I don’t profess to be a branding expert. Branding is one of those words that means a lot of different things to different people. But branding goes hand in hand with messaging, particularly as it relates to brand promise. So I thought I shared some thoughts on branding from my perspective.
What does branding mean to you? Are we talking about names, colors, logos, etc? That is not what branding means to me (it is certainly part of it, but these areas are largely tactics). We don’t research how enterprise buyers react to different colors or do any research to measure affinity to particular names or logos. If a client wants to discuss these items with us, fine, but all we can provide is another opinion–and it is truly that an opinion based on our personal experiences, with no research behind,
Or, when you say branding do you mean brand promise and, possibly, the customer experience expectations? That is more how I think of brands and we use our work on positioning and storytelling to help clarify the brand promise and communicate more effectively. Looking across the Customer Life Cycle can help you identify your activities and approaches that will affect customer experience and, by extension, brand perceptions. It is these activities that really make or break a brand.
As it relates to that, we often get questions about naming strategies. This is a little bit different than naming specifically (where we can only offer opinions). Naming strategies have a big impact on messaging and customer experience. While we don’t do deep research to assess the relative strengths or weaknesses of various strategies, there are some general guidelines that we recommend. The ideas below are based largely on experience and opinions (mine), but I think some might find it useful).
For smaller businesses, a one-brand naming strategy is almost always the best. The brand is the company name. Often, evocative names work well here, as it creates a unique, memorable thing for customers. By using a one-brand naming strategy, your customers only have to remember one thing. You only have to market one name. Its less difficult and less expensive. For your products (or services), use descriptive names that indicate what they do, rather than evocative names.
When you are small, one of the most confusing things for customers is when you have evocative names for both the company and the product. It is hard to remember both. Some will use the company name; others will use the product. This creates alignment gaps in the market. (As an aside if you have a descriptive company name “e.g. IT Services, Inc.” you might want to find a way to make that more evocative or name the lead product with an evocative name. Descriptive names aren’t memorable. But don’t name all your products or services with evocative names. Just the lead, then the other services that complement that product/service can be described with descriptive names.
The other thing that this branding approach does is forces focus. Your less tempted to bring to market different products that serve different markets. But there comes a time when that is important for growth. And that is the next recommendation.
As you grow and introduce new products, you will need to evolve this strategy. If you are targeting new products, then a strong brand that is associated with other markets can slow you down. Its time to invest in a new brand. Separate it from the core, create a new evocative name. Invest heavily to establish that. Make small associations to the core brand—but only in areas that strengthen the brand promise you are delivering, not universally. As that product family expands, go descriptive for complementary products. Give customers one thing to remember you by in each unique category or segment. That memory will connect to the other capabilities in that area. Build bridges to other product lines, where it makes sense, but don’t rely too heavily on your established brand if you are doing something new and very different–particularly if the perceptions you have created are tightly focused on one particular category.
Let me give an example. Let’s say you have a company “HaBar” (made up name for this blog–any resemblance to a real company, product, or word in any other language is unintentional). HaBar provides a messaging automation system. It basically uses a survey approach to ask a bunch of questions, then creates great stories from those questions automatically. Customers love the system and talk about how HaBar has improved their marketing. As the company grows, you add capabilities, for example a “big data” system that scours the internet for facts related to the stories and automatically brings those into the story, adding quantified information for credibility. Your simply call this the HaBar messaging quanitification system. Its great, but this is still all about HaBar and the promise it offers. The company grows and thrives.
Then, the innovators at HaBar realize that all this great information that is being assembled could also be used to do financial analysis of companies. The data collection is in place, many of the algorithms largely work with just some tweaks. But it is a different promise. It’s a different buyer. Some might call this the HaBar financial analysis system. But now, folks start getting confused. They aren’t sure what HaBar is all about. At this point HaBar either needs to change the original perceptions of the company (something that is pretty hard to do) or create a new association. So they name the new product line FinHa (same caveats). And then they develop that brand with new associations.
The challenges of branding are great. It is one of the reasons, IMO, why Google created the Alphabet company–as it was getting harder and harder to know what Google was. It is why SAP is allowing some of their newer acquisitions, like Hybris, to keep their original names.
Simple brand strategies work best for smaller companies. Don’t be tempted to have a naming system that is inconsistent (I see a number of companies that have a wide mix of product naming approaches–some names are descriptive, some are evocative, and it’s impossible to figure out why –when asked the answer is usually, “someone thought this sounded cool and that are other names are boring.” Your coolest name should be your company name, when you are small.
As you grow, it gets more complex. The answers aren’t always easy, but the important thing to do is to look through the eyes of the customer–what are their perceptions of a name and a brand. How much are you asking them to remember? Do you have enough of their attention to establish those memories.
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