“A brand becomes stronger when you narrow the focus.”
Written by Kurt Krumpholz
President/Executive Marketing Director
Why Do Brands Fail? (And How to Make Sure Yours Doesn't.)
Not every brand is a success over the long haul. Some popular brands, like Kmart and Oldsmobile, slowly grow old and tired because they fail to remain relevant. Some, like Blockbuster and Kodak, fail because they cannot anticipate or adapt to changing market needs. I'd say Blackberry is also poised to be added to this list. Others, such as Enron, collapse from moral decay. And many, many brands never achieve success because they simply can’t compete in a crowded, media-saturated marketplace.
That said, is there one common thread that unites all these failed brands? As the examples above show, brands seem to fail for a variety of reasons. But I believe the chief cause of a brand’s death or stagnation is due to its failure to sustain and emotional connection with customers. Whether a brand embodies trust, tradition, security, or innovation, it has to live up to customers’ expectations or it will never inspire a loyal following.
So what does this mean to you and your organization? Well, I'm sure you recognize your brand as a strategic asset—a primary source of competitive advantage and the key to continued growth. But, keeping your brand up-to-date requires constant vigilance. Just like your marketing strategy, your brand needs regular maintenance to keep it fresh and relevant to its target audiences. After all, the relationship between brand identity (how the your brand is perceived) and brand position (the part of your brand which is actively communicated) is subject to change as social, economic, technological, and business factors evolve over time.
To create and maintain real differentiating value, you need to make sure your brand position adapts to the changing environment.
Brand positioning is fundamentally your competitive ‘assertion.’ A stake in the ground or—more accurately—your own unique corner in the established competitive arena. It’s not a generic mission statement or a global reason for being. In very simple terms, we define brand positioning as:
“A sustainable and leverage-able point of competitive differentiation that creates preference and drives loyalty.”
Proper brand positioning is enormously valuable because it is the crispest, clearest formulation of your brand's competitive advantage and orientation. It’s a company-wide guidepost and point-of-reference that will give coherent, consistent, and cogent form (the Three C’s) to everything you do, message, image, and make. It is a guarantee against brand fragmentation and makes your marketing communication more effective because it helps to:
So, how can you make sure your brand is poised for growth and not failure? By engaging in a brand refresh sooner rather than later. To achieve the clarity and synergy that is required to leverage your brand assets into new markets and offerings, you need to actively manage your brand portfolio.
As you do so, it's important to remember that you can’t really control your brand, though you can influence it. Your brand is created not in the boardroom but in the minds of your customers. So listen to what they have to say and build on your strengths. You’ll never succeed if you try to be something else.
Next, take an honest look at your market. Are you just another face in the crowd? You can only build a loyal following if people notice you. Make sure you offer something fresh so that your business will stand out in the crowd. Think of ways you can differentiate your business, whether it’s your products, the way you talk about yourself, or the way you present yourself visually in the marketplace.
Finally, remember the world is filled with marketing chatter. Simplify your message so that people quickly can grasp what you do and how you are different. If your brand is relevant, clearly communicated, and memorable, you are on the right track.
If you think you may need help making sure your brand positioning has the right customer-focus, is well differentiated, and can be communicated in one simple, compelling statement (think BMW. The Ultimate Driving Machine), then feel free to give us a call to pick our brains. We've helped many of Philadelphia's top businesses and organizations create relevance, differentiation, energy, leverage, and clarity for their brand, and we're happy to help you as well!
Passion, Purpose, and Personality.
Surviving cancer. Getting back to life as usual. It’s what every cancer patient wants.
I know this first hand, because I'm a cancer survivor myself.
That’s why I was delighted when Doylestown Hospital asked K2 to help them launch their new Cancer Institute. Not only do I reside Doylestown, but I was treated for cancer at the hospital as well (although they were not aware of that when they approached us). So, I had first-hand experience of the comprehensive and effective cancer treatment services they provide.
Just as important, I also had an inside track on what cancer patients are concerned with when evaluating treatment options. I knew that the decision-making process is, at its core, a very emotional one; one not only based on a doctor's expertise or the availability of cutting-edge technology, but also on the level of overall care.
