Dec 082015

Chipotle-brand-failure-backfireThe Chipotle brand failure brand gives new meaning to a brand backfire with 30 more people reported sick in Boston today. It turns out, the “food with integrity” branding idea looks better in the advertising than it does in reality.

“Aspirational branding” is a ticking time bomb

Building a brand about what you want to be rather than what you opens the door to catastrophic brand failure. Dressing a brand in pretty design and heart-lifting words is easy. Operational realities can often make it impossible to deliver on the aspirational promise. (see BP’s “Beyond Petroleum” claim)

Restaurants battle e. coli all the time and are a leading source of food-borne illnesses (some restaurant food poisoning stats for you). Wendy’s, McDonald’s, Subway* and others have survived outbreaks, yet Chipotle’s brand is taking a serious dive.

Chipotle  brand failure: Not delivering on integrity promise

The problem is Chipotle has built is brand on “food with integrity,” and now it can’t deliver. Sales are falling for the first time in company history and share prices are sinking fast. Here is a short list of “food with integrity” Chipotle brand failure examples:

  • Traceable Ingredients: Chipotle says it can trace every ingredient from farm to table in real time with software from FoodLogiQ. How can that claim be true, when a month and a half into the Chipotle e. coli outbreak, they still haven’t discovered the contamination source and customers are still getting sick?
  • Local Sourcing: This brand “stretch” that has proven to be a stretcher. Chipotle says: “The less distance food has to travel the better,” yet many of its ingredients are sent through centralized facilities in Chicago run by companies such as OSI or Miniat before shipping to restaurants. Chipotle’s “grass-fed beef” comes from Australia. That puts a lot of miles on your burrito bowl! The company recently removed the claim, “We serve more local produce than any restaurant company in the US” from its Web site.
  • PR Spin: Chipotle spokesman Chris Arnold announced: “There are no confirmed cases of E. coli connected to Chipotle in Massachusetts.”  Yet it temporarily closed it’s the Boston restaurant where some thirty people fell ill this weekend. It closed 43 stores in nine other states, but in Boston, there were no confirmed cases of e. coli?
  • No GMO Food: Chipotle ballyhooed is ban on genetically modified ingredients in a move some called bold and others saw as a cynical appeal to customer fear. Either way, with  nearly 70 ingredients in a single burrito, eliminating GMO foods is nearly impossible. Chipotle’s meat comes from animals that eat genetically modified food and such ingredients “lurk in baking powder, cornstarch, and a variety of ingredients used as preservatives, coloring agents, and added vitamins, as well as in commodities like canola and soy oils, corn meal, and sugar,” according to the New York Times. Chipotle takes an anti-GMO stance in the name of health while lading out 1,600 calories of salt-laden food per meal.

When a brand makes integrity a central promise, it better be absolutely certain to delivery. If not, it can very dramatically backfire–like the Chipotle brand failure.
* I have done branding work with Subway in the past.

Mar 192015

What is the right brand architecture structure for your company? How to structure your brand portfolio depends on company culture, markets and customers, and goals.

Single Unitary Brand Architecture Structure

One brand creates a single powerful image, sometimes with a descriptor.
Marketing is more efficient. With one brand front and center, cross selling and cooperation are easier. The brand can lose focus as it must be everything to everybody. Acquisitions might be reluctant to have their brands disappear. New businesses might not fit under an inelastic single brand.

Multiple Brand Architecture Structure

This structure is favored by decentralized companies targeting diverse markets. Brands are independently run and even compete against other brands within the portfolio.

While acquiring and divesting companies is relatively simple, investors don’t always recognize the scope and value of the company as a whole. Supporting many brands is expensive and time consuming. Cross selling and cooperation are difficult.

Hybrid Brand Architecture Structures

Market pressures, organizational dynamics and limited budgets often make a hybrid approach more realistic.

hybrid-brand-architecture-structureCompanies use models with varying degrees of flexibility. Often the corporate brand endorses the product or service brand or the product or service brand functions as a sub-brand of the corporate brand.

