Six telltale signs of a weak brand

It’s not easy to convince manufacturers and marketers to invest in their brands the way they used to. The excesses of the late ’90s and then the Great Recession taught us all some important lessons: A great brand without a product won’t produce revenue; a great brand and a great product without a reasonable business model won’t produce revenue; and a great brand and a great product without a reasonable business model and no revenue is bound to fail.

Now we’re in another tech-boomlet. Boom or bubble, no one yet knows, but it’s still true that building a brand doesn’t happen overnight, like an IPO. And it’s still true that companies can’t be fooled into continuing to spend money on a brand if it doesn’t turn a profit.

So it’s back to square one for branding experts to try to persuade clients to develop fully realized brands that can be successful long term. To create a strong brand, you need a good idea, a sound business model, good products and services, and lastly, meaningful, relevant differentiation that gives customers a reason to purchase your product and become loyal to your brand.

This philosophy matters just as much for industrial and B2B brands as it does for consumer brands—even if you have only 300 customers across the globe. You need to ensure that your brand can carry you through the good times and the bad.

And while boomers continue to be brand loyal, millennials—with their ever-increasing spending power—are much less loyal, more idiosyncratic, and need to be convinced over and over again that what you have to offer is right for them, not just for everyone.

So how do you measure a strong brand? There are a handful of quantitative tools we all use to help measure a brand’s strength: Landor/Young & Rubicam Group’s BrandAsset Valuator, Millward Brown’s BrandZ, Interbrand’s Best Global Brands, and many proprietary brand measurement models from companies with the stature of market research leaders TNS, Ipsos, and so on.

But really, what about the intangible brand? Deep in your gut, how do you know when you’ve finally created the perfect brand? In so many ways, it’s a bit like a sleek design or a great pair of shoes: You know it when you see it or put it on.

Let’s take a look at the underbelly to gain the right perspective. How do you know when you don’t have a strong brand? As a market researcher who has long struggled to develop serious, respectable measures of ROI and brand effectiveness, I humbly offer the poor woman’s six telltale signs to knowing when you have a weak corporate brand:

  1. You can’t describe in one sentence what differentiates your brand from your competitors’. When asked by your best customers what separates you from your main rivals (price aside), you can’t really think of anything besides the color or a new feature.
  2. When asked why you’re successful, you respond with a stock price. High stock prices are wonderful. They keep us all working hard and hopefully win us bonuses. But what happens when the price drops? How will you withstand a devastating financial loss if you don’t have a strong brand to fall back on?
  3. You can’t sum up your mission, vision, and values in one sentence. Enough said.
  4. Your logo isn’t telling your story. You fell in love with that “swoosh” design your brand consultants promised would turn you into the next Nike. Guess what? There’s only one great swoosh and it is Nike’s. Not only is it not uniquely yours, it just sits there on a piece of paper—it doesn’t move or dance, it doesn’t work as an app badge or a favicon. Think about it. It may be time to start over.
  5. The value of your company is the sum of your tangible assets.Yes, this one is hard data. If your factories and buildings all burned down and your products vaporized, truly, what would your company be worth?
  6. People talk about your founder, not your company. He retired (or died) 15 years ago and people still reverently look back at him as the genius who made the company what it is today. Well, what is it today? Your stakeholders should be looking toward your future, not your past.

These are soft measures to consider, but the wrong answers mean it will be hard to recruit the best people, charge premium prices, survive product mishaps, and cost-effectively introduce new products or services.

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