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Sometimes your brand can't be saved and you need to take a different approach instead. Here's a very big example

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The “Many practitioners assert that differentiation is the key factor” (in brand success). “Others maintain that salience is uppermost during critical purchase moments, while a significant group believes that great marketing builds positive consumer sentiment by delivering on a meaningful brand promise.” Kantar Millward Brown

Here’s a question, then. What happens if a brand has no easily expressed differentiation, no salience with its important audiences and no meaningful brand promise?

It dies, right? The competition takes its market share and it ceases to exist.

It's highly likely that, in your market sector, the above is true. For example, last week I conducted what (clients stated to be) a highly successful branding workshop for a company in the High Street leisure sector. The aim was to develop a stronger ‘meaningful brand promise’, based on learnings regarding what people already liked about the product, and what we thought could be beefed up in response.

By doing so we hoped to achieve more of the differentiation mentioned above, and to provide a foundation for communication activity to increase salience. Without doing so, the offer risked not being attractive enough to survive.

I’ve done this sort of work hundreds of times now. Worthwhile, necessary, & likely to succeed if done properly and followed through. 

Last Tuesday however, I went to a discussion panel on a brand I use every day, out of historic choice, which has millions of other users and yet found myself agreeing with many others there that the brand needs to be disposed of completely and not replaced.

It was the Business Insider seminar on the East Midlands. We heard from two panels including people representing Nottinghamshire, the city of Nottingham, Lincolnshire, Rolls-Royce, the city of Leicester and Prof Paul Forrest from the Midlands Economic Forum.

Being born in Nottingham and raised/resident in Leicestershire, I live here by choice and effectively consume the East Midlands as a product every day. However the evidence was overwhelming that as a brand the whole regional label is unnecessary, unhelpful, hasn’t helped in the past and is not fit for purpose going forward.

For example, a while back Nottingham East Midlands airport was renamed to remove the “Nottingham”, largely for political reasons but not entirely, (to be fair, it’s actually in Leicestershire). Result: now most potential foreign customers have no idea where it might be. Nottingham is world-famous for obvious reasons. ‘Common sense’ has thus resulted in a weaker brand identity.

So, we were in a funny situation in the seminar. The panellists largely represented individual ‘brands’, cities and counties - all part of a conglomerate brand which is actually weaker than they are individually.

In most market sectors, this would spell doom. But obviously a physical region of the country cannot vanish.

In fact, the East Midlands is flourishing. In terms of economic confidence, which in the UK we express in terms of something called the Purchasing Managers Index, it was the second most robust region in the whole country in April. It contains world-famous locations (Nottingham, Leicester) and world-famous brands and products (like Triumph motorcycles, Melton Mowbray pork pies, Rolls-Royce, Robin Hood and Richard III). Output growth is at a 15 month high and growth in new orders are just rising continuously.

What would branding consultants advise? Come up with some new way of describing all of this perhaps? Rebrand, as something totally new – the Robin and Richard Region?

Could do. Or, in an increasingly global environment, we could do the correct thing and think bigger.

The only UK region with a better PMI score and better order growth is… the West Midlands.

In fact, the overall English Midlands, also including Birmingham, Coventry and tourist friendly Stratford, boasts over 40 global brands in total. Sweden has five.

Interesting. Now, the government recently launched the concept of a UK “Midlands Engine” which got a lot of stick at the time, not least because they had previously promised a Northern Powerhouse to link together the great flat-cap cities like Leeds and Manchester.

Our informed panellists actually thought the Midlands Engine not only fairly credible as a brand description (look at those growth figures, Leeds and Manchester) but that The Midlands was just about the smallest entity, within the UK, that people in India, China and the States would consider worth bothering to remember these days. After all, the Midlands has a population of 11 million. This puts it on the same level as China’s Shantou metropolitan area - they have 13 bigger than that, one of which is four times the size.

So, it looks like I now live in the Midlands, and our externally facing brand is the Midlands Engine.

Sounds good to me. Is there a broader point here? Maybe you have a large repertoire of brands, in your company. Is it worth considering scaling up and cutting out some of the dead wood in the same way? I once visited a building products company whose marketing manager told me she “had 72 brands” for which she was responsible. I’m willing to bet there was more than one East Midlands in there…

More information

Business Insider seminars are worth a look, usually

Monday 22nd May 2017

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