How to Be a Branding Rock Star

Branding Rock StarTo paraphrase the Dicken’s classic, A Tale of Two Cities, I’ll cover the best of branding and the worst of branding, starting with the worst. I read a Chicago Tribune article two weeks ago about how the company that owns Devry University is changing its name to Adtalem Global Education.  The rebranding comes just months after DeVry University agreed to pay $100 million to settle a Federal Trade Commission lawsuit alleging it misled tens of thousands of students about their post-graduation job and income prospects.

Just in case you are wondering, the company says that the new name comes from a Latin translation of the phrase “to empower” and also says the rebranding has nothing to do with current legal difficulties.  According to Adtalem CEO Lisa Wardell, the new name “makes clear our purpose to empower students and our status as a global education provider.”

It’s hard to believe the timing of the rebrand was totally divorced from the hit to the company’s reputation but even if it were true, I’m puzzled as to why they chose the name Adtalem. Many companies (including those with big budgets) do a very poor job of rebranding and sometimes end up with a name more puzzling than the original name.  Here are three lessons to be learned from this particular rebranding exercise:

  1. Don’t call your company (or product) something that requires a Latin translation. I’m sure “Adtalem” seemed very chic when the powers that be bantered around names in the conference room. Perhaps the person who suggested the name even got a bonus for his or her creativity but it doesn’t seem like good branding to me.
  2. Don’t name your company after your dog, a Greek god, your child’s teddy bear, a blending of the founders’ names, or anything else that causes prospects to ask: What the heck does this company do?
  3. Unless you have strong venture funding and/or the type of story that drives viral awareness, pick a name that is at least somewhat descriptive of what you do.

AOL’s Branding Roller Coaster

Perhaps the best rebranding occurred in the 1990’s, when a little-known company (at that time) changed its name from Quantum Computer Services to America Online (AOL). I had some dealings with Quantum/AOL at that time and thought then and now that the rebranding was simply brilliant. What better way to express the fact that you were an American company whose goal it was to bring the entire country (world) online?

I am bringing up the AOL rebranding from a couple of decades ago because of its tie to current news. As reported by The next chapter in Yahoo’s strange journey from cornerstone of the early internet to aged Verizon subsidiary is a bold rebranding. After  Business Insider first reported on a potential Yahoo name change, AOL CEO Tim Armstrong tweeted  to confirm the details: “It’s now official: After the Verizon deal closes and it gains control of Yahoo’s core web assets, Yahoo and AOL will merge to form a new entity called Oath.”

This name change is getting plenty of attention and a lot of it is unflattering. And it’s kind of sad to see a company with that many resources do such a poor job of branding.

Be a Branding Rock Star

If you really want to see some examples of branding rock stardom, let’s look at some bands with mediocre names that hugely benefited from new names.

  • MAROON 5 started life as Kara’s Flowers
  • VAN HALEN’s original Name was Rat Salad
  • NIRVANA began as Pen Cap Chew
  • LINKIN PARK’s original Name was Xero
  • BLACK SABBATH was first known as Polka Tulk Blues Band
  • THE WHO began as The High Numbers

The exact impact of the name change for any of these bands is impossible to measure. But common sense tells us that the new band names are way more valuable than the old names. And the moral of the story: When it comes to branding, be a Van Halen and not a Rat Salad. Be an America Online and not an Oath.

If you would like a quick way to evaluate the health of your brand, take the free online Brand Health Assessment and Scorecard. 

Eight Critical Brand Health Questions You Should Be Asking

Brand HealthComplacency is a deadly risk to the health of your brand.

