manage change

Manage Identity to Grow Your Business

This article first appeared in the August 2001 issue of the Northwest Entrepreneur Network’s “Venturer” online magazine.

The Northwest Entrepreneur Network is a non-profit professional association where entrepreneurs connect with investors and related professional services.

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Asset Management for Growth and Profitability

By Gerhard N Ade

If I could afford to buy either Nike’s factories or the Nike name, I would buy the name. So would you. But if, today, you had to choose between Agere’s factories and the Agere name, it would be a different story. Agere, a recent Lucent spin-off, may be succeeding and its name may become lustrous in time, but the name is not a helpful starting point. And if you thought of buying all of the company’s assets you might consider changing the name.

Lesson 1: Don’t Create Obstacles!

Unless you have very deep pockets and plenty of time, do not create a brand name that could be an obstacle on the road towards establishing your company or product. For example, you have more important things to do than explain again and again how to pronounce a name like “Agere”. (With a last name like Ade - pronounced AH-Day - I should know.) Also, the name “Agere” does not convey any obvious meaning. Just possibly it might stand for the Latin verb “agere”, which can mean “to do”. But how many people will know this origin, when the official pronunciation “a-gear” suggests not the Latin word but a piece of machinery? Contrast this with Nike, the brand named after the Greek goddess of VICTORY - the goal of all athletic endeavor. Choosing a name that is already invested with meaning will help make your brand memorable.

Lesson 2: Stand Out in the Crowd!

Nike’s association with the Greek goddess of victory carries over into design. In classical sculpture she is often depicted with wings; the well known, wing-like Nike “swoosh” thus enhances the positive association. This Nike “swoosh” has inspired a torrent of similar designs, which, because they were mere imitations, could not stand out from their competition. The imitations can neither hope to match the impact of the original swoosh nor can they compete successfully with designs as unique as: ebay’s overlapping-letters logotype, United Parcel’s crest, Cingular’s abstract but expressive character, and Mercedes’ elegantly simple star. By our very nature, we can see long before we can read, so it is of great advantage to own a visual device (the “logo”) that is recognizable in an instant and can’t be mistaken for anybody else’s. Think of your logo as your face to the world. Make it as memorable as Leonardo’s Mona Lisa.

Lesson 3: Start in the Corner Office!

Your brand strategy should be an integral part of the overall business plan. Only then will branding become one of the most potent weapons in your competitive battles. For example, in 1982, when TRW adopted a new logo, its competitors may have yawned. What they did not grasp was the strategic plan behind the change. Anticipating today’s consolidation of the automotive industry, TRW used a single-brand strategy to position itself as one of the largest and most fully global suppliers to OEMs. The result: over the past 15 years, from 1985 to 2000, TRW’s automotive business has grown more than ten-fold. Brand strategy and business strategy are interdependent. That is why decisions on brand strategy should not be delegated to someone who does not participate in shaping the business strategy.

Lesson 4: Listen to the Customer!

Knowing customer behavior and preferences used to be the domain of sales and marketing functions only. Today, that is no longer good enough. It is every employee’s job to listen, learn, and leverage the information to strengthen the impression the brand makes on the mind of the customer. For example, at Federal Express, it was from the customers that the company, through its order clerks and drivers, first heard itself called “FedEx”. The moniker was turned into a brand and applied to different services, such as FedEx Ground and FedEx Air. Creative use of information gleaned from customers extended the brand’s meaning, and therefore increased the value of the brand. Often, feedback from the front lines will tell you more about your brand than anything you can learn from formal research.

Lesson 5: Test and then Implement for Impact!

Anticipating the unveiling of a new name or logo can be an exciting experience, not unlike ordering a fancy gas grill. But assembly and testing will be required before you can invite the neighbors for a barbecue. Likewise, you should plan the implementation of your brand before making it public. Part of the implementation plan is the testing of the brand, especially in those applications with the greatest visibility and impact on the customer. For one company this may mean signage, for another it may be the Web site. Brand guidelines that reflect the knowledge gained from testing will be realistic, informative and useful. Above all, guidelines that have been tested ensure a cost-effective and consistent implementation of the brand. Without the testing you will pay the price of a trial-and-error implementation. You may be able to repair your reputation as a barbecue chef with the tactical deployment of a few drinks. When you have to revise or redo the implementation of your brand, the damage to your reputation will be more widespread and much more costly to repair.

Lesson 6: Capitalize on Everyday Opportunities!

Do you have to spend a mint to make your brand known? You do, if you depend exclusively on advertising and other vehicles of marketing communications. However, the answer is a resounding “no” when you integrate branding into the way your firm conducts business. It costs next to nothing to build brand awareness with email, business cards, phone calls, purchase orders, sales presentations, shipping containers, invoices, labels, etc. To do so effectively, the essential prerequisite is consistency. Take a close look. Do you send out faxes with different “self-made” renditions of the company logo? Listen carefully. Does your front desk answer with “BS division” instead of “Business Systems division”, or better still, “Business Systems for entrepreneurs”? Never take it for granted that anyone knows your company or knows what you do. Take advantage of every opportunity to increase brand awareness in the minds of your customers. Start thinking of branding as customer relationship management.