Archive for August 26, 2009

Posted: August 26, 2009
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A brand by any other name …

Radio-ShackI just came from a visit to the Duets Blog, in particular a piece called “A Shack by Any Other Name” that takes a look at a spate of questionable re-naming projects in the US.  The piece by Randall Hull of BrandRanch highlights Radio Shack’s plan to re-brand as “Shack” and Pizza Hut’s infamous new “Hut” branding and asks, among other things, how a brand name should add up.

The truth is that few brandnames are ideal, but the organisations concerned nevertheless manage to achieve success. However, in today’s competitive environment, no organisation can afford to miss any opportunity, however insignificant that might appear to be to increase the return on their investment, so any organisation setting out their stall for the first time, should start with a name that ticks all the boxes.

Bearing in mind that we are talking brandnames and not logos, there are three components or boxes to tick. Firstly the name you choose should give an indication of (1) what you do or the sector that you operate in.  Add this to your (2) unique name and (3) do so in a way that reflects the language of your brand character.  Apart from demonstrating that you have to have a Brand Model before you start thinking about names, which is the other way around to how most people tackle it, following this path means that you should end up with a brandname that is working as hard for you as any name could – like ToysRUs or ElectroWorld.  All you have to do then is build on that.

So what brandnames can you think of that tick all the boxes?

Posted: August 25, 2009
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Brand Failure, or when it just doesn’t add up

I’ve spend the last few weeks trying to deal with a pretty big organisation in Central Europe and getting really frustrated.  “Trying” is the operative word here.  I made fifteen calls to their corporate headquarters, only eight of which were even answered!  To make matters worse, when I did get a telephonist on the line (It seemed to be  a different one each time) and they couldn’t get a reply from the extension I was after, instead of taking a message they asked me to call back.  On one occasion I enquired if there was anybody else who might help and was told that the person concerned may have gone home.  “Its only three o’ clock” I exclaimed.  “That’s nothing” came the reply with absolutely no irony “sometimes they go home even earlier”!

Add to that the fact that when extensions weren’t answered they just cut me off, so I couldn’t leave a message and when all I wanted to do was get down to business, each time before my call even rang at the switchboard I had to listen to a tinny recording of their latest TV commercial right to the end – I know it by heart now!

Things actually got worse, because when after all this I was finally put through, via a low quality mobile phone link, to the person I was after, she told me she was doing some shopping and would be back in the office later.  “Drop me an e-mail to remind me” she said “and I’ll call you back later”.  I did as she asked, but never heard from her again.  And despite a plethora of e-mails and messages I didn’t hear from anybody else either, until I upped the anti and contacted the CEO.  My very short relationship with this organisation was packed with other similar experiences.

As in most organisations the senior managers here seem to be clued-in and when I spoke to one of the directors it was because he called me to apologise for the instances I had recounted.  It was, however, clear that focus became severely blurred the further down the chain of command I went.  This suggests pretty conclusively that what’s wrong here is not just about skills deficiencies, its about brand development and specifically, that all too often ignored, internal marketing thing.

I have to say that the organisation concerned has invested a great deal of time and money in advertising that I guess they think is creating a brand.  Of course, it isn’t – well not a positive one anyway, as long as they continue to fail to deliver their Brand Promise.  I turned up at their threshold with the expectation, created by their advertising, of a switched-on, caring, fun and happy organisation only to be abused by a bunch of morose, lazy and inhospitable border guards, who, had their mission been to repel all boarders, couldn’t have done a better job!  The experience of dealing with them just didn’t add-up to the expectation they had given me.

Of course, this gulf between expectation and reality doesn’t just add up to a waste of investment in the expensive marketing communications that drove my expectations in the first place – which is criminal at any time, but especially so these days – it has actually caused residual damage to the brand and the organisation that will cost them business and necessitate additional investment for years to come.  Repeat this a few times with other people like me and you’ll soon have a grounswell of negative brand perceptions.

I will admit that, while I have always felt that the company concerned had tremendous potential, I am not a fan of their brand strategy.  They have clearly recognised that a brand is a community, but failed at every turn to act on that understanding/.  They have clearly had bad advice too and as a result tried to build their brand personna on the sandiest of foundations.  Basically their message adds up to nothing much, but the real issue is that they have failed to deliver even that.

