Brand Building Rule 1: Focus Thy Message

It was about four years ago, I walked into a restaurant. I was on consulting assignment to help someone launch his restaurant franchise. He said he had a big reputation and an easy to replicate menu. So I paid him a visit to do my research into the opportunity, to help him position himself for the rewarding road ahead.

When I pulled into the parking lot the first thing I noticed was that his signage was askew. It also had one bulb missing, and another one of those flickering lightbulbs that you might only find in the movie Psycho or in an establishment that depended on the neighborhood handyman who used the tapping method to restore neon indicator bulbs. You know, snap your finger a couple of times at it and any ol' technological device will come to.

So as it happens, I entered the restaurant to find the chairs old and tattered, a hurricane had blown through this place. Even the owner, manning his register, seemed to have windswept hair.

I couldn't believe my eyes at this greasy spoon. Ahem, franchise opportunity? Was this the guy who had talked big and talked slick about his marketing plans. And then this. I remembered a college professor of mine expounding on James Joyce's Dubliners as being a work that toed the dichotomy of expectation versus reality. Here was one such example, expectation vs. reality, with reality taking a heavy blow below the belt.

Okay, okay, that was a disaster case. But how about the savvier examples. Another franchise opportunity, where the marcom manager was a family member who had a penchant for noir style ads.

Dear me, in both examples I felt like bursting into song, the kind of song you'd hear from Mary Poppins with all kinds of respectable medicinal metaphors and the following public service announcement that a brand is not a favorite old shirt or comfort food. Nay, it is the customers' old shirt, their comfort food. Yes, it needs those respectable curves to its logo, the slick sloganeering. But I stress the comfort aspect because some slouching is good for a brand. You can ruin a brand by making it an uptight thing. So like all things in life, you've got to find that middle path. It takes extraordinary research, personal life experience, or intuitive talent to know what customers' will respond to. You've got to have a handle on what it is your selling. And perhaps you work by Steve Jobs' smooth dictum to reporters, who asked him about the kind of market research he conducts: it's not the job of customers to know what they need. Well, it's your job then to know what they need. Somehow, you've got to figure it out.

The greatest one thing that you can learn about brand building correlates to most life experiences. That is, that the more diffuse your message, the less effective it will be. Certainly, on first entry into the marketplace, your brand and product should not be all things to all people, for in doing so you confuse your customer base.

Try this product idea:

It's toilet paper you can write on. Whoa. Now that's a stretch. (And an awful pun to boot.)

Yes, there are some inventive devices that accomplish more than one task. But when products and brands are first introduced into an industry, it's imperative for those behind them to practice brand strategy and product strategy that relates to customer expectations. First you launch the cell phone, then a cell phone that plays music so that customers don't have to carry two devices. As your products take on more characteristics, consumer cognizance of the brand's capabilities grows and the brand does too.

Take Michael Jordan for example, an excelling athlete, a great basketball player. He is a worldwide basketball brand. Jordan. I remember buying those sneakers when I was a kid, and pumping them proudly before I ran to the basket and failed to dunk....miserably. But something about those sneakers made me think I could. It was Jordan's cachet.

I think had he succeeded as a baseball player, it would have been a momentarily confusing event for all of us. And then walla, presto, it would have been crystal clear, a lightning bolt of understanding. It would be the athlete brand. No longer the basketball brand. Sure, it would have required some adjustment, but we would have handled it because it would have been a newfound capability for his already established brand identity.

That's the way things work in the marketplace. Getting in any door takes persistence. Put your foot in the door with version one of your product and correspondingly version one of your brand, and then migrate and scale to version two.

You'll find a score of examples of this in today's marketplace: Xerox, no longer tagged by the slogan, the document company. Starbuck's removing the word coffee from their logo so that they can effectively sell water and other items. Companies grow as they take on more products and as their products do more than one thing. And their brands grow to play host to these magnificent products. At this point the message may start to sound a bit more unfocused, a holding company sound creeps in: we are the motherland to a whole bunch of child entities. Okay, but each product sort of takes on its own message and becomes its own brand at this point. Would you like some Twinkies? I'm going to take the Camaro for a spin. I defeated a t-1000. (Okay that last one was a shameless reference to the Terminator movies, not a real product and a sincere case of wishful thinking).Products with name recognition that pay fame dividends to the brand. That's every company's greatest goal. Hope you reach it. Good luck building your brand! Don't forget to create your company profile on Best Brands WorldWide Business Directory today to grow your network and customer base!