Saturday, December 30, 2006

Beat your competition with boldness!

The following is a response I gave in a blog on small business branding. Their attitude towards branding was correct, but I took issue with their answer to a question about how to differentiate a company from the competition. The example company was a kennel and they said the difference could be that they are cheaper and have better service. They arrived at this from basic analysis. I do not believe they dug deep enough - all surface level solutions that are too easy to defeat.

My response:

"As much as I agree with your comments about differentiating yourself from the competition, I find the result of your example to simplistic. When ever I am analyzing a brand project the question I usually ask myself is: Can the competition say this?

General service is too easy - most companies have good service and price can be beaten in 2 seconds. What you are trying to do with focused branding is develop a relationship where commodity solutions do not exist. You can't win on price.

But let's say the kennel has a proprietary service where they use their own trademarked line of shampoos and lotions, then ONLY they can offer this. Now you can build a relationship with your customers based on this difference in service. Once customers become accustomed to your brand of pet products, they will pay a premium to continue using them. Your kennel brand grows through a stronger reputation of quality.

When I work with companies on focusing their brands, it is absolutely amazing what solutions come out with regards to dealing with competition. But of course the companies have to have the balls to do it. Developing your own line of products can be quite daunting, but imagine the benefits. Just having your own line instantly makes the kennel appear like a larger player. It also positions them as experts in their category. The competition uses off the shelf materials - that is not could enough for us.

So yes, if you are bold enough to really position yourselves as leaders in your fields then take a deeper look at how to differentiate. Most companies simply follow the leader and their brands and brand images reflect this. Look in your daily papers, you will see scores of companies yelling that they are cheaper and have better service. They are shooting from the hip.

Take the higher road - you are leaving too much money on the table."

Friday, December 29, 2006

Don't copy your competitor.

This afternoon I passed no fewer than 4 trucking company semi's all sporting corporate logos that had a swish icon. They were either horizonal or vertical, red or blue. I'm sure if we check back with each of these companies, none of the images existed before Nike and their swoosh became synonymous. I imagine none of these companies realize that being a follower does nothing to strengthen their brands but rather strengthens the leader because of the similarities of image.

A lot of business people think wrongly that if they use a swoosh in their logos they will be on their way to fame and fortune. Let's face it Nike has worked very hard since it's beginning to develop a brand that builds a strong active relationship with it's customers. Their icon could have been a box - it is the association in the customers mind that is important. As Nike grew, it's icon came to represent it. Much as Target is now doing and Apple could be doing. Because of the reputation Nike has built, the association with the icon is strong and has cache because of it. Not the other way around.

Develop your brands to lead not follow. Differentiation is the goal, with it come the rewards.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Do you have a problem with the brand of 'brand?

As discussed in a previous post regarding the meaning of brand, I wonder sometimes that perhaps the brand of 'brand' is weak and maybe it could use significant strengthening. Graphic Design and Advertising professionals are probably most at fault for mis-interpretting the brand as simply the logo and/or image. When they discuss a re-branding they typically refer to an image correction. Maybe all of us have to re-label what we do to help ease the confusion associated with brand terminology.

I imagine if we think of the our brands as our reputation then it would go a long way to helping companies manage their brands more effectively. It would help them understand that in a lot of cases we can physically control how our brands are percieved and in many cases we can't as our brands are forming outside of our sphere of influence. We simply have to focus and embrace those situattions we can control and hope that those we can't will at least be positively influenced by our worthy efforts.

An example of this would be how we respond to a brand emergency. Martha Stewart is a great example. Martha Stewart's reputation prior to the emergency was focused and carefully groomed. She emerged from the situation stronger than when she entered the fog. The public trusted her, she lived her brand and her reputation rewarded her. We should all have such a brilliant brand symbol. Even at her brand's lowest moment or so it seemed, that trust in Martha positioned her as victim. The brand emerged invigorated and renewed.

I don't kid myself that Graphic Design and Advertising professionals are going to re-think how they address brand because they have their individual agendas, but I am hoping that is some small way, dialogue such as this will at least help to educate companies willing to listen. I guess one up-side to the confusion is if your competition doesn't get it - so much the better for you!

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Newsletter Blogs replacing email newsletters

This more a comment on blogging replacing e-mail newsletters. Currently I'm on my 30th issue of an email newsletter that I send to accepting companies. While surfing the other night I came across an article which stated a belief that RSS feeds (BLOGS) will replace e-mail newsletters as the vehicle of choice for companies. It used a market research result to push it's point.

So, a question I'd like to pose here is: Do you prefer getting PDF newsletters emailed direct to you or would you actually check out a newsletter blog that constantly updates? Bear in mind that the newsletter is not unsolicited.

Monday, December 18, 2006

What is a brand anyway?

It amazes me when I speak with heads of companies how much they misinterpret the term brand, when it relates to their corporate brand. They basically believe it to be strictly the logo and perhaps the marketing material.

This is where the education starts. I essentially tell them that brand is their reputation. It is everything that your company stands for. The logo simply represents the brand graphically. The three stakeholders who affect your brand are your customers, employees and suppliers. A strong focused brand establishes a compelling relationship with customers. Your brand when managed strategically can add to the bottom line.

Successful companies sometimes feel given their strong histories that the brand takes care of itself, when in reality their
brands have actually taken a beating over the years and could stand an effective review. Ask yourself the question, "how much money am I leaving on the table because of an unfocused brand?" "How much better can we be?"

My guess is that you are comfortably following the leader. They are defining your brand for you.

Your thoughts on this...
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