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South Fallsburg, NY…Pomegranate, the upscale kosher grocery in Flatbush, has found a new way to brand its products even while most of its customers are on vacation, the majority in the Catskill Mountains. In full page ads in several Anglo-Jewish newspapers, the store announced that its products would be displayed in three locations in the Catskills. At Landau’s in South Fallsburg, a Pomegranate showcase just at the entrance of the store features a full assortment of dips, salads, and cold cuts. A store official said that the Pomegranate display would soon include some of its acclaimed cuts of meat. Other Pomegranate displays are located in Crunchies in Center 1 in Woodridge and at Dougie’s in Woodbourne. For Pomegranate, the Catskills outposts allow it to make up for some of the lost business in the summer while continuing to brand the store’s upscale image. For the stores carrying the Pomegranate line, it offers them a cut from a proven seller. In Landau’s, whose Boro Park store was one of the pioneers in offering gourmet kosher foods, the Pomegranate display was virtually depleted right after the weekend. Pomegranate had pledged to replenish the showcase once a week.
I read with interest several articles and comments by marketing executives who were assigned the task of branding British Petroleum (BP). There seems to be a sense of betrayal and disillusionment that a brand that they thought could never fail actually let them down. It seems that many marketing executives look at branding as more than a professional exercise. It isn’t just that they built a brand that was highly successful economically. It is an affirmation of perfection and even of doing good for the broader society. BP no doubt touted its multi-faceted programs at helping communities, the environment, cleaner energy, and helping the disadvantaged, all of which made the marketing professionals look good as well.
The stakes for the marketer in a branding effort are extremely high, particularly if the brand becomes a national and international icon. Those who worked on Exxon prior to its disaster and more recently on BP are asking themselves how they could possibly protect themselves from a brand that falls from the highest summit.
If you think that this discussion is well out of reach of common everyday business practices, think again. As marketers, we are always subject to the assurances of the client despite our own due diligence that their product or service is brand-worthy. In fact, many agencies today demand proof about a claim of a product’s quality. The fact that they will be paid well may not be enough to persuade the agencies to take on the account. They may be concerned about the long-term viability of the brand, but they will also want to be assured that the brand will live up to its name.
The power of branding is such that it is much more than a name, symbol, or logo. Customers actually become emotionally attached to the extent that they really do wear it on their sleeves. Wearing a brand is to many consumers not an ancillary item. It becomes very much a part of their persona. They really do take “you are what you wear” to a different level. But oddly this emotional attachment is not reserved for customers only. Officials at marketing agencies become equally as attached. Working on a brand account is somehow not only a sign of success, but it also becomes part of their persona.
So whether it was Exxon, BP, Toyota or Tylenol, the professionals working on branding pondered the key question of “how could it have happened?” Mistakes and accidents are simply not supposed to be a part of the branding effort, which is what makes them the brand. But as we have all learned in the recent past, brands are not invincible and when they fall it is from a much higher plain.
But brands are said to have yet another advantage which is why they are so coveted. They most often have the ability to recover when other products and services faced with the same calamity simply fold. BP presumably designated $20 billion for amongst other things compensation and damages to people living in the Gulf area. It obvious takes a BP to commit that kind of money to survive, but not only to survive, to resurface with the brand intact.
Over the past half century, several airlines have either had to fold, merge, or change their names after an accident. Safety is so paramount in the psyche of consumers that recovery is difficult unless the public is lead to believe that the brand is no longer a factor, one way or another. Or, as Tylenol did when its product was tampered with, create a tamper-proof bottle to essentially promise consumers that the calamity cannot repeat itself.
It will take a lot more than the $20 billion for BP to prove that they have taken the necessary steps to assure the public that an off-shore drilling accident like what happened in the Gulf of Mexico will never happen again. Toyota is still busy trying to convince its customer base that its automobiles are safe. They are on an intense campaign to convince the public that gas pedals will not accelerate on their own and that brakes will stop when prompted.
Marketers agree that the public expects nothing short of perfection when it comes to brands. The professionals too want to feel that they are working on a product that exudes success. It is perhaps the dream of many entrepreneurs to develop a product that turns out to be a brand. Needless to say, the rewards can be enormous.
In the late ‘90’s a young man with an electronic testing gadget for physicians (and for home use) was convinced that he had the ultimate new product. He had an exclusive with the producers in Asia and had managed to raise a considerable amount of capital to market the product. As a first step, I suggested distributing the product (retailing at $249) to at least 10 physicians to make sure that the product lived up to its hype. The entrepreneur thought that it was a waste of time since it already had been tested and marketed in Belgium. He wanted this gadget to become a national brand or the “next Apple,” as he termed it. Seven out of the 10 physicians reported problems with the device including not working properly in sunlight. Needless to say, his dream fizzled. Like the marketers involved with BP, I was glad that I did not become emotionally involved with a product and potentially a brand that was less than perfect.