More on Brand Architecture:

What is Brand Architecture
Brand Architecture: Strategic Considerations
Does Your Brand Architecture Support Your Business Strategy?

Mar 192015

Brand architecture is not a set-it-and-forget-it proposition. As your business changes, the brand architecture worked in the past may become a hindrance. Companies facing issues like the ones below often find they have a brand architecture problem.

Brand Architecture Problems:

  1. Your corporate brand’s meaning and role is vague and confused.
    Who is the audience for the corporate brand? How does it relate to your divisions, products and services? Do you use it everything you sell? Should you? Is it mostly invisible to customers?
  2. Your brands don’t communicate the scope of your company.
    Do investors and customers not know and appreciate your company in totality? Are you known for one aspect of your business, but not others? Do you have product brands that overshadow your company brand.
  3. Your brands compete, cannibalize, overlap and confuse.
    Does more than one brand appeal to the same target for similar products? Are product differences real to customers or are they the product of mergers, acquisitions, or internal politics?
  4. You have too many brands.
    Do brands have to compete for scarce resources, no one brand ever getting what it really needs? Are you spending too much for too small a return? Is bundling services and cross-selling is confusing and difficult?
  5. You have too few brands.
    Are you expanding into new areas where your existing brands can’t extend? Will you be introducing a radical new offering?
  6. You have a hodge-podge of brands from acquisitions and innovation.
    Does your company accumulate brands through acquisitions? Does innovation constantly create an impulse to give everything a name of its own? Do you keep brands for sentimental, political or anecdotal reasons without an understanding of a quantifiable business case?

If your company is facing any of these issues, it is time to evaluate your brand architecture and review your options.

More on Brand Architecture:
What is Brand Architecture
Approaches to Brand Architecture
Brand Architecture: Strategic Considerations

Mar 192015

Brand architecture is more than integral piece of your company’s brand strategy—it directly addresses your company’s business strategy. Brand architecture is organizing structure that specifies the type, number, relationship and purpose of brands within your brand portfolio.

Critical Strategic Questions

  • How does my company brand relate to my product brands? How do they relate to one another?
  • What is the best role for the corporate brand?
  • Does the corporate brand add or subtract value to division brands?
  • Are sub-brands and brand extensions the way to go? What are the other options?
  • Do I have true brands that are delivering value to my company or do I have a collection of names? How can I tell which is which?
  • How many brands does my company need?
  • What brands are strategically valuable and worthy of continued investment?
  • What drives consumer preferences? How do my customers buy?
  • What are the pros and cons of my current brand portfolio structure? How will future decisions impact it?
  • Would a change in my architecture give me an opportunity to dominate a market segment?
  • What do I risk if I make changes? How can I mitigate those risks?

A well-managed portfolio of brands builds value and eliminates market confusion, waste and missed opportunities. The ideal structure for your company’s brand portfolio improves business performance and supports your business strategy.

More on Brand Architecture:

Brand Architecture Structure Choices
Brand Architecture: Strategic Considerations
Does Your Brand Architecture Support Your Business Strategy?

May 252013

brand-jacking-skitchingBrand-jacking is when an existing brand is co-opted and used to promote something else. That is exactly what opponents of genetically modified foods are doing with the Monsanto brand.They’ve grabbed the bumper of Monsanto and are skitching on  its reputation to bring attention and understanding  to their message.

Millions-Against-MonsantoAs a kid growing up in Chicago, we used to grab the fenders of passing cars for exhilarating fast slides on icy roads. “Skitching” is a portmanteau combining skate and hitch. Political causes that are brand-jacking grab onto the power of well-known brands to use their power to efficiently communicate their messages and the get attention in the media.

The nicely alliterative “March Against Monsanto” is just the latest example of this kind of skitching on a brand. Organizers of today’s marches claim over 2 million people participated in over 400 evens in 52 countries according to founder and organizer Tami Canal. “If I had gotten 3,000 people to join me, I would have considered that a success,” she said in media interviews. Brand-jacking off the Monsanto brand brought Canal’s cause enormous attention that would have been hard to obtain without the connection to this chemical boogeyman. Monsanto has long been associated with reviled chemicals like DDT, PCBs and Agent Orange–it was the perfect vehicle for skitching.

