Brand Message Fail


Whether it is a punchy tagline, a 30 second story or a lengthy commercial, we’re surrounded by brands that have no idea how to talk about themselves.

This week, I encountered 3 painfully familiar examples of how to undermine brand equity.

1. Internet Services Company – This brand happens to be a medium-sized online advertisement/marketing company in Los Angeles. On their homepage, front and center, you can’t find much about the brand.  It doesn’t mention that they provide advertisement or marketing services, it just says they help “grow verticals,” which is rather ambiguous.  The blurb on the homepage introducing the company reads as follows:

Our Story – <<Brand Name>> is a unique and compelling story. Our business model is producing superior results. Learn about how we do it. Click here

So, where to start. First, this company actually does have a compelling story.  If you were morbidly curious enough to fall for the “click here” at the end of the brand’s blurb, then you would land on the “About Us” section of the site, which details some very impressive facets of the company’s evolution, achievements and distinctive characteristics.

Somehow the homepage designer decided that the best content from that page was the most vague and unsubstantiated claims imaginable.  First, you don’t just assert that you are unique and compelling.  You have to say something unique and compelling about who you are and what you do.  Unique and compelling people don’t walk around saying that they are unique and compelling; so what makes marketers think that brands can get away with it?

Another issue is that “superior results” is not a business model.  It is not only too ambiguous to count as a business model, it is a differentiating factor, which is one part of a business model.  But even as a differentiating factor, it is too vague.  How are the results superior?  Are they more efficient? more accurate?  more cost-saving? more revenue-generating? What kind of results are produced? For all I know, this could be true of an accounting firm. There’s no indication that this company’s results have to do with online marketing outcomes.

After reading this blurb, which is so vague it could apply to virtually any company in the world, who would want to “click here” to learn how they “do it”?  Not me.

2. Distribution Company – On my way to the office, I passed this large freight truck that had plastered on the side a giant, daunting logo, contrasted with the underwhelming tagline, “A Different Kind of Merchant” (albeit in equally gigantic type).

The tagline itself should tell me how they are a different kind of merchant, not simply assert it.  How about “<<Brand Name>>. Always One Step Ahead of You” or maybe, “<<Brand Name>>. We’re on it.”  Or perhaps, “<<Brand Name>>, zoooooooooooooom!”  or maybe “<<Brand Name>>: the sound of your business delivered on time.” Okay, so these aren’t the most sexy taglines.  But they are certainly more interesting and suggest a “different kind” of distributor.

3. Bank Ad Campaign – On a drive through LA, I spotted a billboard that I was later able to find online. This campaign, while not necessarily tied to the core brand message, does directly impact the brand messaging because of the way the brand name and logo is used.

What is wrong with this?  It may not be obvious at first.  I can sort of sympathize with the marketers behind this campaign and their desire to be customer-centric and identify their customers with the brand.  But there is a reason you don’t see major brands making the mistake of using their brand name and logo in a generic sense, as a word other than the brand name.

This works against the goal of distinguishing a brand by excessively or arbitrarily employing the brand name or logo. Altering the brand name meaning impacts trademark strength as well as brand perception.  It raises the question, “So how do I know whether future uses of the ‘U’ name and logo are referring to the brand or to the word ‘You’?”  Suppose I read an ad that says, “U can do better.”  Is this saying “You can do better” or “<<Brand Name>> can do better”? This ambiguity creates an interesting double-meaning, which is why it is tempting to use.  But the long-term impact of this ambiguity dilutes the brand equity.

The only time it may be acceptable to violate this rule is when you use a part of a brand name in an alternative way.  For example, “X Marks the Spot – The Official Xbox 360 Geo-caching Event”.  This is debatable though, and I’m not sure I can claim this is always acceptable or advantageous.  It seems to work well for product promotional offers tied to a product/service, but the risk to brand equity seems to increase when you mess with the integrity of the parent brand.

Lesson Learned: Tell Why You Matter & Own Your Name
From the first two cases mentioned we learn that there is nothing unique or compelling about the mere assertion that you are unique and compelling.  It comes across as lazy and arrogant to say so.  Articulate the specific attributes, events, characteristics that make you unique.

The second lesson from these examples – own your name. I don’t walk around my office calling my co-workers “Chad” or calling my stapler “Chad.”  It would just cause them to think I was having an identity crisis, or some more severe neurosis.  So don’t go around putting your name on random things.  If you are going to extend the reach of your brand identity to sub-brands, have a carefully deliberated strategy behind the architecture.

The point of this post isn’t to mock sincere marketing efforts of others; it is to highlight common mistakes that come at a high cost to brand equity, with the hope that fellow marketers would learn from these examples and deliver unified, unique and compelling brands.

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Online Performance Measurement in a Nutshell


1. What is website engagement?
Website engagement is the combination of the quality, quantity, frequency and depth/complexity of user actions/interactions, outcomes & experiences on a website that matter to that website’s owner.

2. How should it be measured?
Website engagement is measured by qualitative and quantitative KPIs that track how much (volume/absolute metrics), how efficiently (ratios/rates of engagement/ROI) and how exceptionally (customer satisfaction index, etc.) a website is delivering on its promise to its target audience(s).

3. What specific approach and measurements should be used?
From a high level, it involves the whole customer lifecycle, measuring interactions/conversions at different phases in the customer-company relationship, from the point of registration/first use, to first purchase, repeat purchase and other engagements related to long-term retention.

From a ground level, I would look at micro-conversions that logically and actually prove to be leading indicators of growth in the area of key business outcomes. I measure engagement on the current website I manage by tracking a closely linked series of metrics.

First, I look at registration conversion rates and bounce rates to gauge the quality of the traffic I’m driving to my site. Then I look at the absolute volume of new traffic I’m driving to my site, in order to track the reach/exposure of my organic/unpaid and paid advertising efforts, as well as other marketing channels (email, SMS, RSS, etc.).

After that, I turn to site usage data, like entry & exit points, keyword & referring site data, avg. # of page views, common internal searches, etc. Then I look at conversion rates, CPA (cost per acquisition/conversion) & ROI, and the average window of time it takes for a customer to make their first transaction or key conversion.

Then I look at overall conversion rate for that first transaction. After that, I evaluate retention related metrics, like % of customers with more than X number of transactions and % of customers with and AOV greater than $XXXX. (This assumes a few things about the given business model in which I am operating, but it is for the most part broadly applicable).

Lastly, I would gather survey data and call center data to measure customer satisfaction and gather insights into customer behavior on the website.  If you can manage it, talk to customers directly or reach out to them on customer complaint forums or by email.  Any channel you can use to extract valuable qualitative data is priceless.

Phew! That was a mouthful.  Hopefully this helps frame website performance in a holistic light, if nothing else.  These questions were raised in a course of mine and I thought they were simple, but pointed.

Below is a model which I developed to frame online performance & engagement measurement for an auction e-commerce website I oversee.  It visualizes website engagement KPIs categorically, from the outside-in, moving from site usage data to business outcomes to actionable insights for the core of the business:

website engagement measurement

This graph is loosely based on Avinash Kaushik’s model in Web Analytics 2.0.