There are a lot of messed up brands out there, and I don’t mean the ones spilling oil into rivers, poisoning their customers or trying to become the president of some large country. I mean the everyday brands just out there slogging along trying to make some money and, maybe, a difference.
I’ve been talking a lot lately with brand marketers and brand owners and I’ve compiled the following list of ways we can tank a brand without even meaning to.
1. Relegate it to the marketing department
It makes all kinds of sense that the marketing department should lead the brand parade, and be the primary caregivers, but too many companies view branding and the brand as marketing activities instead an essential element of identity. For more on this, read Every Little Thing You Do Is Branding.
2. Leave it out of C-suite job descriptions
Your CMO probably has branding someplace in their job description, but what about your CEO? How about the Controller? The head of HR? Your CIO? The VP of Sales? If the top of the house isn’t eating and breathing the brand, just who is? Oh, right, the marketing department. Your executives need to have brand equity not just in their job titles but in their objectives.
3. Don’t measure it
Lots of people, many of them marketers who ought to know better, think the brand is one of those ephemeral things you just can’t measure. Bullsh*t. Of course you can measure it. If you are a big brand, someone is probably ranking you anyway, and if you’re not, you can do quantitative stuff like aided and unaided awareness, Fournier BRQ and recognition, along with the qualitative free association, Zaltman Technique, or plain old focus groups
4. Don’t ask customers
In addition to locking up strangers in a cold room to ask about your brand, you really ought to be checking in with your customers. NPS will give you some flawed bellwether data, but what you want is some good research on what your customers think of the brand and what they think about any big ideas you may be having. We’ve seen that brands are ultimately the responsibility of their owners but given recent stupidity around GAP and other brand backlashes, it might not hurt to see what your existing customers think.
5. Don’t explain the brand to employees
If you haven’t yet figured out aht your employees are your first and last line of brand offence and defence, you are behind a door someplace. Despite the lip service about this stuff, it’s frankly amazing how few brands bother to actually explain what they stand for and why they’re important to the very people charged with living up to those things. Ritz Carlton, famously, makes sure its employees understand that they are: Ladies and gentleman serving ladies and gentlemen. How hard is that? Not very. You should do it. And ditch those cat puke corporate values.
If your brand depends on a bunch of people doing and saying things just right, why on earth would it not be the absolute centre-point of all things recruiting? We hire for attitude and train for skills, right? Brand is an attitude, a promise, an expectation met. If your recruiters aren’t using your brand as a filter, you are going to do a worse job than usual on hiring.
7. Confuse your brand with your logo
If you think they are the same thing, you have bigger issues than we can resolve here. Your logo, your wordmark and your sweet little mascot pug are not your brand. They represent your brand (not necessarily well) but they are not your brand. The act of creating your logo and other assets is sometimes called branding, but just like the kind of branding they do to cattle, all you end up with is a little picture and an odd smell.
8. Ignore it when you design processes, products and communications
If employees are your offensive and defensive lines, then all the other stuff you do are the plays you are asking them to execute. When brands manage to misalign what they stand for with what is actually going on in their operations, bad stuff happens. Target Canada is a delightful example of mucking up pretty much all of that. If you would like to pick at that scab, here is a good assessment by Marketing Magazine.
9. Create complex sub-brands because that’s how your catalogue/sales force/ product development/balance sheet is organized
What you think is a gorgeous lattice work of inter-related products and sub-brands is probably a bewildering mess of apparently identical products in the eyes of your customers. Hershey, for example, managed to utterly confused the world’s candy cravers with its multiple marks. If you are interested in how they solved it, this case from the Ivey Business Journal is worth a read.
10. Don’t bother with a brand strategy
Back to our football analogy: your brand needs a strategy, just as your football team needs a strategy. The strategy creates the playbook and the playbook tells your players what to do in any given situation. Most brand strategies are coupled to the growth strategy. Which is fine as far as that goes, but the two diverge when new markets need to be explored, when old markets aren’t performing and when competitors start moving in on your conversation. Brands are about vision and mission and belief, not Q2 reforcasts. Get a standalone strategy.
Bonus: Be complacent
Built a great brand? Kicked your competition’s arse? Own the awareness? Hooray. You get to take an afternoon off and go play mini golf. I promise, if you take more time than that, the field will shift, your competitors will get smarter, your customers will get bored and some employee will find a brand new low to aim for. Smart brands are never complacent and never take for granted their equity and social license.
Next time we’ll look at what the really great brands are getting right.