Remember this guy? Jared Fogle. He became a celebrity for losing more than 200 pounds by eating nothing but Subway sandwiches – for a year, I think. Subway made him a spokesperson for the brand and he appeared in ads that ran from 2000 to 2015. The ads were very successful and Subway only ended their association with Fogle when he was indicted for sexual offenses against minors. He was subsequently convicted and sentenced to more than 15 years behind bars. I’m thinking of Jared Fogle today because of a conversation I recently had with an attorney who represents several cannabis businesses. Cannabis is a commodity, as you know. So all growers are looking for ways to differentiate their crops and tell a compelling story. They need to build brands. The idea is to amass markets, of course, but also to attract the fat-cat buyers – big tobacco and big liquor – who are eating up the sector. A stronger brand means a higher sell price. According to this attorney, every grower’s dream is to attract a celebrity spokesperson as a shortcut to brand stardom and a massive exit package. But they should tread very carefully when making such a move. In a flash, Subway’s association with Fogle turned from profitable to toxic. There is a right way and a wrong way to use celebrity endorsers.
Every business has a brand whether it wants one or not. Every business has a relationship to its market and that relationship is its brand. It’s partly a recognition thing. What does the business look like? What does it sound like? It’s partly a reputation thing. What is it known for? What does it stand for? It’s even partly a legal thing. What trademarks or copyrights does it own? Today, we think of it as a total experience thing. How does the market experience this business? How do the two parties relate to one another? How do people feel about this business? Most small- and middle-market business owners put very little time into thinking about their brand. They commission a logo design, launch a website and leave it at that. They let their brand grow wild from there without ever considering what it might grow into. Shrewd business owners, however, create a strategies for their brands. They decide how they want people to experience their business and they take steps to ensure that they do. They shape their relationship with the market and guide their business to a positioning that affords competitive advantage. The market leaders in every category do this. In large part, that’s why they became market leaders.
While at breakfast with some new friends this past week, I happened to once again relay the tale of the six blind men of Hindustan, a famous Indian folk tale. In it, six blind men use their sense of touch to “see” an elephant. I was using the story to illustrate how different people experience brands in different ways and how it’s important to craft brand strategies that will address all those points of view. One of the people at the table very kindly complimented me on the metaphor. And that inspired me to notice that it’s been two and half years since we discussed brand constituencies in this blog. Time to rectify that now. Our tale begins in ancient India …
A few weeks ago, I wrote about charting a course to brand performance. To completely torture that maritime metaphor, when your brand is performing well, it’s like having your boat perfectly outfitted and your course plotted. At this point, your brand should be working efficiently for you. But where are you going? Most owners and managers of small and middle-market buildings have no idea. They point their vessels, imprecisely, toward “success” or “increased sales”. But that’s just like steering toward the horizon. A business needs a more specific goal. And, luckily, one of the benefits of constructing a brand strategy is that the goal becomes immediately apparent. Once you have assessed your products and services, matched up to your market’s values, assessed your storytelling capabilities and surveyed your competition’s positioning, you’ll see a rich goal that is readily available to you. And you’ll have plotted a course to it, one that neatly sails past shallow water and treacherous rocks.
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