LAWYERS AND MARKETING COMMUNICATIONS

January 23, 2011

 

During this period of extreme austerity, law firms continue to look for opportunities to cut costs, create efficiencies, and make their efforts more effective. Because there are elements of marketing that are not part of the legal nomenclature, they are not a consideration in this adjustment. One such area of  strategic marketing is “Marketing Communications.” Lawyers know about advertising, rainmaking, and social media, but the notion of marketing communications remains a mystery.

A fundamental understanding of this term and process can be beneficial to all lawyers and their firms. If nothing else, it will make you aware of additional marketing possibilities. Why not use all the tools available to you?

As usual the best place to start is with a definition. Simply, “marketing communication strategically combines the appropriate communication tactics that can inform the client about your products, identify their benefits, persuade the client to purchase, and provides a means for  actually making that purchase.”

It has a formal planning process that starts with objectives.

Marketing communication has four sequential objectives: [1] make the target market aware of your organization, i.e., recall and awareness [2] educate the target market about your organization, i.e., information and attitude change [3] persuade the target market to engage in the requested activity, i.e., trial and purchase, and [4] encourage the target market to stay engaged with your organization, i.e., repurchase.  These objectives are sequential, which means you should get attention, educate and persuade, before you can expect a prospect to hire you.

Here’s an example of a marketing communication objective for a law firm:

“ Increase the awareness of our firm, with our client base for family law, by 20%, via our website, by 12-31-10.”

Once you have selected your objectives, you can determine how to achieve them. You have options.

Marketing communications consists of two related tasks: (1) create messages that achieve your objectives, and (2) select the most effective delivery venues.

Here a few general recommendations you might follow in creating a viable marketing message for your firm:

  • Create a story that will resonate with your various target audiences. Why do you exist? Why should they hire your firm? Avoid bragging about your credentials.
  • Focus on product attributes, both intangible and tangible.  Are you successful? Ethical? A good value?
  • Develop a brand strategy. For law firms, consistent success and positive word-of-mouth are more important than an elaborate branding strategy. Avoid investing in all the ancillary elements of a brand, e.g., design, logo, tagline —you can’t afford them.
  • Employ a tone of delivery that combines logic, empathy, and accountability.
  • People mostly want to know how you help people  and organizaions that have legal problems. Provide evidence.
  • Make sure every form of marketing communication [deliverd by your people and media] is consistent.

The message and media strategies must be put in context. There are five primary marketing communication tools available to every law firm: [1] Personal Selling, [2] Advertising [3] Public Realtions, [4] Sales Promotion, and [5] Direct Marketing. Each tool is more or less effective depending on the objective. Here are how they fit.

Personal Selling a.k.a. Rainmaking [face-to-face communications with sales as the goal] Suggestions:

  • this is the most effective communication tool and there should be a strong emphasis on strategic personal selling throughout your firm.
  • all partners, associates and employees are expected to engage in soft selling techniques that employ the common message discussed earlier and are comfortable to the individual doing the selling [in-house training could be helpful]
  • a FAQ document should be provided to all individuals expected to sell and buy
  • a 10-15 slide power point presentation should be made available to all members of the law firm

Advertising [communicating through mass  media to get attention and reinforce] Suggestions:

  • mass media advertising is impractical for most law firms and should be avoided unless you can partner with an appropriate complimentary organization that will provide/ share the financial support
  • implicit advertising may be delivered through cost-free social media and the firm’s website

Sales Promotion[an extra incentive to act] Suggestions::

  • a law firm can allow sampling of your various products offered via video clips, personal interviews, or office visits
  • a law firm should research their clients in order to identify ways that enhance the value provided to them

Public Relations [creating goodwill and enhancing image] Suggestions:

