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5 Brand-Busting Mistakes to Avoid

Saturday, October 31st, 2009

In my 25 years as a branding consultant, I’ve seen companies make major branding mistakes, some real doozies.  One company wanted to tout itself as the most innovative,  even though it spent zero dollars on research and development. Another acquired a well-respected competitor and then immediately changed its name,  leaving millions of dollars worth of good will on the table.  Those are obvious offenses. Many other companies make all-too-common–subtle yet avoidable–mistakes that sap the value right out of their brands. Here are five I would caution against.

Mistake No. 1: Equating branding with communications. Yes, branding includes communications. But if your branding strategy is all about messaging and advertising and nothing about business strategy or people, then you won’t be able to deliver on your communications. If you have lousy customer service, telling people it’s great will only drive customers away faster. But investing in training and infrastructure to improve service will enable you to market your great service and still look yourself in the mirror As more information about companies and products is available online, a great company and product are your brand’s only defense.

Mistake No. 2: Branding on price. Don’t do it. Basing your brand on your low price is a race to the bottom–and someone will always beat you there. Even if your prices are the same as your competitors’ prices, you need to give clients compelling reasons beyond price to buy from you. The difference between the product offered by Morton Salt and a supermarket’s house brand? Not much. The difference in pricing? Fourteen percent. That margin is due to how well Morton has built up the intangible parts of its brand. Establish trust with your customers, and you can breathe a lot easier when the newest competitor undercuts your price.

Mistake No. 3: Changing your promise. Like a dog sniffing at a fire hydrant, every time a new marketing vice president is brought into a company, there’s a risk she’ll try to change the brand, or put her mark on it. While your brand promise should be relevant and up-to-date, making a wholesale change from, say, being the educational leader to being the innovation leader will only confuse your market.

Are you ready to change your tagline or logo? Companies get tired of their own marketing way before the market does. (You live with it day in and day out. They see it only once in a while.) Remember when Jack in the Box killed its ping-pong-ball-headed CEO? Customer sentiment brought him back, but the company was smart enough to do so in a new, updated way. Whatever you do, don’t let your visual brand identity and messaging force changes in your brand promise (see Mistake No. 1).

Mistake No. 4: Overpromising. The least expensive way to brand yourself is to have your customers do it for you. How do you get them to become evangelists? By underpromising and overdelivering. Fight the temptation to sound better than you are: Promise what you can deliver, then do it to the nth degree. Are you the fastest? Then don’t give customers a long voice-mail message to listen to before they can act. Are you the friendliest? Don’t let your employees bad-mouth clients behind their backs. Are you the coolest? Then make sure your lobby looks awesome and has wow power.
Alongside this advice, I recommend that you focus your brand message–don’t try to be all things to all people. Figure out the most compelling part of your promise and build that up, rather than try to communicate 10 different elements of your brand promise.

Mistake No. 5: Me-too branding. I can’t tell you how many entrepreneurs have said, “If I only get x percent of the market, I’ll be rich.” You have to give consumers a compelling reason to give you their business to get that percentage. You can’t expect to siphon off business from the market leader without a substantive reason. Don’t try to be like other companies: Be yourself. There will be a subsegment of the market that likes what you do better than what the market leader does, and that’s the percentage of the market you can skim off. Instead of emulating competitors, be different. If you’re competing against Starbucks, zig when it zags. Make your décor unique, encourage customers to play board games, roast beans on site or have coffee-tasting parties. Get your own buzz on.

Steer clear of these mistakes, and you’ll be well on your way to branding nirvana–being known for your compelling and differentiated value.

The Product Life Cycle

Tuesday, January 1st, 2008

What is the Product Life Cycle?

The product life cycle is quite simple. It has to be considered when a company is deciding on its marketing strategy. It is basically the many changes a product or service goes through starting with the initial idea and ending with the product being taken off sale and getting replaced.

Stage 1

The first stage of the product life cycle is research and development. It involves the idea being created, researched and tested. This stage can take anywhere from a few months to several years depending on the complexity of the product. Research and development is an expensive stage of the product life cycle. The company is not making any revenue from the product, which may be costing a lot to develop. It is also a crucial stage of the product life cycle as getting it wrong can affect the future sales performance and even affect the companies stability or reputation.

Stage 2

The second stage is known as introduction. This is the launch of the new product. It can again be an expensive time, as the product is not yet selling well, so the costs of the launch are not covered by the sales. Some products never make it to this stage as get abandoned after the prototype is made and tested.

Stage 3

The third stage in a products life is growth. This is when the product becomes more well known and starts selling well. The company may break even as costs become stable and sales boost revenue.

Stage 4

The fourth stage is maturity or saturation and can last for years. Sales are likely to be stable here and often in decline. Competitors may be taking some business away or the product may have fallen in popularity. The product has often been on sale for a long time at this point.

Stage 5

The final stage in the life cycle of a product is decline. The product is falling in sales. Prices may need to be lowered in order to keep the product selling.

Preventing Decline

Several things can be done to prevent the decline of a product.

  • Increasing product usage. If a firm can market reasons why consumers must use a product more often, it can help increase sales. Drinking extra milk, cleaning your teeth more, doing extra exercise are some examples.
  • Price reduction. This is very common. Lowering the price can result in extra sales and exposure.
  • Product adaptation. Companies often change a product slightly. New colours, extra flavours etc. Releasing a chocolate bar with mint or other different varieties are common.
  • Changing the products image. This is often done to please another audience, or perhaps upgrading a product to keep up with current trends.
  • Promotional offers. Buy one get one free, half price and coupons. These can all be done to draw attention to a declining product and boost sales. Everyone loves a special offer!