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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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Brand Voice… it’s not what you say, it’s how you say it that matters

Everyone in brand marketing understands the importance of clearly defining and living your brand tone-of-voice but I am not sure many brands stay true to their personality. In some cases, let the creative teams win and run a muck. As blogger Harriet Cummings says “A tone of voice is not what you say, but how you say it. This encompasses not only the words you choose, but their order, rhythm and pace.” Some brands tone-of-voice are just down-right boring or nonexistent, and others change their voice daily depending on who is controlling it or where it’s being used. It’s so easy to fall for fun and humorous creative, but by not matching your brand’s tone and voice, you could be diluting your brand’s hard-earned equity.

 

Rob Marsh, copywriter and author of the blog Brandstory says “very little attention is paid to brand voice—the words, phrases, and characteristics that set a brand apart take a back seat to the more “important” visual aspects of the brand.” The reason why is because defining and living a brand tone-of-voice is damn hard. It is especially hard when many people are involved in producing various communications, each having a different point-of-views of what the brand voice should be. If done right, the brand tone-of-voice can be distinctive, recognisable and unique. In life, sometime it’s more important on how you say something than what you say. As American author Maya Angelou once said, “People don’t always remember what you say or even what you do, but they always remember how you made them feel.”

 

A brands tone-of-voice, when consistent, can tell consumers a great deal about the brand, especially its attitude and overall personality. To be successful whatever the brands tone-of-voice is, it must be consistently delivered everywhere. Comedian Jerry Seinfeld says that most people aren’t aware of the many different tones they project. But with a brand you can build a brand image from a consistent tone that accentuates its brand values and personality. Nigel Edginton-Vigus, Creative director at Blue Hive advertising agency says many large brands are schizophrenia with their tone-of-voice. You can go from a friendly and chatty physical brand experience a cold and cluttered online experience. “It’s like finishing this amazing love-making session and you lie back content with bliss and your partner turns to you and says ‘affirmative you now have been logged out. Thank you.’”

 

To illustrate the importance of a brands tone-of-voice, I have selected three brands in the men’s shaving industry who demonstrate three different voices.

 

The Designer Shave

 

The first one is Harry’s, an online low-cost provider of high quality men’s shaving products. Harry’s was founded by Andy Katz-Mayfield and Jeffrey Raider, two bright millennials who shared a passion “for simple design, appreciation of well-made things, and a belief that companies should try to make the world a better place.” Not surprising, Jeff went on to become co-founder of the trendy online eye-wear retailer Warby Parker. Harry’s website states “Harry’s was built out of respect for quality craftsmanship. Simple design, modern convenience and most importantly for guys who think they shouldn’t have to overpay for a great shave.”

 

Viewing Harry’s website or their lifestyle blog-a-zine Five O’clock gives you an immediate feel of a New Yorker Magazine layout. Their tone is calm with subtle, dry, sophisticated humour, yet very easy going and approachable. It’s confident and smart without the hassle or aggression. You feel clean and positive about the experience.

 

 

The High Performance Shave

 

The next example is the mammoth Gillette brand worth $20.4 billion and part of Procter & Gamble that controls 70% of the global blades and razor market. When you think of Gillette, you think of technologically advanced superiority shaving – so how complex can “the Best a Man Can Get.” Their tone-of-voice reeks of masculinity, confidence, precision and calculated. Every time I shave with my Fusion Proglide razor with the new Flexball technology, I think I am driving an Audi RS 7 Quattro with a V-8 engine, adaptive suspension, and all-wheel drive system. Foot to the floor, the best I can get. Plus the maintenance cost to boot.

 

 

In 2014, the Gillette brand shifted into a new gear with a tone-of-voice that didn’t fit the brand. Maybe they are trying to be more human, like their competitors. The problem is, it doesn’t feel like the Gillette brand I grew up with. When did the Gillette brand start becoming funny?

 

The Cheap and Cheery Shave

 

I am sure everyone has seen the youtube video of Michael Dubin co-founder of Dollar Shave Club ranting about how F**KING GREAT their one dollar blades are. The Dollar Shave Club, a subscription based razor company’s tone-of-voice is funny, cheeky and makes fun of Gillette. They quickly tap into every man’s feeling of getting ripped-off with the high cost of razor blades. Their underdog brand has no flashy models or famous sports stars. They’re just down-to-earth, humble, witty and supported by an unbelievable price. Today, buying a pack of razors isn’t cheap. A pack of eight blades can set you back $35 to $40 dollars. The Dollar Shave Club taps into consumer frustration. “Dollar Shave Club wants to speak to you in an everyday voice,” Dubin said in an Adweek article by Tim Nudd. “Using a celebrity is not who we are. Tonally, it’s important to remind people, here’s a guy who’s just like you, finding a solution to a real problem.”

