. And Fiji Water? Dr Pepper Snapple Group website states that they distribute Fiji Water in various territories.

Power of Fame and Attention

Getting people to pay for water where its widely available, safe and free is hard work and takes a great deal of money to build a distinctive brand. It doesn’t hurt to have a big bank account to ensure the advertising messages get noticed and the brand stays top-of-mind. Back in 2003 (based on an article in The New York Times) TNS Media Intelligence/CMR estimated Aquafina spent $24.6 million on media and Dasani spent $18.8 million on media, while Evian spent only $800,000. Ten years later, Evian is still spending around a million in measured media annually according to Kantar Media and over the years have lost market share to the more aggressive competitors, sitting in 3rd place behind Fiji Water and Smartwater. Eric O’Toole, president-GM at Danone Waters North America (parent company to Evian), contributes the brand stabilization in recent years, in part, to the launch of the Baby & Me advertising effort. Great creative never hurts if you can’t afford to advertise year-round. See more on Creativity.

 

The soft drink industry is notorious for using celebrity endorsers to help push their sugary drinks (check out a partial list of famous celebrities and soft drink brands). It’s not surprising that the bottle water brands use the same branding tool to build credibility and gain the coolness factor. Evian has used Maria Sharapova, the young and popular tennis champion, while the elite Fiji Water has uses the former James Bond star Pierce Brosnan. Glacéau smartwater has used actress Jennifer Aniston to create a buzz around their relatively new brand.

A Memorable Story

Great brands always come with a great brand story. Many bottle water brands have great stories that would put National Geographic to shame. My favorite is the Fiji story or as some say the Fiji myth. Fiji Water, natural artesian water bottled at the source in Viti Levu (Fiji islands), is a leading premium bottled water in the United States and one of the fastest-growing brands worldwide. Here is their story of the world’s finest water and it should be for the price of $3.50 – 4.00 per litre (3 times the price of gasoline). For more on Storytelling.

 

Stunning Design

Water has no distinct taste, no unique colour, no smell and all water feels wet – physical there is no difference from one glass of water to another, so packaging is king. If nothing else is going to sell you, it must be the memorable packaging, beyond the great stories and celebrities who would never drink it if it didn’t look good.

Packaging can help define a brand experience. Do you remember the first iPhone, iPad or iPod you unwrapped from its packaging? The simplistic and beautifully designed box with everything in its own place – clean and white. A perfect brand fit.

 

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Since 2008 Evian has been working with some of the world’s most prestigious designers to create a limited edition bottle each year. Evian has worked with such creative artists such as Diane von Furstenberg, Paul Smith, Christian Lacroix, Jean-Paul Gaultier, Elie Saab, KENZO and most recently with Alexander Wang (2016 limited edition bottle). Former zone director for the Middle East & Indian Ocean for Evian, Elias Fayad explains the limited edition concept: “Our water is untouched by man and perfected by nature, so we attempt to give the bottle an artistic expression.” In a September 9, 2015 press release from Evian, they explain each collaboration as “a renewed celebration of purity and playfulness and a reinterpretation of evian’s spirit through art and design.” I have to remind myself that we are talking about a simple natural resource that can be found anywhere on the planet (except currently in California) – simple water.

Dreams or Nightmares in a Bottle

Water is living proof that anything can be branded and can be elevated from no value to high value with sufficient investments. It is through the brand investments and the dreams the brand image creates that help achieve the value. In essence, consumers are buying dreams in a bottle. Dreams to be on a pristine tropical island or a youthful energetic baby once again. Stories of spiritual purity, blissful health and a fountain of youth – the water of life. Potentially over $200 US billion worth.

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But there is a dark side to this story. While dreams are created and value generated from the replenishing resource, there is a social cost. Today Wikipedia lists over 144 bottled water brands, and from the statistics, the market continues to grow. The Pacific Institute, which conducts research on water use and conservation, has estimated that bottled water is up to 2,000 times more energy-intensive than tap water. It is estimated that in 2006, U.S. bottle water consumption used the energy equivalent of 17 million barrels of oil and produced over 2.5 million tons of carbon dioxide – in one year. There’s also the worry that we are shifting water consumption from one region to another, creating an imbalance with consequences to our planet and to our future consumers.

