Mistake No. 1: Don’t Know What Branding Is
Perhaps there is so much that has been written about branding that people are confused as to what branding really is. A lot of the definitions that you find these days sound very impressive but they miss the point. What is branding all about? Differentiation. Mistake No. 2: Middle-Of-The-Road Approach
Many people still mistake branding as logo design. While it did originate with a logo (remember how cattle owner’s singe their logo or initials into the rumps of cows?), that logo is there for a purpose—differentiation. Before you can build a brand, you need to first know what branding is. The form of branding might have changed over 4,000 years but its function has remained the same.
Many brands make the mistake of being stuck in the middle. I have come across so many brands that claimed they are ‘differentiated’ by being (and I quote), “80% as good as the leading brand but only 30% more expensive than the entry-level brands.” Life is hard enough without having to think in fractions! When you take the middle-of-the-road approach, you are neither here nor there. The middle is no place to be because the 2 segments that are growing rapidly in every category in any market are the high end and the low end. Thus, if you are stuck in the middle, you’re not going anywhere. To build a strong brand, you’ve got to take a stand. You are either this or you are that. You can’t be both. You know why you scream at your children when they play in the middle of the road? That’s where accidents happen. So, why do you want to put your brand there? Mistake No. 3: Forgot What Made Them Famous
If you study brands carefully, you will notice that one of the first things that they do when they become successful is that they tend to forget what made them famous. Xerox at one point in time forgot that what made them famous was the photocopier. They started line-extending the brand into other products such as computers, scanners, fax machines, printers, etc. and that damaged the brand tremendously. Kodak forgot that what made them famous is film and not cameras but they stuck the Kodak brand onto cameras anyway. Where are the Xerox computers today? Dead. Would you buy a Kodak digital camera over an Olympus or Nikon or Canon if the one from Kodak were priced the same? Neither would I. Mistake No. 4: Driven By Opportunity, Not Vision
You must understand that what makes your brand famous will also tend to keep your brand stuck in that product or category. If that category dies, the brand dies. Polaroid is tied to ‘instant photography’, and when that category died, Polaroid went along with it. If what makes you famous is no longer relevant and you have to move into a new category, launch a new brand. Never lose sight of the thing that made you famous in the first place because that should always be the focus of all your innovation and marketing efforts.
The difference between a brand and a business is that a business is driven by opportunities whereas a brand is driven by vision. A business will jump into whatever makes them money now. If selling iPod skins makes money today, that’s what a business will do—find a way to sell as many iPod skins as possible. If selling car stereos makes money tomorrow, it will jump into selling car stereos. A business wants to own 5% of 10 markets because it thinks that by doing so it is diversifying its risk and will remain small enough that the big boys won’t bother them. What it is forgetting is that by doing that, they are actually taking on 10 different sets of competitors. Every problem they face will be multiplied by 10, as they are in 10 different categories. Mistake No. 5: Right Execution, Wrong Strategy
A brand wants to own 50% of one market. A brand is driven by a strong vision. It is willing to give up 9 out of 10 categories in order to be dominant in one. Of course, you cannot ignore market opportunities, but you need to have a vision first and look for opportunities that fulfil that vision.
Many companies that I have come across don’t spend enough time developing their strategy. They rush into doing things. They might execute things very well, however, a flawed strategy, no matter how well executed, will still not lead you to success. In the book, Trout On Strategy, renowned positioning guru, Jack Trout, wrote that the difference between successful companies and the also-rans is simply the right strategy. And yet, many companies don’t spend enough time thinking about strategy. The guru of execution, Ram Charan, often quotes Toyota as a company that executes very well. You won’t find any arguments from me here. However, Toyota is successful because it is executing the right strategy well and that is what its Kanban just-in-time manufacturing system is all about—the right strategy. Mistake No. 6: Branding Is The Job Of Marketing
Most companies that I have met in the past seemed to think that branding is the job of the marketing department. Several companies (including one public listed company) that I have met even told me they are putting their group accountant in charge of branding. Well, I love accountants. After all, I am married to a CPA. But what I can’t quite fathom is why put the accountant in charge of branding. One company told me it’s because branding involves a lot of money, so therefore the accountant should be in charge. I know your head hurts thinking about it—been there, done that! Branding is not the job of the accountant. Branding is not even the job of marketing. These are just supporting actors. Mistake No. 7: No Brand Ambassadors
Branding is the job of the CEO. The CEO has to play the part of the Brand Champion. If you look at successful brands that went from being tiny start-ups to big global brands (i.e. Microsoft, Sony, Google, Apple, Disney, Ferrari, Starbucks, Virgin, The Body Shop, etc.) you will find that they usually have a strong Brand Champion as the leader. The CEO must be the one driving the brand because only he/ she is given that mandate. The head of the marketing department doesn’t have that kind of authority. The head of marketing is not the head of the company. This is a job that needs to be done by the CEO, and it’s one that he/ she cannot delegate.
The Brand Champion cannot do it alone. He/ she will need to build up an army of Brand Ambassadors to promote the brand. The CEO needs to inspire the rest of the company to become advocates of the brand—to talk the talk and to walk the walk. I have very often found that in local companies, the senior management doesn’t communicate enough to the rest of the company. Everything about strategy and direction is confined to the top few people. Granted that the development of a strategy cannot involve too many people or it will become diluted; but once that strategy is developed, it needs to be communicated by the CEO to the rest of the company to generate support and buy-in.
When Lotus bet the farm on its Notes groupware in the face of its Lotus 1-2-3 spreadsheet programme being slowly strangled to death by Microsoft’s Excel, the CEO had to sell that new brand vision to the rest of the company over and over and over again to create buy-in and build an army of Brand Ambassadors. It was a dirty job but again, that is what CEOs are paid to do!
Next month, in Part II of this series, we will look at the remaining 7 mistakes. In the meantime, try to avoid making any of the first 7 mistakes…