Branding is war – confront the enemy (hint: it's not always who you think)

Because the pace of branding is slow compared to that of marketing, you might think that branding is a leisurely activity. Nothing can be further from the truth. Branding is an urgent, strategic activity driven by the fact that every organization faces three enemies:
  • Itself
  • Its parent organization, if there is one
  • Its competitors

Let me explain.

  • First, every organization is at war with itself. Ask two people and you will get at least three different opinions about what the identity of the company is or should be relative to competitors, what the tagline is, what the name is, and what the strategy should be (well, sometimes; not everybody cares about this.) This is particularly true if the organization is divided into separate lines of business, as most companies are: then you can expect fairly consistent disagreement along party lines. So when you brand, you take sides in a battle that has a fairly lengthy history and can be expected to go on for a while.
  • Second, every organization is at war with its parent brand, if there is one. This is because, unless it is extraordinarily strategic-minded, the parent tends to have a sort of identity conflict and to want to take credit for the achievements of the child brand, or at the very least is conflicted about setting the child brand free to mark its achievements on its own. See http://blumenthalonbranding.blogspot.com/2007/08/parent-brand-and-baby-brand.html.
  • Third, every organization is at war with its competitors, which is obvious. What is not so obvious is who those competitors are. You may think that you have a monopoly, but when you talk to your external stakeholders (primarily, customers) find out that they have you confused with someone else. That “someone else” is your competitor and your enemy, even if you actually do not compete.

When you brand, brand as though an enemy were at your back. What does that mean? It means

  • Treating the whole initiative with a sense of urgency;
  • Rallying people around the brand as though it were a cause; and
  • Bringing people along to the brand, not assuming that they are automatically on the “right side.”

It also means listening carefully to internal and external feedback: find out who your enemies are, learn what sides have been drawn and who stands where, and determine how best you are going to navigate the politics.

Finally, it means branding with a sense of passion about what you are doing: If this is a war, you want to end up on the winning team. And that means standing with the group which promotes the right brand image throughout the organization, successfully, overcoming all (or most) of those who resist.

Branding is not a luxury—it’s a necessity

I continue to be amazed at the sentiment that branding is a kind of luxury to be undertaken when there is time. There is no time. Don’t people understand that in order for marketing to have credibility—forget credibility, to be listened to at all—it has to be backed up by a brand?

There is this big fat rush to get to market…but without the product or service being properly branded, it’s a waste of time. Nobody is listening.

Ideally you would brand first, then market whatever it is you’re selling.

In the real world, you often have to market without branding.

Consider yourself lucky if you get to brand and market at the same time.

What is the difference between marketing and branding? See my post at http://blumenthalonbranding.blogspot.com/2007/08/classic-marketing-vs-classic-branding.html. Basically branding is the slow, strategic process of establishing an identity for your product or service whereas marketing is spreading the idea rapidly about what you have to sell. Also see http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m0BDW/is_22_40/ai_54787827/print.

Moving the brand forward initially – also known as "thriving on chaos"

The key to branding the organization is to be able to do a number of things simultaneously. It’s not going to work in a, b, c order. You can expect a bit of chaos.

For one thing, you will work on the brand SIMULTANEOUSLY with other marketing and awareness campaigns. The whole world is not going to stop and wait for you to come up with a name and a tagline. Things are dynamic. Deal with it.

For another thing, you have to start lining up your “ducks in a row.” Meaning, you have to get the strategy together. Do you have a brand touchpoint analysis done yet? In other words, do you know all the places where employees, customers and other stakeholders encounter the brand? Time to write it down and prioritize: which are the most important encounters, the ones that have to be controlled most seriously? You also need to do a situation analysis: what is the history of the brand, what is the rationale for branding today, what are all the risks and challenges associated with branding and how are you prepared to deal with them? The analysis should include all the initial actions you want to take to create brand awareness; one of those actions should be the creation of a brand council (see below for a bit more detail on this).

Third, are you settled with the name and tagline? Time to get the team brainstorming…even if the name is set in stone the tagline needs to be agreed upon. There has to be agreement within your marketing group, and then you need to radiate outward to the brand council, composed of individuals from all lines of the business, which will agree on one. Branding doesn’t work unless there is strong consensus that propels the initiative forward.

Fourth, you must get some basic background collateral together: a brand vision/mission/values poster and pocket card, a brand reference book/website for employees, and public affairs guidance (talking points) for your media group. These documents set the stage for all the other brand communication you will be doing because they set expectations not only about what the brand is, but about how it should be expressed verbally and visually.

This is only the beginning…but ideally you and your team should be getting more involved, more excited about the brand as you go along. Are you feeling it? If not, go back to the drawing board, because something is wrong.

More on this theme to follow in future posts.

