Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Ducks and Turtles and Bears... Oh My!

The only thing the Rose Bowl-bound Oregon Ducks are better known for than dominating PAC-12 football is their dramatic uniform combinations. In 2011, the Ducks wore a different uniform for each and every game they’ve played. When the Ducks first began experimenting with their uniform “fashion,” many fans disliked the idea of switching uniforms for every game. They wouldn’t have put it in these terms, but essentially, they were worried about the Ducks brand being corrupted. We always admired the team’s chutzpah and felt that the brand actually attracted the right kind of attention by being flexible with its identity – while always remaining true to the spirit of the Ducks brand. And fans have come around, as evidenced by this blog post about which uniform would be the best Rose Bowl combo for the Ducks.

When the Maryland Terrapins launched their own totally cool multiple-combination unis this season, we realized that we were looking at a trend in flexible brand identities. And we wondered if this trend was extending into non-football territory as well. Flexible identities can command attention, inspire consumers and signal a new direction, but how can brands stay true to their core identities while allowing for flexibility and creative expression? Branding firms have long held that brand guidelines allow for creative adaptation, but most brands err on the side of strong consistency and adherence to rules.

Coca-Cola put brand flexibility to the test this holiday season when it launched an all-white Coke can to herald its campaign to protect the Arctic for polar bears, the brand’s mascot. We loved the design and thought it was a brilliant move, until we went to buy a 6-pack of Coke and realized that we could not just scan the shelf for red; and in fact, that the new white cans looked an awful lot like Diet Coke cans. We weren’t the only ones confused, and Coke has since switched out the white cans for red ones (still with a polar bear design) for the remainder of the holiday season.

Clearly, brand identities will need to be more and more flexible to command the attention of unfocused consumers. But brands must be careful about how they execute that flexibility so that they don’t confuse or alienate customers instead of inspiring them. As you plan for 2012, ask yourself if your brand identity is nimble enough to motivate customers, without being so flexible that it fails to help them embrace or understand your value. Then settle into your sofa on New Year’s Day to join the world in wondering which uniform the Ducks will be wearing.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Can branding really increase sales?

Brand Endeavor’s own Christie Harper was recently invited to contribute to an interesting new book called The Book on Business from A to Z: The 260 Most Important Answers You Need to Know.  The book contains 26 chapters penned by business specialists who provide brief, focused answers to the 10 most frequently asked or hotly debated questions in their field.  Chapters range from E: Equity to J:Juris Prudence or Y: Yield.  And yes -- B: Branding.
The instigation for this book was the dilemma consultants often find themselves in when clients ask questions that are slightly (or very) beyond our range of expertise.  The co-authors all do our best to find the right answers for the client -- and this book can be par of the solution.  In this newsletter issue, we're featuring an excerpt from the Branding chapter -- one of the questions that’s already garmered a lot of interest from early readers:
How does branding increase a company’s sales?
Branding works in three direct ways to increase sales: attracting new customers, retaining existing customers and enabling you to command a price premium.  By making a compelling and relevant promise, you attract new customers with that promise, you retain customers by providing the experience you have led them to expect, and you can command a price premium over others who are not making or keeping relevant promises.
This dynamic is easiest to spot in consumer branding, when you consider a pair of brands in the same category.  Consider Target and K-mart.  Both are discount retailers, providing clothing and household goods at low prices; both have high levels of awareness; both have partnerships with celebrity brands.  But K-mart’s brand promise really stops at the commodity “low prices” promise, while Target’s promise encourages consumers to aspire to something more: not just low prices, but great design at low prices.  Target’s promise is “Great design doesn’t have to be expensive.”  Target’s revenue in 2010 was $66 Billion.  The entire Sears entity, which owns K-mart among other retailers, was $44 Billion.  Target was also significantly more profitable than Sears.
You can see the same dynamic in B2B marketing.  IBM was ranked #2 on Interbrand’s 2010 List of Best Global Brands.  Just behind Coke.  Astonishing for a “boring” B2B brand.  IBM’s promise is about smart people doing smart and complex things.  Compare this to its closest competitor, HP, which, while still a very powerful brand (#10 on Interbrand’s list) is struggling to rationalize its broad portfolio of products and services.  Its new brand promise is “Let’s do amazing,” which is emotional, but not particularly differentiating or relevant.
IBM reported a profit margin of 15% in 2010, while HP’s was less than half that.  On every financial level, IBM is besting HP by more than 50%. 
This is one of the 10 branding questions answered in Christie's chapter -- others include "How does branding improve a company's bottom line?" and "Why is Apple considered the most valuable brand?"  The book will be released in early September but is available now for pre-orders here or at Amazon

