Creating Brands People Love

In today's volatile market, it's important for brands to stay consistent. Brian Till and Donna Heckler, marketing experts and authors of Creating Brands People Love: Discover the Secrets of Creating and Growing World-Class Brands, speak with Call Center IQ about how to keep brands relevant.

In your book Creating Brands People Love, you liken marketing to football. You write that the brand manager, the quarterback, calls the plays, and that every person and every department is crucial to the brand’s success. What is an example of how this is elegantly played out?

A great example of the quarterback calling the plays would be at Energizer. The brand manager was a critical link with all parts of the organization. Naturally, the brand lead ensured consistent external marketing, advertising, PR, promotion, packaging, etc. But, the brand manager was also closely connected with sales, working to ensure that pricing philosophy and discount structures were consistent with the overall brand. The brand manager, worked with forecasting and the trade marketing to consider category management of the brand, appropriate forecasting for the brand and specific account needs. As much as the brand manager spent time on the revenue side of the equation, an equal amount of time was spent on the cost side of the equation, working with manufacturing and packaging to ensure the costs were appropriate and the performance of the brand was consistent with its promise.

With the quarterback analogy, the brand manager calls the play and begins the execution, but hands off the ball to various support people who, ultimately, play an important part of the brand’s success.

In all of that, I am not sure we would ever use the word "elegant," however. That is something that brand teams often strive for, but have a very tough time achieving in a complex and dynamic marketplace.

You describe the popular Mac vs. PC television ad campaign—you write that Apple was effective in bringing the Mac persona to life to capture "ease of connectivity, built-in features and simplicity of use." Microsoft made a series of ad campaigns that showed the diversity of PC customers, making the Mac persona look a bit exclusive. Did this make Apple look bad? Why or why not?

Clearly the Mac campaign "got to" the folks at Microsoft. Following up on the failed Seinfeld partnership, Microsoft developed their "I’m a PC" campaign, which featured the wide variety of people who use Microsoft’s operating system. This idea of "look at all of us who are PCs" certainly might blunt this "cool" image Apple is trying to create. I don’t think the campaign makes Apple look bad as the ads are more designed to shift peoples’ image of PC rather than of Apple. In other words, the ads might have worked more to enhance PC/Microsoft’s image than to detract from Apple’s image.

One of the weaknesses of Microsoft’s approach is that while they show all these people who use their product, there is nothing in their ads that indicate why they use their product. The beauty of the Apple ads is that they create a distinct image/personality for the brand while at the same time highlighting significant and meaningful differentiation.

One of the ideas you write about is consistency. In this current volatile market, how do brands tweak their messages while remaining consistent?

We are always living in changing times. The best brands adapt to changing times without changing their fundamental core essence. Doing this requires: a commitment to the importance of brand consistency, senior management keeping a watchful eye on brand messaging, and understanding the difference between tactical consistency (same tagline, same ad campaign, like MasterCard’s "Priceless" campaign) and strategic consistency (BMW’s emphasis on driving performance). As times change, tactics may evolve, taglines change, ad campaigns replaced, etc., but the strategic consistency can remain in place. We highlight this in our chapter "Be Consistent but not Complacent."

What advice do you have for companies that are trying to segment their customer base to tailor the brand experience?

Typically it is best to segment based on the underlying need that is driving purchase decisions and brand choices. These needs vary from person to person and segmentation groups people together who are similar in the specific need that is most important to them. Understand these segments based on need then makes it easier to tailor the brand experience in such a way that resonates with that need. For example, with respect to clothing retailers, some people most value low prices, some people most value personal service, some people most value broad selection, some people most value leading-edge fashion. Once you decide on the segment or two that you want to focus on, you can then design a brand experience that will be meaningful to them. The kind of brand experience that will be most relevant to someone who values personal service would be different from the kind of brand experience for someone who values broad selection.

What are examples of some of the more innovative trends in branding?

One of the current innovative trends is in the managing of brands in a high tech world. With the new technologies, the CRM abilities, the new social networks–there are numerous opportunities to reach consumers in new and relevant ways.

The shift we are seeing is that as organizations, we can connect one to one with consumers. In that, there is an interest in having individual messages per consumer–to answer their individual needs. So the current approach is to understand individual needs of a consumer, be aware of the questions they have and therefore create a conversation with the consumer.

A conversation is critical and it implies engagement with the consumer. Brand teams have to manage this relationship differently, utilizing the technology available. The challenge this presents to brands is that as they engage directly with consumers they still need to stay true to the core message of their brand.

Interview by Blake Landau