Two missions, one tagline

Ideally companies are driven by a single mission, to be expressed in a single tagline. But life is not always ideal and a situation may come about where you have multiple missions, each one begging to be expressed. What do you do?

Essentially there are four choices. You can:

  1. Choose one of the missions and elevate it to “most important status,” expressing only that in your tagline
  2. Choose two or even three of the missions and express them all in the tagline
  3. Go higher-level than all of the missions and express a vision
  4. None of the above—just say something memorable

Strategy #3 seems to be the most popular if you look at the “top 10” taglines described at http://sbinformation.about.com/b/a/257130.htm (quoted below; my interpretation after the dashes)

“1. Got milk? (1993) California Milk Processor Board – very direct and product oriented; no vision here

2. Don’t leave home without it. (1975) American Express – vision-oriented; the idea of being “indispensable”

3. Just do it. (1988) Nike – vision-oriented

4. Where’s the beef? (1984) Wendy’s – just memorable

5. You’re in good hands with Allstate. (1956) Allstate Insurance –vision-oriented

6. Think different. (1998) Apple Computer –vision-oriented

7. We try harder. (1962) Avis –vision-oriented

8. Tastes great, less filling. (1974) Miller Lite –mission-oriented

9. Melts in your mouth, not in your hands. (1954) M&M Candies –mission-oriented

10. Takes a licking and keeps on ticking. (1956) Timex” – mission-oriented

I myself prefer a more literal tagline, one that sounds almost like a mission statement, if only because a company name rarely describes what it does, and it’s a crowded market: you have about two seconds to make it clear what value you contribute, and your name probably doesn't signify what you do. (Not everybody can be a superbrand and go abstract.) But I can see where option #3 works – it has a unifying quality that brings out a higher-level purpose to all the diverse things the company does.

Bottom line: If you’re stuck for a tagline, go higher. But try to keep it memorable AND distinctly related to the product or service.

Some radical brand advice for Hillary Clinton

Ten years ago, in my “sociology phase,” I wrote a book, Women and Soap Opera: A Cultural Feminist Perspective (Greenwood Press, 1997), which argued that soap operas are empowering for women because they allow women to express high emotionality, something that is taboo in a masculine-oriented society. (Implicit in the argument was the notion that society is still predominantly tilted in favor of men.) This is the perspective of cultural feminism: that women can become empowered by enjoying traditionally female ways of expressing themselves, and by taking on traditionally feminine roles and responsibilities.

In my view, Hillary Clinton is running for president of the United States on precisely the opposite assumption: that women can become empowered by erasing the difference between themselves and men, by participating fully in masculine society, and by rejecting any kind of role definition that is masculine or feminine. In fact, if I had to think of a “brand symbol” for Hillary, it would be the pantsuit: a traditionally male outfit reshaped for women to wear. This is liberal feminism: the concept that women and men are fundamentally the same, not just equal, that there are no inherent differences between them.

Now, I could be wrong, but I suspect that Hillary Clinton is deeply wedded to the idea of gender neutrality. This is something that fundamentally defines her. And she has risen to the elite of American life by envisioning herself as able to do anything that a man can do. But ironically, her very gender neutrality is, I suspect, something that turns people off about her. As much of a front runner as she is, she is equally disdained by those who “just don’t like her,” and I suspect that her refusal to assume a traditional gender role is part of that dislike. Remember when she said that she wasn’t some woman standing by her man baking cookies? That was a huge turnoff for a lot of people who think there is something very nice about a woman standing by her man baking cookies.

I am not saying that she shouldn’t run for President—not at all! What I am saying is that she should embrace her femininity, or at the very least show the world that she has a feminine side. She has already embraced some traditionally feminine issues/causes, such as childcare and healthcare. But she is still refusing to inhabit the female gender. She should get on television and be emotional, even shed a tear or two. I’d like to see her be a guest on more daytime television, on The View. I’d like to see her be a personal role model for women who want to achieve everything that men can, but as women not pretend men. Now THAT would be a radical turnaround for Hillary—and whether the polls show it or not, it would be a move that I think would push her into the White House.

Brand touchpoint analysis--how to get it done

Everybody knows that a brand is only as good as its communications with internal and external stakeholders. If you only communicate the brand in some places, but not in others, you are creating an inconsistent image and the brand message will not take hold. The question is, how do you get the organization to look at all the ways it communicates (both to employees and the outside world) and come up with a true inventory?

I suggest that this is where the brand council comes in. Headed up by subject matter experts from every line of business and back-office function, the council should meet and together brainstorm all the typical places where the brand is showcased. It is likely that the council will find out that there are numerous touchpoints that need to be controlled, starting with the marketing/PR departments, continuing with customer service, and ending with...who knows?

If you haven't conducted a brand inventory yet, now is a good time to start.

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