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Brand Resilience: Chapter One Excerpt

A Brand New Day: Valuable brands, fragile brands


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Close your eyes for a moment and consider the word brand.

Within milliseconds, images of the world’s leading corporate brands, ranging from Nike to Apple to Disney, may flood your brain. Or, to be more au courant, Google, Facebook, Twitter, Wikipedia, Yelp, Foursquare, Urbanspoon and YouTube.

The images inevitably consist of the iconic symbols, logos and trademarks we encounter dozens of times a day on clothing, shopping bags, packages, sports arenas, office buildings and homepages. Nike’s swoosh, Apple’s partially eaten apple, Google’s font, Disney’s Mickey Mouse, Geico’s gecko, McDonald’s golden arches and Coca-Cola’s script. If you’re a baby boomer like me, you may think of Oscar Mayer’s Wienermobile. If you’re a millennial, maybe you’ll think of the Red Bull MINI Cooper.

Think about it a little longer. We bet you can come up with brands associated with every aspect of life: sports, popular culture, politics, geographic regions and even literature.

  • The Chicago Cubs, our hometown team, is a winner when it comes to brand recognition, thanks in part to television station WGN and its national cable reach. Cubs-branded caps, hats, towels, pennants and other assorted merchandise generate millions in annual sales. If you have any doubts about the strength of the brand, try getting tickets to a home game at Wrigley Field on a Saturday afternoon in July.
  • The Olympics has its distinctive five rings, theme song, torch and thousands of athletes who proudly bear the title of Olympian. Every four years, television networks ante up a king’s ransom to secure broadcast rights ($2.2 billion for US rights to the 2010 Winter Olympics and 2012 Summer Olympics2), corporations shell out extraordinary sums to sponsor the games and cities invest huge amounts of money to support their Olympic bids. The lucky bid winner then earns the right to spend boat-loads more money to build the venues and facilities that will allow it to stage the Olympics and Paralympics for a stretch of approximately four weeks.
  • Paris Hilton created incredible recognition first for herself and then for her Paris Hilton–branded products by parlaying a surname most known for its association with a global luxury hospitality chain. Her official website (www.parishilton.com) features footwear, fragrances, handbags, sunglasses, hair accessories, watches, sportswear, bedding, swimwear and lingerie “collections” in addition to her blog, photos, videos and other “news” items. Hilton, given as she is to tabloid coverage, personifies the idea of being famous for being famous as she graces the pages of People and Us Weekly. When Paris’s brand wanes, any number of reality television stars, ranging from Kim Kardashian to Bethenny Frankel, are poised to replace her.
  • Donald Trump has his name emblazoned on the marquees of office buildings, hotels and casinos. You can also tack on the advice books based on the Donald’s business experience, a reality television show designed to test the mettle of would-be moguls, golf courses, a university, clothing, eyewear, leather goods, jewelry, furniture, lighting, home décor, mattresses, spring water and vodka. Try to trump that.
  • Barack Obama was an electoral success due, in part, to the meticulous manner by which the Obama brand was developed, cultivated and merchandised. Think of the photograph artfully converted into the now-famous campaign poster by artist Shepard Fairey (although apparently without first securing permission from the photograph’s owner, the Associated Press), the simple but powerful theme of change (as in “Change We Can Believe In”), the patriotically colored O adorning bumper stickers and lawn signs, and the emotionally compelling personal narrative that informed not one but two bestselling books. In April 2009 Desirée Rogers, the former White House social secretary, asserted “we have the best brand on Earth: the Obama brand.”5 (Presidential adviser David Axelrod responded, “The president is a person, not a product. We shouldn’t be referring to him as a brand.”)

Was it always like this?

The word brand, based on an Old Norse word meaning “to burn,” originally referred to the practice of herders burning marks onto the hides of their animals. The different marks on the livestock identified individual herders and, thus, their products. Over time, a brand became synonymous with the names and images that manufacturers developed to distinguish their products from those of their competitors. A variety of businesses claim to be the first to have registered a brand, including the British brewer Bass & Company, which used its distinctive red triangle on the barrels of ale that it shipped all over the world.