The problem for this organisation is that even though the brand may not be particularly inspiring, its employees aren’t behind it or fully committed to playing their part in the delivery of the Brand Promise.  Maybe they don’t know what that is, or fail to understand what it means in the context of their role, but these are not excuses.  That’s the point of internal marketing and its exactly what Brand Discovery is all about.

Success or failure in brand development is most often determined by the cumulative effect of many little things, like the way your phones are answered or the breadth of the smile on your receptionist’s face, that go to make the experience of dealing with you.  My advice to the directors of the business concerned would be to get a hold of their brand, define it and promote it internally with internal marketing and training programmes that are designed to get all their stakeholders, not only employees, behind the brand and totally committed to playing their part in delivering its “Promise”.

Once they have done this they will find that the people charged with the task of making the company’s telephone communications productive will pull out all the stops to put right the deficiencies in their current system.  They’ll also discover that instead of having to legislate to make managers and employees do their job (which never works anyway) people like their department heads and receptionists will develop the skills and commitment that’s required.  But it won’t end there.  With a clear brand development programme like Brand Discovery in place they’ll unlock the full potential of their most valuable resource – their people, and that, in turn, will increase efficiency and give hem the kind of ROI that will allow them to compete in their very tough market.

Posted: August 21, 2009
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At last! A glimmer of sanity

It seems the penny is dropping, at least in a few places.  I was talking to the owner of an independent mens’ fashion chain in the UK this week and he gave me reason to hope!

Despite current trading conditions, here is one business that is expandidng.  “Money is cheap and there are plenty of independent operators eager to get out at any price so we are buying” he told me.  They have bought three new  stores and are negotiating for more.  They are in the process of refitting all their stores to strengthen their corporate look and they reckon, by the time the recession lifts they will be ready to hit the ground running.

Meanwhile the government’s Job Centre Plus announced a new programme aimed at getting the unemployed back to work in more bouyant sectors.  They announced this week that if you are unemployed for six months you can elect to start training in one of the skills designated locally as a source of employment without losing your unemployment benefit.  After a few weeks, they’ll put you forward for a role that will utilise your new skill and the employer will be able to secure grants to cover the cost of your completion of the course.  Sounds like an idea, but don’t get excited.  They shot themselves in the foot with another scheme that pays unemployed folks who can persuade an employer to take them on trial for a role that lack of experience would otherwise have excluded them from – a sort of free trial for the employer.  However the rub is that there has to be a genuine vacant job, which kinda’ neutralises the initiative.  After all, if you need to fill a role, and you get four-hundred applicants (which is not unusual at the moment), a proportion of whom are bound to be able to hit the ground running, you are hardly going to take a long-shot on someone who had never done the job before, however cheap they may be.

The fact that this scheme excludes people who want to go to prospective employers with a proposition like “give me X weeks to demonstrate that I can make a difference to your business in a way you never thought of and you won’t even have to pay me” underlines the gulf that exists between the public sector ivory towers and the real world of business, where we are in desperate need of entrepreneurship.  But, hey, mighty oaks … and all that!

Posted: August 10, 2009
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A warm feeling from Saatchi’s Pakistan


It may have something to do with my time of life, but I find these days that I spend a lot of time pondering world issues with a real sense of frustration.  Frustration that the people calling the shots make such stupid mistakes, that people are still so self-centred that they strive for the failure of others as often as they do their own success and most of all anger at the waste that prevails in every aspect of life in the developing as well as the developed world.

Just lately my thoughts have been on the issues of food resources and the question of how we Brits are going to maintain food supplies as we continue to grow in numbers, demand more variety and turn our once green and pleasant land into car park.  I see opportunities for initiatives everywhere in my day-to-day life, but, like so many others I suspect, the need for me to meet the cost of living, which increases daily because of these mistakes, self-centredness and stupidity, means that I can do little and the reluctance of the people with say-so to actually walk their talk just winds me up still further.

The fact that my eighty-year-old mother is paranoid that she might put the wrong kind of cardboard in her re-cycling bin and get fined by the bin-cops is criminal in itself when you trace the route of the waste as I did and discover that it is all dumped together anyway on ships and sent to India for land-fill.  Consequently I get a bit of a wam feeling inside when big organisations like Saatchi & Saatchi take a positive viewpoint and place emphasis on the simple things that we can all do to, at least, help not make things worse.

