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25 November 2023

Brand Management

Tag(s): Marketing, Business
In my long career I have worked in many industries including Toiletries, Detergents, Petfoods & Accessories, Confectionery & Snacks, Main Meals, Dry Food Mixes, Sauces, Consumer Electronics, Tapes & Batteries, Mobile Phones and Service Providers, Broadcast & Professional Electronics, Sports, Fashion & Leisure Wear, Technology Licencing, Aerospace, Automotive, Architectural, Personal Computers, Speech Technology and Queue Management and that was just in my full-time roles.

In terms of functions I've been involved in Sales & Marketing, Import & Export, Logistics, Finance, Human Resources, R&D, Procurement, Manufacturing, General Management, Information Technology and Intellectual Property. But of all of these easily the most important in my view was brand management. I've been involved either in sales or marketing or general management or all three on 125 brands during that full time career which I wrote up in summary for my own purposes when I pulled out of full-time work and decided to develop a portfolio in 2007. But since then I've been involved in several other businesses in a non-executive capacity and in one of those businesses I was involved in mentoring some 30 very senior executives in a number of companies all of which have their own brands so the true number will be well over 150.

Brand management is the proven method of delivering value both to end users but also to owners and indeed suppliers. Even when retailers develop their own brands they are involved in brand management. They may communicate in a different way, and they may develop a much wider range of products, but Tesco own brand and Sainsbury own brand still stand for something and still have to be managed carefully and standards have to be maintained and if possible improved.

One aspect of brand management that some companies seem to find difficult is that of naming the product. A brand is of course much more than just a name and includes other aspects of communication such as pack design and advertising but at heart the choice of the name is very important. Many of the names of the brands that I have worked on have been established long before my own involvement and I was very rarely involved in changing a brand name.

However, in my time at Pedigree Petfoods when I was involved in a rather unflattering area of the company named Non-canned Brands as opposed to Canned, we faced significant challenges. The company’s major brands were nearly all canned including the leading brand of dog food which was at that time Pedigree Chum and the leading brand of cat food which at that time was Whiskas. These brands had been long established and were highly profitable and were supported by lesser but still important brands such as Pal and Bounce in dog food and Kitekat and Katkins in cat food. The markets were segmented by price and quality and these structures were well maintained. The brand management of them was pretty straightforward involving mainly shooting commercials.

However, on the Non-canned side of the business we operated with less well-established brands which were not brand leaders and were struggling to find points of distinction and to avoid the trap of being ‘me too’. One category was semi-moist dog food. Technology in petfood is all about how you handle the moisture. In a can that is straightforward as no water can enter in or escape from the product and so it is delivered to the home in a ready to serve format. With dry food such as biscuit there is very little moisture and so that product will also be delivered ready to serve even though it is in packaged form. We're all familiar with such human foods and it is very much the same for petfoods. If necessary the owner can add some moisture at the point of consumption. In between these two extremes of cans of fully moist product and dry product there is semi-moist where the moisture is maintained by chemicals.  The brand leader in this market was for many years a competitive brand Quaker Minced Morsels which had famous advertising featuring the celebrity chef Clement Freud with his bloodhound Henry. Our brand used the Bounce brand name, which had been established as a canned product, and was called Bounce Minced Dinner and I managed it. We had made an effort to establish a new type of semi-moist dog food which had the appearance of looking if not tasting like fillet steak. It was called Hap and had quite an expensive launch. However, the advertising went a little bit too far and claimed that not only did it look like but it also tasted like fillet steak which was clearly absurd. The TV personality Esther Rantzen in her hit TV series “That's Life” took the Mickey out of this over-claim by making a mock version of the advert using dogs at Battersea Dogs Home which when presented with Hap seemed somewhat unimpressed. This did massive damage to the brand from which it never recovered, and it was decided that under my management we would relaunch it under the Bounce name but that didn't work either.

In my experience changing names is a difficult task and should largely be avoided. Pedigree Petfoods is part of Mars Incorporated, the largest private corporation in the world. In the UK they had very successful chocolate brands which all adopted the same technique, This had first been established with the famous Mars bar with a tasty centre enrobed with milk chocolate. One example of this was the Marathon bar, based on the US product Snickers. When Chris Brasher established the London Marathon the Marathon bar seemed like the perfect sponsor and so it proved as Chris told me years later when we worked together on his Brasher boots. However, the Corporation decided to consolidate its brands on a global basis. UK management was forced to rebrand Marathon as Snickers and of course the sponsorship was no longer appropriate. Sales suffered badly as UK consumers found the naming odd. It sounded too much like sniggers, which is defined in my dictionary as a sly and disrespectful laugh.