Perhaps the most enjoyable part of my job is helping B2B clients “brand” their companies, products (or services) and create a personal brand for executives.  I’ve written a lot about the subject of branding, including my recent article for CustomerThink titled, Six Steps to Ensure Your Brand Strategy Supports Your Lead-to-Revenue Framework. Because this subject is so critical to most company’s revenue and growth, I thought I would share answers to eight critical branding questions that directly affect the health and well-being of your company:

  1. How important is brand health to my company’s success? My obvious answer, with a few exceptions, is that it is extremely important. As a former colleague once told me, “Do you think it would sell as well if they called it ‘cold dead fish’ instead of sushi?” Great companies work hard to create and maintain a positive brand image and it pays off big time. Visit the Brand Health Scorecard for a quick way to measure your brand health.
  1. What can we do if we sound just like everyone else? The first answer is: Don’t be like everyone else. The second answer is: Do whatever it takes to differentiate your company, products and services from a marketing perspective and then go make this happen company-wide. But don’t change the branding if you aren’t prepared to make the other changes that reinforce the brand.
  1. Should we brand using a narrow or wide focus? Most of the time we advocate a more narrow focus. As they say, there are “riches in niches”. However, there is a big caveat. Don’t brand yourself so narrowly that it boxes in your ability to expand in the future. This can be a delicate balance that requires a lot of time and attention.
  1. What are the biggest branding mistakes companies make? I see so many mistakes that it’s hard to pick just a few. Perhaps the biggest is failing to take the issue seriously and complete due diligence on your brand decisions. Many go forward with a weak or even a harmful brand. Another fatal flaw is to let ego override a good branding advice – e.g. “I don’t care what the experts say, I want to name this company after my dog.” Don’t laugh – this type of thing happens every day.  A third mistake is to do a good job in top-line branding but fail to follow through on the rest of the company’s messaging. You know this is a problem when people look at your website and say, “What they heck does this company do?”
  1. How do we know if our brand is working? Here are five ways to tell:
  • Results: If you are losing market share and leaking revenue, there is a good chance that your branding deserves some of the blame.
  • Quantity: How often are people talking about your company and its products or services?
  • Quality: Who is talking about you and what are they saying?
  • Website traffic: Are you getting more unique visitors and do they spend more time on site? A decline in either of these numbers is a bad sign.
  • Congruence is a customer experience (CX) measurement that indicates whether the current brand aligns with your customers’ experience from initial contact through usage of the product or service. Net Promoter Score (NPS) is another way to measure this. 
  1. What is the risk of ignoring the issues surrounding our brand health? Of course, there is the option to “do nothing”. Complacency and inertia are strong forces that are very difficult to overcome, especially if you have achieved a modicum of success in the past. The biggest factor driving change should be (as mentioned in #5) a stagnant or declining sales pipeline and waning revenue.
  1. Does my company need one or more thought leaders? Great question indeed. The answer is yes, but only if you have a credible executive, who has worthwhile things to say, and will share his/her thoughts on a regular basis. Of course it helps if that individual can be depended upon not to jump ship to the competition. Such an individual is like gold and is far preferable than content coming from a generic source such as “marketing” or “admin”.
  1. How do we fix an under-performing brand? Before attempting any type of brand improvement, it is a good idea to know where you currently stand. Brand ScorecardA good way to find out is with the free Brand Health Scorecard. The scorecard measures six different categories of brand performance. It will take you only a few minutes to complete the questionnaire and the results will start you on the path to brand success.

Why a Powerful Brand Strategy is Crucial to Your Lead-to-Revenue Plan

How Branding Supports Lead-to-RevenueWhen I published my recent book, The Essential Guide to Building Your Lead-to-Revenue (L2R) Machine™, I chose brand strategy as the first key component of the framework because of its extreme importance to L2R success. Building the rest of your marketing and sales initiatives on top of a weak brand is akin to building a house on a bed of sand. It may work for a while, but will have no chance of sustainable success. We find that clients who focus on the brand early in the process have a much better chance of hitting revenue targets quarter over quarter and year over year. This is why it is so essential to define your brand promise as a guidepost against which you can gauge all of your tactical activities.

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How to Rejuvenate a Troubled B2B Brand

RebrandingTwo months ago, I wrote an article titled The Economic Value of Your Company Brand. The theme of the post: No matter the size and scope of your company, the brand position you hold with your prospects and customers has monetary value in terms of sales, stock prices and even employee retention. One of the points I made in the article is that you are sometimes better off if you are starting off with a clean branding slate. The downside is that few people know about you – the upside is that you can start with a fresh and differentiated brand position. 