That's why it was important for our marketing campaign to break through the competitive clutter. It needed to capture the hearts and minds of the target audience, engaging them and earning loyalty for the long term. The solution was to identify a believable, resonant, and clearly differentiated brand positioning platform and then consistently bring that to life across all brand touchpoints.
As such, the brand strategy we developed for the Cancer Institute at Doylestown Hospital centered on the following key elements:
Because customers internalize their image of a hospital and what it means to them. So, creating the right perception is key. Brand loyalty in is an emotional relationship, and healthcare is certainly no exception. Research has shown that emotional marketing is remembered because the target audience is more likely to connect to emotions than to advanced technology or medical statistics.
So, it's important to leave your audience with a positive emotional take away.
Sure, we all want a hospital to be empathetic to our situation and to provide the latest in treatment options. But we don't remember sterile equipment or physicians in stark white lab coats in the ads we see. Instead, we remember the emotions we’ve invested in that hospital’s brand.
That’s why top docs, cutting edge technology, and clinical outcomes alone are no longer enough to attract new markets or even maintain existing markets. People already assume that the quality is good and your doctors are competent.
Rather, it's the emotional aspect of the hospital and its products and services that are now, more than ever, the key difference. By emotional, we mean how your brand engages consumers on the level of the senses and emotions; how it comes to life for people and creates a deeper, lasting connection (see article on Emotional Branding below).
Emotional branding is all about building relationships; it’s about making sure your target audience remains emotionally invested in your brand so that it achieves long-term value.
In the past, there was a tendency among marketers to focus on attributes and functional benefits because they are assumed to be what customers are buying (and because market research is often functionally focused). The fact is, your customers are not always logical. And functional benefits rarely provide a basis for sustainable differentiation or a deep customer relationship.
In this case, many of the region's hospitals can boast similar accreditations, technologies, and five-year survival rates. So what is the real and sustainable differentiating factor for Doylestown Hospital?
As you know if you've been following this Brand News page, our focus today is increasingly on emotional branding. Instead of focusing only on functional benefits, we now look toward emotional and self-expressive benefits as well. Thus, a customer can feel safe in a Volvo, excited in a BMW, energetic with Coca-Cola around, or warm when receiving a Hallmark card. A person can be cool by buying clothes at Zara, successful by driving a Lexus, creative by using Apple, a nurturing mother by preparing Quaker Oats hot cereal, frugal and unpretentious by shopping at Kmart, or adventurous and active by owning REI camping equipment.
In this light, we considered and then defined the Cancer Institute at Doylestown Hospital's brand personality. Without giving too much away, it's exactly their passion, purpose, and personality that is reflected in the campaign we developed and crystallized in the positioning tagline itself:
Life. Beyond Cancer.™
Battling cancer is scary, no doubt about it. But this campaign sends the message that The Cancer Institute at Doylestown Hospital is the right choice of an ally in that fight. From early diagnosis to treatment to on-going care, they're with cancer patients every step of the way on their personal journey from patient to survivor.
If you'd like to see how emotional branding can create energy, differentiation, relevance and clarity for your brand, please drop me a e-mail or call me today for a free, no obligation brand review. I look forward to speaking with you!
Positioning Yourself for Success.
The American Marketing Association (AMA) defines a brand as a "name, term, sign, symbol or design, or a combination of them intended to identify the goods and services of one seller or group of sellers and to differentiate them from those of other sellers.”
For this reason, the process of creating a strong brand is really not so much about getting your target market to choose you over the competition. Rather it’s about getting your prospects to see you as the only one that provides a solution to their problem.
Successful marketing, then, is not about building awareness for your brand as much as it is about building awareness for how your brand's offerings are differentiated.
How to create the right brand differentiation strategy.
It starts with positioning.
In very simple terms, we define positioning as: “A sustainable and leverage-able point of competitive differentiation that creates preference and drives loyalty.”
