Nov 202016

national-geographic-thumbnailWhen market dynamics and business strategies change, it impacts the brand. National Geographic, a brand with over one hundred years of history behind it, needed rebranding after the entity split off the non-profit Society form the for-proft National Geographic Partners a joint venture with 21st Century Fox.

Rebranding doesn’t always mean changing a name or logo, and that is the case here. The National Geographic rebranding is more about refocusing the positioning and aligning the growing number of media properties clearly under one “rallying cry.”

The iconic gold border and priceless brand name stayed. What was added was the idea of “further,” which focused the company on progress and the quest for knowledge, science, adventure and exploration across all platforms, including the flagship magazine and travel magazines, television networks, social and digital properties, kids media, live events and even consumer products.
rebranding national geographicThe brand plays a role internally as well, as a strategic filter for future initiatives, as a motivator and source of price for employees, and as a tool for recruiting talent.

National Geographic’s brand now, by definition can go further–“It never ends, it knows no bounds.”

Aug 122016

Marketing history is dotted with examples of companies who have been successful entering a “saturated market.” The secret to winning is carving out a niche. Entering a crowded and competitive market is a good strategic option. I provided the San Fernando Business Journal with insight into such a winning scenario. Existing markets have large numbers of consumers and proven demand. “Going into a well-developed market and carving out a niche in an existing market can be less risky and expensive for an entrepreneur than doing something totally new.” Selling a new angle is easier, faster and cheaper than trying to introduce a brand no one has heard of for a product no one has heard of.”
San Fernando Business Journal Niche Market

Aug 022016

Congratulations to Scott Lange for a successful panel discussion at the Marketing Executive Networking Group on marketing, media, trademarks, sponsorship, ambush marketing and branding and the Olympic Movement–particularly the upcoming Games in Rio.

Meet the panelists

Jul 112016

Rio olympics sports sponsorship roiOn the eve of the Rio 2016 Summer Olympic Games, sports sponsorship for brands is drawing greater interest. Will pollution, crime, political bungling and Zika impact ROI? Probably not. Getting the highest ROI for event sponsorship depends “activation”most of all—and that extends far beyond the event itself.

If all you are getting for your sports sponsorship is your logo pasted on a few communications, you are missing an opportunity and surely are not getting your money’s worth.

Event sponsorship should generate returns in the areas of:

  • Increased exposure
  • Enhanced reputation
  • Conversions—selling product

To win across all three areas, you must “activate” with a solid strategy and tactical follow-through.

Establish Sports Sponsorship Brand Strategy

Your sponsorship strategy begins with the “why.” You must have a compelling story of why your brand connects to the event. I helped develop Johnson & Johnson’s sponsorship strategy for its first-ever  Olympic Partners Program worldwide sponsorship of the Beijing Olympic Games. For many sponsors, their Olympic sponsorship story is obvious. Nike is about athletic achievement. Coca-Cola is about enjoying the events. For Johnson & Johnson, maker of diverse products from baby shampoo to replacement hips, the story wasn’t immediately obvious. After considerable research among all stakeholders, the company adopted the story En Ai Er Shung—“Because we care.” Caring for people became the powerful unifying narrative relevant to every brand from Tylenol to DePuy to Splenda. Getting the “why” of the sponsorship right is what enhances your reputation and what underpins all tactical execution.

Spread the Story

Once you know your why, you must get the word out. Obviously put the logo everywhere. Wherever you can expand the story with at least a tagline, do it. Then go beyond the logo and tagline, to long form narratives, imagery, graphics and more. Think about everywhere your company touches audiences, internally and externally. Include the story on signage, marketing materials, vehicles, uniforms, email signatures, even invoices. The more you tout the sponsorship, the bigger your exposure benefit. The old novelist’s saw of “don’t just tell it, show it,” has relevance here. Create stories that dramatize the why of the sponsorship. Johnson & Johnson brought the caring message to life through dozens of initiatives, such as the Sight for Kids Program that provides vision screening, education and care to the children of migrant workers in rural China. Make the “why” more than a tagline—turn it into real life actions told through every possible sort of media.

Promote the Sports Sponsorship

Doing good is rewarding, but companies need to realize business goals as well. Developing customer-facing promotions and activities is the key to driving sales and profits. I had the opportunity to work with a BMW dealer group during the run up to the London 2012 Games. The BMW Olympic sponsorship strategy focused on a story that linked advanced technology to performance. They created the “Drive for Team USA” program that offered a special  performance test drive experience, a $1,000 new vehicle purchase allowance, and a $10donation to Team USA for every test drive taken. I cannot reveal the specific dealer group results, however, the program nationally led to 26,535 test drives, 25% of which converted into new vehicle sales, for a return of some $150 million. Turn the purpose of your sponsorship into a practical program to stimulate sampling, demonstrations, education programs and other lead and sales generating programs.

