Branding Tragedies!

Some businesses are the proud possessors of assets that are the stuff of witchcraft. A sound; a color; a name; a phrase; a shape; a smell; a taste; a face. Assets that seemingly compel people to do strange things – like hand over money to possess an element of them. All of these things are called branding mnemonics and they are as much an asset as a building, a patent, intellectual property, cash or any other more readily acknowledged and fiercely protected asset. Why are branding mnemonics such an important but oft underappreciated asset?

A brand is nothing more or less than the current retrieved memory – both conscious and sub-conscious – you have for a business, product or service. Despite what the creative media community would have you believe, it is not created in the vacuum of your living room but in the myriad of interactive touch-points you have with said business.

Branding mnemonics or hallmarks are embedded in our conscious and subconscious minds as memory retrieval devices. They help us easily store our feelings and thoughts and retrieve them when we see or feel or react to the next touch-point or interaction. Developing branding devices that are memorable is a hard task and getting them embedded in a powerful way even harder. And becoming increasingly so in our contemporary world.

As business assets you would think that more businesses would be more careful about how they protect those assets. But if businesses like Qantas are anything to go by that is not what is happening. The most recent advertising campaign by Qantas stripped every branding device they had spent over twenty-five years and hundreds of millions of dollars embedding in our subconscious.

The same could be said of Woolworths ditching the fresh food people musical mnemonic. Often these changes come about through senior leadership teams complete lack of understanding of the power or value of branding assets. Why else would they abdicate the responsibility of protecting these sources of shareholder value to people who want to stamp their own ego on the business?

Coca-Cola has had the same logo (with minor refreshes) for one hundred and fifty years. Frank Lowy is known to ferociously defend the Westfield logo. Intel has a simple four-note jingle that has been its hallmark for twenty years. As the saying goes – “If it aint broke, don’t fix it.”

The problem revolves around leadership not comprehending the role of these assets and marketing professionals getting bored with using them or worse still, new marketing people wanting to change things as a sign of their enterprise. How many of you have gone to buy a long familiar product and not been able to find it because the packaging has changed? If companies were forced to take an asset write-down charge every time they changed a branding mnemonic the decision making process would be very different.

If a product, business or service is underperforming it isn’t because of the memory device. Counter intuitively a deeply embedded memory device can actually help the performance of business bounce back faster if the true source of the issue is found and fixed, as it attributes credit to the correct business. Updating your memory of the business needs to be easily achieved and branding mnemonics help us do that easier. Branding assets are important and valuable. Before you make any change to them, think about what the justification would be to an angry shareholder who has just seen you ditch a massive investment.