Sunday, January 30, 2011

The 5 Most Difficult Branding Decisions #4 Branding the Boring

Branding can be a very glamorous field. A lot of my students tell me how much they would like to name a new fragrance for cK, develop an ad campaign for BMW, organize a Victoria’s Secret Fashion show, or select the newest celebrity endorsers for Adidas. What do these brands have in common? It turns out- a lot. First they are from categories that are naturally appealing to most consumers (cosmetics, performance sports cars, fashion, and sporting goods, respectively). Second, these brands are aspirational and target the mid-to-luxury ends of the market. Third, brands in these categories often make public statements about the individual consuming them. Because of this, it reasonably easy to capture the imagination of consumers and pull their heart strings when marketing these brands. There are a lot of intangible levers to pull.

However, not all brands have equal category opportunity. Some products are functional goods that are privately consumed. In these cases, the category is often boring and the brands so undifferentiated that finding out more about them is not worth a consumer’s while. Price becomes the single driver of purchase. These are areas where private labels thrive. Think of aluminum foil, paper, dishwashing detergents, cans of beans, and plastic food wraps. To the marketer, functional goods that are privately consumed translates into branding the boring.

Branding the boring also relates to B-to-B brands. I recall lengthy discussions with one of my former clients in the mining space. Their issue: Branding their offering of a commodity. It is pretty hard to get customers excited about one type of mud vs. another- or one type of paper over another. Here too functional needs of the client and price dictate the purchase orders. It is a tough gig to brand bauxite, for example.

There is also a double whammo for the branding of the boring too. Talent flocks to companies with the strongest brands. I often ask my students, “Let’s do a poll. Where would you rather work- L’oreal Cosmetics or Laporte Cosmetics? The response is usually about 9:1 for L’Oreal. The stronger brand carries weight for attracting talent, a problem that is all too well known for organizations competing in the boring.

The reality is that branding the boring doesn’t have to be that way. Take batteries, for example. Here is a category that is purely functional and is not only privately consumed- it is always hidden when it is consumed. Very recently, Duracell developed a campaign to excite its boring- and decided to endow Duracell with trust. It could have been marketed only along functional lines (ie how long it lasts.) So what does "trust mean"? When things really matter, when life and death is on the line, when you really care, Duracell is the brand you can rely on. It’s the brand that makes sure your smoke detector will go off to save your family in a fire. It is the brand that is committed to working for you when you need it. It is the brand that understands and cares. It's the loyal friend who won't let you down. This brand from one of the most boring categories of all (batteries) is all of a sudden a lot more exciting. These concepts apply equally well to commodities (think Juan Valdez and Columbian coffee or Chiquita Bananas) and some can be applied to business-to-business branding too. But developing the intangible link in categories that are functional/private – is tricky.


  1. Any post with a picture of Eva Mendes is a winner.

  2. That's what I posted her up there Donto :-)

  3. My 20 experience as a marketing consultant in business to business helps me draw the same conclusion of exactly what you wrote (I work in energy). I would add on that its both differentiation (the precursor to branding) that is so hard. In the end, a lot of the differentiation, sadly, is based on bribes and it is tough to stay above this.

  4. Bob! Awesome post, spot on!!

    The Superbowl is coming up next weekend, please do a post critiquing the commercials.....most years there are a couple of funny ones!

  5. If you were asking me about L’oreal Cosmetics or Laporte Cosmetics, I would have said that it's depends on which stage in my career I am. I Would say "yes" to L’oreal because of its prestige and for the resume but i would take Laporte for the challenge. And i love challenges.
    In addition,working for a huge and wide firm- is more like a niche while in a smaller firm you have the opportunity to experience a variety products.

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