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Why Managing Brands Is Not Common Sense

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If common sense is what most people naturally use in the absence of education and training, then effective brand management is not common sense.
This chapter is from the book

Certainly the more features and benefits you highlight about your brand, the more attractive the brand will be. The more people you try to appeal to, the more effective your advertising will be. That market share is the most important measure of a brand’s success is obvious. And what name you attach to a brand isn’t all that important—it’s what the brand actually does for the consumer that makes the difference. It is completely obvious that “quality” is an effective marketing message. Brand extension as the best way to introduce a new product seems apparent.

Every one of the preceding statements is either partially or completely false.

Yet, talk to many who claim to be marketers, and they will espouse the validity of these statements. Dig a little deeper, and you will find that their marketing “expertise” is based on their idea of common sense. The difficulty with divining marketing strategy is that people live and breathe marketing every day as consumers. People see advertising. People open packages. People try new products. People participate in promotions. In the course of being consumers, people form opinions about what works, or doesn’t work, based on their preferences. Their experience as consumers leads them to believe that marketing is basic common sense.

More often than not, effective brand development is the complete opposite of common sense. But the strong belief in this myth perpetuates bad marketing strategy. There are many instances in which administrative assistants, engineers, salespeople, and so on get moved into significant marketing positions because they are “good with people”; after all, brand management is pretty much just common sense!

How many companies further reinforce this concept by making a marketing position something that their star performers must work through to advance in a corporation? Many companies do not hire marketers; instead, they rotate their sales stars or their finance prodigies through marketing for the experience. After all, since managing brands is common sense, you don’t need any special expertise in it, right?

With one company, the marketing department wanted to become more creative. The department had gotten stale. There were no new ideas or creative solutions being offered by the department or by the agencies supporting the business. Digging a bit deeper, management discovered that the marketing department was composed primarily of salespeople. The marketing programs developed were actally trade promotions. The advertising had become a mess, with each ad bearing multiple messages about the various product features—not a benefit to be found.

The problem this company experienced was not that there were no fresh ideas. The problem was that there was no marketing strategy. There was not a thoughtful approach to driving profitable sales from the target audience. In fact, the target audience was not even defined. Relying on common sense, the sales-oriented marketing department offered discounts and sales promotions. As good salespeople, they mentioned every feature in the ad. Unfortunately, the great common sense of the sales organization was not enhancing the success of the business.

For senior managers, a reminder that marketing is not common sense is important. If your rise to the top was not through marketing, consider that your perspective on marketing may be based on your understanding of common sense, not marketing strategy fundamentals. Don’t be like the CEO who explained that he knew all about marketing because his father had run a printing company—his idea of great marketing was when PMS colors matched. Color match is important at some level, but surely not a driver of marketing strategy.

Effective marketing strategy and brand building are built on a foundation of principles and guidelines that run counter to our natural way of thinking. For example, building an effective brand requires not only understanding what a brand stands for, but what it doesn’t stand for; understanding not only who the brand is for, but who it is not for. Such exclusionary thinking is not natural—after all, it is common sense that our brand should appeal to as many people as possible.

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