Seven deadly sins of branding

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As the former vice-president of marketing for Starbucks once admitted “consumers don’t truly believe there’s a huge different between products”, which means that brands have to establish an emotional tie with their customers.
Our emotions, as customers, aren’t to be messed with. Once a brand has created that necessary bond, it has to handle it with care. One step wrong and the customer may not be willing to forgive.
This is essentially why brands fail. Something happens to break the bond between the customer and the brand. This is not always the fault of the business, think here the tragic instances that lead to the demise of Pan Am. However, more often than not, when brands struggle or fail it is usually down to a distorted perception of either the brand, the competition or the market – think here the recent struggles for VW after the emissions scandal.

The altered view of brands is a result of one or more of the following seven deadly sins of branding:

1. Brand amnesia – for old brands, as for old people, memory becomes an increasing issue. When a brand forgets what it is supposed to stand for, it runs into trouble. The most obvious case of brand amnesia occurs when a vulnerable, long standing brand tries to create a radical new identify, such as when Coca-Cola tried to replace its original formula with New Coke or when Pepsi tried to launch a purity product called Crystal Pepsi. The results for both were simply a disaster.


2. Brand ego – Brands sometimes develop a tendency for over-estimating their own importance, and their own capability. This is evident when a brand believes it can support a market single-handedly, as Polaroid did for instant photography. It is also apparent when a brand enters a new market for which it is clearly ill-suited, such a Harley Davidson trying to sell perfume and Cosmopolitan trying to sell yoghurt. Yes, both of these did indeed happen.


3. Brand megalomania – Egotism can lead to megalomania. When this happens, brands want to take over the world by expanding into every product category imaginable. Some, such a Virgin, get away with is. Most lesser brands, however, do not.

4. Brand deception – Some brands see the whole marketing process as an act of covering up the reality of their product. In extreme cases, the trend towards brand fiction can lead to downright lies. In an attempt to promote A Knight’s Tale Sony invented a critic and a suitable quote to put onto the promotional poster. In an age where marketers are increasingly connected via social media consumers can no longer be deceived.

5. Brand fatigue – Some companies get bored with their own brands. You can see this happening to products which have been on the shelves for many years, collecting dust. When brand fatigue sets in creativity suffers, and so do sales.

6. Brand paranoia – This is the opposite of brand ego and is most likely to occur when a brand faces competition. Typical symptoms include: a tendency to file legal cases against rivals, a willingness to reinvent the brand every six months, and a longing to imitate competitors. Consider here Ovaltine where it fell head first into a nostalgic trap and Kodak – a brand that failed to stay ahead.


7. Brand Irrelevance – when a market radically evolves, the brands associated with it risk becoming irrelevant and obsolete. Brand managers must strive to maintain relevance by staying ahead of the category. Think Sony and its once powerful Walkman brand.

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