Brand Awareness

Back to Basics

Suddenly, branding isn't as much about generating buzz as it is about fundamentals. When Harpell surveyed marketing professionals and CEOs in February, she found generating leads, making sales and developing new channels were the new priorities, not branding. Only 19 percent listed branding among their top challenges. "People are starting to get it that it's not enough to get out and bang a gong as loudly as you can," Harpell says. "You have to have some meat behind the sizzle."

Companies are rediscovering direct mail, focus groups and customer surveys as ways to tap into customer tastes. But in a slowing economy, they need to connect with consumers on an emotional level, says Marc Gobé, CEO of New York City-based international brand consulting firm D/G* New York and author of Emotional Branding: The New Paradigm for Connecting Brands to People. "People are going to be more selective in what they buy, where they buy it and how they buy it," Gobé says. "There's a tremendous opportunity for [businesses] to stand out and demonstrate that they have a strong commitment to people."

Better hurry...your customers are waiting.

What's it like when everyone sees your logo and instantly knows who you are? Just ask Nike. The Nike Swoosh is immediately recognizable, and the company's slogan, "Just Do It," has become a part of the American lexicon. The power of its branding helped Nike sprint past the competition in the 1970s and '80s.

But even überbranders can stumble. Nike started losing its brand edge when it changed its focus in the 1990s from traditional athletics to more outdoorsy activities like hiking. Adidas and Reebok grabbed greater market share. Lesson #1: Be careful in changing brand identity.

Lesson #2: In the process of rebranding, Nike overbranded and seemed more focused on trendy celebrity marketing than on creating good, affordable shoes-and, consequently, priced shoes too high for most buyers.

Lesson #3: A well-known brand often becomes a target for consumer protest, as Nike found out a few years ago when it faced allegations regarding its foreign labor practices. "They've weathered it pretty well, but it's left a stain on their reputation," says Sheri Bridges, an associate professor of marketing at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. It may have affected Nike's bottom line, too. Nike announced in February that it wouldn't meet its latest sales projections, and it's refocusing on what it once did best: midpriced footwear.

Chris Penttila is Entrepreneur's "Staff Smarts" columnist.

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Chris Penttila is a Washington, DC-based freelance journalist who covers workplace issues on her blog,

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This article was originally published in the September 2001 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Brand Awareness.

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