Innovation

Wit's End: Brand Aides

Written by PROFIT magazine, June 2006

I’ve always thought that branding, like art, love, money and breakfast, is too important to be left to the pros. That’s why, when the marketing team at Nimbus Co. couldn’t agree on a new positioning statement (see my May column), I revealed our top three proposals and asked you to choose the best-or submit something better.

Although we didn’t break the Internet (like the time Kernel hit “Reply All” to a business opportunity in Nigeria), we did receive e-mail from all over the country.

I only wish you all hadn’t dumped on our branding statements. (Even marketing people have feelings.) Here’s how April Hill of Georgetown, Ont., dissed our suggestions:

1. “Advanced composite aerospace materials. Fun kitchen appliances. Trust Nimbus at home and away.” “Too long and cumbersome,” said April.

2. “Nimbus: Turn your kitchen into the family room.” “Don’t like this one at all,” said April. (Or as another reader noted, “This is a benefit?”)

3. “Life is short. Live it with Nimbus.” “Concise and memorable,” said April. But she preferred her slogan: “Nimbus: See where technology leads you.”

That could work if we were a high-tech firm. But we don’t invent household appliances and advanced aerospace components — we just weld ’em together.

Toronto marketing consultant Kurt Lynn noted that I didn’t provide many details “by which to position the company.” But that didn’t stop him. “In a situation like this,” he said, “it’s often best to focus on some overriding benefit that permeates all the company’s products and services, and leave specific branding statements to specific product brands.” He suggested “Superior value. In space. In the home.” The problem: although our clients want value, they don’t want to pay for it.

From Saskatchewan, David Jefferson suggested “Aerospace sciences to kitchen appliances.” When I showed it to Kernel, our overeager vice-president, he demanded, “Why didn’t you tell me we could use poetry?” He spent the next 48 hours searching for a word that rhymes with Nimbus.

Some readers focused on our appliances. Frank Prosia of Transpro Freight Systems in Mississauga, Ont., suggested: “Too hot in the kitchen? Use Nimbus.” “Be one with your kitchen,” offered Dave Cender of White Rock, B.C. “Nimbus for nimble kitchens,” proposed Wendy Marshall of B.C.’s “South Cariboo” (and we think we have a branding problem).

Michael Korican of Victoria suggested that “Nimbus: Sky High” is “vague enough to apply to both consumer products and aerospace components.” Wanda, our GM, scoffed at the idea. “Since when is vagueness a virtue?” Then I pointed out Michael’s postscript: “My invoice for $1 million follows.”

Branding is about heightening expectations while grabbing attention, so I liked Allan Sura’s suggestion, “Products for people on the fly.” Ontario’s Brian Hartman impressed us with “Flying high — at home and abroad.” And Curtis from Winnipeg offered “Nimbus: The height of imagination.”

But my favourite comment came from Jennifer Strath of Winnipeg, who suggested “Your Kitchen. Your Universe.” Whether at work or at home, she said, “the kitchen is the centre of my universe.”

She also told us how she arrived at her idea. “I’d been working on a project for a new client’s brand and needed to clear my head. So in comes the mail, and as I leafed through all the newspapers and magazines, your article came into focus. I found myself pushing my paying clients aside to take up your challenge. Thanks for allowing me to play for awhile!” For abandoning her work to help with ours, Jennifer receives a copy of The Breakaway Brand: How great brands stand out.

Jennifer’s enthusiasm reminded me that branding isn’t about words, but relationships. So I gathered my marketing team and announced we’d been doing things backwards. “Let’s research how our customers perceive their relationship with us,” I said. “Instead of making up statements, let’s see what words they use. That’s where our brand identity is — not here.”

“I get it,” said Kernel. “If branding’s a science, go talk with your clients.” At least his two days with the rhyming dictionary weren’t wasted.

Originally appeared on PROFITguide.com