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Dear CMO: It seems a bit stereotypical for the new CMO to make his or her presence felt by quickly strangling the mascot, changing the tagline and firing the old ad agency. I see over at Spike's place that Bank of America has just shed its tag line because, we're to understand, it has become too ingrained in the company's culture.

He goes on to say in an earlier post that JC Penney is refreshing itself with, "Every Day Matters," which they forlornly hope will be as powerful as "Just Do It". The AFLAC duck apparently just missed going the way of Taco Bell's Chihuahua -- early reports of its demise from the new CMO were apparently incorrect.
Here's an exhortation to the marketing community. I hope you'll join me. A new CMO's role is more fundamental than changing the brand's wrapping. The role of the CMO is to lead the process of discovery that quantifies the health and relevance of the brand and then spearhead the implementation with clear direction forward if the brand is healthy and a fact-based recovery plan if it isn't.
Rebranding may be a necessary step if your company is heading over the proverbial waterfall; it can also be an opportunity to create a cohesive brand strategy that makes the whole of your product portfolio greater than the sum of its parts. Either way, this is an organic process that begins at the branding microbe level.
The process itself is a bit lengthy for a quick post (more detail on what experiences I've gained here at Note to CMO and here on Squidoo), but the essential elements break down into four major categories.
Any brand audit begins with a deep understanding of the types, segments, growth rates and usage patterns of those people who buy and use your stuff. Seek out and observe the actions and words of your users. This means considerable work on meaningful segmentation, growth rates, cluster analyses, and other quantitative disciplines; it also means enthnography, netnography, and in-depth one-on-one interviews of the most highly qualitative type. Let your end users grade you versus your own expectations, self-image, and your competition.
What does everyone inside the walls think the brand means? What does management think? What does the rank and file think? Do you think you're innovative? Best in class? Sexy? Do you have a good grip on your own core strategic competencies? Do you know your strategic capacity blind spots, where you don't feel the team can deliver the goods? And do you know who you aspire to be and how you want to be seen by your customers and partners?
Don't just think distribution partners here .... include key influencers in your market. How does your largest distributor rank you on the scorecard? Your largest OEM customer? What does the leading columnist or trade opinion leader think about you versus Brand X? What about the feet on the street .... have you won hearts and minds at the point of influence?
Understand your competition the same way you understand your customers .... their size, shape and growth rates, plus who their customers are and what those customers think about you. Grade them on a scorecard with as much objectivity as you can muster. Do as much deep competitive intelligence gathering as you're comfortable with, but select your agency carefully: hiring the wrong agency will get you in hot water.
* * *
Key Takeaways:
> The more thorough a job you do with objective, meaningful data collection, the more deep insights you'll come up with. So don't cut corners. Consciously be as objective as you can, see the everyday with new eyes, draw your conclusions based on the facts and first person feedback you receive.
> Whenever possible, collect first-person intelligence. Interview end users. Talk to influencers. Make sure the voice of the market is coming through. You want facts, not feelings here.
> Review your competition with as much dispassion as you possibly can. Look at the world and the market through their eyes and listen to their words and don't mistake their low priorities for weaknesses.
> Look for the gaps. Does our self-image match up to what our key channel partners think about us? Do our customers really know what we stand for, or are we lost in the ambient noise of their everyday lives? Does competition see us as a threat? Look for the gaps.
* * *
You now have a room full of data. You will also know more about the reality of your current brand image than anyone else. Now begin to connect the dots. Look for gaps. You will have a long list of things you need to do, which will have fallen out of your interviews. You'll hear things like, "You people don't understand how we do business– you don't give us enough time for new products–" which means you need to fix your product launch process and your communication protocols with key clients. You'll know these when you come across them.
As important as these hot lists of things to address will be, the more important outputs of the process are the insights into how your world sees your brand. You will quickly see if your market .... customers, channels, competitors .... believes you have a relevant, strong, consistent brand. Or not. You'll notice your own rose colored glasses if you find that loyalty ends at the reception desk.
And between the self-assessment, the market feedback, and your desired state of being, you'll discover your migration path -- the way to get from here to where you want to go. This is where your work begins, turning insights into concrete implementation plans and milestones, reporting progress and successes along the way to both internal and external stakeholders.
As Seneca says, "Say What You Will Be, Then Do What Must Be Done." You set out to understand your brand health and you now know where you stand. Now it's time to do what must be done.
Good luck!

Continue reading "Rebranding at the DNA Level" ... Read the full article

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image of Stephen Denny

I've spent twenty years connecting brands to the wants & needs of technology users, as a consultant and as a front line executive managing the people, strategy and budgets at brand name companies like Sony, Onstar, Iomega and Plantronics.

This generally means that I've spent a lot of time saying "no" to very charming people and defending very creative marketing ideas in front of people who don't always laugh at my jokes.

What else can I tell you? I've lived and worked in the US and Japan, hold multiple patents, have lectured at top graduate schools and industry forums, and have a Wharton MBA, the diploma for which is somewhere in my office.

My consulting business is focused on helping consumer technology companies nail their branding so they get through the ambient noise in the market, as well as guiding them in how to win in the trenches of the channel, where all business battles are won or lost.

What you see on my blog,, is what I've netted out of the conversations I get to have with lots of smart people. Drop in and comment at your convenience ~!