Category Archives: brand

What are brands?

From our comment inspired by Jim Mitchem at Obsessed with Conformity.

Like fish that can’t feel water, it’s hard for consumers to notice brands. But they are everywhere.

America is a brand. The Tea Party. Fox News. The Yankees. Your religion. Your family. Chris Brogan and David Armano. Hell, the very concept of “social media,” really bullshit — it’s just another type of media, people — is a “brand” with somehow special meaning.

Brands are artificial constructs we use to understand a complex world. Our environment is too nuanced for us to spend an hour judging the logical merits, pros and cons of every decision in our minds, so we resort to archetypes to quickly form, file away, and recall our opinions. Saber-toothed tiger, bad, ooga, run. Hot member of opposite sex in leopard skin, good, ooga, mate. So we rebel at “death panels” supposedly lurking in complex health bills, too long to read or understand, because someone has branded them for us.

Branding is a mental shortcut we need to survive because there is too much information to process. Branding exists because we need simple compartments to file our judgments in.

Branding will always be with us because the world is too complex to manage without it. Technology won’t change it. And for those in social media who believe their fad is the new thing that makes branding obsolete, why, they’re just promoting their own brand.

Image: Gradient Photo

The Warshaw Curve of brand love

This is a story of lovers and haters.

A while back video producer Douglas Warshaw had an idea: Consumers seem to like extremes in video content, including a lot of low-end stuff (fuzzy home videos on YouTube) and also high-end stuff (the new HDTV, crystal-clear images seen on your big-screen TV in your basement). The stuff in the middle, the ho-hum content produced by local TV stations, was the video people were forgetting. Draw this demand and you get an inverted bell curve with a big dip in the middle.

We think this Warshaw Curve also fits how any range of consumers feel about your brand — and being aware of this pattern is critically important. Imagine you took a survey of your customers and found, on average, the majority moderately like your product. On face value, this sounds good — you have lukewarm goodwill and, as most brands do, room for improvement. But what if buried in your customer base were extremes of love and hate?

The curve above shows how a sentiment analysis of a brand might average with lukewarm affection, but have hidden extremes of customers who despise or adore you. Managing these extremes is what’s important, because the haters can lead to sudden PR nightmares and the lovers can become your word-of-mouth fan base. Blogger Len Kendall noted recently that most social media sentiment rankings show neutral in the majority of consumer comments. Jay Leno is a perfect example: most viewers, according to social-media tracking service Trendrr, feel neutral about his TV show’s performance. But the small fraction who think Jay has jumped the shark are creating a groundswell of negative buzz, and his ratings are down.

Be careful. Even if most of your customers are in neutral, your brand could be grinding gears.

Dead breakfast cereals, or how to survive the coming brand contraction

Remember Yummy Mummy? Gunaxin has a nice ode to discontinued breakfast cereals, which reminds us of the current brand collapse going on inside consumers’ heads.

Product brands today are under tremendous pressure to survive, and it’s not driven by companies like GM desperately seeking to cut back. The root cause is the decline in consumer consumption and the corresponding lack of interest in brand options. Decades ago Al Ries and Jack Trout wrote the brilliant book Positioning, explaining that consumers (even back in the 1970s) faced information overload and so defended themselves by creating little ladders of product consideration in their heads. If a person is only moderately interested in a product — say watches — she might be able to rattle off Casio, Timex, Swiss Army and Rolex. In her mind, she only has four rungs on the watch brand ladder. By comparison, a guy who loves watches might think of scores of brands: Accurist, Adriatica, Alpina, Aviator, Baume et Mercier, Bell & Ross, Breitling, Bulgari, Bulova … with lots more rungs in his head.

The goal of brand managers is to grab a rung in that mental positioning ladder, and the classic strategy is to “position” your brand vs. someone else. If Hertz is No. 1 in car rentals, Avis tries harder. This positioning strategy was hot in the 1980s and early ’90s — think of the Coke vs. Pepsi wars or Wendy’s “Where’s the Beef?” — but has cooled off recently, with far fewer brands attacking others or deliberately taking position against a competitor’s attributes. It’s time to reconsider. As consumers retrench in this severe recession, their mental consideration set of potential consumption options is way down. There are fewer rungs in their heads. Someone may love Saabs, but what about Saturns and Pontiacs? And if some brands will fade from these mental ladders, shouldn’t you try to make sure it’s your competitor, and not you?

The point for marketers is you now need to be aware, more than any time in the past two decades, of how your brand is positioned against other options. Consumers are backing away from the cereal aisle, and some sweet brands are about to get taken off the shelf.

Via Make the Logo Bigger and Graham English.

Avoiding the Microsoft branding mistake

David Pogue posted a funny question on Twitter today slamming Microsoft for yet more product complexity. We have several colleagues launching new business ideas in 2009, so we thought we’d replay a similar complaint on branding from James Joaquin, venture dude from Bridgescale Partners. Back in June 2007 Joaquin took Microsoft to task for its clunky brand architecture:

Brand architecture is how the names (and corresponding positioning) of your various products and services fit together. Many companies evolve brand names into a morass of complexity because of internal arrogance — “Hey, we have a new product, this is REALLY important, let’s give it a COOL name!” But if you consider how consumers think about you — rarely if ever at all — then you might admit simplicity in branding could be more successful.

Here’s a test: Name 10 watch brands. Now for each watch brand, try to name 5 sub-brands. Can’t do it? Exactly.

Now, let’s see how Google manages a similarly complex product line: One brand + clear description = new product name. So simple. Which approach do you think helps customers find, and better yet want to use, the products?