 

 

Final Voice

 

Who would have thought a simple product like a razor blade could be as complex as it concerns their tone-of-voice? But like a human, a brand’s attitude and personality is complex. Many brands leave the tone-of-voice to be driven and cultivated by the creative folks and designers, but in actual fact, it’s everyone’s responsibility working for a brand to emulate the brand’s attitude, personality and with its customers. It even becomes more important when more employees are communicating with customers through social channels. Every brand needs a voice and tone guide to ensure employees are consistently projecting it. The guide forces the brand to clearly define what is its tone-of-voice and gives the brand a benchmark to judge future content. Maybe this would have helped Gillette from making the “first real suit” commercial. I don’t think so.

 

If you can’t describe your brands tone-of-voice and don’t see it in any of your communications, it might be time to start building your brand’s voice and tone guide. Click here to view some examples and tips to help inspire you.

 

Remember it’s not only what you say, it’s how you say it that matters.

 

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Why Care About Brand Architecture

In any significant construction project like a hospital, office building or condominium the starting point is generally its architecture which is the art and science of how the building will be designed, the method and materials used to build and other specific physical attributes. In building a brand the last thing most company’s think about is its brand architecture beyond the single product or service they are positioning into the marketplace. Brand architecture only becomes important when the corporation (master brand) branches out into new products or services or acquires existing brands. Why design architecture with 10 rooms when at the beginning all you need is one room to fit one brand.

Brand architecture is the least exciting part of building a formidable brand. First, you need more than one brand to start thinking about brand architecture. But if you plan to build a business beyond one brand the brand architecture can be a game changer. Don’t end-up scrambling like Apple did when they moved from the Mac  brand to all the “i” branded products to finally the Apple TV and Apple Watch.

brand-architectureIn 1996, David Aaker, a prolific writer on the subject of brand strategy, developed the well-known three types of brand architecture approaches:  branded house, house of brands, and endorsed brands. While there are other terminologies such as umbrella brand, monolithic, master brand, free standing brands, and hybrid brands, the overall concepts are the same. In reality, most corporations don’t have a clearly defined brand architecture strategy in place until it’s too late or they did the brand strategy after the fact. There are many reasons why many brand houses aren’t perfect such as business consolidations of acquisitions, mergers and reorganizations, brand extensions and new business and market opportunities, spin–offs and new customer acquisitions. In most cases, the decisions are based on the business opportunities and not on the customer needs.  From the customer’s point of view most of these decisions make no sense, if not very confusing.

Branded House – All in One

A good example of a branded house approached would be Virgin and BMW. The BMW brand is focused on the monolithic brand – “ultimate driving machine,” regardless of model. Having a master brand is good and bad. Good because a brand has a unified image based on the brand essences that is consistent and can be effectively amplified to all customers. Bad because the brand message must be so high-level that it doesn’t reflect the personnel experience that the consumer is having with a unique sub brand. A Virgin Mobile experience isn’t the same experience as the Virgin Airlines experience or Virgin Money banking experience.   Renée Richardson Gosline, an assistant professor of marketing at MIT Sloan School of Management, cautions that “…consumers seek distinction, even within the brand. So, along with the egalitarian message that all BMWs are ‘ultimate driving machines,’ BMW has to make owners of different models each feel special as well, by building relationships with the owners of each model.”

Master brands that have a strong brand image in a specific  product category like personal care products can leverage the overall brand essences into additional related categories, where the variant/functionality itself becomes a sub-brand. L’Oréal Group is the world’s largest cosmetics company that started with a hair dye formula called Auréale in 1909. Today, L’Oréal has over 500 brands covering many categories from hair color, hair styling, body and skin care, cleansers, makeup and fragrances.

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The world isn’t as big and confusing as it once was. Digital technology has eliminated geography and cultural differences, and expanded choices based on: quality, accessibility and price. Customers are becoming more enlightened; more demanding and more concerned with whom they do business with. As a result, corporations need to become more transparent and focus on the customer’s journey with their brands. Privacy legislation, antispam legislation and big data is forcing corporations (master brands) to rethink their brand architecture to leverage their customer base by including more differentiations and tailored relationships. There is also the consideration of terms of management and administration costs of multiple logos, websites, brochures and brand stories to communicate. There is a fine balance between efficiency and customer-centricity.

