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Brand Threats

February 15th, 2018

What’s wrong with your brand becoming synonymous with the category? If everybody is asking for your product by name, isn’t that good?

Yes, up to a point. When buyers can no longer discern your product from its competitors, however, you’ve become a commodity. And price becomes the motivator for purchase. You’ve lost the ability to command a premium price or secure a primary stocking position.

What can you do?

Of course, you promote your brand. (What else do you expect from someone who makes their living in advertising?)

But seriously, even in an age of one-to-one communication, social media, e-mail, guerrilla marketing, etc., nothing replaces the power of broad reach media to cement your brand image and communicate its value. Because when it comes to protecting your brand, you’re not just talking to customers and prospects. You need to communicate with the whole wide world of influencers – journalists, store clerks, Amazon reviewers, casual passers-by, neighbors of your customers, customers who choose another brand, even your competitors. (Try reaching all of them with an Instagram post.)

You have to take every opportunity to promote your brand – its name, its color, its shape – anything that defines your product as your brand. It’s the most valuable asset you have.

For years, I thought an Allen wrench was any old hex key. Crescent wrenches were any adjustable wrench that had that little wheel on it. Sheetrock was that stuff that had to be patched after you took down the shelves.

It turns out, they were all brand names. (They still are, but hardly anyone knows it.) This became very important to me when I was a writer and creative director on the VISE-GRIP® Tools account. This company was militant about their trademark, and I had to be too. Fact is, everybody was prone to call any locking pliers a vise-grip. This led to one of my all-time favorite trademark protection ad headlines: “Our tools can withstand rough treatment. Our trademark cannot.”

As the writer, I had this beaten into my skull: brand first, product features second. And with good reason. Without the brand name, it was just a pair of pliers that couldn’t command more than $5.00 at retail. VISE-GRIP® Locking Tools™ list for $20.00 or more. (The client took this to an extreme, requiring us to use all-caps and circle R in every instance, even in the video direction portion of a TV script.)

If this seems a bit extreme, ask yourself this – What is a Lexus, other than a Toyota with an ad budget? Brands give products their value. The marketing landscape is littered with brands that lost the battle – Aspirin, Dry Ice, Laundromat – and brands that are fighting a losing battle for their own name – Jacuzzi, Popsicle, Dumpster, just to name a few.

What’s the value of your brand? How well protected is it against threats? Don’t think of how much you spend to promote your brand; think of how much you invest in keeping your brand strong – and your prime position on the retail shelf.

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