The Blake Project, the brand consultancy behind Branding Strategy Insider, delivers interactive brand education workshops and keynote speeches designed to align marketers on essential concepts in brand management and empower them to release the full potential of the brands they manage.
Category: Brand Management
As any banker will tell you, the moment a bank is forced to ask depositors for trust is the very moment at which, for all practical purposes, that bank becomes insolvent. A run is sure to ensue. Nobody wants their money in a bank with even the slightest chance of losing it. The mere mention of trust spooks people.
Financial regulators know this. Saving banks from having to ask for trust is one of the main purposes of deposit insurance. Government guarantees that all account losses will be made whole give troubled banks a turnaround chance they wouldn’t get if they had to ask customers to keep calm and just trust them. These guarantees are one part, if not the key part, of the system for trust.
Trust is a third rail for every kind of business or brand. It is an intangible requisite for staying in business of which companies dare not speak. As soon as you ask for it, you lose it. If trust cannot be taken for granted in the everyday course of business, if trust is not beyond question, then customers immediately jump to the conclusion that something is out of sorts.
Trust is in scarce supply nowadays, so many brand marketers have made trust a prominent part of their communications strategy. But asking for it is not the way to win back the confidence of wary customers. The solution is to have the systems in place needed to guarantee it.
Many argue that the locus of trust these days has pivoted from institutions like brands to networks of peers. Certainly, peers are more important than ever, but peers alone are not enough to guarantee trust.Read More
P&G’s decision to formally end the era of “marketing” at the company and make the shift to brand management may accelerate what amounts to much more than a title change for marketers generally. To me, it could point to a fundamental re-examination of the role of the people responsible for brands.
While “marketing” and “brand management” are often treated as synonyms, there is an important distinction between the two terms. Marketing focuses on the activities associated with the promotion and distribution of products and services. Brand management has, for many, been historically focused on identity management but is now much more concerned with the active management of the market value and competitive strength of a brand as an (intangible) company asset.
Marketing is about spending money. It’s how brands accumulate value. Brand management should focus on how products continue to wrap story and distinction around what they offer to increase competitiveness and build loyalty. The two are linked – but different. Marketing is the means. Brand management should be the goal.
Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that the break-away from a pure marketing function should come from the company that pioneered brand management itself. According to Eric Schulz, P&G were the first to recognize, and act on, the cannibalization risk of their own portfolio approach. “By distinguishing the qualities of each brand from all other P&G brands, each would avoid competing with one another by targeting different consumer markets with a different set of benefits,” he explains. “This was especially important in product categories that the company manufactured several competing brands, like laundry detergent.”
P&G is still renowned for its deeply product-centric approach. No surprises. On any given day, around the world, three billion people will interact with a Procter & Gamble brand.Read More
Some brands and some sectors have baggage. They’re seen as bad. Or they have a reputation for behaving badly. Or they are still trying to win back confidence after a disaster. Or they’re part of a sector that people don’t like. Or a segment of the population would like them to go away. For whatever reason they can’t seem to convince their detractors that they have good intentions. Critics love to hate on them. They attack these brands for what they sell, what they support, what they don’t support, what they say or don’t say. They cast doubt on their motivations. They draw attention to their shortfalls… I have no problem with this in one sense. The right to examine and critique is a sign of a robust democracy. So is the right to dissent.
But the receiving end of that negativism is a scary place to be if you’re a CEO or a brand manager and the thought of being in the crossfire, or the expense and impact of the experience itself, has tended to prompt a range of set-plays from brands in ‘sensitive’ sectors.
- Some brands withdraw. In essence, they go offline. Or they restructure their way out of the limelight. Or they push their product brands (that no-one associates with them) further into the market and close out their corporate presence to public view.
- Some brands fight. They throw money and marketing muscle at getting coverage for their side of the story. Stepping forward, they put themselves in the media and duke it out. Or they look to right the “wrong” messages by re-quantifying the impact they have or by pointing out that what they are doing is legal or by highlighting the ramifications if they were not allowed to do what they do or by stating that this is a rights issue.
- Some brands dodge. They hit the opaque button and initiate strategies to confuse, fudge, downplay, delay, avoid, deny and/or frustrate.
- Some sectors redefine. They accuse critics (activists and/or the NGOs) of a beat up and of holding them to reputational ransom. They then look to set standards for their own behaviors that they believe are reasonable and practical, and they point to the economic and wider benefits that their activity bestows. They then report back against the standards that they have set.
I’ve spoken with a number of brand managers about why brands that feel besieged act in these ways, and the response I hear most often is that they feel they need to defend themselves, they need to counter the personal and professional attacks that come their way and that the critics are over-simplifying situations, deliberately misrepresenting actions or simply out to get them. These perceptions quickly lead to a feeling of being put upon and a wish to put the record straight.Read More
Far from increasing the daylight between itself and another brand, companies that are fixated on achieving an objective can do themselves, their brands and their reputations serious harm. Pushing the wrong boundaries can push a brand over the edge. This is of course anathema to conventional management theory which has preached for some time that pushing people to excel brings out the best in them.
But take the case of the Ford Pinto, where senior management’s insistence on a car that weighed less than 2,000 pounds and sold for under $2,000 led to a vehicle that could go up in flames if it was rear-ended. At Enron, the decision to reward salespeople based on revenue volume rather than whether the trades were sound or profitable, contributed to one of the most famous implosions in American corporate history. Indeed one could well argue that the global financial crisis sprang directly from financial institutions pursuing goals that made no sense but that those on the selling side were generously incentivized to pursue at any cost.
According to this research, goals that are too specific often lead employees to develop such a narrow focus that they fail to recognize obvious problems unrelated to the target. They become fixated with beating one another and/or “the other guy”. Quality loses out to completion as workers, pressured by specific and ambitious targets, risk everything in order to meet the goals they have been set. That situation doubles down when participants are rewarded with money or prestige for hitting a number.Read More
Challenges are the issues that everyone recognizes: those insatiable requirements that will eat up every minute of your attention and still not be fully resolved. Take customer expectations. Brands work like crazy to meet the expectations of customers, and then, because a competitor raises the bar, or customers get used to what is offered, or an industry breakthrough comes along, they find they are once again slipping behind, so they launch another Herculean effort to catch up and move ahead. There they stay for a time before they once again lapse. So they organize another super-human effort to regain control. And on it goes.
Challenges are constant. They’re frustrating, difficult, time-consuming … but ultimately, they’re actually part of being in business. And in a curious way, they equalize competition because they are issues faced by everyone. The volatility of being on top one moment and struggling to keep up the next applies, or at least has the potential to apply, to all.
A dilemma on the other hand is much more menacing. It’s much more than a keep-up requirement. It’s a do-or-die requirement. It’s end-of-your-business-model stuff. It’s the new way of doing things no-one was ready for. It’s the buy-out that revolutionizes the priority list. It’s the scandal that rocks everyone’s reputation …
It’s dangerous because it’s not constant. And the very thing that made it, or could have made it, an advantage for someone else – its irregularity – makes it doubly difficult for you as an incumbent. You can’t catch up to a dilemma. You can’t just improve, amend or adjust your way out of it. Instead you must unfurl your entire game plan, wipe much of the playbook clean and reset your operations. All the while, you’re losing money. Maybe the media’s giving you grief. Everyone wants to know why it’s taking you so long.Read More