Branding - For Better or Worse
The point of a brand is to create an instantaneous association in
people's minds. The Nike 'swoosh' brings to mind footwear,
athleticism, and Michael Jordan. The Toyota 'bull' logo evokes
images of compact cars, foreign business competition, and new
ways of doing things. The name Budweiser reminds us of everything
from the actual beer to those clever talking frogs, and the
These are cases of successful, memorable branding. Michael Jordan
is retired from professional sports, the frogs haven't been on
television in years, and wassup has almost faded from day to day
use in the American pop culture vocabulary. However, every one of
these elements remains identifiable, and mentioning them to most
people will get the typical, 'oh yeah!' response to memories of
clever marketing, cementing the image of the brand in the
Branding is the creation of these memories. However,
recollections of a product being indisputably linked with a
particular name, image, or slogan can be a double-edged sword.
MCI Communications was one of the most successful challengers to
the AT&T 'Bell Monopoly' consortium between the late 1960s and
early 1980s. MCI managed to push through the breakup of the Bell
coalition and allow new players to enter into the field of
telecommunications. MCI pioneered many telecommunications
innovations, such as Single Mode Fiber Optic Cable, when other
companies were content to rely on existing standards. They were
one of the first companies to offer the now standard idea of
'in-network' calling, where MCI customers received discounts
when calling other MCI customers. MCI was one of the big,
significant players in the telecom world, so why isn't their
name still synonymous with innovation?
Because it is now synonymous with the words Worldcom, Enron, and
In 1998, MCI merged with another company to become MCI Worldcom,
launching a widespread televised and online advertising campaign
featuring notable actors such as Sam Neil of Jurassic Park fame.
The MCI brand became inextricably linked with the Worldcom brand.
Then, on June 26 2002, the Securities Exchange Commission
launched a full inquiry into reported auditing and financial
irregularities, resulting in allegations of fraud. By July 21st,
less than one month later, it was revealed that Worldcom stock
was inflated by $11 billion dollars, and the company entered into
chapter 11 bankruptcy. MCI was ultimately bought out by Verizon,
and the legacy of a once innovative telecom company was left in
the same repository as Arthur Anderson, Enron, and the other big
financial fraud stories of the early 21st century.
While this is an extreme example, it is a caution worth
considering for anyone interested in making a brand name for his
or her product in today's market. The world is more connected,
more informed, and more critical than ever, and while a legacy of
good choices can create a strong brand, a reputation for poor or
improper decisions can and will conspire to bury a once
successful company forever.
Many times, no one can predict what will make a brand into a
particular success or failure overnight. However, every company
can take three common sense steps to protect their brand and the
products it represents.
1. Promote a Quality Product
Quality talks - if a product works, then it has a certain degree
of merit that puts it ahead of competition. If a company puts the
time and effort to get a quality product onto the market and
markets the brand in such a way that the actual qualities are
stressed, people will remember.
As an example, Tylenol is an effective painkiller for
post-surgical use. It is not a homeopathic remedy relying on word
of mouth and supposed benefits, but has demonstrable, measurable
effects on human pain and healing.
2. Be Informed About the Brand's Use
Knowing not just what one is putting out, but what is being done
with it in the market, is crucial to proper branding. To continue
with the example of Tylenol, many advertisements stress that
doctors frequently prescribe it, more than any other over the
counter analgesic. Knowing what doctors were using their product
allowed Tylenol to make a powerful claim and keep the information
in people's minds.
3. Be Prepared to Take Responsibility for the Brand
As seen in the MCI case, scandal led to the irrevocable decline
of a once-powerful brand. Conversely, Tylenol managed to take
what could have been a public relations nightmare and came out
stronger than ever as a result. When Tylenol executives found out
that tampering had led to poison getting into the product supply,
poisons that killed Tylenol consumers, they pulled every current
Tylenol product from the shelves of stores. They investigated
each of their production facilities, solved the problem, and then
launched an informative campaign letting people know when and why
it was safe to come back to their product. This disaster could
have led to the death of the company, but the executives'
willingness to take responsibility and act, rather than covering
up and denying fault, saved-a brand that is still powerful to
Again, these are examples of extreme events. Only a tiny fraction
of companies ever take their investments down the path of fraud,
and almost no one will have to deal with their product becoming a
poisonous vector. However, they illustrate the case that a brand
is a powerful association for people to make, and that like any
part of a business, it requires information and action in the
What Does This Mean to Me and My Website
Normal advertising just informs the consumer about a product and
a company's brand identity. With digital advertising, the
consumer can be more involved in the brand image. In this
interactive domain, a company can listen to consumers who make
comments on their website or blog and act on negative feedback
before it becomes uncontrollable. They can try out different
advertising strategies to learn which products they should
continue to develop and which new features a product should have.
Effective digital branding allows you to identify a singular
position and establish your own distinctive voice in the
marketplace and incorporates all three of the above-mentioned
branding points. You'll be promoting a quality product. You'll
use social media strategies to keep informed about your brand's
image and you'll take responsibility for your brand, to guide
and shape it to its best advantage.
Branding takes time and thought. Digital branding takes time,
thought and an interchange with your consumers. Engaging your
customers in your brand in a relevant way is the key to
successful online branding.
Enzo F. Cesario is a Copywriter and co-founder of Brandsplat.
Brandcasting uses informative content and state-of-the-art
internet distribution and optimization to build links and
drive the right kind of traffic to your website. Go to
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