Friday, July 24, 2009

Brand, Brand, Brand!

I've had a lot of discussions lately about brand. You know, the five letter word that makes direct marketers stand up and scream "why can't I get a piece of that &*(^ brand budget!"

It seems to have become the modern day version of the Jets and the Sharks - brand versus direct. "Brand Oriented" companies have lots of coolness and sizzle, while "Direct Oriented" companies have short ties and toilet paper on their shoes.

Frankly, I've had a whole pantload of the panting, sycophantic admiration of "brand". Because brand is an after-affect. You can't create great brands and be successful. "Brands" only come around after the hard work has been done. Problem is, once things get into the hands of "brand marketers" - who think that their brand doesn't stink - the fun really begins. That's when we find out that - more often than not - brands that lose their focus can quickly become irrelevant. Fun like in "We're the Titanic - we ain't afraid of no stinkin' ice bergs!"

Think of it this way...great products are like parents who worked hard and built something for themselves. Maybe something really great and successful. Brands are sometimes like their spoiled children who don't know anything but success, then think the world owes them a living. The kind of kids who want to be lord and master of ALL the toys. The efforts of these children (often known as "line extensions") usually end up where they belong - on the scrap heap of effort along with their teenage guitar lessons.

If brands were as powerful as brand evangelists make them out to be, then the world would know the wonders of Nike Kitty Litter and BMW Toothpaste. But brands are just not that powerful. Just ask Lehman Brothers. Or General Motors.

I love the Japanese auto makers - they're not as wowed by the Brand dictum. When Toyota (a great and reliable "brand") wanted to go upscale, they developed a new brand. But Lexus wasn't successful because of the power of the then-unknown brand. It was successful because of the product that embodied "The Relentless Pursuit of Perfection". The brand was a guide, not a rule.

At the end of the day, the brand playbook looks pretty damn simple -

  1. Be first in the market and/or first in the mind.
  2. Narrow the focus of your effort - don't go too wide.
  3. Find a word or phrase you can dominate in the consumer's mind. Then dominate it.
(Many thanks to Al Ries and Jack Trout for their book - the 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing. If you haven't' read it, you should. It's short - your attention span can handle it.)

The job of branding is really #3 - find the word/phrase and dominate it. Like Lexus did. Which is - essentially - the essence of any good direct marketing copy.

Direct Marketers have enormous benefit from having a focused brand strategy. If your brand marketers adhere to rule #3 (which is essentially a direct marketing mantra), you'll both be way ahead in the game. It will allow you to craft messages that expand on simple and powerful themes. You can even play in the same sandbox. Even if you do have toilet paper on your shoe...

ADDENDUM (7/24 - 4:51 PM Pacific)

OK, I wrote this blog post without seeing this article...

Looks like the brand geniuses are at it again. Hey Cadillac - why not just make a better product?

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