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Break Through The Bottleneck

After months in development, the new product is ready for worldwide launch. The product manager tells the creative team to use a picture of a globe. "But our brand is about what we do for people. Our brand guidelines specify images of humanity," the designer pleads. "I don't care. Use the globe," the product manager demands.

Unfortunately, there's always the need to balance business objectives with branding goals. Says the VP of Global Branding for a major commercial information data base company, "It's not that product managers ignore branding. They don't understand how to leverage it."

There are good reasons why some product managers misunderstand branding and its value. Managers are trained to show quick results, manage expenses, think in the short term. The career timetable of many in middle management can be the opposite of the time required to build a corporate brand. The full equity of a brand takes years to realize; a middle manager measures success in quarters.

Rather than be an obstacle to quarterly success, a carefully managed brand can be a long-term solution to short-term challenges. According to the VP of the database company, her solution is brand education. "Once they get it, they develop stronger value propositions and products because they are leveraging the full power of what the brand has built."

A better understanding of how the brand translates to business can make a difference in behavior, too. Product managers at a major cardiac device company sidestepped brand guidelines to name a new product based on personal hobbies, such as skiing. They felt that the product's technology mirrored slaloming. But the next generation of product managers followed the corporate brand strategy of celebrating the life-giving promise of their products and named their new product "Vigor."

Brand training that goes beyond communications is key to helping middle managers understanding the economic value of supporting their brand. Marketers and product managers at a leading medical device corporation learned the value of supporting their corporate brand over individual product brands through an original business game that offered a hypothetical budget to launch as many imaginary new products as possible while adding to the corporate brand equity bank. The game's winners weren't the product managers who tried to calculate how to win; it was the team that added to their corporate brand that launched the most new products.

A strong commitment to branding on the part of the corporation can often eliminate individual agendas in middle management. A senior brand strategist at a global financial services company says that his company's commitment to brand strategy has a lot to do with how a successful middle manager should behave. "It's hard to hide when you go off strategy. Self-interest can be very obvious if it leads to off-strategy tactics and wouldn't be a recipe for even short-term success."

Believing in the brand, following the guidelines and understanding the brand's role as a tool to achieve business objectives can help break through the middle management bottleneck. Here's a few tips to make your brand work to get your products to market faster, on budget, and beat the competition.

See branding as an investment and marketing as an expense.
Every dollar that's ever been spent on the brand adds leverageble equity to help launch new products, or associate brands with the parent company.

Follow brand standards to speed up success.
Guidelines help keep the creative process on track, which eliminates wasted time pursuing ideas that aren't "on brand."

Build the brand, don't erode it.
Launching a new brand without following corporate branding may solve immediate issues, but over time -even a short time- it can erode positive associations or create negative ones. Get the job done AND build the brand.

Celebrate the organization, not the individual.
Like the bricklayer who can point to a completed skyscraper and tell his child he built the building, you are contributing to the overall success of the company when you stay on brand.

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