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January 15, 2006

The Art of Branding

Brand_1 In honor of the recent Macworld Expo and the upcoming Super Bowl (the two great branding exercises of every new year; one much more fruitful than the other), this blog entry is about the art of branding. My assumptions are that you don't have infinite resources and that you do have a great product (see an earlier post called “Guy's Golden Touch”). If you do have infinite resource and don't have a great product, there's still hope, but you don't need to read this entry any further.

  1. Seize the high ground. Establish your brand on positive attributes like “making meaning,” “doing good,” “changing the world,” and “making people happy”--not doing in your competition. Think about it: when is the last time you bought a product to hurt a company's competition? (Other than maybe Macintosh users.) That's not why you spend your dollars. If you want to beat your competition, establish an uplifting brand, but don't try to establish a brand based on your silly desire to beat your competition.
  2. Create one message.  It's hard enough to create and communicate one branding message; however, many companies try to establish more than one because they are afraid of being niched and want the “entire” market. “Our computer is for Fortune 500 companies. And, oh yes, it's also for consumers to use a home.” Face it, Volvo can't equal safety and sexiness, and Toyota can't equal economical and lexuriousness (sic). You can pick one message, see if it works, and then try another. But you can't try several at once.
  3. Speak English. Not necessarily, English, but speak in non-jargonese. If your positioning statement uses any acronyms, the odds are that (a) most people won't understand your branding, and (b) your branding won't last very long. For example, “best JPEG decoder” presumes that people understand what “JPEG” and “decoder” mean. And ten years from now, who knows if JPEG matters anymore. Not to be an ageist, but a good test is to ask your parents if they understand what your positioning means--assuming your parents aren't computer science professors.
  4. Apply the opposite test. How many times have you read a product description like this? “Our software is scalable, secure, easy-to-use, and fast?” Companies use these adjectives as if no other company claims its product is scalable, secure, easy-to-use, and fast. See if your competition uses the antonyms of the adjectives that you use to describe your product. If it doesn't, your description is useless. For example, I've never seen a company say that its product was limited, full of leaks, hard-to-use, and slow.
  5. Cascade the message.  Let's say that you craft the perfect branding message. As the Japanese say, “Mazel tov.” Now cascade your message up and down your organization. The marketing department of many companies assume that once they're put out the press release or run the ad, the entire world understands the message. It's unlikely that even the entire company does. Start with your board of directors and work down to Trixie and Biff at the front desk and make sure every employee understands the branding.
  6. Focus on PR, not advertising. Many companies waste away millions of dollars trying to establish brands with advertising. When it comes to branding, too much money is worse than too little because when you have a lot of money, you spend a lot of money on stupid things like Super Bowl commercials. Brands are built on what people are saying about you, not what you're saying about yourself. People say good things about you when (a) you have a great product and (b) you get people to spread the word about it.
  7. Strive for humanness.  Great brands achieve a high level of humaness. They speak to you as an individual, not as part of a market. It's “my iPod.” “My Macintosh.” “My Harley Davidson.” “My bottle of Coke.” By contrast, you'd never think, “My Windows XP,” or “My Microsoft Office,” so I wouldn't label Microsoft as a great brand although, obviously, it is a great financial success. Ideally, you'd achieve both.
  8. Flow with the go. As much as a I love marketing, at the end of the day, customers ultimately determine what your brand means. To a great degree, you take your best shot, and then you see what sticks. Or, more accurately, you see what customers make stick for you. For decades Apple has tried to make the Macintosh brand stand for power. For decades consumers believe the Macintosh brand stands for easy to use. Ultimately, you flow with what's going, and you be thankful that it's flowing at all.

Written at: Atherton, California

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Comments

I would love to rss feed this column into my new website at http://www.brandingservices.org . This site also has a space for posting questions to experts like you and I would love for you to contribute. Please contact me if you are interested.

Best,

Adam Fiveson
Creative Director - 5webdesign.com

Hi Guy,
I just posted an article titled,"GOOGLE-A brand built to last or to get lost" in my blog.
the link is as follows:
http://zeno-theoracle.blogspot.com/2007/06/google-brand-built-to-last-or-to-get.html
I am an upcoming blogger, looking forward for your review on this post!!!

This is a great article. I am new to your blog and i like what I see. I look forward to your future work.
I’ve taken a quick look at your postings, which are very interesting. Lots of material and ideas! Congrats on being so focused!