It’s a short hop, skip and a jump from a red triangle to the Budweiser Tastebuds. We have moved beyond simple brand marks printed on products and shipping containers. Everywhere you look, you see a veritable sea of brands.

Consider food. In 1988, during a vacation in France dedicated to the consumption of copious amounts of fine food and wine, my wife and I were lucky enough to dine at a very special restaurant in Lyon, L’Auberge du Pont de Collonges. The restaurant’s chef and owner was (and is) Paul Bocuse, one of the fathers of nouvelle cuisine and a recipient of the Michelin Guide’s coveted three stars.

My wife still talks about the food, ambience and service more than twenty years later as her benchmark for fine dining. We were surprised, consequently, given this experience, to see the cabinets in the restaurant’s entry hall filled with Paul Bocuse–branded merchandise available for sale to patrons. Hardly what we expected to see in this bastion of elevated taste.

That was then. Not long after our visit, Bocuse opened up a restaurant at Walt Disney’s Epcot. Other Paul Bocuse restaurants have followed. Today, Paul Bocuse has a website that includes “l’Espace E-Boutique de Paul Bocuse” and sponsors the Bocuse d’Or, a biennial culinary competition featuring teams from twenty-four countries. In retrospect, it seems that Bocuse was in fact an early innovator when it came to profiting from a chef’s fame through branded books, television shows, prepared foods and cookware. What seemed odd in the twentieth century is common practice in the twenty-first.

Chefs are not the only brand names when it comes to food. In Chicago, for example, grass-fed Tallgrass Beef (founded by brand-name journalist Bill Kurtis) is offered for home consumption as well as on the menus of the city’s top restaurants. You can sip branded espresso at the local outlet of a global coffee chain, where you can also buy its branded blended drinks, branded coffee-related merchandise and branded music using the store’s branded stored-value card. Or you can buy the global coffee chain’s branded ice cream or branded bottled coffee drinks at your branded superstore.

At Deloitte, the professional services firm where I have spent the past fourteen years of my career, we teach our new practitioners to think about what it will take to build their “personal brand” and counsel them that their professional success is directly related to these brand-building efforts. On more than one occasion, I have delivered a PowerPoint presentation in which I quote from Tom Peters’s book The Brand You50: “We are CEOs of our own companies: Me Inc. Our most important job is to be head marketer for the brand called You. Starting today you are a brand. The good news is that everyone has a chance to stand out. It’s this simple: You are in charge of your brand.”

Not too long ago, I read an article about Bloggy Boot Camp, an event designed to help the participants (about 90 percent of them mothers) “take their blogs up a notch, whether in hopes of generating ad revenue and sponsorships, attracting attention to a cause or branching out into paid journalism or marketing.” The title of the article? “Honey, Don’t Bother Mommy. I’m Too Busy Building My Brand.”16 The article’s title, if not the piece itself, was tongue-in-cheek, although I found a breathless endorsement of the article on Samson Media’s blog, Playing in Traffic, which opened, “As you probably know by now, in today’s business environment, it’s ALL about your personal brand.”

A discussion on personal brands once led a colleague to refer me to the Interbrand website. Interbrand, a leading brand consultancy (as it says on their site, “started in 1974 when the world still thought of brands as just another word for logo”), offers a section on its website featuring its “Personal Brand Valuation” methodology. I was mildly disappointed to discover that it’s actually meant to help value celebrities and athletes for endorsement purposes, rather than for ordinary schlubs like me. But after the Tiger Woods incident, it’s not surprising that advertisers and sponsors would be interested in tools for personal brand valuation.

You get the idea.

To read the full excerpt of chapter one, download the PDF below.

For additional information about the book or to contact the author, please e-mail BrandResilience@deloitte.com.

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