...goes a long way, especially when I'm thinking about brands, brand management and the power of brands to build successful organizations and careers.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Calm in the brand-speak battle

Jennifer Rice steps into the latest Laura Ries’ foot-in-mouth episode with a post that provides clarity and calm. Laura, unfortunately, has a habit of oversimplifying some of her points, and her detractors have a habit of piling on, often questioning her credentials.

Like Rice, I believe brand should be a foundation for all of an organization’s efforts, not just its marketing or, worse yet, its advertising. Therefore, a strong brand can overcome less-than-perfect product or zombie employees.
  • Saturn was a great example of a strong brand supporting a mediocre product.
  • The Betamax was a clearly superior product, from what I understand from history, but lost out to VHS as the video standard for a couple of decades.
  • McDonald’s has its share of zombies running the retail experience, but continues to be a pretty strong brand across the globe.
  • Wal-Mart is successful selling a lot of very average products and employing a lot of marginal employees.

These are just a few examples that debunk the myth that good product and good people are all it takes to be successful, and that you can't be successful without good products or good people.

Laura is also vilified because she often makes and defends oversimplified absolute statements and positions: check out her long-running battle with graphic designers after she supported an online logo factory. After all, she and her father used “immutable” in the title of their book that included many mutable laws. (Full disclosure: I really like 22 Immutable Laws of Branding because it's a great starting point for brand discussions, but only that: a starting point). Unfortunately, Ries' opponents often attack with equally absolute statements.

If you agree with Beyond Marketing Thought's Karl Speak’s definition for brand (“brand is the reputation an organization earns based on the audience’s experience with its product or services”) it’s easy to see that brand management is a company-wide task, not a marketing task. When one part of the system doesn’t get it – and doesn’t take ownership of the brand – it becomes an impotent too; not much more effective than a trademark, an ad or a tagline alone.

So Laura oversimplified the value of a great brand, and her opponents greatly underestimated it.

Let’s hope business owners reading all these comments don’t do the same.

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