  • sponsoring events, workshops, training, and pro bono activites are part of the public relations strategy –entertaining only takes you so far
  • connect with local media, identifying editors/reporters who cover your specialities
  • identify and train two lawyers in your firm who can respond to request from reporters [there are several websites where reporters list their needs]
  • identify regional organizations that have a need for speakers and contact the speaker selection committee about topics, etc.
  • create two case studies/ white papers illustrating your story
  • use your website as a venue for showing testimonials and case studies, and offer speakers
  • continue to attend meetings and other events that are clearly beneficial to your organization
  • purchase a Flip camera [$150] and take videos of interviews and other relevant representations of your firm

Direct Marketing [ allows target members to review and receive your products directly] Suggestions::

  • limit mailings to 4 times per year; focus on providing information and reasons to contract with your firm
  • keep collaterals to a minimum – clients can learn about you on your website

The Media Strategy

The messages created by a law firm can be delivered through a variety of mediums [ the total is called a media mix]. When combined, the combination of mediums is the media strategy.  Most law firms might employ the following media strategies:

  • do not use broadcast media such as televison [network/cable], radio, newspaper, magazine, and outdoors, unless you have an adequate budget and can track the results
  • place a small directory advertisement
  • invest heavily in your  website [more in a bit]
  • employ a minimum investment in direct mail and collaterals [combine two collaterals into one and change copy/photos]
  • deliver your message through videos and power point presentations that can be  used at meetings and other events

Recommended changes for your website:

  • optimize each page with a “title” and “explanation title” [bring in a SEO expert if necessary]
  • include a variety of pictures, both as still photos and video clips  on the appropriate pages—testimonials could be video clips
  • there are many examples of legal webpages that are very robust and relevant ; see Best Web Pages in the Legal Sector
  • include the new message and brand name as a focus throughout the website
  • limit social media strategy to Facebook and Linkedin [Twitter is very time-consuming and can be addictive] and develop the capacity to use Facebook more effectively—social media is hot right now, but it is not the panacea you might think it is

The final step in the marketing communication plan is bringing this all together. Implementation is a serious problem for most law firms. Its all in the details. If you are a small firm, you might focus on personal selling and public realtions. Note that this is the current model for many and doesn’t work in isolation. Larger firms should integrate more of the communications plan.

The difference the plan outlined in this blog offers you is a framework that will allow you to optimize your efforts and resources.  You can no longer afford to rely on traditional communication, e.g.,events and rainmakers, and hope for the best. You have many marketing communication tools- use them.

 

 

John Burnett is Professor Emeritus [University of Denver]and principal at John Burnett Marketing. He is also the co-author of “How Marketing Can Help Lawyers Make More Money.” He can be reached at johnburnettdba@me.com.

 

 


HOLISTIC PHILANTHROPY: AN INTEGRATION MODEL FOR GIVING

January 23, 2011

“Wealth is not new. Neither is charity. But the idea of using private wealth imaginatively, constructively, and systematically to attack the problems of mankind is new.” John Gardner

 

“Unless someone like you cares a whole lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”

Dr. Seuss

 

 

 

Introduction

 

It is generally agreed that the word Philanthropy was coined 2500 years ago in ancient Greece by the playwright Aeschylus. Etymologically, the term means “the love of what is to be human.” Aggregating modern interpretations of philanthropy produces the modern definition, “private initiatives for public good, focusing on quality of life.”

Although the names of philanthropists have changed, the confusion as to the appropriate purpose of philanthropy is still being debated. Some posit that philanthropy is about helping the poor. Others contend that philanthropy is about acts of altruism resolving social needs that are not served, or are underserved. A third approach is about community building via aggregating funds in order to make a significant impact. Finally, and I hope least prevalent, philanthropy is about self-aggrandizement and receiving recognition.

While all these approaches contain some truth, there is an overriding acceptance that philanthropy necessitates large donations and financial support sustained over time. There is also a noted distinction between philanthropy and charitable giving. The latter term refers to individuals who are willing to give of their money, time, and talent to charitable causes. There is typically no strategic plan behind their giving decisions. Further, their individual efforts alone are seldom recognized as instigating significant change.

