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7 misguided brand strategies


Conventional wisdom advises marketing managers to exercise prudence during tough economic times. That is why so many companies freeze or reduce marketing spending during recessions. Some line items fare better than others. For example, it is easier for many managers to justify spending on demand generation than it is to rationalize brand investment. To quote one senior marketing executive, branding is often considered "a rich man's game."


But evidence from previous periods of recession provides us with good reason to challenge conventional wisdom. A 2002 study by McKinsey & Company found that companies willing to invest in branding and advertising activities while their industry peers were cutting spending outperformed industry performance averages when the economy recovered.


For many companies, a down economy is an ideal time to invest in the brand. The question is, where to invest? There is less room for failure in an uncertain economic climate. Spending on the brand may provide an advantage, but only if that spending is well focused.


When budgets are tight, your objective as the brand manager is to pick the brand investments that will deliver tangible business value, preserve the equity in the brand, and mitigate risk. As a cautionary measure, I've listed seven sure-fire ways to fall into the "Tropicana trap" and fail at these objectives.


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The obligatory social media push
Social media is the darling of brand marketers in nearly every industry. The allure of connecting with customers and influential audiences in a 1:1 relationship is causing many companies to push their teams to implement a social media strategy as soon as possible. Sites like Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn offer tremendous possibilities for brands, but the opportunities should be explored strategically, not because there is an obligation to introduce the brand in those channels. Too many companies spend hard-earned money to launch their brands on Twitter with nothing to say, no guideline on how to say it, and no strategy on how to respond to those who decide to engage in conversation.



The three trusted endeavors
I've shared seven guaranteed paths to brand failure, but I haven't answered the over-arching question: Where should you spend your brand budget when economic conditions are less than ideal? At the risk of providing an overly generic answer, there are three areas nearly every company can benefit from:

Brand architecture simplification. When budgets are plentiful, many companies launch brands without a lot of diligence. Especially in digital circles, first-mover advantage can generate more return in the short-term than a perfectly constructed brand architecture. But a bloated brand architecture is expensive to maintain over time. In a down economy, you can cut costs and optimize your brand portfolio by re-evaluating your brand architecture approach. How should your brands be organized? What are the naming and identity conventions? What are the decision criteria for launching new brands and names? Which brands, if any, should be consolidated and what is the migration path? These are questions that most companies can and should address in the current business climate.

Message alignment. Large companies rarely consolidate communications. It's the biggest communications challenge for the modern corporation. One company can stream messages from multiple divisions and multiple service areas within each division. There are promotional messages, investor messages, community outreach, lobbying, and branding. One of the great values a strong brand can provide is consistency in the messaging platform. Message alignment is a worthwhile exercise when budgets are tight. The goal is to streamline the process of communicating externally. You do this by developing a strong brand messaging platform that can help all communicators deliver their messages in a branded way. We find the best practice for this exercise is to help communicators understand three aspects: the brand voice, the brand messaging platform, and the storytelling architecture that links the brand to virtually any messaging need.




Brand health. Because your decisions are likely to face increased scrutiny in the current climate, data is your friend. This is an opportune time to gauge the strength of your brand and set benchmarks that can measure future performance. By diagnosing the strengths and weaknesses of the brand, you can better justify future investments. We do this through a combination of qualitative and quantitative research. One caveat you should consider when setting benchmarks: use caution. Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke refers to the current time as the worst economic environment since The Great Depression. If he's right, we're in a period that statisticians refer to as an outlier. Based on your particular industry, you need to decide whether the data you gather today will serve as a valid baseline or a reflection of consumer sentiment that is colored by the current crisis. Regardless, your brand will fare better if you assess its overall health now and have diagnostic criteria to guide your future brand building efforts.


Not to belabor a point, but from a financial perspective a brand is an asset, not an expense. The money you invest in a brand should, theoretically, retain value for the organization. Though spending money on the brand during the lean times feels risky and invites scrutiny from internal stakeholders who might otherwise not have cared, brand maintenance is vital to the long-term advantage of your organization. You may find it rewards you down the road, especially if you can avoid the path of the misguided.


Laurence Vincent is group director of strategy at Siegel+Gale.


On Twitter? Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.


Laurence Vincent is a writer and a seasoned brand strategist. He leads the strategy practice at the Los Angeles office of Siegel+Gale, one of the world’s premier strategic branding companies. His clients have included MasterCard Worldwide,...

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Comments

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Commenter: unique images

2010, October 04

Good Image sells better than low prices.....

Commenter: Wendy Marx

2009, July 28

George, thanks for posting this. One thing puzzled me and perhaps I'm misinterpreting you. It's when you say the following:

"This person was a nobody. So, I reacted in the only way that I saw fit.

"I could pick up my phone here and get in contact with so many people and tell them what just happened that you
would be afraid to go near your computer, let alone attempt to blog again.”

Would you have reacted differently if the person were a "somebody?"

I'm curious to hear your thoughts. Personally, I don't believe any blogger no matter who they are is entitled to blackmail someone.

Commenter: Wendy Marx

2009, July 28

George, thanks for posting this. One thing puzzled me and perhaps I'm misinterpreting you. It's when you say the following:

"This person was a nobody. So, I reacted in the only way that I saw fit.

"I could pick up my phone here and get in contact with so many people and tell them what just happened that you
would be afraid to go near your computer, let alone attempt to blog again.”

Would you have reacted differently if the person were a "somebody?"

I'm curious to hear your thoughts. Personally, I don't believe any blogger no matter who they are is entitled to blackmail someone.

Commenter: Wendy Marx

2009, July 28

Not sure what happened here -- I was trying to post on a different blog on the site and it somehow came up here. Would appreciate your removing my post since it doesn't pertain to your excellent article.

Thanks!

Commenter: Wendy Marx

2009, July 28

George, thanks for posting this. One thing puzzled me and perhaps I'm misinterpreting you. It's when you say the following:

"This person was a nobody. So, I reacted in the only way that I saw fit.

"I could pick up my phone here and get in contact with so many people and tell them what just happened that you
would be afraid to go near your computer, let alone attempt to blog again.”

Would you have reacted differently if the person were a "somebody?"

I'm curious to hear your thoughts. Personally, I don't believe any blogger no matter who they are is entitled to blackmail someone.