A well-constructed positioning statement is an invaluable means of bringing focus and clarity to the development of a brand differentiation strategy and the subsequent roll out of marketing communication tactics. How? Because every decision that is made regarding the brand is judged by how well it supports the positioning statement---from the brand identity to advertising and beyond.
Now is the time to reevaluate your positioning.
In our view, there are three critical questions your brand’s positioning statement can answer:
If you either lack a true positioning statement or feel your current one no longer accurately address these core issues, then now is the time to re-define your positioning.
Sounds simple enough, right?
Not so fast.
We believe you need the assistance of an objective, outside brand marketing expert. Someone experienced in evaluating the five ‘metrics’ that a good positioning statement must meet to be viable. And that’s exactly what we bring to the table. The expertise and experience to help you make certain your positioning meets the following criteria:
#1) Is it relevant? Your brand’s positioning is about filling a real need or solving a real problem in the marketplace. That need does not have to be real: it can also be a matter of forecast. A positioning statement can be ‘future-ized’ by basing it on a well-supported forecast of need.
#2) Is it deliverable? Your brand’s positioning must be based on the assets, infrastructure, and corporate will to make good on your brand promise and value proposition; on your ability to really deliver it.
#3 Is it differentiated. We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: It’s not what you do that’s important. It’s what you do differently that matters. You’ve either got to have something that no one else can do (service) or make (product), or you have something or do something that other people do or make, but you do it better or differently (e.g., more efficiently, cost-effectively, better, or as part of a more integrated basket of benefits).
#4) Is it credible? Your positioning statement’s credibility is largely a matter of perception. Based on past performance and reputation, does the market believe you can do or will deliver what you say? Are there good reasons to believe your brand promise? Does your positioning move you beyond the status quo?
#5 Is it inspiring? Again, this is a matter of perception and, ultimately, effort. Does your positioning have the capacity to engage and motivate employees and excite the market place—not just customers, but analysts, and investors as well? Inspiration always creates the new thing, the new way, the wholly (or partly) unprecedented approach that starts the buzz or lights the fire.
Your first step? Give us a call.
When is it Time to Re-Evaluate Your Brand?
As a marketer, you know the value of your brand as a strategic asset. It’s your primary source of competitive advantage and the key to long term growth. Charged with achieving ROI and marketplace performance in today’s competitive landscape, you know that a powerful brand can make the difference between success and failure.
But, keeping your brand up-to-date requires constant vigilance. Just like any other marketing strategy, your brand needs regular maintenance to keep it fresh and relevant to your target audience. After all, the relationship between brand identity (how you would like the brand to be perceived) and brand position (the part of your brand which is actively communicated) is subject to change as social, economic, technological, and business factors evolve over time. To create real differentiating value, you have to make sure your brand adapts to the changing environment. You have to actively manage your brand portfolio to achieve the clarity and synergy that is required to leverage your brand assets into new markets and products.
That said, how do you know if it’s time re-evaluate your brand? How long do you stick with what is already in place? A quick review of the following 12 core issues can reveal volumes about the relevance of your brand’s equity today.
3. Brand awareness is low among your target audience. The target market has a hard time explaining what you do “differently” or “better” when asked.
4. Your brand strategy focuses on product- or service-related brand attributes rather than the emotional or self-expressive benefits associated with brand-as-person, brand-as-organization, or brand-as-symbol perspectives.
5. You want to attract a different market segment than you’ve targeted before.
6. You need to integrate social media into your marketing mix to keep up with changes in how your audience interacts with your brand.
7. Your business is expanding into a different type of product or service area, or you’ve changed your marketing strategy.
8. You’ve acquired or merged with another company and have two or more brands that don’t make sense from the perspective of prospects, customers, investors, or other key internal and external constituent audiences.
9. Your sales and marketing people, often in various locations, are producing their own marketing materials or sales tools. As a result, brand consistency is suffering. Your brand value may have become fractured or diluted.
10. Your company has a new CEO with a different vision for future growth.
11. The competitive terrain is more intense, and it is more difficult than ever to differentiate your superior products and services from others.
