Wednesday, February 22, 2012

How to Market Multiple Brands

One of the major challenges conglomerates have is managing their brands. With acquisitions, new product launches, new company launches, each needs a unique voice that instantly identifies what the brand represents. Some companies choose to let each brand speak in separate silos with no recognition of their parent company, while others consolidate under a specific set of branding guidelines that unify the individual brands, while also reinforcing the parent company.

There are reasons to do one or the other. Both are equally valid strategies, however, the best strategy depends on the products and services under the parent umbrella. For example, if Dow Chemical owned the company that made your breakfast cereal AND your paint thinner, would Dow's branding help or hurt the brand image for your breakfast cereal? I think it could significantly hurt sales.

Another of the challenges marketers face is what to do with the plethora of mismatched logotypes for their brands. Sometimes board members, who approved that PMS #185C red logo back in the early 1980s, really are invested in it, even though now it looks incredibly dated. The light aqua blue for the company you purchased last year, and the lovely green for the solar power company, may work well together, but that glaring red logo - no. The best way to present this to the board is show all the brands on one slide and a suggestion as to how to integrate them as a whole, if that's the strategy you want to pursue. Sometimes it may be similar colours or fonts, or an overarching layout that utilizes the parent company as the tag line.

Boards of Directors or CEOs can be their own worst enemies.Though they may be experts in their respective fields, unless they've specialized in marketing, they don't understand the consequences of their emotional decisions to stay with outdated or inconsistent branding. I've been told that the reason one CEO stuck with a bad logo was because he perceived it as lucky. No other reason. As companies grow and expand, acquire new companies, etc., their brand also needs to do the same.

You'll need one for each company. Regardless of which strategy you decide upon, having a clear and succinct description of what the brand means and how it is to be presented, along with rules for how to use your branding will (hopefully) keep your brand from being destroyed by your HR department. True story: the company wanted to eliminate all the paper cups staff used for tea at the office. Someone "brilliant" in HR decided that everyone should have their own ceramic cup with their name on it. They used the logo in a light blue background pattern, with the names spelled out in a deep black rounded serif font. The colour was wrong, the font looked ridiculous. No one used them because the cups were so ugly. Paper cups remain to this day. If your employees are not going to support the brand image, no one else will either.

It should consist of a description of the logotypes, taglines, fonts and standard layouts that are approved for use. It should also show how NOT to use these valuable brand assets. There are numerous sites online to help you with this, but Smashing Magazine has a great list of examples to give you insight and inspiration.

You'd be surprised who makes the forms your HR team uses, who designs your recruitment ads, who buys the giveaways for a trade show or what your invoices actually look like. I recommend placing the guidelines online and whenever you add new staff, part of the HR package should include a memo on branding, the location of the guidelines and the consequences for not adhering to them. Each new staffer should sign that they will comply.

Everything that has your logo on it should be vetted by the Marketing team, from internal paperwork to anything going to a customer or prospect. Without this, you're pretty much toast and each time something goes out without proper branding, it's one step closer to deleting your brand from your customer's memory and the carefully crafted impression it was supposed to make.

Every touchpoint with a prospect, customer, partner or supplier should be treated with as much care as your logo, from how the phones are answered, the hold music you select, the signatures on your emails, to the content - my god, the content!!! If you're supposed to be a happy, breezy, friendly and casual company, your content can't come off as if it were written by your lawyers. (And no law firm wants to sound happy, breezy, friendly and casual either.)

Branding is a vital start to the rest of your marketing mix. Ensure you get it right and the rest will fall into place.

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