Involve Your People

Your best sponsorship ambassadors are your employees.  Make sure they understand the “why” of the sponsorship and the goals you hope to achieve. Spark their creativity by sharing best practices by other sponsors. Then ask them to help. Employees are a great source of ideas, big and small. Ideas can be as specific as ways a particular person or department can contribute, to as large as national programs. Educated, motivated and engaged employees are what can truly turbo-charge your sponsorship.

Keys Sports Sponsorship ROI

Winning at sports sponsorship takes many of the same qualities athletes need to win in sports themselves:

  • A compelling motivation
  • Ubiquitous and consistent effort
  • Sustained from start to finish line (and beyond!)
Apr 012016

Brand SEO mistakes are surprisingly common. A shocking number of companies miss a critical opportunity to communicate in search engine results–and thus with customers. If they can’t find your brand, it may as well not exist. What you say in Google, Bing and Yahoo! impacts traffic to your site and your brand image.  Yet, too many companies let programmers write this marketing copy. Here are the five most common search engine results copy writing mistakes:

1) Providing no information at all. No title. No description. No reason to visit. No idea of what the company does.

2) Leaving the placeholder text from the software used to build the Web site in place. Surely the government of Massachusetts has more to say than promote Joomla! Web content management software.


3) Allowing random content to populate search engine results. Here is one “huh?” example from Elan Corporation, a pharmaceutical company:


Here is another example of random content from Healthnet:


Instead of offering directions for finding a subscriber number, Healthnet could have used the search results to talk about the “Healthnet: A better decision” brand positioning or they could have offered their company description: “Health Net, Inc. is among the nation’s largest publicly traded managed health care companies. Its mission is to help people be healthy, secure and comfortable.”

4) Just listing what you sell, packing in as many search terms as possible, runs afoul of Google search algorithms (your site gets penalized), but offers potential visitors no real compelling reason to visit the site. You lose twice.


5) Allowing your description to exceed the allotted space or simply not using the space you have efficiently. In general, you have 55 characters to use for your title and 115 for your page description. Take this example from Corning:


The title is short and generic. Instead of being just “Corning Incorporated | Home”, the title could have included branding: “Corning: The world leader in specialty glass and ceramics”. That would have left plenty of room for a succinct and compelling description: “Corning has 150 years of materials science expertise and process engineering knowledge. We turn possibilities into breakthrough realities.”

Getting traffic to your site requires that you effectively communicate who you are and why someone should visit. Brand communicators need to get actively involved in how their company appears in search engine results pages. Don’t make simple to prevent brand SEO mistakes. Make sure meta copy is “on brand”, rich in keywords, and invites people to click and visit. This communication is too important to be left by default to Web page programmers.

Mar 122016

eric-easter-urban-news-serviceCongratulations to my client Urban News Service on their historical achievement: In less than six months, they have become one of the largest distributors of news content to African-American owned newspapers in the country. Here is the the interview with one of three founding principals (the others being Andre Johnson and Joe Ruffin). Eric Easter emphasizes the importance of seasoned journalists  telling black stories in print and embedding reporters in our  communities for the long haul. Hear the Eric Easter interview on AM 900 WURD.

It is such an honor (and seriously fun) working with this team to tell their story: The concept was to supply world-class content to African-American publishers. These publishers had plenty of opinion, but original reporting and hard news was hard to come by. Urban News Service provides stories that reflect the actual African-American experience, not the crime, drugs, sex that dominate in major media. The team was able to accomplish its goals in an astonishingly short period of time. Starting from zero in April, 2015, Urban News Service were serving more than 205 black-owned newspapers with a combined circulation of 5.5 million by September—more than Ebony, Essence or Black Enterprise. It wasn’t easy. Publishers that fought the establishment for 100+ years and came through the black power movement of the 1970s had a deep distrust of anything new. Earning their trust required creating a superlative product and the hiring of hired well-known, award-winning reporters from major media with a sharp eye for stories. In January, Urban News Service inked a deal with the NNPA Black Press of America to provide content on their wire service.

Jan 082016

“Make your brand memorable!”  Brand experts earnestly offer this vague advice at every turn.  But what is a  memorable brand?  How can you tell if your brand is or will be memorable?

You can’t spot memorability simply by looking at your brand elements.  I’ve worked on many naming and design projects where perfectly good brand name and logo candidates are rejected out of hand because someone didn’t think they were memorable. When asked what criterion was used to detect memorability, people shrug.  They can’t articulate it.

Memorability can only be detected and proven through execution and testing over time.  A name on its own isn’t memorable.  How is the name used as or with a logo?  What graphics support it?  What story is told in communications like advertising, or brochures?  How is it marketed and sold?  Executing a marketing plan and then testing results with real customers over time is the only way to know that your brand is memorable.