For the most part, philanthropy applies mainly to wealthy persons, and sometimes a trust created by a wealthy person with a particular social cause in mind. Because of the amount of support provided, philanthropists often make a significant impact on the cause being supported, i.e., think Bill Gates and Warren Buffet. Because of their greater capacities, philanthropists can address both short-term and long-term needs. They can also respond to emergencies.

Although this perspective on philanthropy has remained constant, much of the context has changed. Several factors affecting philanthropy have emerged in the last decade.

Most notably, the importance and evolution of the Internet and supportive technologies have changed the face of charities in the U.S. and worldwide. Every nonprofit now has the capability/requirement to create a website that delivers their “story” and a mechanism for collecting donations. It means that the competition for these dollars is worldwide. It means that transparency and accuracy of information is vital and required by donors. It means that head-to-head comparisons can be made. In addition, social media that directly connects through the Internet creates a personal process for sharing facts and opinions. All these technological advances allow philanthropists to employ the same investment model they might use to determine a possible for-profit investment and/or purchase.

A second factor that has greatly impacted philanthropy has been the degeneration of the world economy starting in 2008. It is reported by economists that this is the first time since the Great Depression of the 1930s that the affluent class has been impacted. As a result, donations by the wealthy has declined by up to 30% in some sectors, and 9% overall. Keep in mind that only 6% of donations are made by individuals or trusts, with incomes over $1 million. Still, fewer assets have produced philanthropists who are more careful, and insist on transparency and accountability. Once again, the traditional investment model is considered as the preferred framework for decision-making.

A third factor is the greater challenges faced by nonprofits in 2011. Virtually all nonprofits are facing tremendous financial stress. Keep in mind that although U.S, donations were approximately $335 billion in 2010, the costs of these nonprofits was over $ 1 trillion. As a result, employees have been fired, salaries reduced, and responsibilities have increased. There is also the double-headed coin of nonprofits. The causes have increased by 34% but the funding has decreased by 11%. In addition, the first Baby Boomers reached retirement age in January 2011, with almost 40% expecting to live on Social Security.

All these changes require adjustments if philanthropy is to remain a viable part of our society, or become an even more effective solver of societal problems. Here are some suggestions:

  • Philanthropists need a multiplier effect – an approach that delivers many dollars’ worth of impact for each dollar invested i.e., an investment model.
  • Philanthropists must understand the methods of change that breakthrough results require, e.g., scaling back, policy changes, and partnerships.
  • Philanthropists must carefully determine how they can best support these efforts – through the roles they play, the resources they devote, and the relationships they develop — and how these interface with their personal objectives.
  • Philanthropists must avoid adding to the costs of the nonprofit through unreasonable requests, convoluted processing, and imposing their personal agenda.
  • Philanthropists should focus on their investment model and avoid meddling in programs and organization management.
  • Philanthropists can contribute to a better understanding of optimum capacity building, but must do their homework to do this effectively.
  • The best contribution a philanthropist might make is influencing public will and government policies, along with supporting research and developing solutions.
  • Philanthropists should adopt a 3.0 model of holistic giving, which means going beyond dealing with solving the specific cause, 1.0, through the consideration of the various stakeholders affected, 2.0, to a perspective that takes all societal elements into consideration, e.g., how the success of my nonprofit impacts the effectiveness of other nonprofits, 3.0.

If these suggestions are followed I believe that your philanthropic efforts will be more personally satisfying. It will also mean that the long-range impact of your resources will be more effective to both the nonprofits you support, and society- at- large.

I conclude with an observation. An organization I m currently affiliated with, San Diego Social Venture Partners, exhibits many of the guidelines I just listed. It reflects the new face of philanthropy.

