Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Building a Brand

Ah, the Holy Grail of marketing: a brand that is so well established that the sales team has no purpose other than to print out contracts and collect commission checks. This is a win-win because the salespeople would rather stay at home sipping a glass of Chianti (with fava beans no doubt, eh Sir. Hopkins?); the business has a greater degree of confidence that the product(s) associated with the brand will make money; and the marketing people / advertising agency gets to come to work for another week.

Take for example one of the most vile things ever to be consumed by the American public: The Jersey Shore. Personally, I think that the glamorization of the cast with their obvious lack of social mores (see this article); no sense of etiquette; and monstrous egos is a crime against America. (Note to BP: when you figure out how to contain the Gulf Oil spill, can you apply the same technique to The Situation? Thanks.) In spite of my misgivings and no lack of desire to vilify them, I have to admit that they are the hottest thing on TV right now (Real Housewives of New Jersey be damned). In fact, it seems that you almost can't turn on the television right now without seeing Snooki or The Situation in front of the lens. And, in the world of marketing, this couldn't be counted as a bigger success.

Building a successful brand does not, then, matter about the quality of the product. In fact, I've written in past entries how Microsoft trounced Apple in the desktop wars because Apple didn't learn from IBM's mistakes about trying to build elitism into the brand. Microsoft, instead, realized that the Johnny Appleseed approach made more sense and continues to dominate to this day as a result.

I'm not marketing expert to be honest. But, to me, building a successful brand is possible when the following things are accomplished:

You understand your target audience. People are going to fall into one of two camps: the "want to believe" and the "want to disbelieve." There is no middle ground. Understanding how to reach both of those groups is critical because they will have different levers that may be used to sway their opinion.

You develop the right message. Snake Oil Salesmen back at the turn of the last century were so successful partly because they took advantage of the public's predisposition to being gullible. Undoubtedly, you've heard the prank "did you know that 'gullible' is not in the dictionary?" If you were unlucky enough to be the "prankee" then you know how easy it is to want to run to the nearest dictionary to see if it's true. (And, if you were like me and misspelled the word, you looked positively simian when you came back to them and said, "Oh my! You're right!") This doesn't mean that you have to resort to shenanigans by any means, but you should realize how precious your 30-seconds of undivided attention is and pitch your message appropriately.

You ensure that your message is heard repeatedly. As I've mentioned before, a former boss wisely pointed out that the reason why you see a Ford F150 commercial every 5 minutes during the Super Bowl is that Ford wants to make sure that their message is embedded in your subconscious, since you'll forget what you saw as soon as the game starts up again.

Looking at two failures that caught my eye, Nick Jr.'s Fresh Beat Band was lambasted on the maternity discussion boards because the show emphasized dance (and music) but the critical eyes of the parents who controlled the TV remote (and many of whom spent more than a few years in dance classes themselves as kids) repeatedly harped on the fact that the dance skills or the four characters was positively lacking. The producers may have tailored the show for the kids who would ultimately watch it, but the true audience is the mothers who decide what shows get time on the small screen at home.

Similarly, this weekend's very disappointing opening of Jonah Hex seemed to (based on what I've read) attempt to convert yet another comic to the big screen but one without the ubiquitous presence like Batman or Superman. Granted, I'm not an avid comic book reader any longer, but I've never heard of the character. Couldn't the studio have chosen one that already had a well-established brand? Even if they couldn't do that, there could have been a better attempt to gain mindshare before the release. I can't recall seeing a similar commercial for this movie, and I unfortunately spend more time watching the TV this past year than I care to admit.

Ultimately, marketing is yet another function of sales, i.e. if you can convince the recipient that they need what you're hawking simply through information consumption then their is no need to take more overt measures to convert them to your way of thinking. Keep this in mind as you consider how best to approach your boss to influence their decision for the next manager; what to say to the hiring manager when you're trying to get a promotion; or even when you're writing something for public consumption.

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