The Blake Project

Why a Branding Strategy Blog?

At The Blake Project our sole focus is helping organizations create brands that build and sustain trust. Branding Strategy Insider is an extension of our efforts as brand consultants to help marketing oriented leaders and professionals build strong brands.

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Brand Strategy

When Focus Hurts Brands


Brand Strategy and Focus

I remember it like it was yesterday. On a cold, crisp October afternoon my girlfriend and I skipped school and drove for an hour to Kendal. It was the sort of thing you do when you’re 17, bored out of your mind and one of you has just passed their driving test but has nowhere in particular to drive to. I can’t remember the drive but I can remember why we picked Kendal. It had a McDonald’s – the only one in Cumbria.

And so we spent an entirely exotic afternoon trying our first-ever Big Macs and slurping down Cokes while dreaming of a future far away from school and all the other quotidian bullshit that comes with being old enough to know what you’re missing without being old enough to get it.

That was almost 30 years ago. To my great surprise I now find myself to be a middle-aged man with a family and a job and no idea what happened to my 17-year-old girlfriend (or my 17-year-old self, for that matter). But McDonald’s – that hasn’t changed. It’s been a long, long 30 years but for all the salads and nutritional guidelines that same Big Mac and Coke I enjoyed three decades ago on a freezing cold afternoon is pretty much the same as it was back then. And no matter what the half-baked brand theorists might preach, consistency is not the secret of branding. Not when you extrapolate that advice over 30 years.

The world is changing and some of the great brands of the 20th century have not responded with anything like the kind of market orientation one might expect. They have sucked up massive global profits but done so at the expense of proper long-term planning.

That was the underlying conclusion we took from the news last year that Coca-Cola would not only miss its profit forecast for 2014 but also for 2015. And then there was an even more startling update from McDonald’s – 12 consecutive months of declining sales in the US, European sales down by 4% and Chinese sales down 23%.

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Branding Conferences

Brand Leadership: The New Brand Management


Marketing Conference

Top tier marketers today have made one career-changing decision that has extended the reach of their success. They’ve elected to lead rather than manage. Those seven words represent the new requirement for high performance in an age where the customer drives the conversation about brands and where the proactive thrive.

Don’t Manage. Lead.

To manage means to bring about, to accomplish a task, to be responsible for a deliverable. Brand management mattered when the rules were set and when repetition formed the crux for success. But today’s marketplace is so much more dynamic and today’s consumers too social and demanding for managing alone to be enough anymore.

Marketers today must be leaders – because if your brand is not driving the conversation and changing the rules, you’re always going to be beholden to someone else’s playbook. Leadership is about influence, guidance, innovation and following a unique path.

The differences between management and leadership are most apparent in the contrasting behaviors of decision makers:

•  The manager administers; the leader innovates.
•  The manager replicates; the leader is an original.
•  The manager is focused on structure and systems; the leader is focused on people.
•  The manger relies on command and control; the leader inspires trust.
•  The manager thinks near-term; the leader has long-term vision and perspective.
•  The manager has their eye on the bottom line; the leader has their eye on the horizon and sustained wealth.
•  The manager invests in the status quo; the leader challenges it.

For marketers and brands to achieve their highest potential in the marketplace, stewardship, integrity, authenticity and trust must be infused in every action. These are qualities that brand leaders possess and bake into their strategic brand building efforts.

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Brand Positioning

Stay True To Your Brand Positioning


Starbucks Brand Equity

A few years ago, I was working as a consultant for a luxury brand. After a long and fruitful week of branding meetings across Europe, we ended the week in Paris and I visited the brand’s biggest boutique with one of its senior executives. Enamored after five days of working for this lovely brand, I decided to buy one of their nice bags for my wife.

Unfortunately, when I went to pay for the bag, my HSBC credit card was rejected. The immaculate sales assistant tried to process it several times but eventually, as a line formed behind me, I was politely informed that my card had been rejected by my bank.

It was a horrendous moment made worse by what happened next. My executive friend insisted, in a flurry of French bonhomie, to buy the bag for me. He explained that when I had the money in the bank I could repay him. I exited the boutique with as much grace as I could muster. By the time I turned the corner I had my head in my hands.

I went back to my hotel room and immediately called HSBC Premier. I had a perfect credit rating, a $10,000 limit and nowhere near that balance on my credit card. Why had HSBC blocked it?

Politely I was informed that as I had been in four countries in the past five days, my spending had set off an alarm. As a result, my card had been temporarily stopped. The staff-member assured me that this was standard banking practice and explained that, having confirmed that my card was in my possession, she would remove the block and all would be well.

