Branding: What does your name mean?

Branding is a verb

As marketing professionals, we are inundated by questions that have to do with the “brand.”  What is this brand thing and why should we care?  Why is it that everything we do or don’t do (also an action!) impacts it?  What does it look like?  Is it really my job?

Your name is your brand

A long time ago, I was told “Your name is all you have.  It’s who you are.”  I was a teenager and was more interested in sports, science and eating, not necessarily in that order, than I was trying to grasp what my uncle was trying to teach me.  With a last name that no one could pronounce, I certainly didn’t understand the profoundness of the statements.  As I got older, I was able to grow into an understanding and have an appreciation for what he tried to get through to me.  When a self-made millionaire with chains of high-end clothing, uniforms and tuxedo stores says something about business or customer service, it seems logical that one would want to listen to what he had to say.  After all, his name is on the building!

A brand is a conundrum

I’m sure some of you are a bit tired of the walk down memory lane; however, it was for a specific reason.  A brand is a multitude of things that is created by action.  The concept of a brand is very simple; however, it is a businessperson’s conundrum.  Branding is not for the mild at heart.  It is an amalgamation of strategy (company, product), corporate actions, product performance, customer service, corporate communications, marketing communications, vendor engagements, pricing, WOM (Word of Mouth) perceptions, logo, and others packaged into a single emotional impression.

If you know that your brand is all of these things, would you let the market brand you or would you take actions to brand yourself?  If it is this obvious, why do companies go astray?  For a company that lives and dies based on quarterly performance, why on earth would a company jeopardize all of its efforts with an incongruous action?  Simple.  There is a disconnect between what the company stands for in the mind of the customer/market and what an individual within the company believes for themselves.  The most recent example of this disconnect that comes to mind is The Home Depot.

Disconnects happen

There is a corporate policy in place that was stringently adhered to mandating that there would be no monies spent on special interest groups, support for political causes or something that could be construed as an endorsement.  This meant that religious organizations, for example, weren’t given money as donations for their activities specific to promoting their theology.  While I was a GM at The Home Depot, I was asked by a religious group for a box of paint stirring sticks for a project.  When I asked about the project, they stated that they were making crosses to signify the number of abortions performed in the area.  I appreciated that they thought about The Home Depot; however, having our logo on the sticks could be construed that the entire company supported abortion.  A decision like that resided at our corporate level.  The Home Depot is in the business of providing home improvement products for the do-it-yourselfer and the small contractor.  I had a moral obligation to be a good citizen in the community, but the obligation to send a message for the company was not.

Recently, The Home Depot created a huge disconnect in the minds of their customer base with its brand.  There is no question that gay rights transcends the moral/political boundaries.  Is getting involved from a corporate stand-point the best interest of their brand?  Apparently, someone in the company thought so.  The Home Depot has allowed it’s mascot to be used at gay-pride parades, permitted apron buttons to be displayed by associates and invested money into promoting gay rights, while, at the same time, firing members of the armed-forces for displaying an American flag button on their aprons.  Personal, political and theological preferences have no business in business unless it is your reason for being in business.  What does The Home Depot brand mean now to its existing customers and prospective customers?  Was it a net gain?  They violated their own rules with these actions.

There is no question that Lowe’s and other home improvement centers have created a better shopping experience with better lighting, modern colors and more customer service people while The Home Depot is removing “aprons” off the floor as they implement their version of Six Sigma.  Not only was ANY political stance wrong for a company, it severely damaged the impression of what they were all about.  Now, they have the American Family organizations and religious organizations boycotting The Home Depot.  If you were a company that made products and The Home Depot generated the lion’s share of your revenue, what have they done to your revenue and YOUR brand?

Be ready…your customer’s are

While most companies seem to avoid making the same mistakes as The Home Depot, they do things equally as bad.  Would you announce a product if all of your announcement kit wasn’t ready?  Everyone knows that you only have one chance to launch a product for the first time.  What is the message you have just sent to the market?  Would you consider a product that was poorly announced?  Would you then question the completeness of the offering?  Would you also question the quality of support?  The answers are: No; I don’t believe or care about the product enough do get everything together; No; Yes; and Yes.  This, unfortunately, is a shared mindset of many software companies because of how Agile product development works.

How honest is your brand?

One final note.  If this subject is approached from a personal perspective, the tenets are quite similar for business.  There are countless posts on LinkedIn and in blogs with extremely poor grammar, abysmal syntax and ill-conceived view-points.  What does this say about their brands?  If they are claiming to be experts in a field and they are seemingly unable to complete a cohesive thought, would you trust them with your career or your project or your company?  I am currently doing two book reviews by “experts” in Social Media.  One would think that being part of the media that they would use the vernacular of the trade or at least leave the conversational text message style to their cell phone and be observant of the appropriate voice for the medium.  I’m glad I didn’t pay for the books.  I doubt I would be buying any books from that publisher in the future.  It’s a shame that all of the work that went into the book was lost because the author didn’t care enough about how their product would be perceived to do it right.

So…what does your name mean?

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Productivity: One note on OneNote

Organizing ideas with OneNote

For those who always have a great deal going on or who struggle with keeping things organized but still haven’t committed everything to an electronic record, Microsoft Office OneNote could be your product. There are very few products I have ever recommended to anyone because there are always skill-set differences, learning curve issues or not enough substance for them to be considered a real reason to change, not to mention I am not one to adopt things just because everyone else does. With respect to this product, I stumbled upon it looking for something else.

