Hired guns and other brand escalation tactics

During the '90s, the importance of branding took hold like never before and marketers espoused brand strategy as the key to winning consumer loyalty. But if the '90s built the path for strategic planning, the new millennium is set to position tactics as the key to successful brand building.

During the ’90s, the importance of branding took hold like never before and marketers espoused brand strategy as the key to winning consumer loyalty. But if the ’90s built the path for strategic planning, the new millennium is set to position tactics as the key to successful brand building.

Still, it doesn’t appear the road from strategy to tactical execution will be a smooth one for all businesses, even those equipped with a hefty brand strategy guide. Some companies are struggling just to effectively translate that strategy into product packaging, environment design and corporate communications. At Brandid, we suggest that before moving on to more sophisticated tactical initiatives, marketing teams should increase their ROI by better leveraging the more traditional forms of brand expression, which are often currently underused.

A good starting point is to revisit a brand’s form of expression and test it against the essence, which, by our criteria, must be ownable, relevant and compelling. Analyze, for example, whether your current packaging, Web site, truck fleet or annual report can pass the test.

Also consider that discerning shoppers have easy access to a wealth of information, and many know more about a business than the company’s own employees. As a result, any discrepancies between the brand’s tactical expression and strategic essence will be quickly revealed.

Today, savvy ‘Market Makers’ are wasting no time leveraging brand strategies and aggressively seeking new tactical opportunities to secure strong and lasting relationships. In recent years some exciting new initiatives have surfaced that enable companies to achieve profitable business objectives.

Alliances

While at first glance the notion of establishing a partnership with the competition seems somewhat contradictory, it has become a key success tactic for some major businesses. In the airline industry, One World and Star Alliance have brought competing brands into partnership arrangements. Not so long ago, on a flight to Tokyo, clutching an Air Canada ticket, I boarded a United Airlines 747 connecting flight without incident to complete one leg of my journey.

Given sufficient scrutiny, alliances allow innovative offerings for customers and profitable ventures for shareholders. But brand managers must access their partner’s brand essence and various forms of expression to ensure that the customer will not form a poor opinion of their own company through guilt by association.

When all elements are in sync, in some cases a superbrand or gestalt can even be created whereby the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

The third-party facilitator

Many retailers are partnering with ‘facilitators’ (often brands unto themselves) such as Air Miles to form a common thread between several brands and offer consumers an additional reward.

Global Sports is an interesting B2B facilitator that offers Internet outsource solutions to sporting goods retailers in North America. U.S. retailers such as Dick’s, Sport Chalet and Oshman’s have extended their brands into the Internet shopping market by contracting out what would otherwise be a capital-intensive initiative to Global.

For example, online shoppers logging on to these retailers’ Web sites to purchase a baseball bat will, in fact, be accessing Global Sports’ ‘invisible’ Web site. The baseball bat will be shipped from Global’s warehouse and at no time handled by the retailer.

As with forming competitive alliances, management must strive to ensure that the facilitator will deliver on its promise in order to eliminate mistakes that could compromise their own brand in the eyes of the customer.

Private label – the brand extension

No stranger to the food industry, private labels such as Loblaw’s President’s Choice brand are more that just sub-brands, they stand on their own as legitimate brands with their own essence and expression. The exclusive association with the core brand drives incredible customer loyalty – if you want PC products and points you have to shop at the Loblaws chain.

Keep a watch out for the expansion of private labels as major retail industries such as sporting goods, hardware, and department store chains take this branding tactic to new levels.

The hired gun

Another phenomenon growing in popularity among marketers today is establishing brand partnerships with well-known experts to build credibility. For example, Michael Graves, a brand unto himself, changed the public’s perception of Target’s ability to deliver a sense of style and design quality. This renowned industrial designer is revered for the creation of hundreds of popular and stylish products ranging from appliances to furniture.

Similarly, when Wal-Mart entered the gardening arena, the company leveraged the Better Homes and Gardens magazine brand name to enter the category with credibility.

Immersion

More and more, brand managers are making decisions, not as to how far the brand should expand beyond its core offering, but how deep it should grow within its area of specialty. Tesco, one of the U.K.’s most prominent food retailers, is maximizing the expression of its brand essence through the ownership of a variety of sub-brands, including everything from convenience stores to hyper-markets.

In the same way, Canada’s Rona expanded its well-known hardware business to include small corner hardware stores, representation in big box home improvement centres, and everything in between.

While it is imperative for companies to define and redefine comprehensive brand strategies, the future of consumer loyalty will ultimately be decided by aggressive Market Makers seeking innovative tactics that will take their brand to the next level.

Bruce Smith is director, business planning at MacLaren McCann’s Toronto-based consulting and design studio, Brandid. He can be reached at: bruce.smith@gobrandid.com.