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What You Need to Know About Branding

branding.jpgSome managers think marketing is a necessary evil. Some of my former CEOs thought marketing was the root of all evil. Or maybe they were just referring to me.

The problem is they just don't get it. Finance = bean counters. HR = people stuff. Sales = customers = revenues. That they get. But marketing? Not a clue.

And you know what? I don't blame them. When I look at what passes for marketing out there, hell, I'd be nervous about funding it too. I mean, what do you get for all that money? How do you know if it's working or not?

And branding, that's even worse. It doesn't help that the name conjures up images of branding cattle, or somebody being branded a criminal. How about that, branding has a branding problem. Ironic, isn't it?

If you don't get the irony, you really need to read this.

Here's how it works. Your company and its products and services have associated attributes that affect customer buying decisions, employee morale, and investor confidence. They also affect your company's market share, profit margins, and bottom line.

Branding strategy enables your company to measure and change the perception and affect of those attributes. It's really important. No kidding.

Here are five things every manager needs to know about branding strategy.

  1. Customers experience thoughts and feelings when they consider your company's product or service. It's the same thing with potential employees and investors. It's called brand reputation or perception and it exists whether you do anything about it or not. (Be aware, these are my definitions. Some differentiate on semantics; I don't.)
  2. Brand reputation is a function of experience with your company and its products. It's the sum total of many things, including product features, quality and reliability, customer service, even executive presentations. It goes way beyond marketing, PR, ad campaigns, and websites.
  3. Branding strategy is not a one-off; it's a component of your overall corporate strategy. Hopefully that begins with some sort of strategic planning process that defines your company's vision, goals, and key strategies. Branding strategy is integrated and aligned with those.
  4. Contrary to what the name implies, branding strategy is not about names per se. It's about using certain tools to achieve strategic and operating goals. For example, branding can be used to position similar or the same products in different market segments, typically at different pricing levels. That means changing perception without changing the product -a neat trick.
  5. There are a myriad of decisions and tradeoffs involved in developing the right branding strategy for a company and its products and services. There is method to the madness. For example, a product line's goals, market requirements, and value proposition will lead to a unique branding strategy. At least it should.
Marketing is a tricky discipline. Science, art form, or both, it's critical to your company's success.

David Packard, of Hewlett-Packard, once said, "Marketing is too important to leave to the marketing department." The more you understand and participate in your company's marketing strategy, the better the odds of success.

I'd like to leave you with my favorite quote on branding by Bob Pittman, President of AOL back in the day: "Coca Cola does not win the taste test. Microsoft does not have the best operating system. Brands win."

Happy branding, or whatever you want to call it.

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