Branding Amidst Bailouts

Economic forces are playing havoc with some of the most trusted brands in the global marketplace. For many of you, it’s simply about maintenance. For some, it’s about survival. It’s safe to say that the internet-economy of the most recent millennium over saturated consumer and business marketplaces with obscure and hollow brand promises. This was a fun ride for many in the IPO business, but those of you that considered yourselves branding fundamentalists were likely dismissed very quickly when you asked your C-suite questions like “who are we” and “what does our brand represent?”

Today, those with the most reputable brands have a distinct competitive advantage as it relates to wooing potential suitors, getting financial support, getting acquired, and/or surviving in general. Lehman vs. Merrill courting BoA; Yahoo vs. AOL courting Microsoft; the list over the last 10 months is too lengthy to document in this blog. The obvious metrics associated with corporate health and viability are conspicuously financial.

The not so obvious metrics in the underwriting or M&A due diligence areas are related to branding. I don’t want to start a debate on the definition of the term, but it remains my opinion that a company’s brand includes all the intangible, visual and emotional perceptions and realities the firm yields to stakeholder audiences. I like to include the brand promise, the brand markings, and the brand perceptions in this bucket. In the mainstream marketing and advertising media, all you typically hear about is brand equity, and how valuable the Coca-Cola, etc. brand is. But so too is the brand promise, brand positioning, and brand personality. If you don’t have these brand elements documented, you may want to do so. And if the net result of your brand assessment is negative – internally or externally – then you have yet another obstacle to hurdle during this recession. Whether your brand is perceived positively, negatively or indifferently, there remain a few areas to address during any economic climate to preserve your brand:

Protect your brand components: Trademarks, service marks, domains and copyrights are invaluable. Audit your brand “protection” annually.

Practice brand continuity and consistency: Develop and have employees, vendors and partners use your approved brand standards handbook.

Evolve your brand: Your brand should be created with the idea that your firm will grow and evolve over time. As such your brand treatment, promise and hierarchies should evolve logically and cleanly. If you plan on being in business for the long term, your brand will change over time with or without you. For those of you in established enterprises, think about how your brand has changed in just the last five years – I know, it’s crazy when you really think about it. With your direct participation, you can shape and mold your brand to your/your company’s liking by simply being proactive and applying branding best practices. Do nothing and your brand (and your company) run the risk of evolving into something unrecognizable and completely off-message.