 

 

Dr. John Burnett is President of John Burnett Marketing and author of “Nonprofit Marketing Best Practices”


THE DEEP HOLE OF SOCIAL MEDIA

November 12, 2010

I can always count on one topic predominating the discussions I have with clients; “Do you think I should do social media?” Actually, the decision is really about which kinds of social media I think works best. The decision to do social media has already been made. Of course, this is not unique to my clients. It is the primary focus of businesses throughout the world.
The real question, however, is whether these new-and-improved communication tools are a true goldmine for the future of marketing, or whether they are simply fool’s gold, which looks valuable but, in truth, isn’t much more than a dressed-up lump of coal?
The temptations to jump on the social media bandwagon are profound. Usage numbers reported by Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, and the like are indeed impressive. Pools of Web users are just waiting to be tapped into by skillful marketers and Internet gurus. Develop the Big Idea, place it anywhere in the stream of social media, and success is virtually guaranteed.
Today, it seems that every marketer thinks she has to have a comprehensive social media strategy, do a Twitter test and so on. Few seem to have solid reasons for leaping into the social media pool except for the need to not to be left behind. Most have not considered that many of these social media users’ eyes and ears and even fingers, are not product and service prospects and certainly not customers.
The following questions should be considered before committing your limited resources to social media.
First, are my customers [actual and potential] a significant part of the social media landscape? There is lots of evidence that provides an insight into this question. I refer to one resource that I strongly support. According to the research reported in the award-winning book “Groundswell,” authored by Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff, there are six Technographic Profiles within the social media arena: [1] Creators- highly active in creating online content—18%, [2] Critics- react to other content–25%, [3] Collectors- save URLs and tags on a social bookmarking service–10%, [4] Joiners- participate in or maintain profiles on a social networking site–25%, [5] Spectators-consume what the others produce-48%, and [6] Inactives- nonparticipants-41%. If only 25% of the total Internet consumer universe is an active participant in social media, and your customers represent a very small percentage of that segment, how many folks are we really talking about? How many are in the market for your products? How many are ready to buy?
A second question to consider is as follows: Is social media the appropriate medium for marketers? For many marketers, the thought process goes something like this—I learn something about you—I have something to sell – I know that you are on Facebook or Twitter –so you look like a buyer to me. Therefore, you’re fair game and I can treat you like a buyer, or a prospect or a potential user. The problem is that social media is not like traditional media where I, the consumer, have been willing to give you, the marketer, some of my time in exchange for free entertainment and information. In social media situations, marketers are interrupting but for no reason other than because they can. The marketer is giving little to nothing in return. Social media are personal media. You, as the marketer need to be invited into the social circle I have created. You can’t just barge into my life and assume I want you there. Seth Godin looked at this dilemma several years ago when he coined the term Permission Marketing. Most have appeared to forget his insights. The bottom line is that social media don’t represent channels through which to sell things; they are systems and networks and methods by which people maintain social contact in an increasingly impersonal world. If you can enhance these relationships unobtrusively, go for it. Despite the thousands of consultants who tell you how to use social media to market your products, that’s not its real purpose.
A final question is whether you have the resources to initiate, create, and maintain strategically sound social media? Virtually all those I have spoken to about this question admit that they underestimated the costs in money, time, and energy. Moreover, they quickly run out of relevant content and the enthusiasm of those responsible for the social media effort often wanes. Doing social media is a major commitment, and doing it badly can result in dire consequences. Get all your ducks in order before you engage in social media. Whatever you estimate the costs to be, double it!
In conclusion, there are some good reasons to do social media if you realize that it is a new media and traditional marketing does not apply. Make sure there is a sound strategy supporting your social media effort. View it primarily as a tool for helping people create relationships. As such, you must understand your customers holistically. What are their problems? How can my knowledge help? Otherwise, be very careful.


