Monday, March 28, 2011

What makes a great brand element?

The beauty(and problem) with a branding/business/marketing blog like this is that there are so many things to write about. Canada's got an election coming up and there is so much to say about political party branding and positioning. There are geopolitical developments around the world that are shaping the future of the business climate. Furthermore, I still have to present #3, #2, and #1 of the most difficult branding decisions. Add on to all of that- several guests have agreed to provide their perspectives on marketing topics in the upcoming months. Indeed there are so many topics- and so little time. Tonight everything gets bumped because a good friend asked me a question related to brand names. Instead of cranking out a long email to him, I'm blogging on it for his benefit - and for others who are making naming decisions.

My friend is senior exec of a major corporation who is heading up a chunk of his organization's new branding. The company is most likely coming up with a new brand name, logo,
slogan, and color scheme. These aspects of the brand (name, logo, slogan, colors, characters, jingles, scent) are what academics call brand elements (or brand identities). Keller (1993, 2008) defines brand elements as trademarkable devices that are used to identify the brand. And my friend's question, "What makes a great brand name?", is one that I've been asked by a leader of a political party, brand managers, a managing director of a non-profit organization, 2 supermodels, 2 pop stars (no not Beiber), a philanthropist who donated millions to a university, entrepreneurs, and presidents of companies. "Brand elements" is one of the sexiest marketing topics out there and is also one my favorite topics. SK, this one is for you dude!

I've looked at a lot of frameworks to evaluate a great brand element. The best framework that I have come across so far is what I call the Montreal Map (MTL MAP) framework. (It is largely based on Keller's 2008 Strategic Brand Management work)

A great brand element should be: Meaningful, Transferable, Likable, Memorable, Adaptable, and Protectable. Take the first letters of each word and you get MTL MAP. (I owe this insight to a former student of mine.)

Meaningful: If I say "Speedy Muffler" what do you know about the service just from the name? It's fast muffler repair. If I had a company that competed against Speedy in fast muffler repair services and called it "Bob's Muffler", I would have to spend lots of money advertising linking "Bob's Muffler" to "fast service" (see Seth Godin's Guerrilla Marketing for more extensive discussion on this). Speedy Muffler doesn't have to spend that money because the brand's value proposition (fast muffler service) already embedded in the name. But, a name doesn't have to be as descriptive as Speedy Muffler (We will see below that it shouldn't be actually). In North America, Haagen Dasz sounds exotic, European and imported - so it conveys an upper-end brand with out being too descriptive of the product offering. "Ok", you might say, "we think that only because we know Haagen Dasz." I disagree. Let's go to another example. As far as I know there is no brand out there called "Finnissio". Give the name some cursive writing and I'll bet you anything that it will conjure up refined, European, feminine imagery for most North Americans. That's what I mean by having a name that is meaningful to the brand.

Transferable: Why can Nike cross over into so many categories and countries? Nike, as many of us know through the company's promotion, is the Greek God of Victory. But when it comes to the name, "Nike" can be spoken/written reasonably well in many different languages. The name is also flexible enough to extend from running shoes to yoga pants and hockey skates. If writing the name Nike runs into problems in some other language's script (say Chinese), for example, Nike can just use its logo. The swoosh is extremely transferable logo across categories and geographies. Generally speaking, logos are more transferable than names. That being said, the overall idea here is to make sure that the brand element is not going to be incongruent with new categories or have a bad interpretation in other geographies/languages/cultures.

"Ahhhha," you say. "Speedy Muffler fails here". You're right. Names that are too descriptive run into trouble if the brand expands to other product categories. For example Speedy Muffler does not work as a great brand name if it provides transmission overhauls or brake pad servicing. To get around that Speedy could become Speedy Auto Care") So think about the categories your business is going to be in- and the geographies that it will be operating. A little extra prep time here can save all sorts of headaches down the line.

Likable. This is the most subjective part of the criteria. A great brand element should just "feel" right. Call this the emotional side of selecting an element. I ask my class: how many of you like the London 2012 logo below? About 2/50 usually give it a thumbs up. About 48/50 say "it sucks really bad". Even after explaining the descriptive nature (look closely and you will see "2010" written in the shape of the city of London) one student asked me if the logo was a joke. The real joke is that the London Olympic committee spent about 400,000 British pounds on just the design of the logo. Jokes and expenses aside, selecting brand elements gets people within the organization passionate. I've seen this time and time again. Quite frankly, there are a lot of bad brand elements out there that not only do not help the brand- but hurt it - precisely because some folks get emotional on the selection.

Memorable. A brand element ought to be easily recalled and recognized. The aim of the brand element is to have the identity of the brand stick in the customer's brain. My professional recommendation (generally) is that the logo ought to be distinctive for recognition purposes- and the name/slogan should tend to use familiar words so they are easier to retrieve when the customer is given a cue. This combination can be tricky, but understanding the nuances between "recognition" and "recall" is very important.

Adaptable. Times change. Customer views change. Company brand values evolve. The elements need to evolve over time to stay relevant. Unless you were going for the retro-feel, would the original Tony the Tiger work today? The original Tony was such a wimp.

Protectable. Remember the Keller definition of the element? Trademarkable devices used to identify the brand. Organizations need to have trademark searches in the regions where they plan to trade the brand - and legal protections filed for the brand. This part of the job is getting tougher and tougher to do as more and more brands have international trade territories. Of course, protectability goes far beyond the trademark. Consideration has to be given to protecting the elements online. I learned this one from personal experience. One of my company's brands: Peachtree had full trademark protection in Canada for the space it operated in. But when it came time to reserve domain names, someone had beaten us to the punch. The online aspect includes consideration for commonly mis-spelled url entries - and even being proactive to block hater web sites. For example, why wouldn't Wal Mart want to take ownership of (and derivatives) to prevent haters from developing nasty sites? That's part of brand element protection.

Best of luck with Brand Elements!