The Brand Challenge: Adapting Branding to Sectorial Imperatives

Edited by Kartikeya Kompella

The Brand Challenge consists of four general branding topics followed 11 sector-specific chapters, namely: luxury, retail, business-to-business (B2B), media, financial services, non-profits, fashion, hotels, cities, technology, and football (soccer). Each chapter is written by a different author.

Al Ries writes about the importance of focus, highlighting Subaru of America. “In the early 1990s, Subaru was in serious trouble.” The new president turned the company around by focusing on four-wheel drive, “even though four-wheel drive vehicles accounted for less than half of Subaru’s sales… In 2012, Subaru sold 336,441 vehicles in the United States, ahead of such brands as Chrysler, Mercedes, BMW, Mazda, Lexus, Buick, Acura, and Audi.”

Ries also explains that visuals have more emotional impact than words. He recommends combining a visual hammer with verbal nail. Corona “importers had the brilliant idea of serving the beer with a slice of lime on top of the bottle. That was the brand’s visual hammer that communicated the idea that Corona was the authentic Mexican beer… Another effective visual hammer is Coca-Cola’s contour bottle… It communicates the idea that Coca-Cola is the original… the real thing.”

Tony Allen writes about identity. “We recognize strong identities without needing confirmation of their logos.” Examples include the pink newsprint of the Financial Times or brown UPS trucks. “Apple has patented the ‘diagnostic completion’ sound its Mac computers make when booting up… The identity of Twitter is not its logo, it’s the 140-character rule.”

Scent can be another facet of identity. “People can recall smells with 65 per cent accuracy after a year, while the visual recall of photos sinks to about 50 per cent after only three months.” Subsequent chapters offer examples: “The cabin scent of Singapore Airlines is as distinctive as the logo on the head rests… Starwood, for example, has instituted unique, pleasant aromas in each of its hotel brands, literally connecting with guests on a sensory level.”

Peter Fisk states, “A brand is fundamentally not about description, but enablement—what it does for people, rather than what it is. This is described in three components: rational, comparative, and emotional… Coupons, loyalty cards, [and] mobile offers actually drive more promiscuous behavior, the opposite of what brands intend. They make choices more rational, and less emotional. They commoditize rather than enhance brands.”

“Everything that the customer experiences, hard and soft, real and perceived, is part of the brand.”

Jean-Noël Kapferer writes about the luxury market. “Luxury represents more than products—it is the taste of the elite… The goal of the luxury strategy is to create incomparability… Their roots, history, heritage, tradition, art, know-how and creativity are too distinct to make any comparison meaningful.” For example, “Dom Perignon… launched in the late 1950s at the occasion of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II.”

In the chapter on B2B, Michael D’Esopo and Simon Glynn write about authenticity. “Consistency has been a mantra of branding. Are consistency and freshness in conflict? Not if we think in terms of consistent principles, values and behaviors—not simply about visual assets. This deeper consistency is what we refer to as authenticity.”

In the chapter on media brands, Walter S. McDowell addresses the topic of native advertising, the current euphemism for advertorials. He quotes Ben Kunz, vice president at media agency Mediassociates, who warns, ‘If publishers and marketers aren’t careful, they are going to poison the well of digital ad communications by breaking customer trust.’”

McDowell also notes some general branding insights. “At the core of all brand management principles is the concept of differentiation… Perceived sameness is the antithesis for good branding… Considerable research addressing consumer-based branding theory has found that the most powerful and enduring brand associations are not based on utilitarian factors but rather on intangibles such as emotional satisfaction.”

The financial services chapter is by Mike Symes, who quotes customer experience consultant Frank Capek. Most banks compete on “better sameness rather than true differentiation.” Noted exceptions are Commerce Bancorp and Umpqua Bank. This chapter prompted me to read Fans Not Customers by Vernon W. Hill II, founder of Commerce Bancorp.

Jocelyne Daw writes about nonprofit branding. “A strong brand is more often than not a non-profit’s most valuable asset… Identifying the brand’s true purpose is the first step in building a breakthrough non-profit brand. Brand purpose answers the question ‘What do you stand for? It goes beyond a static identity and describes the singular overarching idea that conveys why the organization exists and its reason for being. By discovering your authentic and differentiated purpose—what you do better than anyone else and how you deliver value and impact—you define your unique leadership position and set out your promise. This is transformational. An organization’s unique brand purpose acts as its compass and driving force.”

Joseph H. Hancock, II writes, “For fashion branding, the storytelling process relies on a fashion company’s ability to make an emotional connection through their brand to build target markets. A retailer, manufacturer or designer reaches their full potential when an emotional attachment to consumers is attained… Even the simplest fashion advertising reflects the basic framework of a story that includes: a message, conflict, characters, plot.” Good storytelling for fashion brands makes the customer feel special.

John O’Neill writes about hotel brands. “Branding is particularly critical in service industries such as the hotel business… Well-managed hotel brands tend to gain increasing market share.”

Brand extensions pose some risks. “Holiday Inn executives appear to have discovered such a situation when they rolled out the Holiday Inn Crowne Plaza upscale hotel brand, which they later rebranded as simply Crowne Plaza.” Conversely, “if the brand extension is viewed negatively, it can adversely affect perceptions of the parent brand.”

Maintaining brand consistency among franchisees is another challenge. “La Quinta Inn & Suites was virtually a franchise-free brand in 2000, but by 2003, 25.8 per cent of its hotels were franchised. Unfortunately, such as growth strategy correlated with a decrease in guest satisfaction at La Quinta (-2.6 per cent) during the course of the study period.”

Jeremy Hildreth and J.T. Singh write about cities as brands. “Cities are the ultimate word-of-mouth product… Remarkability is the force that summons the power of word-of-mouth… In Conversational Capital, Bertrand Cesvet, one of the geniuses behind the identity and marketing of Cirque du Soleil, explains: ‘Your reputation is the result of the relative proximity of who you are, who you say you are, and who people say you are. The closer these three are to one another—the more continuous and integrated—the more likely you are to enjoy great word of mouth.’”

Rituals, activities, and special events “can become inextricably linked with cities… The best special events for branding purposes are designed from the beginning to have a strong urban identity component: they are created in such a way that they couldn’t really happen anywhere but in the host city.”

The technology chapter is written by Howard Breindel, Jonathan Paisner, and Seth Margolis. “More often than not, technology brands almost always need to simplify and clarify… The pitfall for many technology companies is that they rely on techno-speak, forgetting that the business decision maker—the CMO or CFO, for example—may be confused or even turned off by a stew of jargon and acronyms… Influencers can play a crucial role—peers, family members, products reviews, and bloggers… Considered decisions require brands that can withstand multiple layers of scrutiny… Often, this means that the brand must be supported by messages that are carefully ‘mapped’ to different audiences: the user, the influencer, the partner, and so on.”

Sue Bridgewater writes about football brands. “Successful brands inspire loyalty, and this loyalty is often based on emotional as well as rational value placed on brands by their customers… The emotional connection to a football brand may be to do with family loyalty, or local, geographic loyalty to a place of birth or family heritage… There is considerable evidence that fans feel the successes of their team to be their own success and feel good about themselves when the team win.” Psychology professor Robert Cialdini refers to this as “BIRGing or Basking in Reflected Glory.”

Kompella, Kartikeya. The Brand Challenge: Adapting Branding to Sectorial Imperatives. London: Kogan Page, 2015. Buy from

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