How to Tell if Your Brand is Leaking Value

I like the term ‘leaking value’ when it’s attached to brand. For me, it perfectly encapsulates the idea of what happens to organisations when they have a brand problem that’s hidden from view.

It’s like a slow puncture that gets worse and worse over time until it eventually reveals itself through wonky steering. 

Our work tends to focus on large global organisations who often have complex requirements for their brands and products. Whether that’s to do with consistent representation in regional territories, or how to establish naming conventions to make it easier for customers to know which products to buy. We’re nerdy for this type of stuff and spend quite a lot of time talking about it (you can listen to our podcast) and writing about it. But I thought it would be useful to consolidate a list of tell-tale signs we’ve seen from our clients over the years that point to the fact that you might be leaking brand value…

Too many products or brands

This is always top of the pops. Just about every organisation we work with has too many products or brands. We've written an expansive piece on too many products before. Suffice to say, that if you have too many products and they’re difficult to navigate, consumers will buy something else that’s easier. Prof G has described this as the biggest mistake made in modern marketing. Consumers don’t want more choice; they want more confidence in fewer choices - or to outsource the decision making to someone else!

Understanding where the brand equity lies

Too many B2B organisations try to build (or believe there is) brand equity in product brands or services. This is an inefficient way to organise brands because it means you need more marketing budget to launch and sustain them. Generally, they’re very poorly thought through and end up contributing to a confused customer proposition. In B2B scenarios, with a typically smaller customer base, it’s much more sensible to build the equity in the master brand, consistently applied across all touch-points. Taking this approach is easier, cheaper, less confusing to the customer and maintains more value in the business.

Is the digital context considered?

How well is the brand optimised for the digital-first customer? Too many organisations treat brand as if it exists in a vacuum. It doesn’t. It’s everywhere. And it’s digital-first. So, knowing that consumers generally want an easy, friction-free experience when it comes to planning, researching and buying, how well does your brand fare in delivering a seamless online experience? Again, complexity issues in portfolio management & naming conventions are quickly exposed within the digital channels. If you have the same products with different names in different territories, then the pain is in the post. (Or email).

Too much short; not enough long

Another big topic of 2020. Most B2B organisations spend way too much on short term sales activation, and virtually nothing on long-term brand building. This is particularly true if it’s an organisation with a large sales function where marketing’s role is viewed as lead generation. Rory Sutherland, in his recent piece The Objectivity Trap expresses the issue well.

“In a business culture which is obsessed with quantification and measurement, there is an ever-present risk that the need for accountability makes the value created by marketing smaller rather than larger. If you spend your money doing only what can be proven to work, you may be missing out on things which are more effective but less demonstrable. You will also focus disproportionately on short-term wins over long-term value creation.”

So, it’s a bit of a no-brainer piece of advice to B2B marketers. If we accept that consumers are more likely to buy from you if they recognise you and that most of your competition isn’t investing in the long-term perception of their brand, then surely it’s logical to conclude that this is how you win.

Don’t go changing

Too many organisations managing brands want to change things because they’re bored with them. As brand practitioners, we do hear this quite often. Statements like ”can we really push the guidelines this time”, or ”let’s dial-up some of the secondary colours, there’s too much of the primary”. The obvious question is, who are you making these changes for? Unless there is some empirical evidence that the consumers will benefit from these changes, then you’re probably best to stick with what you’ve got. The more it’s the same, the better it is for the customer. In a similar vein, Mark Ritson recently called marketing’s tendency to be aroused by anything new as The Pornography of Change and described those that chase it as an “enormous superficial army of glitter seekers”. Instead, he wished marketing people were more focused on “customer data and brand strategy”. Amen to that.

I understand that it’s easy to sit on the sidelines and call clients out on this stiff. These issues are nuanced and don’t exist in isolation, with mitigating factors everywhere: budgets, politics, the average tenure of the CMO and host of other challenges. However, we have to see our role as one which tries to challenge, calling out contradictions, long-term impacts and ‘inside out’ biases wherever we see them. This is the value we bring to our clients. Without it, we’re simply doing, not thinking.


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