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Brand Promise – A Critical Factor in Your B2B Marketing Success

b2b brand promiseLast week, I had the opportunity to present at a webinar titled Creating a Compelling Brand Promise. Thought I would share a couple of the highlights of this event, which was put on by my company, Fusion Marketing Partners.

We first defined the terms “brand” and “brand promise.”

A Brand = the place your company occupies in a prospect’s or customer’s mind when he or she thinks about you.

A Brand Promise = what you promise to deliver to your customers when they do business with you. Your job is to make your brand and brand promise the same thing.


Seven Things a Strong Brand Promise Can Accomplish in B2B marketing:

  1. Explains what you do
  2. Articulates the “primary” customer benefit
  3. Establishes credibility
  4. Creates an emotional connection
  5. Invokes curiosity
  6. Motivates action
  7. Guarantees your place in heaven (just kidding on this one)

I shared some examples of what I considered weak and strong brand promises.  First the weak:

  • Lockheed Martin: We never forget who we are working for.
  • UPS: What can Brown do for you?
  • Ernst & Young: Building a better working world.
  • Exxon: Energy Lives Here
  • FileMaker Software: What’s Your Problem?

These companies are so large they can get away with lousy branding. But most of us don’t have this luxury. We have to do a good job of creating a value proposition that gives us competitive advantage.

Now let’s look at what I consider companies who have very strong and enduring branding promises.

  • Reebok: Be More Human
  • GE: Imagination at Work
  • Campbell’s Soup: Made for real, real life
  • FedEx: The World on Time
  • Home Depot: More Saving. More Doing
  • O’Douls : What beer drinkers drink when they’re not drinking beer
  • BMW: The ultimate driving machine

I’m sure you can come up with your own list of good and bad brand statements. But the most important thing you can do is to make sure you have a compelling and differentiated brand. Ready to position your company for greatness? Request your 25 point analysis of your current brand strengths and gaps – plus an action plan to help your brand and company achieve competitive advantage. There are several other events coming up about B2B marketing so feel free to join us.

The Four Pillars of B2B Marketing Success

The Pareto Principle as Applied to B2B Marketing

According to our friends at Wikipedia, the Pareto principle (also known as the 80-20 rule and the law of the vital few) states that, for many events, roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. As I mentioned in an earlier post, Pareto observed that 80% of the peas in his garden came from 20% of the pods, and he went on to apply this formula to many other areas, including some that have more relevance to us B2B marketers. This caused me to ponder on the importance of understanding which 20% of the causes in B2B marketing and sales are responsible for 80% of the effects – or in marketing, the results.

What We Did:

To accomplish this, our team at Fusion Marketing Partners identified the major functions of a B2B marketing department and came up with 20. The next step was to rank these 20 functions in terms of their impact on results and finally, to ascertain whether the top four (20 percent) can influence 80% of the results? The last question is particularly tough to answer because, like it or not, there are parts of marketing that defy quantification (e.g. public relations, social media), even if you know they have a positive contribution.

What We Discovered:

The result of this effort is the Four Pillars of Unstoppable Marketing. We believe, and have shown through client results, that if you spend the majority of your time on these four important areas, you will receive much better results than an equivalent amount of time spent in all the other 16 areas. So (drum roll please….) the four areas of focus are:

  • Pillar One:  Compelling Brand Promise
  • Pillar Two:  Informative & Engaging Website
  • Pillar Three:  Effective Pull Marketing Strategy
  • Pillar Four:  Optimized Marketing and Sales Model

I will have much more to say about each of these pillars in the coming weeks.  In the meantime, you can listen to a six-minute overview of the four pillars at:

Technocrati reference: 69TVTWH9Y9SM

Why Your Brand Promise Must Be Specific

Brand and Brand PromiseIn my book, articles and presentations, I often talk about the importance of a specific, compelling and differentiated Brand Promise to achieve success in B2B marketing and sales.  And although it is a B2C example, I think the following illustrates the point perfectly.   

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