Just because we can create formidable brands to extract more value, it doesn’t mean we should. As marketing and brand experts, it’s important we use our craft wisely. We have the ability to create formidable brands and extract value to support business growth. But if we aren’t able to balance the benefit for the consumer, society and environment, we need to consider how we’re using our power of branding.

 

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Brands That Target The Heart

Most brands need to earn the customer’s love, over time. To speed up the courtship, a number of brands are trying to become more human-like. People choose their favorite brands with their hearts, not their heads. A real human story evokes emotion and is more powerful than any brand storytelling.

Love at First Sight

Carolin Dahlman says in her book, Love Branding, if you can learn to master your customers’ emotions and make them feel the love, you will earn more money. She explains that love is a two-way street and most brands fail to love their customer’s back. So what does that mean? It’s all about giving back what you get. I guess you can say it’s not a one-night-stand but a commitment – a long-term commitment.

Emotional Branding

No one knows this better than Procter & Gamble. Over the last 178 years P&G has been at the forefront creating powerful, emotional relationships between consumers and brands. They have been pioneers and leaders in embracing technology to build an emotional brand connection with their customers. Utilizing soap operas on the radio and early television, to award shows, to fast-growing web ventures.

P&G Global Brand Building Officer, Marc Pritchard emphasized the importance of one-to-one relationships in today’s always-connected, always-on digital environment. He said that brands need to be less focused on making money and instead place more emphasis on improving the lives of both existing and potential customers. He too thinks it’s important to give back to the customer.

P&G’s used the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic Games and the Paralympic Winter Games to thank moms through several highly emotional stories. There aren’t too many mothers who can’t relate to these stories.

P&G Pampers brand is another good example of how P&G is defined a higher purpose for their brand beyond the functional benefit of keeping babies dry. Pampers has leveraged the key consumer insight that moms—especially first time moms—are constantly looking to connect with others who are sharing similar experiences. Pampers created programs such as “Pampers Village” and “A Parent is Born” as forums for moms to connect, learn and discover. If you visit their Canadian Facebook page they have over 14,488,921 likes – pretty good for a dirty diaper discussion.

But is this love? Love is defined as an emotion of a strong attraction and personal attachment – the ultimate goal for any brand.

 

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Love Potion

But it’s hard to argue with success, and no brand is more successful than Heinz Ketchup. A brand that has been around for over 139 years and still the bestselling brand of ketchup in the world with over 650 million bottles sold in 2012. So what is their love potion? Diane Levine, author on the blog Beneath the Brand, says their enduring success comes down to a few simple but brilliant relationship strategies:

  • Maintain a core (or at least an air) of consistency
  • Spice things up once in a while
  • Be considerate of your partner’s needs

 

At the end, she says it’s the little things that matter most.

In Romancing the Brand: How Brands Create Strong, intimate Relationships with Consumers, branding expert Tim Halloran argues that today’s effective marketer must foster a deep, committed, and emotionally connected relationship with their consumer base. They must keep the sparks alive in a long-term relationship rather than focus solely on the short-term, single purchase.

 

Better Lives

Building off of Diane Levine’s three strategies, Tim Halloran includes ‘Listen to your customers’ and ‘Strive to make your customers’ lives better’.

On the last point, Nike ‘Just do it’ is now more about ‘Help me just do it’. Nike+ has become an enabler to its customers and bringing them together in a virtual community to stay motivated and challenged. Nike’s success has to do with its focused use of athlete relationships and innovative brand experiences to inspire its customers to feel like athletes. Its products and technologies are always linked to values such as aspiration, achievement and status.

Tim Hortons has found its way into the hearts of Canadians not only through their coffee on every corner of every city and town of Canada but also through their social consciousness of understanding Canadians. From their support of the Canadian military to tapping into the Canadian passion for hockey, they have successfully used the Canadian brand to reinforce their own brand love.

Love Me

If you read this article out of context you would think that we were talking about the secrets for a successful marriage. In truth, what we are talking about here is a deep and emotional relationship between a customer and a brand. The interesting thing is that the historical brands figured this out a long time ago and just keep re-engineer how they engage and support their customers. The internet gives every brand the opportunity to engage with their customers on a one-to-one level but without the insights and relationship strategies to connect on an emotional level, there will never be any love.

If you want customers to love your brand make sure you give more than you take. Follow through on the little things, keep your promises, learn to apologize when you make a mistake or disappoint and spend time learning about what is important to them. But most importantly, your brand must be authentic and real to be loved.