Apr 022013

Kotler_Book_Image_Chapter1I am honored to have helped marketing guru Philip Kotler and international marketing expert Milton Kotler set up their new Web site:

The Web site offers their topical and timely thinking on headline issues and promotes their new book just out from Wiley, NY: Market Your Way to Growth: 8 Ways to Win.

Starting today, you can download the first chapter free here.

Always happy to dip an oar for fellow Chicagoans!

Mar 202013

Buyer of distressed brands Apollo Management Group has cheered the hearts of Twinkie lovers everywhere with its$410 million purchase of the snack food favorite.

twinkie brand

Big Twinkie brand relaunch plans have been made, including having Dennis Rodman bring several cases of Twinkies to North Korea’s Kim Jong-un, to offering giant Wonder Bread size promotional sizes, to taking up giant swaths of shelf space in stores in Twinkie takeovers. Super-sizing Twinkies will surely upset Mayor Bloomberg. And shelf-space is going to prove an ongoing and daunting problem.

Apollo bought the Twinkie brand, Ding Dongs and Ho Hos, but another company (Flowers Foods) bought Wonder Bread. Grupo Bimbo bought the Beefsteak brand, and McKee bought Devil Dogs, Yodels and others. In consumer packaged goods, the war is in the store. Where once a Hostess truck could drive up, elbow itself a lot of shelf space, then optimize the mix of products within it, now lots of companies and individual brands are vying for the space. Grupo Bimbo is probably the only company with the size to dominate. The Twinkie brand will have a tough time regaining its former stature, much less achieving growth outside its core of die-hard brand fans. Paying off its $410 purchase price will be tough.

That said, with die-hard fans beings so important, that idea of promoting with Kim Jong-un looks the a winner.

Mar 152013

kfc-china-branding-problemChinese companies made headlines a few years back with lead tainted toys and pet food that sickened cats and dogs. Now a US company is coming under fire in China. KFC is alleged to use excessive growth hormones and antibiotics in their chicken–creating a potential branding problem.

This insightful article by Chinese branding expert Milton Kotler on the blog he shares with his marketing guru brother Philip Kotler points out that dealing with this crisis as a cosmetic branding and PR issue is a mistake. KFC has a business model problem that affects trust. Trust is the core of any brand and it is trust that fuels ROI. BP faced a similar problem.

Oct 182012

Al Qaeda is making headlines again. We had covered the death of the Al Qaeda brand for Forbes over a year ago.


As the presidential candidates argue about what happened in Libya, Stratfor, an intelligence analysis group, has written a great article on the Al Qaeda brand architecture problem. As Al Qaeda fades as a brand, other elements of Islamic jihadist movement will muscle into top shelf position.

Al Qaeda isn’t the only Islamic extremist group with marketing problems. The Taliban must now combat media bias in coverage of their attack on a Pakistani school girl. The Taliban brand is being tarnished by media reports that have “crossed all limits” to paint the Taliban as the “worst people on earth.” Their plan to turn things around? They have selected 12 suicide bombers who will attempt to blow themselves up in the offices of various Pakistani and foreign media news offices. Talk about confusion about goals and utter befuddlement over methods.

Oct 062012

forbes-logo-merriamPlease visit for our article on the demise of the Al Qaeda brand following last week’s drone attack on Al Qaeda’s most visible marketing executive and Inspire magazine publisher/editor.

UPDATE: Found on Jihad Jihad Watch. Seems bin Laden himself was worried about his brand. In documents recovered by the SEALs, he wrote that he was considering changing the name of al Qaeda to “Taifat al-Tawhed Wal-Jihad,” meaning Monotheism and Jihad Group. A second option he was considering was “Jama’at I’Adat al-Khilafat al-Rashida,” meaning Restoration of the Caliphate Group. Well, if drone attacks hadn’t killed the al Qaeda brand, it seemed like top management was poised to muck it up on their own.

© 2014 Lisa Merriam