I told you those adjectives fit! Anyone who quits her job to freelance has to be both independent, and a slight bit sassy, but possibly not so bright. Though, it has proven to be a wise decision!
I’ve taken a quick look at your postings, which are very interesting. Lots of material and ideas! Congrats on being so focused!
The advice given in your blog is fantastic and very complimentary to my site, check it out MY BLOG

Hi Guy,

Thanks for your contributions. Some additions to your list...

-Go straight to the heart. Strive to evoke emotions and create sensory experiences.

-Choose the best partner. Consider co-creating your brand with your customers.

-Brands that influence culture sell more. Find ways to create a sense of community.

Looking forward to a part two of your post.

A really nice compilation of core-branding tasks. Keep the flow!

Today I having been in the Internet have looked your site, on it him a lot of interesting I have found.

How many I was in a network the Internet, but your site my loved liked,favourite! Thanks.

I thought that the most important lesson here was: Create one message.

All my life I tried hard to become more complex, more hard to understand, read more, achive more, do more.

I ended up being split up by all of theese things and not many wow things got done.

For the last year I've tried to unlearn the "do more" style. It's god damn hard. But I'm still pretty young so I think I'm getting there.

Anyhow. One message:

I'm a movie-god.
I make wow movies.
My mission statement is:
Giving you goosebumps, one movie at a time.
That's all there is to it.

Thank you

Thanks for sharing the wisdom Guy! I don't get tired of reading your posts.

Your comment "As much as a I love marketing, at the end of the day, customers ultimately determine what your brand means" is incredibly important. It's the foundation of our company and underpins the work we do with every client. This underlines your other point about making sure that everyone else in the company understands the branding. We would expand on that and ensure that everyone understands and delivers results in line with the brand promise.

"For decades consumers believe the Macintosh brand stands for easy to use."

Perhaps Mac marketeers assume the ease of use sale - they may still be trying to extend their market.

Great thoughts. I'm not sure if you've read it but, "The Culting of Brands" by Douglas Atkins supports most of what you've said here. As a co-founder of a start-up I enjoy hearing from you what you think works and doesn't and then testing it out for myself. Thanks for sharing the wealth.

"Mazel tov" is a Yiddish phrase, not a Japanese one.

"If Microsoft made a PC, I'm sure we'd see the same behavior."

It'll be a while until we see "I *heart* my XBox" ;) In my experience, the sysadmins aren't mad keen on Windows either. They just know it and they can't consider anything else. They'll vociferously defend it when confronted with something else but that's not the same as *heart*.

Guy: Yer blog is rocking. While on the topic... why do you roll with, "let the good times roll"?

I get the tie-in, but I'd love to hear why you choose to tie-in.

Thanks,
Ed O'Farrell

Having been in computers for a while, I found the "My Documents", My ad-infinitum folder labeling on Windows to be somewhat amateurish and condescending. Like a Fisher-Price computer might be.

Then again, when my 70-plus-year old Dad saw the "My Documents" folder, he thought the computer was telling him "hands off, these are MY documents". So it looks like the "my everything" labeling scheme missed both high and low in "my" family (my Dad is now happily using Mac OS, btw).

'It's about personal objects with the emphasis on the personal', I understand the point, MJ. I guess what I was trying to say was that Windows allows me to take that personal ownership of my objects. Plus, Microsoft has created a media center which I can also proudly call 'My Media Center'. I'm sure the people with it in their living rooms could agree.

If we want to argue apples to apples though, who says 'My OSX', they say 'My Macintosh'. If Microsoft made a PC, I'm sure we'd see the same behavior... but they don't, they just make lots of money letting other people build the PCs.

This post is understood at an even more profound level when you think about an organization's leader. We're going through a transition soon, and I want to make sure people think about the incoming guy as "My president."

Good post. Microsoft has a fairly strong brand though. It's now the My Windows thing, but everyone knows what it is. They also Your Potential, Our Passion, which is pretty good.

Guy:

Microsoft has a great brand, just not for consumers. I know many IT department heads who put together the computer systems for their company that would proudly talk about "My Windows XP".

Of course, none of the end users would say that, but they are not the ones who make the buying decision in many companies.

"what about 'My Documents', 'My Pictures', 'My Media Center'?"

That kinda misses the point. It's about personal objects with the emphasis on the personal and the objects can be software or hardware. MS tries to create an ownership with their labelling of everything with a "My" but this sort of forced branding doesn't really work.

A very good one. In short, BRANDS ARE invaluable bridges that connect products with markets. Goods and services are branded to distinguish them from other commodity-like goods and services. There should be a good reason why so much effort goes into the creation of brands and into the branding of products.

Awesome post, profound really.

Oh, I sooooo dig this!

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