In New York, August means one thing: hot. And not just hot, but sticky, stinky, humidity-you-can-swim-through hot. It changes the city. Some people skip town. Many stay and try to live their everyday New York lives. But we can’t: When it’s 99 degrees in the shade and just walking outside means sweating through clothes, something happens to New Yorkers. We begin to s-l-o-w d-o-w-n.
No need to run for the subway when another one is coming. Nobody is sprinting to meetings; some days we can barely walk. And something happens when we can take our time: We learn to be a little patient.
Patience. That’s a virtue that seems to be from another time and place. It’s not something we talk about or consider very often, but time can often be the best teacher. Much of our work can benefit from a little space. And some big, long-term marketing goals, like building brands, require patience.
Building a brand is creating value in the minds of the target audience and keeping it there. Forcing immediate results can easily distract from this mission. The more brands change in the eyes of their consumers, the less valued they become. The need for speed — to be first to market or get a consumer to buy, try, act now — may be a little short-sighted. In The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding, Al Ries and Laura Ries name “Time” as one of their laws, saying, “There is no automatic advantage to being the first mover in a category unless you can make effective use of the extra time to work your way into the prospect’s mind.”
It’s not about getting there first; it’s about getting there right and staying there. It’s about making consumers believe. So, even if a competitor is already out of the gate, a product or service can still create meaning with a strategy that focuses on what makes it unique, provided that the difference is of value to the consumer.
Intrinsically, we know this because we’re all consumers. Brand messages resonate when they answer a need and do so authentically and continually. It took decades for Volvo to mean safety and Nike to mean “Just Do It.” Google wasn’t the first search engine, but it’s now inseparable from online search. Now we “Google.” It’s more than a tagline, it’s a verb; in the consumer’s mind the brand becomes synonymous with everything the product or service does.
One brand that has recently found its way again after floundering for decades is Sears. The one-time home of Toughskins and power tools had slowly faded from consumer consciousness, and Sears’ “softer side” never delivered meaning to consumers. Today Sears is experiencing a comeback. Through a product placement and advertising partnership with ABC’s “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition,” the brand is now positioned as the “good guy” in home appliances and hardware. Craftsmen tools and Kenmore appliances once again equate to quality and value for American families.
The retailer’s integrated campaign has systematically extended from “Extreme Makeover” and often features the show’s host, the dedicated carpenter and resident bleeding heart, Ty Pennington, as its pitchman. As a sign that the company has gotten it right, Ty received “the highest positive influence rating score” in a recent study of celebrity endorsers by NPD Group. According to NPD’s May 2006 Insight newsletter, one in three consumers are more likely to buy a product he endorses. When you’re Sears, having an adorable and approachable carpenter use your tools makes for an authentic brand fit that resonates with consumers.
No, it doesn’t take years of false starts to build a brand. And patience doesn’t mean waiting around for a program or campaign to work that is never going to. But you can afford to be patient when you’ve gotten it right. To get to that point, take the time to understand what is being sold and who is buying it.
A successful brand strategy takes the consumer, the product, and the marketplace into consideration. A brand plan sets the brand apart from competitors while being credible, consistent and built for the long term.
Without a plan — or with a plan that isn’t believed by consumers — a brand’s reputation is at risk. When building a brand or facing other big objectives, sweating won’t help, but something else will. Patience, you see, is still a virtue.
Jean Brandolini Lamb is a director of brand strategy for WPP’s Enterprise IG, a global brand agency. (firstname.lastname@example.org)