April 29, 2014

Are brand management mistakes hurting your company’s bottom line?

Most brand management blogs, articles and white papers focus on new or existing brands. No one talks about the old, outdated or obsolete brands that can seriously hurt your company’s reputation and bottom line. I’m not talking about sentimental brands that cause us to reminisce about the good old days. As a third-generation branding specialist and business owner, I love seeing my grandfather’s handiwork on historic buildings in and around Denver. He meticulously hand-painted signs on the sides of these buildings, and his work on these nostalgic brands have taken on an iconic quality for all who see them.

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In my grandfather’s day, brand management was simple. One or two people could keep track of all of the places the company’s brand appeared. Over the years, brand management has gotten more complex due to advances in technology and globalization. Yet the basics remain the same; brand management involves keeping track of all of the places the brand appears, both online and offline. Without strong brand management, confusion and lack of trust hurt brand equity in the marketplace.

Reputation management is a key component to brand management. If you don’t pay attention to your own brand, you allow others to take control of your reputation. For example, some companies continue to use brands that no longer exist, or use brands that no longer belong to the company after a merger or acquisition. These brand oversights act as a red flag for future partners, consumers, investors and potential employees about the overall quality of the company’s products and services.

We recently worked on one such brand management oversight project. A corporation hired us to go out to remove a brand it had sold to another entity two years earlier from 1200 brand touchpoints. For two years, that corporation featured a brand it didn’t even own! Think of the opportunity cost of the lost brand exposure. And, both companies’ brand equity and reputation could have been seriously damaged during the two-year brand conversion gap.

From a brand management perspective, let’s step back and look at the downside of a company leaving a brand it no longer owns on its touchpoints. If the brand no longer exists, like when a product is discontinued, it’s can simply cause confusion in the marketplace. The same is true of mismatched logos during a brand refresh. But what happens when a company sells a brand, and the new brand owners do something illegal or unethical before the original brand owner removes the brand from its signs, vehicles, website and other digital assets? Conversely, for new brand owners, what if the old brand owner does something offensive and suddenly your brand is all over traditional and social media, and not in a good way. Do you really want a negative story about your brand to be trending on Twitter for something you didn’t do?

In many companies, marketing or brand managers control brand management policies. But in others, brand management policies are dictated by legal agreements. Many merger and acquisition documents are filled with legalese regarding brand ownership. The agreements usually include deadlines that the seller must meet for removing brands from their assets after the brands are sold. These provisions are often violated because companies with inadequate brand management procedures don’t understand where their brands appear. Unfortunately, the lack of a comprehensive database and poor brand management polices don’t fly as valid excuses.

I often have to advise my clients on brand management issues that didn’t exist during my grandfather’s time. My first piece of advice is always the same. Make sure you know each and every place your brand appears. Inadequate brand management policies can seriously damage a corporation’s bottom line, and repairing a damaged brand is far more expensive than investing in good brand management policies from the start.

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