You can defend your brand without struggling. Just pay attention when customers tell you you're losing touch with it.
Brands come and brands go.
As a marketing manager, you should fight like hell to see that the former happens and fight like hell to see that the latter does not. (At least, not on your watch.)
If you had written it, wouldn't you call the song "Proud Mary" part of your brand? It's a safe bet that songwriter John Fogerty of Creedence Clearwater Revival did.
Sure, you'd let other artists cover the tune - Bruce Springsteen, Johnny Paycheck, Solomon Burke, Ed Ames (yeesh!), Tina Turner, maybe even Elvis Presley - but you'd still want to hang onto it as part of your brand, wouldn't you?
It turns out that Fogerty had some issues around that. The Creedence breakup was long and acrimonious, and John found himself in the odd position of having to pay royalties for performing songs he himself had written almost 20 years before, not to mention the fact that they brought back bad memories. He distanced himself from a big part of his brand and - even more tragically - the public lost the connection between artist and brand. Wouldn't you hate to let go of that?
John finally got back in touch with his brand, according to a story I heard long ago and am glad to see recounted in Wikipedia:
On February 19, 1987, at the Palomino Club in Los Angeles, Fogerty broke his self-imposed 1972 ban on performing his CCR hits, on an admonition from Bob Dylan and George Harrison (who both joined him onstage) that "if you don't, the whole world's gonna think 'Proud Mary' is Tina Turner's song." At a Fourth of July benefit for Vietnam veterans, Fogerty finally ran through the list of Creedence hits—beginning with "Born on the Bayou" and ending with "Proud Mary"—to an ecstatic audience.
Now, not all of us have Dylan and Harrison on stage with us, exhorting us to keep a firm hold on our brand, but their advice is certainly sound.
For most of the 20th century, the Kodak brand epitomized popular photography. Fuji and Agfa had their place, but Kodak is the brand that almost single-handedly helped your parents and grandparents fill dozens of boxes with photographs and family memories. Their U.S. market share in film products regularly topped 70%.
So, what has happened with digital? Film sales in the U.S. dropped from 800 million rolls in 1999 to 204 million in 2006, and have little reason to rebound briskly in a digital world. Kodak invented the digital camera in the 1970s but was very late to the game in the 1990s and has been playing a distant third in market share to Canon and Nikon.
With a brand that's synonymous to many Americans with taking photographs, Kodak is fighting to mean that same thing to this generation. In spite of missed opportunities, they were among the first to learn (or first to remember, really) that the real value in photographs lies in sharing them, so they introduced EasyShare to make it as easy as possible to get the photo out of the machine and in front of your friends.
In fact, I was listening to a Kodak marketing manager describe the new Slice product line when the John Fogerty-issue popped into my mind. Why should Kodak have to play third string when only ten years ago most people couldn't think of popular photography without thinking of Kodak?
"If you don't, the whole world's gonna think popular photography is Canon and Sony's invention."
So, what did you invent that the world attributes to nobody in particular (or worse, to somebody else)? Your brand may not last forever, but as long as you're fighting for it, keep a few things in mind:
- Don't compete on price. Bill Lawrence, a marketing instructor at New York University, notes that three General Motors brands - Oldsmobile, Buick and Chevrolet - lost their clear identity and even began competing with each other on price. "That’s very bad brand management," Lawrence observes.
- Stay close to your customers. "Brands can lose touch with the customer and where it exists in the popular culture, which is shifting more rapidly than in the past," says Peter Post, CEO of Cossette Post. "Brands that don’t keep up can get lost quickly. They first become irrelevant, then invisible, and then they’re gone."
- Keep some room in your strategy for creativity." A lot of these older brands start to lose any kind of creativity in their strategic thinking," says marketing consultant Bruce Tait. "The whole idea should be to insert originality into the strategic process, and push to be relevant and differentiated. There’s too much belief in marketing as a scientific process. People have too few ideas. That leads to sameness in strategy and that’s why brands die."
Has your brand come and gone already? Why? Did you get tired and stop defending your brand? Did you license it away to Ike and Tina Turner?
Most important, will customers cheer when you fight to get it back?
About the author: John White is a marketing communications writer for technology companies. At The Content Buffet, he posts about technology writing from the perspective of the marketing manager. It’s dirty work, but somebody has to do it.
Photo credit: woinary