Even companies like Coca-Cola that are marketing aces don't always experience success. Remember the New Coke fiasco? Rather than rolling out New Coke as a new product, the company replaced its classic drink. Eventually, customer protests brought back the original (though with the new name Coca-Cola Classic). Where's New Coke now?

In other words, branding and past success don't guarantee future success for products. But what about businesses that haven't established a brand or identity?

Every organization, at one point or another, has been an unknown entity. After planting the marketing seed, and with appropriate care and feeding, the company enjoys growth. Many small businesses start simple, perhaps passing out business cards, brochures and putting up a Web site. But what if such a campaign isn't bringing in new clients. How do you revamp your campaign to get results?

Are sales flat like a soda that has lost its fizz? Has a new hire flopped? 200,000 "MarketingProfs Today" readers have new and classic ideas they can give you to help revive your efforts. Share a marketing challenge and receive a complimentary copy of our book, A Marketer's Guide to e-Newsletter Publishing.

This Week's Dilemma

Initial marketing campaign isn't flying

I started a new line of gift baskets for babies, families and new parents. We've built everything including a Web site. At this time, we're not selling locally or through the Internet. We mainly use the Web site as a virtual brochure and for our customers' buying convenience. We've passed out our business cards and created an email flyer that we've sent to everyone we know, their friends and their coworkers with no results. How can we entice prospects to purchase our product? What do we need to do with our current campaign to see results?

—Angela, owner

Previous Dilemma

Innovation and invention in marketing

One company is looking to expand its product line while another is starting up a line. When inventing brands, what works and what doesn't?

—Salma K., operations manager

Summary of Advice Received

As was the case with Coca-Cola, having a strong and successful product doesn't mean future products from the same company will succeed. The following four steps help determine whether a new item will win over customers:

  1. Load up on information about the potential offering.
  2. Know your audience and build on brand elements.
  3. Involve the decision makers.
  4. Stand out with a unique offering.

1. Load up on information about the potential offering

Before you approach decision makers or begin planning, do research to gather information and intelligence about the potential product or service and how it will meet the needs of your target audience. Michael O'Connell, creative director, recommends this as the first step:

The first step for me is to embark on a "power loading" path. I start by gathering as much information from as many sources possible about the new product or service. This will help you decide whether or not expanding your line is a smart move. Will making our current line more efficient be better? Or will we do more justice to our brand if we take the resources that we plan to use to expand and focus on what we have? Ask the question, "Why do we want to expand our brand?

O'Connell asks an excellent question. Expanding for the sake of having more products won't go over well with company leaders or your target audience, without more details and reasoning behind the decision.

2. Research your audience and build on brand elements

It's too easy for a company to add another product to its lineup without doing the necessary research. One success doesn't guarantee another. Some TV show spin-offs (The Jeffersons, Maude, Frasier and Law and Order x 3.) were successful, but others (After M*A*S*H, Gloria and Joanie Loves Chachi) flopped. Julie Johnson, executive marketing coach with Agility Branding, LLC, provides a four-step plan for looking at the brand:

Based on my experience with companies like the Coca-Cola Company, which is known for creating awesome brands, my advice has four steps:

  1. Take a look at the marketplace and determine if there really is an untapped area.

  2. Create your brand with excellent intrinsic attributes (for instance, flavor and carbonation would be an intrinsic attribute for a soft drink).

  3. Ensure that you've made a connection to the values of your target audience through the extrinsic attributes of the brand. 'Extrinsics' could be described as the personality of the brand. For example, Doritos has a "loud and outgoing" personality that's consistent with the intrinsics of the product. This personality also appeals to their younger target audience.

  4. Build your marketing plan to support communication of the intrinsics and extrinsics. The name, package, advertising and point-of-sale materials all need to help support what your brand stands for.

Final thought—all through this process, test with your target audience to make sure you're on track.

Rob Purdie, on the customer expectation team at GSI Commerce, says it's harder to expand a product line than invent a brand:

Expanding a product line often requires breaking previously held market images to appeal to a different target group. Be careful not to throw the baby out with the bathwater in doing this. Elements your current brand has mastered that are universal to a strong brand image (quality, value and customer-friendly) should be left in place and meshed into the elements that your new target group will accept.

For example, if you are a high-end retailer (Nordstrom and Saks), then you will want to leave those elements as brand components. But, you'll want to also portray status and product image more prominently. Launching a brand is somewhat less complex. You know (or should know) who your product is designed to appeal to. There's your target. Aim. Fire.

Leonard Lim, category manager with Kao Malaysia Sdn. Bhd., provides tips on brand invention for a particular audience:

  1. Develop the brand DNA covering the brand essence (what the brand stands for and what it represents—depending on whether its a tangible product or service) and brand footprints (develop internally or brainstorm with your creative agency). Brand footprints (in a written paragraph or a collage of pictures) serve as a guide in any creative execution, line or product extension. A clear and concise positioning will help keep you on track. A brand cannot be different things to different target audiences or markets. Also visually depict the brand identity through a typeface or brand logo. Make sure that specific guidelines are created in brand implementation. The last thing you need is a new brand represented in different form, manner and executions. Consistency is key.

  2. Visually map out the brand architecture and establish how the new brand relates to current brands. Clear brand architecture helps eliminate duplication of a brand's role within a portfolio of brands. Segmentation within a brand's architecture can be based on industry needs or consumer needs.