House of Brands – Each Brand is Unique

Procter & Gamble is an excellent example of a house of brands, which has over 180 product brands independent of each other, targeting different customers across multiple product categories from detergent to toothpaste. P&G as an identity brings little to the table as it concerns branding. Nobody understanding the P&G brand and really doesn’t care.  This is the most accommodating framework with no brand reliant on each another or any synergy between brands. If a brand fails or succeeds the other brands aren’t affected. The cost of managing a complex portfolio of brands must be overwhelming and each brand must struggle to get any attention from the parent company. A.G. Lafley, president and CEO of P&G, said the future would be “a much simpler, much less complex company of leading brands that’s easier to manage and operate.” I have trouble keeping track of my three kids; I can’t imagine keeping track of 180 brands!

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Endorsed Brands – In the Middle

In the middle of the brand architecture is the endorsed brand model where the parent brand has a halo effect by endorsing the sub brands. There are numerous examples of this strategy:  Think Courtyard By Marriott, Polo by Ralph Lauren, Microsoft Windows, Honda Motor Company, Sony and the list goes on. This framework allows the parent brand to have a vision that can evolve over time and take advantage of new trends or technology.

 

Brand Baggage

It is fair to say that brand architecture strategy has been driven by past management decisions of the brand portfolio and specific brand assets. It is also based on the nature of relationships between the brands as it concerns resources, investments and marketing positioning. Rajagopal and Romula Sanchez in their white paper suggest that “Brand architecture is not a static framework.” As marketplaces and competitive environments change, brand dynamics transforms and brand life cycles evolve. Master brands must continually revaluate the brand portfolios and the architecture requirements. As master brands respond and react to the many challenges and opportunities they create “brand baggage” where shifts of resources move from one brand to another creating strong and weak brands. An inflexible architectural structure can also create a barrier to innovate and limit the ability to move into new products or services.

It is fair to say that a great deal of brands reside in a mixture of all of the above.  Coca-Cola Company is best known for its beverage with the same name that has a line of other variant Coca-Cola brands. But it also has unrelated brands such as Sprite, Fanta and Minute Maid each with a unique look and feel. The Gap Company, which is made up of Gap, Old Navy, Banana Republic, Athleta and INTERMIX , takes a different approach to being a parent company. Gap leverages their multiple brands to offer customers many choices under one umbrella to reach a variety of customers.  Their online strategy is to make sure customers goes to a sister brand before they go to any competitor’s websites.

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The ultimate master brand goal is to satisfy shareholders by continually growing customers and generating more sales and profits. That is a very self-servicing and inward approach to brand architecture.

The perfect world would be to build a brand architecture starting from a customer-oriented brand vision where one-size-fits-all doesn’t work. Companies need to carefully understand their customer’s journey and provide products and services along the way, may it be going down the food isle shopping for breakfast, lunch and dinner or starting a journey from a wedding, to a new home, to the first child, to acquiring a university degree.

 

Brand Architecture is a Balancing Act

A single brand model into today’s fast paced and changing world can be a liability. The ability for a brand to speak to and service a multitude of customers is becoming almost impossible. A master brand positioning must be so basic it would mean nothing to most target groups.  Therefore, many brands are tweaking their strategy and brand architecture to allow products and services within the brand structure the flexibility to speak directly to its customers in a meaningful way. But it is a balancing act. Too many brands will create confusion and loss of meaning.

The future is about utilizing big data and building relationships between brands and customers throughout their life cycle. Helping them navigate the human journey with solutions from one phase to the next, and from one brand to the next. P&G showcased a number of brands in its “Thank you Mom” Olympic campaign either to save money or to start bringing their brands together. Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) reward program (of which I am a happy member) brings together all of their nine hotel properties under one umbrella. From a customer’s point of view this provides me with more options and choices. And the confidence that my experience will be similar from hotel chain to hotel chain.

SPG Hotels

Brand architecture can be complex and driven by business needs but if you can focus on the customer’s journey and provide them solutions along the way you can be a formidable master brand and sub brands, all together.

