Monday, August 03, 2009

Brand Durability

Carla Stratfold posted an entry on the Marketing News blog about brands - successes, failures, and revivals. The author makes some very good points related to leadership's role in the branding process. Most organization believe branding is all about what you will do for the customer and their needs. However, branding is almost totally about what you won't do, as it relates to the needs of the customer. Studies have proven how consumers prefer, in many ways, limitations and boundaries during brand experience.

From the leadership perspective within the organization, the pressure to render successful performance measures can often create a conflict with the brand strategy. For instance, it's virtually impossible to purchase a Pepsi at a Starbucks, but recent revenue challenges have opened the discussion about selling alcohol. We as marketing professionals love it when we see unexplainable growth as a result of a strong brand, but we quickly feel the confinement by the brand when the brand attitude suddenly turns bad in the marketplace, due to uncontrollable circumstances. In a way, Stratfold is calling this unfortunate experience a necessary part of the "Durable Brand" process.

Please don't get this twisted with a weak brand position of, "We are America's ____________". I'm referring to real brand attributes that consumers identify with your overall brand. If you are known for making bad products and having bad service, believe it or not, it's actually a strong brand. Everyone has a favorite hole-in-the-wall restaurant they frequent, which offers horrible service, bad hours, and good food. The restaurant brand slogan may say, "The Best ___________ In Town", but that's not what you remember about the brand. You remember what they won't do for you as a customer. They won't treat you well, they won't make it convenient for you to patronize them, and they won't let anything come out of the kitchen unless it's the best you ever had in your life. Although the "Best __________ In Town" slogan may be a correct statement, as it relates to their brand, the other boundaries and constraints (bad service and hours) are in many ways more significant to the overall brand than the food. In fact, when you recommended them to your friend, you started the selling pitch by stating the obvious negative stuff, and then you finished with, "but the ___________ is so good, you will want to slap your mama".

There's a saying in golf when you are preparing to hit your ball, "commit to the swing", which means that whatever you have decided to do, considering the challenges, make sure you are fully committed to executing that plan. COMMIT TO YOUR BRAND!


  1. ha! this is genius. i agree that brands are definitely more well known for their shortcomings than their accomplishments.

    but how do you counter the negative comments that can reduce the effectiveness of word-of-mouth? the example you stated above is nice and all, but it puts me in limbo as a potential customer. i heard that everything about it sucks except for their amazing food. is it worth my time if they are going to treat me poorly? perhaps I rather find food elsewhere...

    i agree with the assertion that brands do get their name famous by having infamous short-comings, but are those short-comings really going to lead to more leads and conversions or will they cause a drop in leads and conversions?

  2. I think most marketing professionals look at consumer brand-attitudes from the positive versus negative perspective, which is actually the second phase of building a strong brand. The first phase should be viewed from the perspective of connection versus indifference. The analogy of the restaurant is a reflection of the business' ability to successfully get past the first phase, but not the second. However, a slight change in customer service and operating hours could increase their demand and patronage considerably, and we see these examples everyday.

    The negative comments, as it relates to word-of-mouth, serve as valuable information to you. If you are experiencing feedback similar to the restaurant analogy, it tells you two things, (1) there is something positive about your product or service that is worth mentioning above your competitors, and (2) the sub-par aspects of your business don't appear to be game-changers as it relates to maintaining a adequate source of demand. You will be lucky if you get this type of feedback from a marketing study, because the circumstances that influence feedback are totally different.

    Thus, you counter the negative comments by finding a way to address their value standards as it relates to that negative aspects of your product or service. For instance, community colleges have struggled with the quality issue, such as classes that transfer to universities. So, many 2-year institutions are developing dual-admission programs that allow community college students to be automatically accepted into more in-depth four-year programs. The solution addressed the negative comments by dealing the value standards of the customer. In this case, the product/service didn't change, but the perception did in the mind of the consumer.

    Does this make sense?