We all love Shakespeare’s romantic lament, “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” Yes, true, but a brand by any other name, not so much! But I digress and will return to this metaphor later. So what better way to discuss branding than to see what some of the world’s greatest brands’ creators/owners/managers have to say about the subject? As a business school graduate (Columbia Business School, Class of 1991), I would like to begin with a trip down memory lane and pay obeisance to Kellogg Professor Philip Kotler, whose Marketing Management 101 branding principle still resonates:
“The art of marketing is the art of brand building. If you are not a brand, you are a commodity. Then price is everything and the low-cost producer is the only winner.”
It should come as no surprise then that the name behind the world famous Trump brand, which everyone knows is far from a low-cost one, is often credited for saying, “If your business is not a brand, it is a commodity.” That adaptation of Kotler’s quote just seemed to fit “the Donald” better – he plays it like his “Trump card,” if you will?
Foremost among The Marketing Id’s lessons in communications… “the medium is the message” stands out! Wikipedia has this to say about the subject, “‘The medium is the message’ is a phrase coined by Marshall McLuhan meaning that the form of a medium embeds itself in the message, creating a symbiotic relationship by which the medium influences how the message is perceived.” Kotler’s message somehow seemed to embed itself in Donald Trump and it is now generally perceived as his. Such is the power of the brand.
Jeff Bezos, creator of that monster Internet brand, Amazon is quoted as saying, “Your brand is what other people say about you when you’re not in the room.” Again, true, but your brand is also what some people don’t say about you – because of any or all of the fear, power, monopoly, etc. associated with your brand. Just maybe, Amazon is turning into a “bully brand” as its recent clashes with eBook publishers seem to indicate? Per a recent CNet report, “The back and forth with Hachette may have damaged Amazon’s public image, said BCG analyst Colin Gillis. ‘People associate with authors,’ he said. ‘It’s good that it was resolved, but we’ll see if hardcore readers see Amazon in a different light.’” Amazon must realize that when your supply chain issues start adversely impacting your customer, your brand starts getting impacted as well.
Mark Cuban, my favorite entrepreneur on ABC’s “Shark Tank,” provides this wise counsel, “Focus on building the best possible business. If you are great, people will notice and opportunities will appear.” This is especially true when it comes to brand building, which is an adjunct to building the business; it is a labor of love that accumulates over time. There are simply no short cuts to building a good and sustainable brand name – it takes a lot of time and effort, no matter what.
Then there are brands that get cultivated over time due to a business enterprise’s performance and growth, but are subsequently sustained more on the business owner’s personality and reputation. The aforementioned Trump brand is a classic example. However, Rupert Murdoch, Chairman of both, News Corporation and 21st Century Fox, is a better example of a personality-driven brand in this regard. It used to be almost impossible to find any news item for the old News Corporation that was not preceded by Mr. Murdoch’s name, as in, “Murdoch’s News Corp.” So much so, that Mr. Rupert Murdoch himself has said, “For better or for worse, our company is a reflection of my thinking, my character, my values.” The caveat, of course, is will the brand endure once the personality is no longer associated with the business?
The answer to that question might lie in Starbucks, the company that made premium priced coffee a ubiquitous brand. Comedian Jerry Seinfeld often joked about its “Four Bucks” brand of coffee that was pioneered by Chairman and CEO, Howard Schultz, a strong personality but one who professed a simple philosophy, “If people believe they share values with a company, they will stay loyal to the brand.” Mr. Schultz sure got that right because there are no fiercely loyal customers that are more faithful than Starbucks customers, of which yours truly happens to be one. As that wise old sage, Warren Buffett, remarked, “Your premium brand had better be delivering something special, or it’s not going to get the business.” Starbucks has been getting my business almost exclusively for over fifteen years, as it clearly does from millions of other loyal customers.
For The Marketing Id’s final thoughts on brand, I would like to quote British fashion designer, Ozwald Boateng, who had the best take on what really makes a brand, “You can’t have style if you don’t have substance.” That says it all, but I must return to how I began this dissertation on branding. My article is titled, “A brand by any other name… is not a brand!” for a good reason. It harks back to The Coca-Cola Company’s infamous, albeit, short-lived 1985 effort to rebrand its signature “Coke” as a “new Coke” that included a change (yes, in substance and style) in its 99-year old formula. The new Coke brand failed miserably, even though “A Coke by any other name, New Coke, tasted even sweeter!” The company learned very quickly (79 days, to be precise) that its established Coke brand just did not translate to another brand name – old, in this case, was truly gold – and Coca-Cola classic has since endured. Purists might argue that Coca Cola classic was a rebranding as well, but in the customer’s mind it was a return to the old brand (and its proven 99-year old formula), which is what really mattered. This goes back to Mr. Boateng’s point about substance – Coca Cola went back to the substance that had made the Coke brand so stylish.
All that said many iconic brand names have disappeared over the years as Fortune magazine reminds us in this recent article. At the end of the day, a business may die but its associated brand name can live on in our memories forever – such is the power of a brand!