NONPROFITS;THE APPLICATION OF THE BUSINESS MODEL

August 29, 2010

There’s a rumor going around that nonprofits are in big trouble. This appears to be especially true for 501© 3 charities. Recent numbers seem to bear this out. For instance, total estimated giving in the U.S. dropped 3.6 percent in 2009. Individual giving fell an estimated 4.2 percent. The Center for Wealth and Philanthropy at Boston College said in its report that individual giving for the rest of 2010 will likely grow to up to $227 billion. This sounds good until you realize that U.S. nonprofits need $1 trillion to operate fully.

There is also the other side of the coin. The needs for the services provided by nonprofits have increased by 30-40 percent during the period since 2008. This trend will continue as more individuals lose their unemployment benefits and suffer greater problems.

The response from nonprofits has been predictable. When-in-doubt cut costs – limit travel, count paper clips, reduce benefits; and, most painfully, cut staff, cut salaries/time, and eliminate programs. All these cuts threaten the Mission of the organization and the reason for its being. The assumption made by many EDs is to wait, and things will turn around- they always have before.

Of course, there is always the possibility that the nonprofit can take action. Learning about social media is the current hot button. Hiring a fundraiser, who, in turn, puts in place an elaborate program that includes finding 2-3 angel givers, recreating the Board so that it gets and gives, and a new gala, are all potential components. Even a bit of token Marketing is possible. “All these changes will allow us to operate a couple more years, and then the economy will be better.”

Based on my twenty years working with nonprofits in a number of capacities, I have concluded that these band-aids are not the solutions needed. It is not the bad economy, or the donor who quit giving; it is a fundamental flaw in the nonprofit model. Organizations cannot endure if their fundamental goal is to breakeven every year or they are not allowed to delete programs/services that don’t make sense. The world has changed and nonprofits must adapt to a business model that is relevant, implementable and realistic. The process of creating such a model is well established. It starts with a review of your situation [including the mission], a SWOT, objectives, strategies, tactics, budgeting, and evaluation. The problem isn’t the model, the problem is the lack of motivation and apparent lack of skills necessary to create this document and implement it fully. It’s the same old story.

One possible solution for this lack of motivation is for the nonprofit to connect with an organization that can guide the nonprofit through this process and keep them on track. Although there are many possibilities, San Diego Social Venture Partners is one that I have recently joined and feel offers all the elements to help nonprofits succeed and maintain their mission. You might want to go to their website to learn more.


SHOULD LAWYERS ADVERTISE? HARDLY EVER.

July 13, 2010

The legal sector has spent several years trying to assess the role of marketing in their firms, both from an ethical and effectiveness perspective. While the adaptive process is ongoing, a lack of understanding about the strategies and tools of marketing remains a serious roadblock. Advertising looms as an area of marketing that is still misunderstood by most lawyers.

Should lawyers advertise? If yes, how should it be done? The range of expenditures on mass media advertising in law firms ranges from a couple of thousands to millions. In the current economic turmoil, wasting resources is not an option.

To address these questions, definitions are always helpful. Advertising is one part of the marketing communication strategy. In my latest book, “How Marketing Can Help Lawyers Make More Money,” I define marketing communication as follows: …it includes all the identifiable efforts on the part of the seller that are intended to help inform and/or persuade buyers to accept the seller’s message and store it in retrievable form.” Advertising, one part of marketing communication along with sales promotion, public relations, and personal selling, has a somewhat different definition: Any paid form of non-personal presentation of ideas, information, or persuasive messages by an identified sponsor through mass media.

The two basic elements of advertising are the message [what you want your communications to say] and the medium [how to get your message to the target audience]. The primary benefit on good advertising is to deliver a simple message to many people simultaneously. In addition, with enough repetitions, it can reinforce both your position and your brand.

These same benefits are also its limitations. Advertising cannot create a personal relationship with the customer. Advertising is expensive and potentially wasteful. Research indicates that only 2% of average advertising actually creates purchase behavior. If we think about the AIDA [action, interest, desire, action] model, advertising is only good at creating “attention/awareness” and “reminder.” It is remarkably difficult to create a truly effective message and media strategy. Don’t ever try this in-house.  Finally, there is a critical mass associated with advertising. If you cannot spend a strategy-based amount of money, you have wasted whatever you have spent to that point.