12. You do not have a well documented brand differentiation strategy, positioning platform, or value proposition.
If one or more of these conditions ring true, don’t despair. Most importantly, don’t give into the temptation of a quick fix to your website, marketing collateral system, brand identity, or packaging design. Applying precious marketing dollars to achieve inadequate performance or short-term results just doesn’t make sense.
Instead, what you really may need is a revised brand portfolio strategy. One that will support your evolving business goals while adding relevance, differentiation, energy, leverage, and clarity to your brand’s promise.
If you’re nodding your head in agreement, now is time to turn to team of expert brand strategists. At K2 Communications, our proven brand discovery process will help you to arrive at a winning solution. One that will give your brand its best shot at earning a lasting position within the hearts and minds of the customers you depend on for your long term success as well as the employees who serve as your brand ambassadors every day.
If this makes sense to you, please call or email me today to schedule a simple, no-obligation strategic brand analysis. It could be the difference between treading water and new levels of success.
I hope to speak with you soon.
The Shift from Branding to Emotional Branding*
“Branding is not only about ubiquity, visibility, and functions; it is about bonding emotionally with people in their daily life. Only when a product or a service kindles an emotional dialog with the consumer, can this product or service qualify to be a brand.” –Joël Desgrippes, d/g worldwide
The other day I sent an email to my college-aged daughter requesting some information I needed from her. When she did not respond after a few days, I posted a similar message on her Facebook wall. This garnered an immediate response. “Sorry I didn’t get back to you earlier, Dad,” she replied. “I don’t check my email because nobody uses it anymore.”
And, of course, she was right. I was applying an out dated notion of connection to a current-day reality.
But as brand marketers, how many of us are making a similar mistake? Trying to connect to an audience we are no longer sure how to fully engage?
The emergence of social media, the massive shift from fixed to wireless communications, and the recent global economic crisis have all combined to create powerful changes that have far-reaching effects on our personal, social, and business lives. We have all seen how social media accelerated the uprising in the Middle East. As online communication has given power back to the people, consumerism, as we know it, has also changed, forcing businesses to evolve to meet the demands of a newly empowered consumer. How brands will survive or thrive in this new environment will depend in large part on their ability to meet the expectations of an audience increasingly shaped by Twitter, Facebook, and other social medias.
So, what exactly constitutes a great brand concept today? In this over-saturated, hypercompetitive marketplace where goods and services alone are no longer enough to attract a new market or even maintain existing markets or clients, it is the emotional aspect of products and services that will be the key difference between a consumer’s ultimate choice and the price that they will pay. By emotional, we mean how a brand engages consumers on the level of the senses and emotions; how a brand comes to life for people and creates a deeper, lasting connection.
This means that understanding people’s needs and desires is really, now more than ever, the key to success. The most important element of branding, after all, is people. It does not matter whether you are selling a high-tech product to a narrowly-segmented target audience, or health care services to a broad general public. In each and every case, as brand marketers, we are communicating and appealing to human beings. Today's business winners will be those companies and institutions that best connect with their customers emotionally and empathetically.
Welcome to the world of emotional branding.
Emotional branding taps into the inspirational drives that underlie human motivation by focusing on the most compelling aspect of the human character: the desire to transcend material satisfaction and experience emotional fulfillment.
Emotional branding is also about building relationships; it’s about giving a brand and a product or service long-term value. The brand is brought to life for consumers first and foremost by the personality of the company behind it and that company’s commitment to reaching people on an emotional level.
Starbucks is an emotional brand because it has equated buying a cup of coffee to the support of positive, eco-friendly commerce. BMW is an emotional brand because of what it means as a prestige, performance brand. But the same logic that applies to consumer brands also applies to business-to-business, health care, and technology brands. Strong brands across the board are those that have a culture of unforgettable emotions associated with their character.
Once advertising was all about being "on-message" and getting the talking points right. But research has shown what we all know, but don't often admit to in business: people are primarily emotional decision-makers. And, according to research, people make their purchase decisions on such emotional principles as aversion to loss, resistance to change, desire for conformity, blinders to actual probability, overconfidence, impulse, and a strong sense of justice (they don’t want to be cheated).
