In marketing, a company’s brand is the association or feeling you get when you think of that company’s name. How do you feel when you think of Coca-Cola? Or Apple? Or Marlboro? Whether it is good or bad, your brand says something about your experience. But have you ever looked at a certain company’s marketing campaign and said to yourself: Why would they do that? Unfortunately, branding mistakes happen. Do you remember when the sandwich company Quiznos had a campaign that featured a disfigured, annoying, singing rodent? Sure, maybe they were trying to be funny, but associating food with a pest that normally indicates that you have an unsanitary establishment is not a great idea. Would this attract you to eating there? In this case, Quiznos made a poor judgment and was caught “Branding Bad.” This blog will share the attributes associated with creating a strong brand and highlight those who broke the laws of branding.
So, what is branding? Similar to the way that livestock gets “branded”, it is the “label” for which your company is recognized. Brands represent themselves in various ways, including through advertising, packaging and public relations. But does it really matter what people think of your brand? It definitely does. If a company does not take pride in what they do, or if their website is poorly structured or lacks creativity; for me, the company loses its appeal. Sure, everyone has different tastes, but I would like to think that marketers know the difference between something that is branded-well vs. something that is “Branded Bad.”
The following are characteristics that you need in order to create a strong brand as well as examples of companies that broke the following four laws of branding.
The best companies do the proper research and know their target audience. They understand their demographics, what their interests are, and the best way to communicate to them. But not every company takes the time or the effort to do this and in some cases, misreads their own findings. What is probably the most famous example of a company that did not properly understand their target audience is the story of “New Coke.”
Situation: In the early 1980s, Coca-Cola was losing market share to the sweeter tasting Pepsi-Cola. So, the company decided to compete by creating a new formula that was sweeter and named it New Coke. In taste tests, research showed that most people preferred the new formula over both Pepsi and the original Coke. And when the tasters were asked if they would buy and drink it, most said yes. However, it is believed that many of these participants failed to understand that it would replace the existing formula vs. being an additional offering. The company also greatly underestimated the loyalty that people had with the original Coke formula.
Outcome: Research showed that many of the consumers preferred the sweeter taste when drinking the soda in a smaller amount, but didn’t enjoy the flavor as much when consumed in larger quantities. If the Coca-Cola Company had done more research and understood its audience better, they would have discovered replacing the formula was a major branding mistake. In only a few months after the introduction of New Coke, the company brought back the original formula and re-branded it “Coca-Cola Classic.”
If you sell the exact same product as someone else, what incentive does anyone have to want to try your product? The identity for your brand does not need to be revolutionary, but it has to be different enough with features that your audience cares about. One product that failed to show the audience its uniqueness was the Zune music player.
Situation: In 2006, Microsoft attempted to compete against Apple’s popular iPod by introducing its own music player called Zune. But Microsoft never gave its audience a valid reason to purchase Zune vs. the iPod. To the target, it was just another music player and the features that it claimed were different, were relatively minor and not very important to its audience.
Outcome: Microsoft never created a unique selling proposition that clearly identified Zune as a better choice. With its lack of differentiation, Zune never made much traction and after 5 years of trying to compete, the product was discontinued.
When you eat or drink a product from a company you enjoy, such as Mountain Dew or Ritz Crackers, you expect it to consistently taste the same. The same thing holds true when marketing your brand. Your brand should visually represent who you are and show how you differentiate yourself from the competition. Your logo, colors, and tagline should always be the same regardless of the medium because this reinforces your identity. And the same holds true for brand extensions. One company that failed to be consistent to its core brand was the story of Colgate and its desire to enter the food category.
Situation: In 1982, the toothpaste company Colgate decided to extend their brand and launch a line of frozen dinners. While brand extensions can be successful, it is very important that they be relatable to your main business and that they are representative of your brand. Therefore a company known for dental care is a disconnect when it is associated with a food product from a brand perspective.
Outcome: Since people recognized Colgate as a product that cleans their teeth, they could not relate to the fact that they were now selling food. When it hit the shelves, its no surprise that consumers were not attracted to the frozen dinner with the Colgate label. Not only was the product discontinued and pulled from the shelves shortly after being introduced, but it also lowered their toothpaste sales.
Industries change all the time so you need to be aware of your competition. And if your brand is not able to be adaptable to an ever-changing landscape, another brand will certainly try to take over. This proved to be the case for Blockbuster Video when they did not adapt quick enough to the changing environment.
Situation: At a time before streaming, Blockbuster Video was a successful business that rented movies from brick and mortar locations across the nation. But when a small upstart by the name of Netflix came along, they gave Blockbuster some serious competition. Instead of having to go to a store, Netflix allowed its customers a convenient and easy way to rent movies from home through an online subscription plan where they received DVD’s by mail. While Netflix was gaining momentum with this model, Blockbuster kept their same confusing price model and restrictions for the duration of time that customers could keep their videos. In comparison, Netflix allowed its customers the freedom to keep the movies they rented as long as they wanted. All they had to do was return the movie they currently had in order to get the next one in their online queue.
Outcome: After six years of Netflix being in operation, Blockbuster eventually tried to offer a mail subscription service, but it was too late and they did not differentiate themselves over what Netflix offered. Netflix made it easy for consumers to rent movies online from home, while Blockbuster was stuck in their ways. In the end, Blockbuster’s resistance to adapt quickly to the changing landscape caused them to fail.
All of these examples have one thing in common. They all break at least one law of branding. So, do your research, learn about your audience, and put together a unique strategy that will resonate with your target audience. Then, make sure your branding is consistent across all mediums, brand extensions and watch what your competition is doing. Be progressive and adapt to the ever-changing environment. If you follow these rules, not only will you have a strong brand, but you will also avoid suffering from the perils of “Branding Bad.”
What are your thoughts? Do you agree with the examples above? What other brands do you feel broke these laws and were caught “Branding Bad”?
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Want to learn more about branding? Check out the following resources, where I obtained some of the above information: Top 7 Characteristics Of Successful Brands, Top 9 Brand Blunders of All Time, and The 20 Worst Product Failures.