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How To Recognize A Branding Problem

April 3, 2017

squarepegroundhole_final4_1x copy.jpgI recently had the great pleasure of discovering a blog called 25iq.com, published by Tren Griffin. The blog covers business, investing, technology and more, and it is well worth a visit. One of Griffin’s recent posts is entitled: “A Dozen Lessons About Product/Market Fit”, or PMF. As I was reading, it became clear to me that PMF is very similar to, if not exactly the same as, brand positioning. I found the fourth of the 12 lessons to be particularly engaging. In it, Griffin quotes renowned entrepreneur, Marc Andreeson: “You can always feel when product/market fit isn’t happening. The customers aren’t quite getting value out of the product, word of mouth isn’t spreading, usage isn’t growing that fast, press reviews are kind of ‘blah’, the sales cycle takes too long, and lots of deals never close.”

Andreeson, here, is giving us a classic description of a brand that is not connecting with its market. But what he describes as a fit problem is, to the brand strategist’s mind, a relationship problem. As in: There’s an issue, here, between the brand and its market. Not unlike a thorny issue tormenting a dating couple. There are really only two possible solutions.

1. You can fix the relationship. You can find out why the two parties are somehow not understanding each other and you can rectify the situation.
2. You can reach the conclusion that the two are just not meant to be together. You can urge them to separate and look for more compatible partners (product or market).

Andreeson goes on to say: “And you can always feel product/market fit when it’s happening. The customers are buying the product just as fast as you can make it — or usage is growing just as fast as you can add more servers. Money from customers is piling up in your company checking account. You’re hiring sales and customer support staff as fast as you can. Reporters are calling because they’ve heard about your hot new thing and they want to talk to you about it. You start getting entrepreneur of the year awards from Harvard Business School. Investment bankers are staking out your house. You could eat free for a year at Buck’s.”

Now Andreeson is describing a brand that’s firing on all cylinders, really connecting with its market. Owners and managers of brand assets have to nurture those relationships, continue to delight their customers, deliver on their brand promises and grow their brands.

So I always answer “Every day!” when people ask me when to turn their attention to branding. Brand Finance and The International Brand Valuation Manual show us that brand value can approach 70% of the overall value of a business. If that’s so, shouldn’t the owner or manager of that business spend 70% of his or her time working on building the brand? It’s a rhetorical question, of course. With all the immediate responsibilities of running a business – the deadlines to meet, disputes to adjudicate and fires to extinguish – it’s understandable that the brand is often neglected. Unfortunately, neglected brands quickly lose their efficacy and value. Market leaders, in every sector, employ brand managers to ensure their most valuable assets, their brands, get all the love and attention they deserve.

There are some times when neglect of the brand can do calamitous harm to the business. Whenever an organization or brand is in some form of transition, it’s critical that management take a serious, in-depth look at whether their brand promise needs to be reinforced, refined, revised or replaced altogether, relative to the change it is experiencing.

Changes that commonly impede a brand from fully leveraging its competitive advantage:

                        • When a business is being bought or sold.
                        • When it’s merging with another company.
                        • When it’s expanding in size or in territory served.
                        • When it’s entering new market segments or adding new products or services.
                        • When it’s emerging from a restructuring.
                        • When it’s under new management.
                        • When it’s growing and ready to move up “to the next level”.
                        • When it remains static in an ever-changing market.

It’s times like these when businesses are most at risk of falling out of alignment with their brand promise. More often than not, a change in the business means a change in the brand promise, and the bigger the change, the more urgent the need for a formal brand analysis.

But hundreds of subtle changes can be as dangerous as one big one because, unless someone is watching over the situation, they can slip by unnoticed. Unnoticed, that is, until the cumulative effect reveals itself as a prolonged sales plateau or even a decline.

Making things all the more difficult, the business environment is changing all the time, and at an ever-accelerating rate. Market currents can affect a business in a thousand subtle ways. So, more than ever, management must monitor how these micro-changes affect their brand promise and their relationships with important constituencies, especially customers.

How does one recognize that a brand has been overly influenced by many small changes and has lost sight of its brand promise? Here are a few clues:

                        • 
When your brand is getting completely overshadowed by a stronger brand.

                        • When your profits are falling off.

                        • When you’re losing market share.

                        • When you suspect that not enough people “get” your brand.
                        • 
When you’re an also-ran in your market category.

                        • When many of your customers believe you’re indistinguishable from your competitors. (B2B managers, take note!)

                        • When you’re not sure what should be your primary brand – the company or the product

                        • When your brand architecture is confusing, even to you.

                        • When your customers are strangely unhappy in their dealings with you.
                        • When your vendors are strangely unhappy in their dealings with you.
                        • When you don’t believe your brand identity accurately reflects the nature of your business.

                        • When you get the feeling your brand identity is boring, dated or stale. (Ask your teenagers. They’ll tell you.)

                        • When your brand identity is expressed inconsistently across different media and touch points.
                        • 
When your staff seems oddly reluctant to wear your company shirts, caps, etc.

                        • When your brand is interpreted differently by different executives within your company.

                        • When your organization doesn’t understand the value of having an effective brand.

                        • When you can’t get your CEO, executive team or staff to buy into your brand.

                        • When your company regards the cost of branding as an expense – like office supplies – instead of recognizing it as                            the investment in market value that it really is.

An organization’s marketing and sales staff needs to fully understand how even a small change can affect the promise they’re making to customers. Failing to grasp it completely, in all its facets, could result in unrealized sales. Perhaps even more importantly, the rest of the company, from the mail room to the board room, needs to recognize and accept any changes to the brand promise. After all, they’re the ones charged with keeping that promise. If they fail to do so, there’s a risk that customer experience – and customer satisfaction – will suffer and, obviously, that discourages repeat business.

So watch for changes, big or small, and keep an eye out for the telltale clues. Fix those branding issues before they get expensive.

Best Branding Reads – Week of April 3, 2017

Brands Have Learned the Value of Purpose. Now They Must Actually Become Purpose-Led
Airbnb, Budweiser and Lumber84 all ran purpose-led ads at this year’s Super Bowl. Will we see more of this?

4 Priorities For CMO Survival And Prosperity
Some useful tips for keeping that CMO job longer than 42 months.

The Brand Risk of Playing it Safe
An important read regarding brand values. Is it as black and white as the author suggests?

The Art of Branding Generously
Give till it hurts. Show your values and watch your market bond with you.

New Logo and Identity for Tretyakov Gallery
Underwhelming, at first, till you see the elegance of the applications. Be sure to watch the videos.

A Designer Recounts His Contribution to the Clinton Campaign
Graphic design legend Michael Beirut tells his fascinating story. Wish I liked the logo more.

Brand USA: 5 Questions With Chief Strategy Officer Anne Madison
Selling Brand USA has always been a tough gig. More than ever, these days.

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