Wednesday, May 19, 2010

One Brand Idea = Kiss of Death? Not Necessarily!

My Friends,

I feel like we've chatted about social media quite a bit lately...  I know it's all the rage, on trend, the "new black" and all of that good stuff.  Frankly, it's nice to think about other things from  time to time.  I'm sure you can agree with me.  Variety is the spice of life!

I was doing my usual tour of different marketing sites yesterday and came across this interesting tidbit on the Brandweek site which essentially argues that we can no longer hang our hat on a brand that describes us at exactly this point in time.  So, while it was perfectly okay for Kentucky Fried Chicken to introduce itself as that back in 1952, it's just not a tenable brand name in these health conscious days hence the shift to KFC in 1991.

These days, the pressure is on to cover as many bases as possible to retain as many customers as possible.  If you recall in my Sears post, we no longer do all of our shopping in one place.  We go to many places (online or brick and mortar) that best serves our purposes be it quality, price or even both.  As I suggested then, Sears suffered from a little bit of hubris and overconfidence that customers would always come back regardless of price or quality.

In light of this, the author posed the following:

"So I'll humbly offer this piece of advice to startup brands, big and small.  Don't just name yourself for the here and now.  Try instead to look inside an imaginary crystal ball (or heck, a real one, if you can find one that works) and think about the way the brand name is likely to be viewed in the near and distant future.  Given the ever-increasing savvy of consumers, it will behoove you to use some forethought when it comes to naming."

Hmph.  As a marketer and as a consumer, I don't have an issue with smart, strategic branding in the slightest.  And yet, I find this paragraph more than a little troubling.  You know what that means...  a bulleted list!  And away we go:
  • What happened to the customer?  The worst possible and yet most effective way to turn off a prospect or discerning customer is to try to distract them with bright lights and gimmickry.  Our customer is our boss and our job is to deliver the "ask" and nothing less.  If we don't, we get fired.  Pretty simple.
  • One other thing that kind of yells out to me in this paragraph is that there is no mention of the product in question that is the purported centerpiece or perhaps inspiration of the startup brand that delivers the "ask" I mentioned in the first bullet.  Are we so superficial as marketers and consumers that the vibe of something matters more than the what of something?  Are we really that vapid?  If this is expert advice, I guess the answer is yes.  What a bummer.
  • Is it even possible that a sexy and/or futuristic name can boost a so so product for the long term?  I know that smart marketers can create enough buzz and hype for a successful product launch but this question is about Year Two and beyond.  This is where "regression to the mean" comes into play.  I believe, for the most part, consumers revert back to value for dollars spent.  You can put "lipstick on a pig" but at the end of the day, she's still a sow.  Sorry, Miss Piggy.
  • Why must we be so insecure?  The article did point out that Sub Zero is a brand name that does well despite its age but it suggests that as exception rather than rule.  Why can't we be the best at one (or two if related) things, continually exceed our customer expectations as to our limits/imagination and wear that as a badge of honor in the form of our brand?  It's only complacency that allows us to lose market share a la Sears.  If we're always hungry, we're less likely to fail.
  • This paragraph suggests savvy customers.  If this is the case, they will see that our attempts to mean something to everyone ring hollow.  We can't mean something to everyone.  It's not a tenable position.  Some people are bound to dislike our product or our company for some reason or other.  Choose a name that means something and is relevant.  And then stick with it.
  • Fundamentally, this is a case of flawed strategic approach.  I said I wasn't going to do it but...  I have to talk about Social Media here.  Social Media can be a tool for good if used in the right ways: allowing humans to interact with one another meaningfully using these new networked platforms.  What happens, though, is that we let the platforms' fun glitzy gadgets take over strategy.  If we say the branding is the centerpiece of long term survival, it means that we are taking the worst of Social Media's attributes.  Glamour then become more important than substance.  Ack!

The long and the short of it is that when I read items such as this piece, I feel like marketing and branding is in crisis.  Maybe that's a bit melodramatic...  Well, maybe a lot melodramatic.  The point is that advice such as this encourages superficiality, it encourages disrespect of the customer and it encourages caring more for the brand's glitz than for the product's function.

Whew!  I've rather enjoyed talking about branding and what it means in today's marketing environment.  Please read the article and share with me your two cents.  I love the continued feedback!


Parissa Behnia
Idea Chef

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