  3. If you are marketing internationally or across cultures, it's best to check your brand name and concept. Sometimes overlooked, brand names are good in one language or dialect but have totally different meanings in another.

  4. Apply Pareto's Law. Do your thinking 80 percent of the time and leave the remainder to implementation. A well-planned brand is easier to implement, execute and groom—rather than executing while realizing some element of the brand has not been thought through, debated upon or agreed on."

Having a strategy helps ensure you hit the target, as Adrian Woodliffe, managing director at Genesis, explains:

The first thing that you need to do is to strategize—without this you will always have a hit-and-miss approach to "inventing" a brand. Think of the brand as to what it means internally to the organization in respect to what culture is the brand born of (for example a brand coming out of California may be slightly more audacious); what sort of externalization will you want to occur in respect to the relationship that the "consumer" will have with the brand (this is a subtle unseen exchange).

Also think in terms of the physique and personality of the brand (these strongly influence the messages that you externalize), and what the recipients of these messages will see in your brand that they can identify with. Think of your positioning platform—in terms of physical positioning compared to competitors (brand mapping is a useful tool) and the positioning that your brand has in the minds (and hearts) of your intended consumers. Remember this cardinal rule—you do not own the brand—you can influence buyer behavior, but the ownership lies with the consumer.

Explore the journey that the consumer will potentially have with your brand. Where are the touchpoints and what touchstones can you develop? What is the promise of the brand and how can it deliver on that promise? Define your vision for the brand and its purpose or mission. This is a good test question: "If this brand did not exist, would it matter?"

As to wrong things: Without strategy, the whole job of brand invention is impossible. Use experts to develop naming and brand identity/image for you. Perhaps the "biggest" wrong thing that you can do is to do all of this alone—use the right resources, seek opinions and involve all those that need to be involved.

3. Involve the decision makers

You have the information you need from your research and you're ready to make a proper presentation to the decision makers so you can gain their support. Nick Morse discusses how to go about this:

In my experience, it seems like we marketers already have an idea of what should work and what probably won't. It's the influence from others (bosses and equals) that often changes those ideas into ones that may not work as well. I have found that governing by committee doesn't usually work. Not only does it take too long, but in larger organizations it can often detour the process and throw it into an endless loop of non-committal decision-making.

My suggestion—get a small group of point-people, decision makers, together into a brand "board." These are the people who will be involved in the decision. Let them know they have responsibilities to this board and that you're all working together to find the best brand route to take. Ultimately, I assume, you will take the suggestions/decisions to your boss for final signoff. Make sure the boss knows what you're doing and how many people were involved in it. This will usually help gain agreement on your team's course.

4. Stand out with a unique offering

With the many choices of, say, soccer shoes, how do we know which ones to buy? They have many features in common. What draws you to a certain pair? The brand name? The color? The length of the cleats? Agnieszka Gornicka, president of Inquiry Market Research, gives hints on brand differentiation:

I would highlight a few important things: Find something that is unique and new in your market (even if you adopt a me-too strategy, you will want to differentiate yourself from your predecessor, if only in price). Avoid incorporating all possible benefits in your brands. Pick up one, but keep it powerful. Be consistent and persistent in communication. Everything you do about your brand should communicate your unique positioning.

Study a handful of brand successes and failures in related industries. What can you learn from it—give your brand the budget it deserves, based on your previous experience—have a plan and SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, time-phased) objectives. If you see your plan does not work, change it immediately—ask yourself why should ANY customer buy my brand? Come up with a better answer than "Because it's my brand."

Consider how your new brand will interact with existing ones. Avoid any confusion—if you expand a product line under the same brand, consider if the new thing fits your existing brand in a logical way. In short, strong brands offer something that customers value enough to pay a premium for.

"Remember a brand is an identity. It is what makes your offering unique," says Tichawona Tamanikwa with Deal Shipping Consultancy Ltd., and adds:

Your brand is the sum total of your offering's unique selling propositions. As such, the brand should stand out among the competitors' offerings, real or imaginary. Thus, when inventing a brand, look into the future, because what we see is temporary, and what we cannot see is permanent.

S. Prashanth, senior executive of corporate communications at Covansys - PSFT IDC, offers a fruity analogy for remembering the essence of the product over getting caught up in the name game:

You have to make it work. Imagine if mangos were called melons and were actually jackfruits, would it work? Obviously, yes! For we like what is in the fruit, and we don't care how many brainstorming sessions were held by those who had a hand in naming the product. What we like is the fruit as we see it and smell it before it disappears into our mouths, how it tastes when it is there, and maybe if it makes its passage through the body in peace.

If the product line meets the unique need of the customers, or creates something that forces them to react, and if it works, the brand is born or invented. Be prepared for the sleepless nights and nappy changes, and when the brand reaches adulthood, maybe, just maybe, you can start dreaming of sub-brands. Anybody for jackfruit marmalade?

Whether we want jackfruit marmalade depends on what it looks like, how it tastes and its nutritional value.

To ensure success in expanding a product line, prepare for information overload, research your audience, build on existing brand elements, involve the decision makers and point out your new line's uniqueness.

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Hank Stroll (Hank@InternetVIZ.com) is publisher at InternetVIZ, a custom publisher of 24 B2B e-newsletters reaching 490,000 business executives.