Is Branding a Silver Bullet for Business?

Which came first, the Apple brand or its fantastic products? (source)

"Brand it like Beckham" so we've been taught, and untold fame and fortune would follow you. Learn to emulate Nike's brand success story, and be inspired by how its world famous "Swoosh" logo and "Just Do It" tagline. Apple became such a global powerhouse largely because of its distinct brand personality and immaculately executed brand architecture.

Build your brand and the rest - publicity, sales, profits, reputation - will follow.  Really?

Well, truth be told, it ain't that simple friends. While branding is important, it will not save an organisation if the other components of a business - for example, product quality, operational efficiency, organisational culture, and customer orientation - are in disarray.

Derrick Daye of Branding Strategy Insider shared the story of how Johnson and Johnson's obsession with brand marketing alone is destroying its business. Spending a huge US$19.8 billion annually on marketing, selling and admin expenses, J and J has leveraged and stretched its brand equity over 92 consumer brands. By neglecting its product quality in favour of brand marketing, the company has downgraded its brand value - the very thing that it is leveraging on.

Johnson n Johnson's brand strength won't save it (courtesy of Medcity News)

At a more fundamental level, a company's product brand is actually a sum of four factors, as cited by Geoffrey James here, namely:

1) The quality of your products and services. (50%)
2) The way you treat your customers. (40%)
3) The way that you treat your employees.(5%)
4) How well you manage your corporate finances. (5%)

Without getting these elements of your business right, no amount of clever logo design, creative sloganeering or brilliantly conceived advertising is going to save you. In Geoffrey's view, "It wasn’t Neil Diamond’s name that made him; it was his talent. Same thing with Bacall and Johnson."

In citing the futility of how Nigeria is trying to brand itself into a tourist paradise, Rosabeth Moss Kanter shares with us that it could be akin to putting "lipstick on a bulldog". To cross the psychological barrier of consumers, brands must start with an authenticity test, and not ignore the elephant in the room.

Courtesy of Venture Beat

Should one then fire the creative team or eliminate the brand consultant? Not at all. Rather, when faced with slipping consumer interest at the cash register, focus on fixing your product/service quality, customer service processes, or your delivery channels FIRST. Find out what went wrong (or what didn't go right) and get to the root of the problem first.

For those who are entrusted with launching a new product brand, focus on creating a remarkable product (aka a "Purple Cow" borrowing from Seth Godin) rather than worry about logos, taglines, templates and elevator pitches from the onset.

There is a time and place for branding, and I like how Moss Kanter cites it here:

"Brands are wonderful assets when they capture the essence of a product, service, or event succinctly, meaningfully, and with endurance over time."

Use branding wisely as a strategy to augment your business, rather than a flavour of the month to save it.

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