In an attempt to customize my screen’s Desktop to make it work the way I think, I wanted to add an Outlook icon to the Quick Launch toolbar. Instead of grabbing Outlook, I launched OneNote. If you have never seen it, your response will most likely be similar to mine. “What the heck is this?” It looks very unassuming and almost useless when first launched. Don’t let looks deceive you. It is probably the most remarkably laid out organizer you will ever see. The images in this document are all from OneNote’s “Getting Started” section.


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Market research: How involved should the PMM be?

Get in the driver’s seat

The role of the Product Marketing Manager (PMM) is to be a driver of market research. We know the products, the features, messaging, and the positioning better than anyone in the company. The experienced PMM has engineering partners on his team who have communicated the design, components, uniqueness, issues/potential weaknesses, direction and competitive positioning to him from an engineering perspective. The experienced PMM also works closely with sales and talks with customers to get some sense of how customers view current products and competitive offerings, as well as how they see their needs changing over time. From these data, the PMM either works with the market research team to design the project(s) or does it himself.                           Continue reading

Customer Dis-service: Marketing’s Achilles Heel

The happiest place on earth

After being thrown off one of my colts and breaking my collar bone, sitting at my computer with one of those old monitors is a challenge. As a result, I was determined to buy a new flat-panel. Coffee is a staple around this household and running out is pretty close to admitting that the pet rock was one of the most important inventions known to man. By the way, the best use for a good pet rock was for throwing—usually, the shape was awesome. So…I’m on my way to by my life’s blood when I see Office Depot. Since I am determined to buy a monitor, I pull into the parking lot and go in. Now, for someone like me, a store like Office Depot or Lowe’s is an amazing experience. The closer I get to the door, the bigger my smile. I have more materials for projects for which I conceived to keep me busy for about a year…full-time!                     Continue reading

Process Improvement: Intro to Agile

The high-tech industry has followed a proven method of product management that works quite nicely in a number of industries for everything from hydrophilic guide-wires to notebook computers to refrigerators—plan, develop, launch, EOL. When the product leaves the planning stage, it is pretty well defined. It gets on the POR and roadmaps are created. MRDs, PRDs are written: It is built and launched. It’s a pretty simple paradigm. But what if the product has characteristics that require it to change during the development process? What if there is a need for continual customer feedback as the product moves forward through the development cycle? The traditional “HW model” doesn’t work. This is where Agile has earned its stripes. Continue reading

Do we need more people or stronger people?

Myopia will blind you

The product groups within most companies add more and more people as the company grows. It is exciting to be a part of a company that is in the midst of a meteoric growth. New faces bring new experiences and feed the high emotional energy already present to create an overwhelming euphoria. There is a feeling that this will go on forever. The Finance and HR teams try to be the pragmatic voices; however, how can you challenge our success? After all, we ARE Compaq, Digital, Wang, Concurrent, NetFRAME, AST Research, etc.!!! When one brings up the fact that the next tier is very aggressive and is about to kick us between the legs, you hear things like “THAT will never happen!” Or “You don’t know what you are talking about.” However, when business slows and their jobs or bonuses are jeopardized, the upper management of a company then looks at these same groups to cut overhead to make the P&L look better. Too cynical a viewpoint? For the purposes of this article…no. I have seen this phenomenon many times.

What can you do?

Now that the framework has been set up, what can you do as a product person?! It seems rather bleak…doesn’t it? Hardly. A Product Manager (PM) or a Product Marketing Manager (PMM) can have a profound impact on an organization by managing up and over, regardless of the size of the company. Do we need both PMs and PMMS? The answer is…it depends. As the company grows, the decisions carry with them more responsibility (dollars); consequently, the quality of output is heavily stressed versus the quantity. The activities are very similar in both company types. It’s the depth that changes. It’s for this reason that a functional shift occurs and new titles emerge—Planners, Business Development Managers, PMs, PMMs, SEO Managers, geo marketing managers, channel marketing managers, industry marketing managers, BI, Analytics Manager. The market gets sliced and diced until there is a marketing manager responsible for every major segment of the market and every customer type. As a PM/PMM, what does this mean? Please Chris…tell me something good!       Continue reading

Process Improvement: Intro to Six Sigma

A business’ sales can flatten out due to competitive pressures, market saturation, economic conditions, or even a failure to evolve. The reason for which doesn’t matter for the purposes of this discussion. Sales and Marketing efforts don’t seem to be effective. What is the next logical step for a company? Cut costs. There are a variety of ways to “save” money. At Digital Equipment Corporation, they reduced their head-count to reduce costs. The mantra at The Home Depot with Bernie and Arthur was “Sales Cures All.” At some point, even more sales can’t over-come operational irresponsibility. At The Home Depot, Bob Nardelli leveraged his experience with process improvement at GE in an attempt to make The Home Depot a more operationally responsible company. It was through his effort that Six Sigma principles were put in place. Were they executed effectively? I’m sure everyone who reads this has been to a Home Depot store in the last couple of years. How was their Customer Service? Did it more closely resemble a Wal-Mart with lumber and no ice cream?! The challenge is to put the principles into practice without losing sight of why you are doing them and what it does to/for your “customers.”

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