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Your brand may be way less effective than you think

“Every marketer is up against this new reality: The world is overflowing with brands, and consumers are having a hard time assessing the differences among them. In 2006, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office issued 196,400 trademarks, almost 100,000 more than it had in 1990. The average supermarket today holds 30,000 different brands, up threefold since 30 years ago. Globalization and increased competition compound the number of new brands. According to a Datamonitor report, 58,375 new products were introduced worldwide in 2006, more than double the number from 2002. The report points out that “despite the fact that advertising spending was up from [US]$271 billion in 2005 to $285 billion in 2006, 81% of consumers could not name one of the top 50 new products launched in 2006, an all-time high for lack of recognition and a huge leap up from 57% in the previous year.””

John Gerzema and Ed Lebar, Strategy+Business (Summer 2009)

You probably imagine you have a great brand, one that stays ‘top of mind’, signals the right messages to customers and wins you great marketplace loyalty. Well, Messrs Gerzema and Lebar have bad news for you: you probably don’t.

The first problem you face, as the excerpt points out, is the sheer number of brands and advertising messages out there. If 8 out of 10 consumers cannot name even one of top 50 brands launched in a given year, then business leaders have reason to worry. You may be spending a fortune on brand building, but achieving sweet nothing.

So brands are dead? Not at all. The authors point out that some brands are growing in stature every day, commanding great awareness and power. It’s just that the number of really powerful brands is shrinking. Most brands out there are actually withering in terms of performance and value.

This came home to me recently when watching CNN news. I saw a long report in the main news about a global event, simultaneously involving reporters from various cities. What was this event? Why, the launch of the newest version of Apple’s iPhone. The news anchor was coordinating reports from different countries, all counting the queues for the new product and asking customers what they thought of it. And this, remember, was in a week when Iran was at war with itself, when the UK government continued to crumble, and when the worst recession in generations continued to create misery.

I am an iPhone addict myself, but was staggered by the observation that the world’s leading global newscaster devoted this much attention to the launch of a phone. The numbers, however, said it all: more than a million new iPhones were sold in the first weekend! Now that, ladies and gentlemen, is brand power. The problem is, only a handful of companies – Apple, Google, Microsoft, Nike, Adidas, Twitter, Facebook – can command it. Many that used to enjoy outstanding brand prowess – like most traditional banks or airlines, for example – are losing it.

The authors give you three things to think about as you decide whether your own brand is a delight or a dud: vision, invention and dynamism.

Does your brand convey a higher meaning, suggest a different way of looking at the world, tell a compelling story? If not, you are deficient on the vision metric. Does your brand depict products that are continually changing and improving, offering new directions and new experiences? If not, you fail the invention test. Finally, does your brand create emotional affinity, promote social buzz, produce self-perpetuating word-of-mouth marketing? If not, it is deficient in dynamism.

Easier said than done, I know. But in today’s hyper-crowded marketplace, you can’t be just another participant. If you want CNN to run after your brand, you had better be doing something unique with it.

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