Tuesday, June 6, 2006

The Deadly Sins of B to B Branding: Failure To "Ing"

This post continues a series of entries focusing on the most common missteps we see in branding initiatives in business-to-business enterprises.

Business Week’s May 22nd issue. Great cover story on Crispin Porter + Bogusky’s work for consumer giants like VW and Burger King.

On the way to that article, you’ll see a newer, full-page ad for UPS. Nice ad. But that’s not the point.

The point is, years after the launch of What can Brown do for you?, UPS is still actively investing in its brand. Still finding new ways to reinforce what’s special about the company. Still branding. At every opportunity.

B to B giants like UPS know that active, long-term investment in the brand drives stronger financial performance. Which is why “failure to ing” is a sin they rarely commit.

Small- to medium-sized B to B companies, however, are particularly vulnerable to temptation. Many look at branding or re-branding as a short-term project, rather than a longer-term journey that requires sustained investment over years.

As the euphoria of introducing a revamped brand in the marketplace dissipates, it’s easy for these companies to lose their “ing.” Particularly when cutting short-term costs is an imperative. Brand-related expenditures start to look like fat that can be trimmed without consequence. Some stop branding altogether.

Of course, that flies in the face of why they invested in re-branding in the first place: to create preference and loyalty. To attract top recruits. And, perhaps most important, to differentiate the company in a way that demonstrates to customers why they should pay a premium.

But those returns don’t always happen in six months or a year. Brands deliver ROI when companies invest in sustaining and deepening the brand conversation over several years. Which explains why GE continued to invest in “We bring good things to life” for more than a decade.

In pragmatic terms, keeping the “ing” in “branding” means making sustained investments into external and internal communications.

External to ensure that the company is not only visible to its target audiences, but that every communication reinforces a single, differentiating story about the company.

to make sure employees understand their role in making the brand a reality in the marketplace—and can therefore act in a manner consistent with the experience the company promises to deliver through its brand.

Does that mean that to sustain the brand, you have to spend as much as you did in the first year of the launch? Depends on the organization.

The bigger point is that if you’re not branding in Years 2 and 3, you’re essentially guaranteeing the organization won’t see a satisfactory return on its initial investment.

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