Rather than buying goods and services, what your customers actually trade their money for is satisfaction. They want to feel good about purchasing to fulfill their needs (or “must haves”), their wants (or what they expect to have), and their desires (or what they dream of having).
That’s why effective marketing is now first and foremost about being "on-emotion." Being on-message remains a vital but a secondary strategy, a way to plug in just enough ‘facts’ that the rational mind, searching to justify a choice, can find them and therefore, feel confident about the purchase. Moving beyond the old "P's" of product, place, and promotion, the new rules for emotionally effective advertising, include focusing on the three new "P's" of passion, purpose, and personality.
Powerful emotional branding comes from partnership and communication. Building the right emotion is the most important investment you can make in your brand. It is the promise you make to your customers, giving them permission to enjoy the world of your brand.
That said, what do you hope your target audience will feel, think, sense about your brand? Call me today and let’s discuss the difference between traditional concepts of brand awareness and the emotional dimension your brand needs to express to become preferred.
*Thanks to Emotional Branding: The New Paradigm for Connecting Brands to People, by Marc Gobe
The Power of the Right Brand Promise
At some point in my initial presentation to prospective clients regarding the importance of a differentiating brand strategy, I tell them; "It's not what you do, it's what you do differently that's important." Some of the folks around here have heard this mantra so many times now, they roll their eyes when I say it. But this simple maxim is still the cornerstone for all successful brand marketing strategies. It holds true whether you're selling a b2b service, a consumer package good, a health care facility, a high tech product, an institution of higher learning, or anything else.
There's no doubt about it, brand differentiation is one of the most important aspects of any business, large or small. An effective brand strategy gives you a major edge in increasingly competitive markets. Simply put, your brand is your promise to your customer. It tells them what they can expect from your products and services, and it differentiates your offering from your competitors'. Your brand promise is derived from who you are, who you want to be, and who people perceive you to be.
Because the brand promise is the single most important measureable in building value, the goal of every brand positioning exercise should be to develop a brand promise that is unique, compelling, and believable. The winning promise must deliver against all three criteria or it won’t work. When it does work, it's very, very hard to unseat.
For example, a recent article in Ad Age proclaimed; Why 'Zoom-Zoom' Is Staying Put in a Year of Change for Mazda (http://adage.com/cmostrategy/article?article_id=147343)
After 10 years with the same advertising agency here in the U.S., Mazda has decided to re-evaluate its creative direction but not to change its trademark slogan: "Zoom-Zoom."
As one of the commentaries to this article rightly points out, “Zoom-Zoom” has done for Mazda what the duck has for Aflac. This 10-year old tagline is both consumer-friendly and straight to the point. It's short, it's unique, it's compelling, and it's believable.
But as a brand promise, “Zoom-Zoom” does so much more: it creates a distinctive and differentiated brand identity that clearly sets Mazda apart from all competitors. There's no question that Mazda’s success in this market is due in large part to the brand promise of "Zoom-Zoom." Without it, Mazda could easily have remained an indistinguishable Japanese automaker here in the U.S. So "Zoom-Zoom" is more than a tagline, because as an embodiment of the Mazda brand promise, it delivers a great value proposition that is relevant to the customer, focusing specifically on the driving dynamics that Mazda stands for. At the same time, it clearly defines the target audience; namely, a very young target demo. While BMW’s “Ultimate Driving Machine” tagline delivers the promise of driving performance to an older, more affluent target audience, “Zoom-Zoom” is clearly positioned to attract the entry-level sports car enthusiast. I know this from personal experience, because my 18-year-old daughter drives a Mazda 3 for just this reason.
Determining a brand promise is a fateful moment in the life of any company. Choose the right one--the one your customers respond to, the one you can track and execute day after day--and you win. It's really that simple. Chose the wrong one, and you'll probably flounder for years, never quite hitting your goals.
