Month: September 2011

Brands only work locally

Really enjoyed this piece by Pankaj Ghemawat on the myths surrounding global brands. His point that only 16% of the top 10,000 brands on the Milward Brown database are recognised in more than one country, and only 3% are recognised in more than seven is a reminder that the world is not as open as many of us would like to think. Indeed Professor Ghemawat points to what happened to Coke as a sure sign that Ted Levitt’s principle of increasingly homogenous markets was incorrect. After steadily pursuing a process centred on standardisation throughout the 1990s, Coke has since shifted almost 180 degrees. Today, the company offers a diversified product set, market-specific price points, localised production and distribution and clear distinctons between the approach it takes in the States and internationally. And those same principles of distinction and specification that now influence a mass market brand like Coke are extending to other brands looking to build share in markets away from home. Ghemawat’s advice? Focus on the cultural, administrative, geographic and economic differences between markets …

What’s a brand strategist?

There are two answers. You can be exactly what the words describe. The person who decides what the branding is, what it represents, how it will work and how it will be communicated. It’s a key part of planning effective and inspiring communications. Or you can develop strategies for brands. You can be a person who works to make brands more valuable, distinctive, profitable and utterly aligned with the culture, the systems, and the distribution channels that must deliver what has been promised. That’s much more about the business. It focuses on making sure companies are utterly competitive through their brands. Each description involves very different interests, priorities, conversations … even clients. Just like in any role, a simple change in the words doesn’t just alter the meaning. It can actually shift the mandate. What do you do?

Finding an obsession

When you apply the concept of provenance to brands, it becomes a concept centred on systematically and competitively ‘localising’ what you’re about rather than diversifying to try and meet the generalised needs of the wider world. So it’s about having a narrowcast brand: one focused to the point of obsession on a specific area of passion. Provenance is also about those other valuable ideas that the word in its original meaning conjures: focus; love; purity of thinking; authenticity; deep knowledge. That obsession can then be marbled through every aspect of the brand: language; environment; innovation; strategy … People may worry that such devotion to a single idea will stifle adaptability, but my experience is that brands that see the world through the lens of an idea they subscribe to passionately are also able to find latitude and opportunity within that idea whilst growing a strong and devoted following. Far from being restrictive, being obsessive provides a framework for creative approaches. The way I see it, brands increasingly have three powerful emotive strategies going forward: they …

When sales go wrong: the real cost to brands of bad sales

A car salesroom should be like Disneyland – a place of magic, where life smells wonderful and dreams really do come true. So much resource goes into making that possible. The warm environment, the sparkly cars, the people, the music, the freshly brewed coffee … Everything should be an unapologetic charm offensive designed to inject reassurance and a sense of joy. When it’s done properly, it’s a show stopper. But over the weekend, my trip to start searching for a replacement to my very tidy but ageing Peugeot turned into something closer to Nightmare on Elm Street: a clipped salesperson talking to me in a patronising tone and treating my spouse with disrespect. No charm. Just offensive. Which meant in effect that all the hard work and huge money that the car brands had invested for all those years to entice me to consider them was decimated in less than ten minutes. No introduction, no familiarisation questions, no needs assessment, no scenario setting, no credentials, no storylines … This guy needed a skills upgrade and …

Lessons from a great party

After some time away travelling, last night I was fortunate enough to be invited to a fantastic event on the Wellington waterfront. The place was packed with the renowned and the influential alike. I understand why it is regarded as the party of the year in the city. The event itself served to remind me of two things. Firstly, that networking complements talent and profile, and that if you are not out and about working your brand with key influencers, you are essentially neglecting your marketing – an observation that’s as true for how consumer brands need to network and engage with their supply chains and customers as it is for individuals. Affinity increases through dialogue. It’s not good enough to be good at what you do. You don’t grow your reputation by looking in the mirror. Secondly, there are at least two distinct networking strategies – wide and open, or focused and intense – and they seem to permeate every aspect of how we choose to make and retain contact. I follow very much …

The fashion of value

The stark reality for most brands, particularly those integrated into a supply chain, is that if your presence is not seen to be value-adding, then chances are it is perceived as value-costing. If indeed you pride yourselves on being able to value add, you can expect to be continually challenged on the difference you generate for the margin you charge. If you don’t, then replacement by another supplier or another channel, is probably only a question of time. But perceptions as we all know are a moving feast. As priorities change and new technology shifts the frameworks, operations and expectations of businesses and consumers across industries, the continuing question for many brands it seems to me is this stark: What’s valuable now? The second question is more knotty: What’s our take on that?

Measure for measure

Economist Brian Easton’s statement – “don’t talk about the intangibles when there is nothing else” – is a timely reminder to all of us in the ‘fuzzy’ areas of business that if there is no demonstrable bottom-line return for all the reputation enhancement, profile building, credibility, authenticity, loyalty and goodwill that has supposedly been generated by or at a particular event or activity, then it essentially carries no value. It may not be worthless, but the cost that has been incurred has subsequently made no tangible economic contribution. Therefore there is no actual return on the investment. In that context, what brands are often getting, and paying for, is an impression – or at the very most, a contribution – towards an abstract sense of progress. A best guess. That’s as true for those pouring money into the Rugby World Cup (Easton’s specific gripe) as it is for social media or advertising. If you’re putting money in and you can’t or won’t measure what you’re getting back on your bottom line over the medium and …