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Are You the One and Only?

There is a commonly cited conventional wisdom in the branding world that your brand promise should emphasize that your company is the ONLY one that does X or provides Y. We’ve had a lot of clients and friends ask us about this recently – should their brand be held to the standard of “Only Us?”

This standard is very difficult to reach in a competitive and commoditized environment. But not only is it a difficult standard, we think it’s an irrelevant one. In our view, competitive differentiation is not absolute – it is not obtained by BEING something ONLY you can be. It is obtained by OWNING something credible that only YOU are claiming.

Consider Volvo. Volvo is widely recognized as the automotive brand that owns the concept of safety. But is Volvo the only safe car? Is it even the safest car? No. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, for 2010 the safest large car is the Buick LaCrosse, the safest midsize is the Audi A3 and the safest small car is the Honda Civic 4-door model. That said, Volvo vehicles are credibly safe – they are on all the relevant safe car lists. And they staked their claim on safety before any other brand did. So they own it now. And while other automotive brands emphasize safety as functional benefits, no other company will be able to OWN safety unless Volvo relinquishes its hold on the concept.

Likewise, Las Vegas could credibly be the “city that never sleeps,” but that idea was first claimed, and is now owned, by New York City. New York is not the ONLY city that never sleeps, but it got there first and staked out the territory. So Vegas has to find something else.

So when seeking competitive differentiation for your brand, you don’t necessarily have to hold yourself to the nearly impossible standard of finding something only you can BE. What’s more important is to find something that only you can OWN, and then vigorously stake that claim so that no competitor can credibly threaten it. Then you’ll seem like the One and Only, whether you actually are or not.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Branding With Heart

As the country’s most celebrated and simultaneously reviled Hallmark Holiday approaches, our thoughts have turned to the importance of emotion… in branding, of course. Companies often think they win based on price, features or functions – and their brand messages reflect this. Comparing Kmart and Target is always a great demonstration of functional vs. emotional marketing. Check out Kmart’s back-to-school commercial from this past fall – while high spirited, it still focuses on the functional benefits of fashion and price, without an emotion that runs deeper than an adrenaline rush. Compare it to Target’s back-to-school ad , which focuses on the feeling of freedom – both mom’s freedom from the kids, and the kids’ freedom to be themselves. Which resonates more for you?

Emotionally devoid branding is especially prevalent in the B2B category. But we must remember that business customers are people too – people with feelings that motivate their work purchases just as they do at home. We have seen several experts suggest that B2B marketing may be better thought of as B2P – Business to Person – marketing, reminding us that there is a human being at the receiving end of our message.

Here are two questions you can ask yourself to ensure that your brand has heart:

1. What do we want stakeholders to FEEL when they interact with our organization?
Be careful here: this is not about what you want them to THINK – you have to identify a legitimate feeling. For instance, they might THINK your product is better than the competition, but they will FEEL smart for purchasing it.

2. What do we deliver that makes our stakeholders LOVE us?
This is the “love it, not leave it” principal. There are basics you must provide that, if you don’t, your customers will leave and go elsewhere. But this is very different from the greatest possible thing you can provide that will ensure that customers love you for all time.

Answering these two questions – and then incorporating those answers into your brand messaging and identity – will ensure that your customers will always be true.