We’ve been saying this for what seems like forever. In this savage economic climate, more and more businesses are realizing how important it is to get their branding right, and are looking for any way they can to add a few percentage points to their bottom lines. An article in today’s Washington Post, Businesses find they can’t grow without branding, highlights the trend in the Washington DC area:
In the Washington area, Honest Tea is far from alone in seeking a brand make-over. The business of image enhancement is heating up in the region — and not just among companies selling consumer products. Government contracting firms are adopting new nomenclatures that create buzz. Charities are changing their names to reflect new missions. Trade associations are updating their logos and tag lines to remain relevant to members.
We are seeing this shift happen all over, not just in Washington DC, and the key reason for it is the massive change that many markets are undergoing:
“Everything’s changed,” said Christie J. Susko, immediate past president of AMA DC, which recently changed its logo and tag line. “Resources have changed. Products have changed. Prices have changed. Business models have changed. People are spending money differently. [Some companies have] gone out of business and others have changed their value proposition to stay competitive.
“As a result,” Susko added, “everybody is trying to figure out their place in the new market.”
One of the primary drivers of this trend is a big push toward “authenticity” — think of it as the “Get Real” movement. Ironically, the article leads off with the story of Honest Tea ditching its old tagline of “Get Real. Be Honest.” For the the beverage maker to really “Get Real,” they had to ditch their old approach of telling people to get real, because true authenticity means never having to say you’re authentic! (They were also honing their message after expanding into new markets thanks to new owner Coca-Cola.) The article speculates that the reason for this is the pervasiveness of media, social and otherwise, that will expose any corporate hypocrisy in an Internet heartbeat:
These days consumers are driving the public perception of companies, offering their sometimes not-so-flattering reviews of products and services through blogs, Web sites and social media. Companies are responding to the public’s demand for transparency; in this era of the 24/7 news cycle, consumers no longer are tolerating firms that represent one thing in their branding but demonstrate something entirely different in news coverage, experts say.
“There is so much information available to us and we can make up our own minds” about companies, said Susan Waldman, partner for strategic services at the Washington-based branding firm ZilYen. (Her business is thriving. The firm’s revenue from March to May, she said, surpassed what it made during the entirety of 2010.)
“Now the whole company is really being charged with standing behind the values claimed in the marketplace,” Waldman said. “Everything you do and say becomes part of what audiences see as your brand.”
And of course, the top-level of any company’s marketing will be their name:
A key element in a company’s branding is what it calls itself. Business nomenclatures of the past were more straightforward; firms typically were named for their founders or the services they provided. Now names are much more creative — consisting of made-up words, atypical spellings and odd combinations of capital and lower-case letters: strEATS, QinetiQ, Opower, PopVox, 20/20 GeneSystems, JESS3. Today’s names are designed to stand out, create buzz and reflect innovation.
Unfortunately, most such attempts, as the examples above show, fall short in their ability to stand out in an increasingly crowded marketplace where most companies are doing the same thing at the same time.
Authenticity, like a great name, is a quality your brand can only demonstrate, not explain. What you fail to demonstrate directly you have to explain, and that’s called advertising. More and more, consumers are onto brands that try to use advertising to pull a fast one, and crave authentic brands.
When it comes to your name and primary messaging, keeping it real is a must, and something you just can’t fake.