 

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Five Ways to Keep Brands Out of Trouble

Every once in a while a brand will screw-up. If you go online and google “Brand Blunders,” you will find annual lists of the latest and greatest mistakes that brands have made. Social media has given us all the opportunity to see, almost in real-time, the latest and greatest gaffes. An advertising campaign with the goal of reaching a million customers can turn into billions of thrill seekers who will never buy your brand in the first place. The size of the mistake will determine how famous you will become. Famous for all the wrong reasons, I might add. Some brands have gone to the extremes to fake real people product situations with the hopes of becoming a viral sensation, but in most case this too back fire.

Big brand mistakes are self-inflicted wounds based on ignorance, arrogance, tastelessness and just poor judgement. But, sometimes, the reward of free publicity and fame are too hard to give-up.

There is always the temptation of getting your brand noticed – there is good awareness and bad awareness. Generally the bad awareness doesn’t build your brand, but can seriously damage your brand.

Here are some tips on how to keep your brand out of trouble:

Fine Line Between Funny and Offensive

Humour is a great way to communicate your brand. Nothing is better than getting your customer to laugh. In a study conducted by Millward Brown, over half of all ads around the world are considered either ‘funny’ or ‘light-hearted.’ The funnier the ad the more memorable it is likely to be. This is where some brands have gotten themselves into trouble. It is generally when a brand tries too hard and misses the mark or just doesn’t understand their consumers.

Spy Sunglasses tried to be witty and humorous with their outdoor campaign when they plastered the slogan ‘Happy to Sit on Your Face’ on billboards.  Clever, but it didn’t sit well with their customers.  The billboard, slated for a six month stint, was taken down after only one month.

The British grocer Sainsbury’s wanted to promote their ‘low-price guarantee’ and used John Cleese to break down Sainsbury’s aloof image. Lecturing the customers and the staff misfired badly and successfully alienated the target audience.

Skittles is known for their entertaining and fun brand – Touch the Rainbow. The experience of eating Skittles is just as important as the candy itself. In 2008, they crossed the line when they portrayed someone who turned everything to Skittles that he touched. He could no longer hold his baby and he accidentally killed a man on the bus. Depressing rainbow.

Sloppiness

There are countless examples of typos, wrong prices and misinformation. I am sure you have your favorite blooper. Here are a couple examples that will put fear into you to make sure you double and triple check everything you publicly display on your brand.

La Redoute a French fashion chain has had a number of embarrassing moments. On their website, they had a photo of kids promoting their children’s clothing line, but clearly in the background is a naked man. On the same website, they are also selling a t-shirt with a spelling mistake. Instead of having ‘Enjoy Holidays’ written in the garment it read ‘Enjoy Holydays.’

Remember the launch of Apples iOS 6 mobile operating system with the new and amazing Apple Maps? This system would no longer feature Google Maps.  The issues in the Apple Maps were endless to the point that a Tumblr blog was setup to document all the map errors. Every media outlet had a wonderful example in their backyard of wrong bridges, wrong towns and cities, airports turn to parks and parks turn to airports. One reporter stated, “While they are not enough to stop the iPhone 5 love-fest, I sincerely hope that the massive flaws in Apple Maps do not cost anyone their lives.” I am sure there were a lot of Apple employees who didn’t get much sleep until they solved all the problems.

With the desire to offer the widest range of product choices and selection Walmart’sHalloween promotional web pages included a category called “Fat Girl Costumes.” By the time the company understood its error, it was national news and the brand damage was done.

There are many examples of sending the wrong email to the wrong customers or sending out tweets that don’t reflect well on the company like US Airways, who accidentally send a customer a tweet with a pornographic image with a naked woman with a misplace model plane. This tweet was re-tweeted hundreds of times before the company noticed.

Contests and promotions are another area that has high potential of messing up a brand. Getting legal advice is a no brainier, but also making sure the contest fits the brand promise and builds on the brand. Malaysian Airlines still reeling from its misfortune of losing two planes launched a ‘bucket list’ campaign, asking customers to tweet places they’d like to see before they die. I think you know how this ended.

Double and triple check everything before you release it and ask the question does this fit our brand values and promise?

The Shock Value

Fashionista blog says “people are pissed about Harvey Nichol’s new pee-stained ad campaign.” It seems that the British department store Harvey Nichols knows how to get people’s panties in a knot and the Daily Mail said that the campaign has “soiled many customers’ opinion of the store.”