I wonder sometimes if Saatchi’s don’t have too many themes and causes on the go at one time, but I don’t get to see how it all works internally these days, so like everyone else, I have to accept the reassurance of Kevin Roberts that it works.  This initiative from their Pakistan office in response to Saatchi’s recent True Blue theme would tend to support his claim, but anyway it gave me one of those warm feelings I was talking about.  I hope it does the same for you.

Posted: August 6, 2009
Comments: 1

Innovate your way through recession

You might be persuaded otherwise by the actions of some organisations, but now is the time to innovate.  And before you respond with the old “we can’t afford it” argument, let me tell you that every piece of evidence proves beyond any doubt that far from not being able to afford innovation, you simply can’t afford not to right now.  If you think the recession hit hard and fast, you ain’t seen nothing yet!  If your organisation is sitting there with its metaphorical head between its knees, you’ll know what I mean when the recession starts to lift and your competitors who have had their thinking hats on for the last months kick your sorry backside!

The trick to innovating in recession is no different to the basic rule in boom times.  In fact its the fundamental of every aspect of all business at any time and if you’ve been on this blog before you’ll know what’s coming next … efficiency!  Efficiency is ultimately the only thing that separates successful organisations from unsuccessful ones and, by and large we are all pretty bad at it.  The thing is that most of the time we can get away with being … so-so.  In recession however you really have walk the talk! Yes, tough markets sort out the men from the boys, the wheat from the chaff and by and large this time around the recession is definitely reducing the number of half-baked businesses.

The starting point for innovating efficiently is the same as the starting point for efficiency in every area of your business – focus, and the kind of focus I am talking about is the kind that comes from having a clearly defined brand encapsulated in a concise and straightforward Brand Model, such as that which I create with my Brand Discovery programme.

Among many other things, a Brand Model gives any organisation the criteria by which to judge the suitability of everything you do and used properly will enable you to prioritise, cut those ideas that aren’t going to support your Brand Promise, help those you decide to run contribute something truly worthwhile to your business and ensure that tactical initiatives have maximum long term value – that’s efficiency!

Over that last few months I have seen an increase in the number of calls  from organisations who are fine-tuning their brands and this is encouraging.  How they go about it though is sometimes a bit of a worry.  I have just spent some time with a national UK set-up that brought in one of the big consulting firms at colossal expense to help them with this and the result was very disappointing.  The consultancy came in, helped them create something approximating a brand model, which itself left a lot to be desired, and then walked away and left them to it.  Sadly this is a common experience.

A lot of folks don’t realise that building a brand model is one thing, but bringing it to life is where the challenge lies.  The model is really just the working drawings.  To turn it into something concrete – and that includes leveraging its capability to generate business-building ideas – means taking a new perspective on your business.  This in itself represents a radical change for some organisations and involves introducing new practices and maintaining a high level of discipline, all while running the day-to-day business as usual.  Its tough and, believe me it rarely works unless you have to have someone dedicated to keeping it all on track.  Some organisations employ their own brand champion, which really should be at board level, because they need to carry that kind of weight within the organisation, but it makes sense for most businesses to bring in consultants and that’s what I do.

On this foundation you can start building your “ideas organisation”.  Canvassing ideas from within your organisation is a campaign in itself, especially if its new to your culture.  You first have to start by reassuring everyone  that regardless of their level or function, their ideas are as likely as anybody’s  to be that golden key to the future of the business .  I once turned an idea from a junior secretary into a successful new business unit for one of my clients and you could do the same.  Believe me the key to a really great future is probably rattling around the head of one of your employees as we speak.

Once you are generating ideas you’ll need a process for selecting them and developing those that show promise.  Your Brand Model will be an immense help in this, but you still have to set out your day-to-day approach.  I find that its useful for a lot of reasons to offer the person who came up with the idea a role in its development – its motivating and it helps them develop new skills.  You have to decide how you want to set up and run your project teams – one for each idea currently in development – at what points you review projects and what criteria you will introduce at each review.  Its also a good idea to have a reporting system that feeds back to your employees, to maintain their interest and commitment to ideation.

When you have an “ideas organisation” culture, the support of your employees and the processes in place to develop the ideas you’ll be generating ideas, assessing their potential and bringing the most promising ones to market more quickly and efficiently that you probably imagine.  You can fine-tune all the elements of your innovation programme as you go, but ultimately you can’t help but be successful.  Remember, ideas are the currency of business and the race is on to emerge from the recession like a bullet from a gun with all the momentum that only new ideas can generate.