In light of this, have you chosen the right brand promise for your company or organization? Is your brand strategy based on a simple, powerful, and relevant brand promise? And what is the promise you’re making to your customers? Does it both matter to them and, at the same time, differentiate you from your competitors? Would it be obvious if I went to your website or looked at your ads and related marketing materials? If thinking about this raises more questions than it answers, give me a call or drop me an e-mail to learn how we can help to get you on the right track.
A Breath of Fresh Air in Health Care Branding
Recently, Frankford Hospitals, a premier health care system for more than a century, was faced with a serious marketing challenge. As the institution continued its ongoing expansion of clinical programs and services throughout greater Northeast Philadelphia and Bucks County, they recognized a need to reevaluate and possibly redefine their brand image. So, they turned to K2 Communications for assistance.
Of course, the rebranding of any premier health care system presents a series of unique challenges. Because its stakeholders are so varied, its importance to the community can dwarf almost any other branded product or service. And the commitment, or occasionally the mistrust, toward it can be unparalleled.
Typically, there are two primary reasons to rebrand a hospital.
1. The hospital has changed.
2. The hospital's reputation has changed in the community at large or among specific important sub-communities, for example, potential employees or donors.
In the case of our client, Frankford Hospitals, both reasons appeared self-evident. First, the health care network had expanded and, instead of serving as a local community hospital, it had evolved into a regional hospital, adding services and specialties that could no longer adequately be defined by its history. For this reason, K2 suggested that the then current brand name and reputation no longer quite encompassed its capabilities. Only by rebranding the institution could we make sure that the "product" was correctly redefined in the minds and hearts of the many internal and external stakeholders.
At the same time, market research showed us that, while reaction to the “Frankford Hospitals” name was not necessarily negative, there were extant perceptions that the current brand name and identity might not match, or live up to, its current product offerings or geographic reach. For this reason, we knew that rebranding Frankford Hospitals would also require renaming the institution to create a more regional brand.
After initiating a comprehensive brand discovery process (The AIM Report), K2 evaluated and tested many names and brand identities. Eventually a consensus was reached, legal clearance was gained, and the hospital was rebranded as Aria Health.
Positioned on the brand promise of "Advanced Medicine. Personal Care", our goal from the start was to distinguish the hospital from all other competitors by creating a clearly differentiated brand. And, the resultant brand marketing campaign would have to be seen as nothing less than a whole new approach health care advertising. As such, we took a very different approach in communicating the new Aria Health brand, positioning the hospital less as a typical medical or institutional service and more as a "personal" and emotionally engaging entity. The intended message, and brand promise, was not how well Aria Health will care for you when you're sick, but rather how Aria Health helps deliver wellness and can enhance your quality of life.
Of course, it's one thing to talk the talk, but Aria Health as also been walking the walk; investing their efforts to improve not only clinical outcomes, but the entire patient experience, from designing friendlier, cleaner buildings to increasing the amount of time nurses spend bedside. In so doing, they are helping to resuscitate an industry that's very much in need of some fresh air.
We started with an integrated brand launch campaign that included outdoor, online, radio, print, and transit advertising. This campaign alone raised awareness for the new Aria Health brand from zero to ninety-two percent in the target markets in less than nine months' time. From there we launched campaigns for the new Aria Health Heart Center, as well as campaigns to promote their emergency care and full suite of orthopedic services.
To see even more examples, I invite you to visit www.ariahealth.org There, you can see examples of all the outdoor, print, online, radio, and TV advertising we created to communicate and reinforce the new Aria Health brand. For example, the Heart Center TV ad can be seen at Aria Health Heart Center TV.
I hope that you enjoy what you see. Please let me know if you have any questions, comments or would like to discuss ways that we can assist you in strengthening your brand positioning.
A few months ago, K2 Communications found itself one of the bridesmaids in an exhaustive advertising agency search conducted by a Philadelphia financial services company looking for a firm to help them reposition their aging brand. While we have won more than our fair share of these “bake offs” over the years, unfortunately this one did not go our way. But what surprised me the most, was the reason they gave me for selecting the other brand marketing firm over us.
“All things being equal, they have more bandwidth,” I was told.