If you ask Tom Ford, he’d say that the shock value works just fine. He built a fashion empire (worth over $275 million) on pornography.  “When I shaved G for Gucci into the model’s pubic hair it was meant to be tongue-in-cheek statement about branding,” Ford said in People. “We had Gucci emblazoned on everything in those days—so I said why not the pubic hair too. It wasn’t just about sex.”  Really! Somehow he continues to get away with this type of thinking. But there is a limit to what people will allow a brand to do with their brand relationship.

Unlike most advertisements which centered on a company’s product or image,United Colors Benetton’s branding building focused on social and political issues like racial integration, AIDS awareness, war, poverty, child labor, death, pollution, politics, etc. The advertisements initially succeeded in raising the brand’s profile, but eventually began to cause dissatisfaction among customers, retailers, government bodies and various international non-profit organizations.

Some of Benetton’s most provocative advertisements were of a priest and a nun kissing, a just born baby with uncut umbilical cord, a black stallion and a white mare mating, a colourful mix of condoms, a black woman breast- feeding a white baby, AIDS victim and his family taken moments before his death, people on death row, a bloody uniform of a dead Bosnian, and senior political leaders kissing each other. I am still trying to figure what all this has to do with buying a sweater or a new polo shirt.

I never thought Microsoft would be an example of shock value. In 2009, they introduced the IE8 with an online commercial called ‘Oh my God! I’m gonna puke (O.M.G.I.G.P.). The purpose of this ad was to showcase their private browsing feature that is ideal for keeping your online porn habits a secret from others people who might share your computer.  As the Microsoft spokesperson said “some of our customers found it offensive, so we have removed it.”

Super Bowl is the Olympics of branding position new and old brands.  InsurerNationwide created a buzz, but the jury is still out if it helped or detracted from their brand.  They ran a campaign depicting the death of a child, due to a preventable accident at home. The negative reaction is largely based on why share this message at a time when people want to enjoy a game. USA Today describes the ad as “depressing, upsetting, and even brought down the uplifting Super Bowl atmosphere.” You be the judge.

Understand Your Customer’s Relationship with Your Brand

Where are the brand boundaries? For Tom Ford there are no boundaries as it concerns beautiful naked people, but see if he can sell food products or toys for children. Somewhere in the process common sense must prevail.

In 2010, Gap clothing store launched a new logo to portray the brand as more modern. In two days, they heard clearly that they change wasn’t what their customers wanted.  While their goal was to appeal to a more hip crowd, their existing customers who pay the bills didn’t want anything to do with the new image. Gap was smart enough to listen to their customers and quickly react.

In 1996, McDonald’s invite “adults back to McDonald’s by enhancing [their] adult and food image” as reported in the Mac Today magazine. It took two years to develop the adult burger Arch Deluxe. McDonald’s research revealed that 72% of consumers think the chain has the best burgers for kids, but only 18% said it has the best adult burger – a huge opportunity.  McDonald’s spend an estimated $200 million in a promotional blitz to launch this new product that failed miserably. The McDonald brand is based on friendliness, cleanliness, consistency and convenience. If someone at McDonald had asked their customers if they wanted a” burger with the grown-up taste,” they would have said no.

 Does It Make Good Sense?

Or, better yet does it make common sense? Just because you have a powerful and very recognizable brand doesn’t mean people will allow you to sell them anything.

Bic, the company that sells disposal pens, lighters and razors decided they should be also selling disposable underwear – actually, a line of women’s disposable pantyhose. Besides that they were disposable, there was no credible link between the Bic brand and the product. What were they thinking? Maybe they were thinking that they could do sexier advertising now that they were into underwear like Calvin Klein.

Colgate, the toothpaste company and the first to put fluoride into toothpaste had the bright idea to market frozen meals. They failed completely. Nobody wants a toothpaste-flavoured meal. Yet there must be many bright people at the Colgate Company who reviewed and approved this opportunity with the goal to succeed. Maybe they are too close to seeing the big picture beyond the consumer’s mouth.

Final Comment

The moral of the story is use the ultimate acid test – stand back from the situation and ask yourself does this message build on your brand promise. Is it building goodwill? Will you be sending the wrong message to your existing customers? Common sense should prevail. If you screw up, be transparent and fix the problem. Time and honesty will heal most errors.

And finally, double and triple check everything and if possible get as many eyeballs on everything before it goes out. In this instant world on digital communications, it becomes even more important that you communicate clearly and honestly.  Once it’s out there, it is out there for life.