There are countless such examples of rebranding that goes wrong. A famous example is Royal Mail. In an effort to compete with mail companies with brandlike names such as FedEx and UPS, in 2001 Britain's post office made the risky marketing decision to change its name from the hallowed Royal Mail — in use since it was first made available to the public by Charles I in 1635 — to the made-up Consignia. The post office's chief executive, John Roberts, called the new moniker "modern, meaningful and entirely appropriate," explaining that "the new name describes the full scope of what the post office does in a way that the words post and office cannot." A bewildered public, quite comfortable with the definitions of the words post and office, disagreed. A year later the company changed back. However, they are in the process of changing it again.

Perhaps sensitive about the bad publicity Facebook continually gets and also perhaps thinking that his company was now more than just one form of social media, Mark Zuckerberg decided that Facebook should be known as Meta in the autumn of 2021. The shares promptly fell from $370 to only $100 although they have recovered somewhat, they've not yet got back to the previous highs. When Standard Life Aberdeen, which had merged two of the best-known brands in Scottish finance most bizarrely renamed it as Abrdn PLC, the name both without history as well as vowels, the shares were north of 250p then and today are less than 170p. Elon Musk is clearly a highly successful businessman, but he does seem somewhat eccentric in some of his decision making. His rebranding of Twitter, which though irritating was extremely well known, to something now known as X which means nothing at all has led to a loss of a substantial part of its valuation.

One particularly strange name development if not strictly a name change was carried out by Kellogg's. It recently demerged with the expectation that this would unlock benefit value for shareholders. In general carving out successful units into stand-alone companies usually increases overall returns. The newly separate business is more focused, has its own dedicated management team and perhaps may be more attractive to a bidder because it is smaller and cheaper. However, when this particular demerger took place the market reacted badly. The new company owns well-known brands such as Pringles, Cheez-It and Pop-Tarts but immediately fell by 7% from the issue price and continued to decline. There might be other reasons but the main one from my point of view was they came up with a bizarre name for the new company. They took the “Kell” from the parent company Kellogg's and added Nova from the Latin word for new and came up with Kellanova which sounds like something from science fiction.

But these issues are not only limited to rebranding but also the way that advertising slogans can be developed. Some slogans have stood the test of time so well that they enter colloquial language. One famous one for people of my generation was “Guinness is Good for You” which some people might today think is politically incorrect. However, my mother suffered from a shortage of iron in her blood and our GP recommended for her to drink Guinness on a regular basis as a way of increasing her intake of iron. Another popular beer is Heineken. “Heineken Refreshes the Parts Other Beers Cannot Reach” was written by Terry Lovelock in 1973, when he was a copywriter at the Collett Dickenson Pearce ad agency. What has possessed them to come up with “Open Your World”? Stella Artois, a similarly popular global brand of beer, just says “Be Legacy.”

This madness is not just confined to beers. Champagne is arguably the best generic brand in history but some of its leaders have caught the disease. Dom Perignon says “Creative Freedom is Power” while not to be outdone Lanson claims “it's All About Love!”, which just reminds me of The Beatles.

Car manufacturers are in on the act. “Live Brilliant” yells Hyundai. “Your Toyota is My Toyota” asserts Toyota which could be a threat of repossession. Lexus has come up with “Experience Amazing” and though not a car firm but still in the travel business Deliveroo says “Eat More Amazing” which doesn't stand any kind of analysis because Deliveroo’s point of difference if it has one is not in the product it delivers. Hewlett Packard says “Let's Do Amazing”. The brand manager in me wonders if today's brand managers still carry out research on the new claims their agencies are selling them. Some of the slogans out there are simply illiterate. “Find Your Happy” instructs Right Move while Tui the travel firm wants you to “Live Happy.” Another car firm Subaru shouts “Way of Life!” Hitachi’s “Inspire the Next” or the government of Abu Dhabi’s “Find Wonder” are not inspiring and are just found wanting.

There also is a trend to appeal to the narcissist in us all. A kind of lotion from Protan proclaims “It's All About Me!” TU asks you to "Be You With Tu” while Holiday Inn goes further with “Stay You”. I use my Amex card for various reasons but none of them is to “Keep Being You” it's latest slogan. In the same lane comes Diet Coke with “You Do You”. Jack Daniels go somewhat higher with “Be the Best Version of You” and again while I don't drink bourbon I do occasionally drink whisky but it isn't for that reason. A brand that I nearly worked for and have always admired is Adidas but their latest statement “Impossible is Nothing” doesn't make any sense at all. Neville Johnson furniture manufacturers ask you to “Find your Fabulous”.  It seems to me that advertising slogans must be literate, sensible, and most of all have intelligent meaning.



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