Even with January behind us, brand managers are still full of the promise of the New Year. Sure, things didn't go perfectly during 2005. But it's worth taking note of those things you'll solemnly swear you'll never do again.
Resolution #1: Resist the temptation of celebrity endorsements
Celebrity is not a strategy. Yet, it's quite enticing. The very thought of your brand being represented by an actor, sports star or other luminary is so appealing: Just think of how swiftly your idea will sail through the choppy, politically infested waters of corporate approval. That's star power, baby!
Meanwhile, back in the real world: Unless celebrities are an integral part of your business model, celebrity endorsements should be pursued with caution. Such endorsements are often deployed by brands that are challenged to distinguish themselves on the basis of rational performance, emotion or both.
But, who cares? Just imagine the notoriety you'll amass among your star-struck veeps in sales and marketing (particularly if they get to hang around the set during the commercial shoot). (I worked with a marketing manager who reportedly got a thrill from getting "less than urgent" phone calls from Britney Spears when she couldn't figure out how to program speed dial on her comped mobile phone.)
Celebrity endorsements can burn bright. But that which burns twice as bright burns half as long. If you must shoot for the stars, make sure you protect yourself. Rare is the celebrity deal that lasts longer than summer love. Be sure that you've got plans for the next logical, carefully considered phase of your brand strategy.
And, if I were you, I'd hide the autographed 8" X 10" until I hit my sales goals.
Resolution #2: Deflect the boss's passion for sports sponsorships
Your segmentation study didn't point to it. Neither did the consumer lifestyle index. But your boss said he wants to sponsor motor sports and, by cracky, you're gonna do it.
But before the next edict is handed down, protect yourself by being proactive and staying one step ahead. Sneak into the boss' office and do some reconnaissance. You're looking for sports memorabilia, magazines or other evidence of preoccupation with a given sport. You may be in danger if the boss is constantly on eBay in a hot bid for motorcycle parts, NASCAR tickets or a Skoal tin autographed by Tommy Johnson, Jr.
As the old maxim prescribes: Those who fail to plan are destined to become a victim of someone else's plan. Beat the boss to the punch by planning early and presenting solid research-based initiatives for your brand. Consider the existing equities of your brand and those that would position it for competitive advantage.
If you can identify the programs and initiatives that will bestow those qualities on your brand by association, you've got a fighting chance. And if a sports sponsorship is the most effective means of elevating your brand, then go with the flow.
In reality, you're doing the boss a favor by protecting him from himself. No, he might not get to hang out with the NASCAR pit crew or ride along with the motocross team as he had hoped. But, perhaps, he'll appreciate that you've got the brand's interest at heart.
Resolution #3: Trust consumer insight rather than corporate-think
Which of the following sounds familiar? A marketing exec who says...
A. "I don't trust focus groups."
B. "I know what consumers want better than they do."
C. "Research? We don't need no stinkin' research."
D. All of the above.
Be afraid... be very afraid. Some execs proudly advocate such ignorance with the bravado of someone singing our National Anthem.
Do you believe that consumers ultimately know more about how they'd like to spend their money than a marketing executive? If so, you need to cowboy-up and get your game plan ready.
Seek out those relevant facts and nuggets of insight that provide illumination for the marketing situation and the case for seeking greater knowledge. If need be, grab a camcorder and conduct guerilla pre-research by taking your questions to consumers on the street. When confronted by the voice of the consumer, most marketing execs will pause for reflection.
Show how the facts are contrary to the prevailing corporate-think. You may be able to weaken the steel in the groupthink resolve in favor of bona fide consumer research. Once you have enumerated the multitude of outstanding questions, present a case for an objective research study. Be prepared to demonstrate how research can mitigate the uncertainty that stands in the way of informed marketing strategy. Just remember: Consumer research costs far less than ill-considered marketing mistakes.
Resolution #4: Build in your measurement first
You may believe that you were successful in your brand initiatives. But, when you're asked to prove it, can you really provide the hard evidence to silence the skeptics?
This year, when you are setting up your programs, make certain that you are building in the measures of effectiveness up front. Consider conducting a survey as a benchmark beforehand and then again after your program to show movements in such factors as brand awareness, attitudes, and usage. Put together a comprehensive list of your key performance indicators. Some factors will provide harder, more solid evidence of your achievement; others will be softer, less direct proof.
Undoubtedly, these measurements may be important to illustrating your past success. They can also be crucial to your future success. Implementing the right metrics with the correct analysis can help you to refine and optimize your brand initiatives. When done correctly, they can tell you which aspects of your programs to improve, and which to leave alone. You shouldn't tamper with success, and you shouldn't leave failure unchecked.
Resolution #5: Don't try to cheap your way into brand leadership
There are three elements at play in branding: Time, money, and status. If a company is willing to take its time, a brand can be built slowly with very little money. Conversely, if a company wants things to happen quickly, money can accelerate things quite nicely, thank you. But, heaven help the company without a budget that has the delusion that it has found a shortcut to brand success.
Yes, I am a firm believer in spending smarter and getting more out of every dollar. A strategically focused brand can accomplish more than competitors that don't have such focus and spend up to a third more. But, smarts can only take you so far.
The building of a brand must be carefully engineered and designed... like a high-performance sports car. Media is like gasoline—and without enough money for advertising, your brand is going nowhere.
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In the final analysis, most brand managers will be lucky to accomplish even two or three of these resolutions. Brand managers are commonly outnumbered by shortsighted execs and the curiously competing interests of manufacturing, sales, and distribution.
If you succeed in achieving only a couple of these resolutions, you'll be way ahead of your peers. Most important, you're likely to attain an inner peace that is all too rare in the realm of brand management.