The three rules of brand management

Conference season is upon us once again. I have sat through far too many of these sessions where a guy in a suit explains why his brand strategy is perfect followed by a showreel of ads from his latest campaign. There is then a call out for questions, an embarrassing silence and then everyone shuffles off for a bad cup of coffee and a dodgy looking brownie.

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A recent addition to this uninspiring conference experience has been the dreaded social media session. A slightly younger marketer shows you a bunch of cool social sites that he has recently found and then shares with you some insane stats that indicate 110% of the British population tweets an average of eight times every hour.

He then announces the death of TV as a medium and without a single bit of ROI data, advises you to spend your entire 2013 marketing budget on Thwacko or Blip-Blip or some other new social media site that you have not heard of.

To be fair, I do my fair share of these sessions, and I’m probably as bad as the rest of them. In fact, being a marketing professor I may even be more boring than the usual cadre of professional speakers. But I do have one advantage – I am a teacher, not a speaker, which means I watch people’s faces as I deliver my presentation rather than looking at my slides. And over the years of conference speaking I have developed a three-pronged strategy to strike a chord with the audience.

First, never ever talk about logos. The minute you raise fonts, colours or the dreaded need for “consistency of look and feel” in front of senior non-marketing executives you make yourself look like a total tit. Your chief executive already thinks branding is superficial bullshit and that your main job is to arse about with logos, so why confirm his very worst fears about both you and the discipline?

The reason most CEOs think marketing is fluffy is because it usually is. Therefore, use the one time they actually listen to you discuss brand strategy as an opportunity to actually demonstrate that branding is about making money for the company and not about colours and fonts.

The only people who care about fonts are you and your team, so never raise it in front of senior people if you want to retain their respect and progress your career. Hire a design agency to look superficial and disconnected from commercial reality in front of your CEO instead.

Demonstrate that branding is about making money for the company and not about colours and fonts

This brings me neatly to my second key observation about brand management. You are not a brand manager if you haven’t got brand tracking data. If you can’t show me a representative survey of your target market conducted in the last 12 months in which you measured brand awareness and brand associations against your segments and key competitors, you aren’t really doing brand management.

Instead, you are cocking about with logos, brand books and all the other bollocks that makes it look like you know what you are doing, but which actually demonstrates to anyone in the know that you have not got the faintest clue about branding.

Tracking sorts the girls from the women and the boys from the men every time. Yes, there are a multitude of reasons why you don’t have brand tracking data – but all of them are bogus. One of the first things a good brand manager does when they take a new role is to make sure that they somehow get the money to obtain the data annually. Without it you have no idea whether your brand strategy is working or your communications spend is justified. No brand tracking, no clue.

Third, your positioning is shit if you can’t write it down accurately right now without any reference to your laptop or colleagues. At this point in my conference talk, I pause and take a sip of coffee while I wait for the audience to scribble down their brand positioning from memory on the pad in front of them. And of course, 75% can’t do it because it is so complicated they need to consult their eight slide presentation to remember all 32 words that they used to capture the essence of their brand.

That means your brand strategy is totally useless because a complex brand positioning built in the image of a three-dimensional rhombus might have looked good when you were developing it, but its complexity means it has zero chance of actually being applied to the business or engaged with by employees. Less is more when it comes to positioning.

So if you just read the last few hundred words and emerged unscathed, congratulations! You are my kind of brand manager – the kind who knows what they are doing.

For the rest of you, don’t panic. No one will spot your shortcomings. In fact, there may even be a slot for you on this year’s conference circuit where you can share your new logo and consistent look and feel with other equally hopeless exponents of the art of brand mismanagement.

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