As an Advertising Director, I assume a moral obligation with my clients that I take very seriously:
and defend it from stupid people.
Over the years I’ve learned that the greatest danger to brand integrity does NOT come from the outside, it comes from stupid, myopic brand management aspirants who will do almost anything to make their quarterly numbers.
Short-sighted MBO tactics can suck the lifeblood out of a vibrant brand and hobble its full market potential.
Consider this perspective on brand management from Mr. Warren Buffett:
“What creates a high Gross Profit Margin is the company’s durable competitive advantage. It allows companies the freedom to price products and services well in excess of their Cost of Goods Sold. Without a competitive advantage, companies have to compete by lowering the price of the product or service they are selling, which of course lowers their profit margins and therefore their profitability. It also lowers their ability to raise salaries and give big bonuses, and it diminishes the companies’ capacity to expend capital on new businesses and to survive a recession.”
— Warren Buffett’s Management Secrets, Mary Buffett & David Clark
Now consider the impact the following types of action have on your brand:
- Discounting. Think Boxing Day sales.
- Discontinued product lines. Think TV shows.
- Having your customer service people tell prospective customers to wait for the new one because the previous model isn’t worth having. Think Windows 7.
- Waiting endlessly for (live) customer service. Think Bell Canada.
- Receiving service up-sell calls at home while you’re having dinner. Think Banks.
When brand managers discount, discontinue, misrepresent, overpromise, mishandle transition periods, under-staff and under-value customer service, they reduce the net (intangible) accrued brand value or brand trust that has been developed for years... usually at a rate that the current year’s ‘constructive brand building advertising’ is not able to offset. Think internal bleeding.
Strong brands have the same moral fibre that we respect in great leaders. Think Coke. Coke does not compromise. It does not promise to share its secret ingredients with you on Facebook so you’ll like it more. Take it or leave it, Coke is Coke.
And Birks, well – it’s Birks.
And so are a lot of other products and services that you and your family enjoy.
Even if they look nice.
Brands have what Warren Buffett and I refer to as a durable competitive advantage. They are the times, the places, the things that we hold dear and that change little over time. Like good friends, they grow with us, share with us – and importantly respond to us.
Products compete on price and availability. A nice package does not make it a brand.
While any careless Brand Manager can turn a great brand into a commodity product (think Eaton’s or The Bay), in less than 10 years only a really insightful product manager who has the luck, experience, raw product potential and the correct timing can turn a commodity product into a solid brand. Think of your own example here. Put it on your wall and emulate it.
For 2011 my free advice to you is this:
- Choose your path wisely
- Plan your work and work your plan
- Get rid of brand liabilities inclusing anyone who is not a brand steward