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Branding and Advertising Debacle

BRAND

Brand has been the hot buzzword in advertising for some time now. The concept of brand has been understood for hundreds of years, of course, but it’s gotten a paint job in the last decades and has, in the process, acquired the gloss of a new idea. Simply put, brand is the impression or series of impressions that come to mind when someone sees or hears your company’s name.

Brand is a synthesis of many discrete elements, not the least of which is user experience, but the linchpin of brand creation tends to be advertising. Brand advertising is a promise. And unless the user experience is in direct conflict with that promise, the advertised message becomes the brand in the collective mind of the marketplace. It’s what ad people call “positioning.”

Brand positioning gives customers a reason to select a product or service over that of the competition. It becomes a convenient handle, the intuitive logic behind the buying decision. Without brand positioning, you still have a position in the marketplace.

It’s called “others,” as in “the leading brand, the next leading brand, and others.” Almost no one buys “others,” even though they’re usually less expensive. And why should they? Make no mistake: We are a brand-name culture.

Google, IBMCoca-ColaFedEx, Apple, Disney, each of these names evokes a distinct and different response in your brain, and that conceptualization is, to a greater or lesser extent, what these companies have spent many years and untold millions of dollars telling you they represent. It’s their brand.

Don’t take my word for it. Just think about it the next time you reach for a Coke instead of a generic supermarket cola.

Lead Generation

Advertisers like lead-generation campaigns because they’re trackable and therefore can be tied to ROI. Brand campaigns, on the other hand, can be critical to your success, but they’re maddeningly ineffable. You can rarely tell how much specific revenue your brand campaign is generating.

Of course, in the post-dot-com doldrums, people are already talking about cutting back on lead-generation advertising: “We’ve got a sales force to generate leads.” Good luck. You might as well ask them to climb Everest without oxygen. If the sales force is responsible for developing leads as well as qualifying and closing leads, well … you do the math. (Hint: Less isn’t more in this case.)

Lead-generation campaigns jump-start the sales cycle. A shorter sales cycle means more sales closed per quarter, and that translates into a higher valuation. How much can one or two bad quarters hurt you? Ask Oracle. Ask Yahoo!, Ask Nokia, Ask Blackberry. If there are any CEOs out there who aren’t laser-focused on shareholder value, please raise your hands.

Cutting your lead-generation campaign is like cutting off your hands. If your lead-generation campaign isn’t working, then change it. But don’t cut it. Just make it work.

Market Leadership

Remember the high tide that was going to raise all the boats in the harbor? Well, welcome to low tide. But look at the bright side. There’s less competition.

Some of the competition is just plain gone, and much of the rest of it is too confused to mount an effective effort. To calmer minds, that means opportunity.

Market leaders will continue to advertise during the coming year. And their ads will be seen by more of their target audiences because there will be less clutter in the media. What’s more, the stable presence of market leaders will be reassuring. And their leadership position will become even more entrenched. If that sounds good, think seriously about doing it.

Avoid excess but don’t panic. At the same forum where the early-round venture capitalist disparaged the Super Bowl, a pre-money investment banker offered a different point of view. He said, “A solid brand in the marketplace shortens the sales cycle, helps meet revenue goals and supports corporate growth.”

Amen.

There will be two types of companies in the coming year: market leaders and “others.” Which type do you want to be?