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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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Branding Basics

The Changing Meaning Of Brand

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What is a brand?

Oh the irony. For years, many of us tried to get the people we worked with to broaden their understanding of what a brand was. It’s not just a logo, a product, a TV commercial – that conversation. We were fighting to make the definition of brand bigger. Now I’m wondering whether we have to start going back the other way.

Suddenly, there are no people, countries, groups anymore. Instead, everywhere I look, everything’s a brand. Donald Trump is a brand, Charlie Sheen is a brand, so are Kate and William, the President’s a brand, Greenpeace and just about any professional sports team or association you care to name. America’s a brand, so are the Tea Party, Survivor, Wikileaks, the Beckhams and Lady Gaga. You are a brand.

That suggests to me that the media is in the process of redefining a “brand” as anything that gets or has our attention. In the new parlance, brand now is much more about profile. So I think Paula Lynn is right when she comments on this story in MediaPost that, “The media and its frenzy make brands brands.”

Brand increasingly means buzz, or perhaps something or someone that is buzzed about: something or someone who has got or is getting attention, for good or bad reasons.

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Big Data

Brands Find Power In The Little Data

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Brands gain from little data

One could argue that marketing has never been less instinctive – and maybe that’s not a bad thing. For years, decision makers fidgeted and vexed as marketing teams sought to explain why the decisions they had made ‘felt’ right. Today, digital technologies provide data in massive amounts and extraordinary detail, and those that make the most of that plethora of insight can, according to McKinsey, show productivity rates and profitability that are 5 – 6 percent higher than those of their peers.

But as marketers come to grips with the screeds of data that now form such a key part of their market intelligence, I wonder whether the thing that makes marketing so interesting, its humanity, is in danger of being lost. I wonder whether algorithms are enough. Sure, they deliver the big picture, the macro view, that enables us to analyze as never before but do they generate the insights at a one-on-one level that brands need to motivate people to change?

So many of those moments are so small, barely visible to the naked eye – unless you take the time to sit and really observe how people act and react. As a young copywriter I was encouraged to get out and do this all the time: to sit somewhere and watch people, and to talk one on one with them (and really listen). In focus groups, people are to some extent influenced by the social context in which questions are asked. They can respond as much to the signals of others in the group as they do to the things they are being requested to evaluate. But when you take the time to notice how people individually behave, you get to see the things that the numbers can’t tell you.

With the headlong rush to throw data at perceived problems, let’s not forget, in the words of Rory Sutherland, to also sweat the small stuff. I love his point: “The tendency of the organization or the institution is to deploy as much force as possible…whereas actually, the tendency of the person is to be almost influenced in absolute reverse proportion to the amount of force being applied.”

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Brand Management

Brand Strength Is Found In Brand Meaning

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Building Meaningful Brands

Changes in what consumers value in the brand relationship are driven by a number of factors. The manner in which consumers (and we marketers) determine value is absolutely subjective and based on how we describe things to ourselves. A few key trends are evidence that when it comes to shared values, we see that like at Oahu’s famed Waikiki Beach, ‘many surfers ride a common wave.’

Among these trends are increased awareness of at-risk resources, visibility into business activities and the communities they impact, and the notion that brands that “do something to contribute” are more deserving of consumers’ money than brands that don’t. Mark Di Somma recently posed 20 questions every activist brand should answer. These trends prove that corporate social responsibility or CSR might be evolving to a point where many brands might become, or are in the midst of becoming activist brands. At the core of this change is digital where an incredibly variegated media ecosystem connects a single, global network society.

HAVAS recently published their 2015 Meaningful Brands Study, the first global study that “measures the potential business benefits gained by a brand when it is seen to improve our wellbeing and quality of life.” The study covers all aspects of people’s lives including the impact on community in our personal wellness (including self-esteem and happiness) alongside market factors like quality and price. Here is the top 10 with Samsung reining at #1.

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Brand Management

Are You Managing A Deceptive Brand?

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Deceptive and False Branding and Advertising

We all want to do best by the brands we work for. We want them to be competitive, to gain share, to win…But in the bid to make that happen, some brands push the boundaries too far. Here are 19 signs your brand has lost sight of the truth.

1. It doesn’t actually do what you say it does – the claims you’re making wouldn’t stand up to scrutiny. They’re optimistic, unproven or simply untrue. Maybe they’ve been part of the in-house lexicon long enough for people to believe they must be true. But objectively…they amount to assertions that you can’t back up.

2. The language is vague – your marketing is filled with words that sound impressive, and people think they understand, but that, on inspection, probably don’t mean anything concrete. Real, natural, organic, integrated, market leading…sound familiar?

3. It’s packed with small print – there’s more exceptions, conditions and qualifiers in your statements than facts. You’re probably banking on no-one reading them, but, if you’re asked about them, you say they’re there to comply with regulation. If you need this much substantiation to make a claim then the claim lacks substance. Find a new value proposition.

4. You retouch results – things aren’t as they were. Images and ideas have been prettied up, and the process has distorted the realities of what consumers can expect. Maybe you removed a wrinkle on a person. Just as likely you changed a stat, shifted a number or took something way of context. It looks great now, but, just like some beauty treatments, in reality your offer is packed with fillers.

5. It looks like one thing, but it isn’t – there’s some classic examples of this with some eyebrow-raising insights as to how they got them to look that way. This isn’t always bad – it helps things look appetizing. But there’s a clear line between optimization and deception.

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Brand Loyalty

Beware Of Brand Loyalty Threats

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Brand Loyalty Erosion

Often we don’t leave a favorite brand because of anything dramatic. In fact, quite the opposite: the experiences we have quietly fade to the point where there’s less reasons to stay than to go. One day the food isn’t quite as good as it was, the movies on the flight haven’t been changed in a while, the person we spoke with just now was that little bit less warm, the changes in the insurance policy are more inflexible and the biscuits in the pack are smaller and taste different.

Brands make these changes with the best of intentions for the business. They do it to save money, to introduce a shortcut, to be more efficient. It’s just a little change right, a little reduction – think of it as portion control. No-one will notice. And most people don’t.

Unfortunately, the people who do notice are the people who have been loyal to the brand. They know where this is heading. Not today perhaps. Not tomorrow. But at some point, this is going to be yet another formulated cheap experience. They know because it’s happened to them before. Many times before.

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