Brand Principle #1 All Aboard the Brandwagon
Relying on brand awareness has become marketing fool’s gold.
These days, the term “branding” is being uttered in the same pious, reverential tones formerly reserved for buzz words like “synergy,” “leverage,” and “strategic planning.” The brand idea is no longer con-fined just to packaged consumer products. Today the word “brand” has become part of the vernacular within every department of any progressive company. It is on everyone’s radar screen, though not everyone really knows what it means.
Brands are living concepts that we hold in our minds for years. What goes into them is both logical and irrational. Some of the most lasting brand images are purely emotional—memories of exceptionally bad service, of a product that failed to deliver on its promise, or of one that exceeded our expectations and blew us away with its screaming performance. In our minds we store all the moments in time when a brand stopped us in our tracks and made us think deeply or inspired us. We also remember the brands that have nearly killed us.
If brand awareness was once the standard measure for brand strength, and brand resonance and relevance are the new yardsticks. To fully understand a brand you have to look much deeper. You have to strip everything away and get to its core and understand how it is viewed and felt by people inside the company and the world outside.
Brand Principle #2 Cracking Your Brand’s Genetic Code
You have to know it before you can grow it.
Every brand has at its core a substance that gives it strength. You have to understand it before you can grow it.
Some call this substance the brand’s “essence”; others prefer the term “core brand values.”
Consider this: no two brands are exactly alike. Company founders are a little like parents: each of them contributes something unique of their values, disciplines, and visions that, if all goes well, will in combination create, nurture, and strengthen an entity that will outlive them.
All too often, when the corporate leadership changes, the genes mutate along with it—unless the brand is well understood across the company. In these traditional states, brands that are poorly defined often become deformed versions of the strong, vital substances the world once loved and respected. Only in very rare cases does leadership churn succeed in strengthening brands. More typically, a brand subjected to the inconsistent twists and turns of management pressure just degenerates into a confused, unremarkable mess. Specialty retailer Nordstrom experienced this shortly after the Nordstrom family stepped out of several key leadership positions in 2000. The key to Nordstrom’s recovery? The family stepped back in.
Brand Principle #3 Building Brandwidth
Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.
One reason for Starbucks’ phenomenal success in a number of risky brand-extension maneuvers has been its unwavering commitment to creating a best-of-class product in whatever category it competes in.
A good example of positive brand stretch is Frappuccino, both bottled and blended in the café. It was born as a result of a persistent suggestion by several Starbucks baristas who had created their own cold blended coffee concoction. Corporate stepped in and developed the product into what we now recognize as Frappuccino. It became a runaway success across the country.
Shortly before Starbucks began putting blended cold beverages into its cafés, Pepsi-Cola and Starbucks entered into a relationship to create new coffee products for the North American grocery distribution channel. The first effort was a carbonated coffee beverage called Mazagran, which was test-marketed in California in 1994. A niche product that attempted to merge the best qualities of cola and coffee, it never became a mainstream hit, and after a brief trial run on the West Coast it was pulled from the market.
Brand Principle #4 Show Some Emotion
Transcend a product-only relationship with your customers.
Great brands understand the need to respect both the physical and emotional needs of consumers. Establishing an emotional connection with a broad range of consumers does not protect you from gaffes or lapses in judgment. A negative emotional response, even if it is only con-fined to a small segment of the audience, can be just as strong as a positive one, if not more so. And thanks to the growing scrutiny of the media toward large corporations, small mistakes can become major debacles. A hard-earned bond of trust that may have taken years to build can be broken in an instant. If you are successful in establishing a relationship that is more than skin-deep, respect the person that invited you in. And always.
reat brands transcend great products. They respect the timeless human search for people, places, products, and services that are relevant and compelling. Consciously or not, we seek experiences that make us think, that make us feel, that help us grow, and that enrich our lives in some way. Wherever possible, make your brand a part of that process.
Brand Principle #5 Brand Environmentalism
Brand environmentalism means accepting the responsibility to protect your brand and present it in the best possible light whenever and wherever it may be found.
Great companies look beyond the point of sale and go deep within to examine such once-considered-irrelevant elements of their businesses as their corporate offices and the factories that make their products. They undertake a major effort to ensure that the press completely grasps what it is that they do, and how and why they do it. They leave nothing to chance. They no longer merely dump their products or services into the marketplace and then let them fend for themselves. Instead, they act as the brand’s chaperone. They control whatever they can and they do their best to influence the rest.
It’s no longer acceptable for companies that distribute through retail channels—or any channel—to simply ship their products and then assume that the world around their product or service is a factor that can be safely ignored.
Brand Principle #6 Brand Leadership
All brands need good parents.
Great brands have leadership at the top and in the trenches. It is everyone’s job. But some brands, in particular retailers and service companies, are especially dependent on the front-line employees who come face-to-face with the customer. In companies like these, dedicated employees engender brand trust and foster brand loyalty better than any marketing program, whereas bad employees can easily undermine a brand that took years or even decades to build. Retailers worry constantly about this, as well they should.
Howard Schultz knew that store-level employees would have a crucial impact on shaping his brand when he took control of Starbucks—all five stores and a handful of employees—in 1987. Part of Schultz’s vision was to procure, roast, and prepare by hand the best coffees from around the world. But Schultz also set out to create a company that respected its employees by offering full medical benefits for part-time employees and stock ownership for everyone in the company, no matter how many hours they worked. Potential investors told him that he was crazy, that he was creating unnecessary and costly overhead. But Schultz pressed ahead, unfazed by the naysayers, and convinced that employees who felt respected would develop customers who felt the same way. Schultz was as intently focused on creating the best employee training program anywhere for the same reason. Between creating a top-notch benefits package and a first-rate employee training program, Schultz felt sure he would be able to attract and retain the highest-quality people. He was right. During the most critical growth period for Starbucks, in the mid-to late nineties, Starbucks had the lowest turnover rate of any restaurant or fast-food company in the world.
Brand Principle #7 Branding and the Corporate Goliath
Big doesn’t have to be bad.
All great brands were once infants. And all of today’s global giants—Coca-Cola, Sony, Nike, Disney, even GM and GE—were at one time, not all that long ago, little more than mom-and-pop shops. But in each case, the creators of the brands we have come to know and respect were endowed with a commitment to building a brand that was larger than any single product or service, greater than any single new technology. This core belief in these brands’ values allowed them to prosper and grow with change, to overcome fierce competition and end up on top.
Just as the imperatives of growth cannot be ignored, neither can the responsibilities of power and size. To become a globe-spanning Goliath is every brand’s dream, but also its worst nightmare, if the public begins to suspect that the brand they helped to grow has turned against them. The solution is in one way simple—to “teach the elephant to dance”—but in another way complex, because that dance must be carefully aligned with your deepest brand values. Taking refuge in cheap labels like “cool” and “hip” can yield short-term results, but over the long haul, “hip” and “cool” are just labels—so thin you can peel them away with a thumbnail.
Brand Principle #8 Brand Future
Relevance, simplicity, and humanity, not technology, will distinguish brands in the future.
The opportunity to do the right thing has never been as important as it is right now. Building a sustainable enterprise is about having a conscience and having heart…. As a business you care about doing the right thing because it is who you are, not because it is good press. Those with the backbone to do the right thing will sustain greatness in their business.
For the sake of humanity, society will reward companies that make their brands better, not simply bigger. Achieving this will require that we stop measuring our success merely in terms of the strength of financial numbers, and that we begin to account for goodwill, business ethics, and corporate contributions to creating a world better than the one we know today