If you insist on advertising your firm, let me offer you some guidelines:

  • Hire an agency that is knowledgeable with the law.
  • Understand your communication objectives.
  • Don’t expect advertising to create sales.
  • Selecting the right medium allows cost-effective messaging to replace traditional mass media.
  • Consider advertising only if you are introducing a new product, a new price, a new process, or to remind.

Therefore, what do you think of advertising now? Be careful. Be very careful.


THE MYTH OF BRANDING II: THE KEY IS FUNCTIONALITY

June 26, 2010

In my last post I noted that the brand has become so dominant in modern marketing that in many instances it has diminished the other aspects of marketing. Most notably, brand now supersedes the organization’s product, as well as all the other tools used by marketers.
It was not my intent to suggest that branding is worthless or overrated. Instead, I offer the argument that the concept of brand has become so broad in its meaning and application that the true meaning has been lost. After teaching and conducting research on branding for over three decades I have concluded that the best way to understand a brand is based on its functions.
Every brand has five potential functions: 1.] Identifier, 2.] Distinguisher, 3.] Strategic, 4.] Integrated, and 5.] Holistic. These five functions are on a continuum based on level of investment, commitment, and strategic application, and costs.
The basic and original function of a brand is as “identifier.” The brand simply facilitates the consumers’ ability to find your product or place of business. On a recent visit to Pompeii, I observed ancient signs for the Baths, the Tavern, and the Stable. Remember Floyd’s Barber Shop? This basic function of the identifier brand [not likely called that] is still common and important to many businesses. In many instances it is sufficient. Naming and labeling are important at this level. Clarity is also important. The identifier function of a brand should make your product easy to find.
At the next level the brand can be a “distinguisher.” Because there is a competition and/or a chance of confusion, the brand distinguishes one brand from another e.g., Dell, HP, Apple, etc. In this instance, naming the brand so that is easy to remember and easily separated from competition is the key. This is where brand design, color, logos, store location and packaging can be important brand elements. The vast majority of products found in a modern supermarket employ this level of branding. Law firms, financial planners, and churches are other examples.
Combining the first two functions likely represent 75% of all branding strategies. More importantly, they are legitimate purposes for most brands. That is, if a brand was able to identify and distinguish, that might be enough.
A primary reason why brands have become so prominent in modern business is the assumption that all branding is “strategic.” This is neither true nor recent assumption. Strategic branding can be traced back to the late 1890s [think Sears Roebuck, Standard Oil, and U.S. Steel], and was improved in the early 1900s by Henry Ford, RCA, Coca-Cola, and others. More recently, Procter& Gamble gets credit for creating the Brand Manager concept in the 1950s. Thus, the brand manager for Tide acted as the CEO of that division. This may be the period when the “brand” became a synonym for “product.”
If an organization is going to engage in strategic branding it is positioned as part of the product strategy. Strategic branding is guided by specific objectives along with strategies and tactics that will help to achieve them. Unfortunately, this transition is often an area where the brand becomes more important than the product and related strategies. Such reprioritizing is dangerous in that resources are taken away from the more fundamental aspects of the marketing plan.
A balanced brand strategy is applied at two levels. First, there are the inherent facets of branding that makes it, supposedly, more effective. This is where all the excitement exists and money is spent on branding. This application is supported by many rules and guidelines, along with consultants galore. The initial focus is on the most compelling brand name. Some brand names represent the product directly, e.g. Ford Motors. Others have no connection, e.g. Nike. Brands also have a design, which includes color, composition, style, music, and even fonts. Most strategic brands also have a logo, i.e., a drawing or other kind of visual that cannot be verbalized. The Nike Swoosh, the Apple icon, and the American Red Cross stylized cross are examples. Finally, brands often have a slogan and/or tagline. A slogan is an ongoing set of words/music associated with all the company’s marketing messaging, e.g., “Your in Good Hands With Allstate.” A tagline is used for a specific campaign or for a particular target market. Successful taglines, such as Home Depot’s “Let’s Do It Together,” can ultimately become slogans.
The second application of strategic branding is how the various marketing functions employ the brand. How does the brand enhance the product and its benefits? How does it reflect the value of the product? How does it represent the price? How does it make it easier for the salesperson to sell the product? Does it facilitate the advertiser’s ability to create an effective message? Can it assist the PR person to place a significant story? How does it make the organization more competitive? Unless the brand can accomplish most of these tasks it is nothing more than a set of cute and expensive communication tactics. In the end, the brand may connote everything important about the company, or nothing at all.
The fourth brand function is “integration” and suggests that the brand is integrated with the other business functions or other stakeholders. Can manufacturing create a product that uniquely reflects the brand? Can finance support the brand? Is the brand legally sound? Can human resources hire people appropriate to reflect the brand? In other words, how do the other business functions contribute positively to the brand, and vice-versa?
Finally, “holistic” branding is the epitome of strategic branding. The customer actually becomes an advocate for the brand. Ben & Jerry’s, Harley-Davidson, and Apple have reached this pinnacle of branding. Thanks to social media this brand function has become more common. A holistic brand is spread through word-of-mouth and is maintained by producing an excellent product.
So, you might ask, why is functional branding relevant to my organization and me? First, if you understand the correct function for your brand you will create the optimal brand elements. It is wasteful for a marketer to spend money on design, advertising support, and a logo if the brands’ function is to identify. Second, selecting the right brand function increases the probability that the brand will attain its objectives. Finally, this functionality is linear. Don’t expect your brand strategy to work if you have not created a brand that first identifies and distinguishes.
I have also observed an interesting brand phenomenon. Brand functionality can also regress backwards. A holistic brand can lose favor with its zealots and become strategic or even a distinguisher. This movement from one function to another must be carefully monitored.
A brand can be critical for some organizations and totally irrelevant for most. The trick is to figure out whether you need a brand and determine a level of functionality.


