Overestimating and Oversimplifying Branding Efforts

Neil Mahoney


In last month’s article we discussed the several steps you must take to do an effective positioning analysis:

  1. Identify your top two or three markets and prospects – the 20% that will account for 80% of your sales.
  2. Don’t forget to include important indirect buying/selling influences such as distributors and dealers.
  3. Learn their top wants and needs.
  4. Prioritize them from their perspective.
  5. Match them to your proven, demonstrable strengths.
  6. REMEMBER: A highly important customer benefit in which you have less superiority over competition – but are still superior – will likely generate more sales than a benefit in which you dominate the competition, but is less important to your prospects.
  7. Use terminology that is clearly understandable to your prospects.

With this in mind, let’s turn to Branding. In the 1980s and ’90s, building brand awareness (customers and prospects who recognize the name of your company and your products or services) and brand perception (the opinion customers and prospects have of your company and your products or services) was viewed realistically. It was understood that a lot of time, money and effort were required to create these building blocks for a company’s success and profitability. Today, too many business execs talk about branding as though you can buy it by the pound at your local supermarket.

Branding is vital. Branding has value. Branding has one purpose – to help sell your company and your products and services. But don’t kid yourself, branding is hard. Branding is something a company must do consistently – week after week, month after month, year after year – to get to the top of the pack and stay there. About 20 years ago, marketers had a phrase for this: “top-of-mind awareness.” This meant that your brand was one of the first things prospects thought of when they thought of that type of product or service.

Money Well Spent

That strong brands have value is demonstrated by one of the world’s leading hand-tool manufacturers. Their brand is not only a badge of honor that construction pros use to signify their status; the brand has proven value as well. In the mid ’90s, research showed that one of their lines – despite several low-cost competitors – had a 50% unit share. Half of all these types of tools that were bought bore the company’s brand.

Even more importantly, the company had a 60% revenue share. Their brand commanded a 20% premium, on average, over all the same type of products that were purchased.

Several years ago I was VP marketing for a world-wide, well-respected, well-known company that manufactured a line of digital readouts (DROs). These were used to measure very small units of distance (thousandths of an inch) in high-accuracy manufacturing and measurement situations. The name of the company was so well known that we had a brand recognition that exceeded 80% – and we benefited from that. The DRO portion of the business was sold, and what had been the brand name of the DRO now became the company name. To the shock and dismay of the new ownership, their name recognition tumbled from 80-plus percent to 18% overnight – despite the hundreds of thousands of dollars of advertising and promotion dollars that had been invested to establish the DRO’s trade name over the years.

To repeat: It takes years of effort and expense just to build a brand. There are no shortcuts, no easy way to do it – just time, effort, diligence and a lot of money and patience.

There are a very few exceptions where brands became well known in a shorter period of time – but in those cases millions of dollars were spent to achieve this – or the product was such a breakthrough that it benefited from scads of national publicity over fairly long periods of time – or the product was used by almost everyone on a daily basis. iPhones and Google are examples.

Branding: Simple, Not Easy

Although the concept behind branding is simple and it makes business execs feel good to talk about branding, effective execution is far from easy. To develop an effective branding program, you first must determine what markets and market segments can most benefit from the products or services you offer; then identify the top few that account for the bulk of all the sales. At the same time, identify the major wants and needs of the key prospects, and research how well you satisfy those wants and needs vs. your competitors. Take off the rose-colored glasses when you do this. Assuming you excel in certain ones, make sure the areas where you are superior are as important to your prospects as those where your competitors excel.

What concise (25 words or less), readily understood message best conveys your ability to satisfy your prospects’ highly important wants and needs in those areas where you excel? Creating this message is much easier said then done.

Branding is hard. Branding is costly. Branding is forever. Branding must be a total commitment to giving customers everything they expect from a superior, dedicated organization.

Branding Is Every Public Thing You Do

Branding is more than the obvious like ads and publicity; the media that carry these messages; and websites, brochures and newsletters. It also includes the not-so-obvious:

  • Product quality and packaging
  • Users’ manuals (appearance, ease of use, understandability, etc.)
  • Your supply chain (sales/service staff, dealers, distributors, etc.)
  • Speedy, on-time delivery
  • Competent, courteous installation and start-up
  • Customer service in all its forms – including prompt response to needs and requests
  • Your letterhead and the letters themselves – including spelling and grammar
  • Sales presentations and sales materials
  • Your receptionist and the way you answer the phones

There’s more, but you get the point.


Next month: How to develop your branding programs.

Neil Mahoney is the founder of Mahoney/Marketing and has 30 years of experience at all levels of sales and marketing, including stints at General Electric, ITC Inc., Bausch & Lomb, and ABC Broadcasting. Visit www.mahoneymarketing.com for more information.