But all was not well. As I explained to the implacable woman on the end of the phone, I was with HSBC because they were “The World’s Local Bank”. That statement did not just resonate with me, I lived it – spending 20 weeks of the year overseas working for clients. I wanted, and needed, a bank that understood the whole international thing. I didn’t care if it was standard banking practice for four countries in five days to set off a card alert – I was not with a standard bank. I was with HSBC and expected it to be different. That was why I banked with them.

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Brand Strategy

The Limits Of Textbook Brand Strategy


Textbook Brand Strategy

There is absolutely a place for models. Great structures deliver us frameworks for thinking. They provide a powerful grid within which to see interactions and consequences. They make a measured and systematic approach possible. For those of us working in the area of brand strategy, the theory and the pillars are well developed thanks to the sterling work of pioneers like Jack Trout and Al Ries. But in the spirit of Richard Feynman, we need to continue to question whether the systems and assumptions that we take so much for granted and use on a daily basis are as relevant and applicable as they once were, in a business world that is now digital, social, global and rapid.

There are 6 key drivers for any brand strategy in my opinion:

  • Humanity – the behaviors and motivations of consumers and the perceived senses of personal priority that results from those habits and schemes;
  • Value – the ability to effectively evaluate costing systems and to generate profit and margin that exceed what the market is inclined to give;
  • Competitiveness – the ability to compete meaningfully and gainfully by being able to distinctualize an offering from everything else around it;
  • Markets – the ability to understand the dynamics and tensions of a sector and the effects those factors will have on consumer predilections for a brand;
  • Responsibility – the ability to develop brands that behave ethically, responsibly and with clear purpose; and
  • Creativity – the willingness and skill to address and resolve an issue laterally, and to tell a fascinating story in wonderful language.

Much of the rest of what brand strategists do is process. It’s important but it really is a means to an end. Single minded propositions, positioning statements, values, even tone and manner – these are really just ways to group and structure our findings. They play a key role in a brand strategy, but having them alone is no guarantee that you have crafted a game changer. Models are the basis for thinking – and that’s a great thing. They are less helpful when they become a dogma. We need to retain the ability to work with process, but not work for process.

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Brand Value & Pricing

8 Ways To Build A More Valuable Brand


Valuable Brands

We talk a lot about the pressures on brands to perform and about the difficulties of staying competitive in huge and rapidly changing markets. Nevertheless, global brands experienced a 12 percent increase in value in 2014 – and there are powerful lessons for all those responsible for brands in how they did that. If demand generation is part of your role, here are eight things that you can be doing to retain reputation, stem decline and make the most of upswings in economies and consumer preferences.

1. Be part of a rising category – According to Millward Brown, the top 10 apparel brands, for example, grew by 29% last year. If you have brands in this or another of the rapidly growing sectors, that’s a clear prompt to be investing to meet what is clearly increasing interest. If you don’t yet have brands in one of the rising categories, are there ways that you can naturally (and quickly) extend your brand into these burgeoning categories through acquisition, partnership, licensing and/or co-branding?

2. Be part of a resurgent economy – If your brand is spread across diverse regions, it makes sense to focus on those areas of the world where there is inherent economic growth driven by rising consumer confidence. To ride the wave, look for ways to get a foothold through an agency arrangement or work with an established player to increase their stock range. Also introduce premium lines to take advance of rising aspirations.

3. Tackle social issues – A number of sectors are fighting reputational issues at the moment. Brands in areas like fast food and soft drinks need to directly address their social impacts or risk being disrupted by healthy challengers. Equally brands with potential ethical issues – environmental, social, health-related, behaviour based or that involve processes that people feel strongly about such as animal cruelty – are going to need to show that they are actively minimising the downsides of what they do. Addressing reputational issues won’t necessarily mean growth, but it will help arrest declining sales.

4. Increase “share of life” (Millward Brown’s phrase) not just share of market by integrating and extending ecosystems. Apple are the masters of this approach, closing loops between product and content in order to retain control and to encourage consumers to stay and shop within their universe. By diversifying into new areas of interest and maximizing brand equity as they do so, brands can look for smart ways to be more involved in every person’s every day. As Nigel Hollis observes, “. Apple spans our needs for entertainment, music and productivity. Amazon fulfills our need for convenience with effortless one-click shopping and relevant purchase recommendations for stuff we never knew we wanted. Nike, with its Nike+ Fuelband, has transformed itself from a mere apparel brand to a companion and coach for runners.” They do this through that they offer and what they socialize.

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