THE MYTH OF BRANDING

May 24, 2010

There is no concept in business today that is more ubiquitous than brand. Apparently, if you have a great brand, you will likely succeed.The brand has become the the ultimate marketing element. It dominates both company and product as the most meaningful investment. Literally billions of dollars have been spent on brands. In my opinion, the value of branding has been greatly exaggerated. Let me explain.

A brand is a name, term, or symbol — or a combination of these– used to identify a product or company. Your name, George; or your title, managing partner, along with your physical characteristics, your reputation, history,and situation constitute your personal brand.Brands are very fragile as witnessed by Tiger Woods and Toyota Motors. While a brand can be important, it pales in comparison to the product.Without a competitive product, branding is irrelevant. In fact, effectively branding a bad product will lead to the demise of a company.

Admittedly, the brand does several things. The brand is the communicated part of the product –it is not the product. It explicitly identifies the product, and one product from another, and implicitly promises the firm can be trusted and, in essence, is a trust mark.

Most companies neither have a strong brand strategy, nor need one. Next time you walk through a supermarket notice how few company names [ brands] are familiar to you. The major brands, such as Coca-Cola, Apple, State Farm Insurance, and the Boston Celtics, represent a small percentage of U.S. companies. And, yes, they must continue to support their brand in every way possible.  It is how they compete. Most likely, you do not.

Brand designs, logos, taglines, packaging, and names remain the core elements of strategic branding. Although all these elements can support the marketing plan, they are just a small part of the road to success. Instead, focus on creating an excellent product that represents a competitive value to your target market. Spend your money supporting that product and maintaining a relationship with your customers instead of hiring consultants to create a spectacular brand. I have never met a person who continued to purchase a product because of a clever tagline or colorful package. These brand elements may enhance memory, not much else.

In my next post, I will discuss how to use branding appropriately.