Since memorability is so all-important, getting it right in the beginning is critical.  Who has the time and budget to deploy campaigns and then wait to figure out if they are good or not?  Execution, time and research are the only way of Knowing that you have a provably memorable brand. But you can move forward with reasonable assurance that your brand will be memorable if you consider the following six factors:

1. Unusual.

The more out-of-the-ordinary the brand name, logo, communications, and experience, the more likely the brand is to be remembered.  Surprising is always better than ordinary. Every feature should be distinctive. As you make brand choices, know that unusual is uncomfortable. You will need to take risks. Naming a company “Online Auction Center” probably felt safer than something off the wall like “eBay”.  A safe name that tells something about what the business does is not unusual and is less likely to be memorable.  “Oracle” is stronger than “Computer Associates” and even stronger than the new name “CA”. Risky names like Google and Amazon often turn out to be winners.

2. Consequential.

For your brand to be memorable, it needs to have personal significance to your target market. Take the example of two competing airlines. Jet Blue focuses on a superior flying experience.  Jet travel today can be a harrowing experience, so focusing on making flying easier and more pleasant is relevant and consequential.  Delta has positioned itself around “service to more destinations than any global airline”.  That positioning is not consequential to most flyers. How relevant is the fact that Delta flies to Abidjan when all you want to do is get to Atlanta? Stonyfields yogurt stands out by appealing to people who care about organic food and supporting individual farmers–causes that are consequential to their customers. Dannon, on the other hand, just claims it is “the top-selling yogurt worldwide”.  How is that important to a customer? At most, the fact that Dannon sell six million cups of yogurt a day in almost 100 flavors, styles and sizes is just trivia. Find something important and build your brand on that.

3. Emotional.

Brands that connect to the heart and invite people to have a close relationship are more memorable.  Any brand can have emotional appeal.  Consider the case of Sodexo.  The company provides janitorial and catering services to hospitals. Pretty modest and even boring stuff–not the least bit heart-warming.  Sodexo launched a patient experience program that focused on the quality and comfort that their humble services provide to patients and their families.  They elevated mopping the floors to something with emotional power by telling the specific stories of how their employees have touched individuals in times of need.

4. Vivid.

The more vivid you can make your brand, the more apt people will be to remember it.  A vivid name, possibly one that conveys imagery or personality is makes for a memorable brand.  As for logos, please, please, PLEASE, no swooshes, no globes. Take time to develop a visual style that carries across all your communications from business cards to brochures to your Web site.  In our multimedia age, don’t neglect movement and sound.  The more your brand appeals to all the senses, the more vivid and memorable it becomes.

5. Detailed.

Be specific about your brand claim or you will never stand out.  Take the company ISS:  It says it “provides cutting edge solutions development based on the latest advances in open software design and integration.”  Couldn’t that be said of dozens, if not hundreds of companies?  If ISS is staking its brand on being cutting-edge, it is better to show that fact with details that give that claim dimension and make it come alive.  You can’t simply claim it.  Instead of investing in detailing their cutting edge solutions, ISS piles on vague claims about “understanding customers”, “exceeding expectations”, “consistently growing”, and being “diverse and experienced”.  Such claims blur into the blah-blah-blah babble of millions of other companies.  Ten minutes after reading this article, you probably won’t be able to remember a single ISS brand claim.

6. Repeated.

Repetition is the key to memory.  Unless you are Mozart, you won’t remember how to play a tune by hearing it once.  Most people can’t remember names after hearing them just once.  Yet many people can sing commercial jingles they heard as children and recite from memory favorite stories because these were repeated time and time again.  Repetition creates familiarity, understanding and connection. Make sure your brand story is told frequently and consistently.  Your Web site can’t say something different from your brochures, and you can’t change your brand story every year.  Consistently repeat your brand story for a memorable brand.

Memorability is the key to a strong brand.  Paying attention to these six factors will set you on the right path. After executing and testing, it will come as no surprise that, indeed, your brand is memorable.

Naming How-To:

Naming Mistakes
Six Factors for a Memorable and Motivating Name
History of Best Known Brands
Styles and Types of Brands
Choosing a Name
Try a Recycled Name
Web 2.0 Naming Considerations
What is Brand Architecture
Approaches to Brand Architecture
Brand Architecture and Business Strategy

Companies and Products:

MSNBC vs. and The Bigger Naming Problem
Macy’s Blunder with Marshall Field’s Name Change
Banks and the Name Game from Bank Marketing Magazine
AIG Name Change to AIU
Breaking Up the Motorola Brand
Google’s Speedbook Disaster
Renaming a Small Business
Proxios CEO Talks About Renaming Process
Naming a Green Sportswear Company
Unintentionally Funny Names-BARF
Unintentionally Funny Names-Putzmeister
Unintentionally Funny Names-Bimbo
Renaming a $2 Billion IPG Agency
Renaming Iraqi Freedom
Selected Naming Portfolio

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

© 2014 Lisa Merriam