Wednesday, July 28, 2004

barking dog Branding

Sometimes I think branding is a lot like a barking dog.  At first it is just a lot of noise.  But, as you begin to put it in context, it starts to take on some meaning.  Then it begins to convey some key messages, and finally it supports a call to action.

I tend to relate a lot of things, especially marketing and communications, to a barking dog.  Maybe it’s because my dog is a Sheltie—well known for barking.  But, more likely it’s because today’s marketing and communication landscape is sounding a lot more like a kennel.  There’s just a lot of noise.

Here’s what I mean.  When I first got my dog, Miles, all his barks sounded a like.  I didn’t know if he was hungry, bored or needed to go out.  Over time and after some significant investment of resources (for Miles it was more emotional resources than actual dollars, that is he ‘crossed his legs’ a lot) he began to position and differentiate his brand.  It began with me being able to recognize his bark among the neighboring dogs.  He created awareness through excellent frequency and well targeted reach (basically my wife and I).  That is:  He barked at us a lot. 

After awhile, Miles had built up excellent awareness, but here is where my dog is smarter than a lot of emerging brands and the bulk of marketers for failed dot coms.  He knew that awareness is not enough. 

While he was creating awareness, he also began to position his brand against the competition (our one-year-old) and aligned it with his audience’s desires (I did not want ‘accidents’ in the house). He basically put his brand in context so that we would immediately connect his brand to our desires.  His brand now has meaning in the mind of his audience.  We know that he barks to communicate or to warn and protect us.  That is his positioning.  All of his outreach (barking) created and reinforced this positioning.  After awhile we knew and trusted that his brand stood for communication.  So when he barked in the middle of the night last week, I got up and investigated thoroughly.  I trust this brand to deliver on its brand promise.

So, now I’m aware of his bark and can pick it out of a crowd, just as I’m aware of Coke Cola and can find it on a shelf.  And I know what his bark stands for, just as I know that Coke is a refreshing beverage. 

He also created smart, relevant brand extensions.  These tend to carry through his overarching brand but segment or highlight a certain benefit or audience.  For instance, if he has to go out very badly, I’ll get a poke as well as bark.  Similarly, if I want a refreshing beverage with fewer calories, I can get a Diet Coke. 

My brother watched Miles for a few days a couple of weeks back, but for him the barking was very hit and miss.  Since he wasn’t the target audience, Miles didn’t direct any marketing or communications resources his way.  Sure, there was some marketing bleed, so my brother was aware of the brand.  But he didn’t know its positioning, its brand message nor had he developed any brand trust.  To him Miles’ barking was just a lot of noise. 

To the uninitiated, even a well known brand is still a lot of noise.   My young nephew is a video game freak and loves Tony Hawk games.  I had heard of Tony Hawk, but know next to nothing about it.  That’s okay.  I’m not the target.  Don’t build that brand with me, its wasted marketing dollars.  Likewise, Miles didn’t waste his resources on my brother, but I’d bet a dollar that the dog down the street, can identify the “get off my territory” brand.

In today’s marketplace, there is more noise than ever before.  Between TV, radio, print, outdoor, online there are so many messages being thrown at us how can it be anything but noise?  Take a lesson from Miles.  Determine who your target is and go after them with tightly focused communications that not only creates awareness, but puts your brand in context. 

What that means is that Advertising is not going to do it alone.  Public Relations can put your messages in context.  Online marketing can narrow your targets.  Search marketing can introduce you to consumers that are already looking for you.

What’s the difference between a billboard for a drug I’ve never heard of and have no idea what it treats, and the group of dogs howling and barking in park I’m walking through?  I don’t know, but I’ve got to go; Miles has to go for a walk.