27 Sep The Most Fundamental Mistake Brands Make
The following cases are based on real meetings with going concerns over the past two years and illustrate what I consider to be the most basic mistake a brand can make. Names have been omitted. In each of these cases, the common element was the absence of the most fundamental element to brand success: a core (succinct) promise or benefit that is simultaneously compelling to target customers, differentiated from the competition and credible for the brand. What all of these cases had in common was that they presented with the desire to grow sales.
Case 1: Fast-Casual Restaurant Chain
The CEO of a fast-casual restaurant chain came into our offices sharing that same-store sales were declining amid growing competition, and the company needed to figure out what was going wrong. The ask was for market research among customers and prospects to determine why sales were declining and what they should do to increase sales in their stores. The CEO was very proud of the quality of their food, stores and staff, and talked about the lengths to which the brand goes to ensure the high quality of their food and staff. All staff are taught the brand values and are expected to “live” those values, which factors into their performance evaluations.
After some discussion about the history of the brand and current efforts at sales growth, we asked the CEO to tell us what made the brand different. The response was a five-minute conversation that mentioned superior food, contemporary design of restaurants and marketing communications, strong company values and extensive staff training on “living” the brand. We then asked again what made the brand different … this time in no more than seven words. The CEO said that all of the things he mentioned were important, and he was unable to narrow it down. Our follow-up question was simply, “If you can’t easily and quickly say how you’re different from all the other fast-casual restaurant options customers have, how can they? How long do we think customers ponder their decision regarding which fast-casual restaurant to visit?”
Case 2: Nutritional Supplements
The maker and marketer of a line of nutritional supplements approached us with the goal of taking sales “to the next level.” The client’s brand had achieved a level of national success and was available in well-known online and retail outlets. However, those outlets were less profitable than direct online sales, which the client wanted to grow first and foremost. In a highly competitive market like nutritional supplements, where there are a few very large corporations with serious marketing muscle, it became clear after reviewing the client’s site and marketing efforts that the client was gaining little by playing the same game, in the same way, as their much bigger competitors.
Specifically, what was needed was a compelling brand story that spoke directly and personally to target customers about how the client’s brand was different from its competitors and which of its different formulations was most appropriate for them.
Case 3: Luxury Resort
The third and final example involves a luxury resort that was once part of a well-known chain of luxury hotels and was becoming an independent brand. Not surprisingly, in losing their brand focus (i.e., the former chain brand), a lot of competing interests were seeking to inform the brand and its message, from the award-winning golf course to the high-end restaurant to the wedding and events group, etc. As a result, the prevailing list of brand advantages was as long as it was distinguished, running the risk of creating an ungainly brand consisting of more dominant component brands.
In the first two cases, unfortunately, the clients continued pulling tactical marketing levers to attempt to grow sales instead of developing a focused, competitive position in their markets. We all know the saying about expecting something different from doing the same thing over and over! The last client actually did embrace a new brand strategy that positioned the brand on lifestyle against its competitive set while providing a strong umbrella to the component brands. At brand launch, sales exceeded projections.
As simple as it seems to those of us who develop brand strategies day in and day out, the lesson here is that, while we take it for granted that any successful brand must first strive to meet the three core criteria of being relevant and meaningful to customers, different from competitors and internally authentic and credible, not everyone believes the same or feels comfortable sacrificing some marketable product benefits to achieve a more focused and successful brand in the long run. But in the end, any such punting is short-lived, because there usually isn’t enough time or money to market every product benefit to customers effectively. Focused brands create customer affinity beyond product benefits and lead to more loyal and valuable customers, which saves marketing time and money over time while creating economic value for the brand owner.