The Value of Staying Focused and Taking a Stand

May 24, 2010   //   by Michael   //   Articles, Blog  //  Comments Off on The Value of Staying Focused and Taking a Stand

By Michael Tanenbaum

FocusThe job of a corporate branding initiative is two-fold: to provide focus and clarity to a client’s long-term strategy; and to position the client to stand for something in the minds of its customers. Our job, as a brand strategy firm, is to be the guide, build the foundation and fashion the tools that reveal the brand platform, provide the focus and inform the stance.

Be focused.

If you have a great product, focus on building it and selling it in the right places. Don’t expand too quickly. Your brand is your legacy and your reputation. Resist the temptation to expand with more varieties and flavors, prices and services across too many new markets.

When Steve Jobs returned to Apple in 1997, the company had a proliferation of over 15 product lines and models supporting a variety of price points and an R&D effort that was diversified far beyond their core computer business. The stock was under $13 per share. Jobs simplified the product line to three main product families, introduced the iMac, and slowly refocused the company. Thirteen years later, Apple is a $240 billion juggernaut, yet its brand platform is still based upon no more than five major product categories at any given time.

POM Wonderful makes pomegranate products high in anti-oxidants. They’ve kept a laser focus. Yum Yum Donuts is still in the fresh donut business after 40 years. They haven’t updated their formula because it still works. Inn-n-Out Burger sells savory burgers. It has retained virtually the same menu since 1948 — quality you can still trust.

By contrast, FIJI Water is known for selling expensive bottled water from the South Pacific. It was once a bastion of exclusivity with a tightly controlled distribution strategy and a unique positioning selling to a core demographic of the world’s best hotels, restaurants and spas. It can now be found in supermarkets and discount chains, and threatens to erode into commodity status. A more viable alternative for these new channels would be to spin off a lower-priced and differently-named brand with its own customer associations.

Two more counterexamples are Starbucks and Dell. Starbucks used to be in the designer coffee business. Now they sell music, a million varieties of food and other accessories — and cheap, instant Via coffee in every grocery store you can think of. Focus has given way to clutter. Dell used to be in the custom mail-order computer business. Nobody could touch them on price or quality. Now they sell generic commodity-priced laptops in mass retail chains. And their stock is in the toilet. Focus has given way to irrelevance.

Take a stand.

As consistently articulated rather eloquently by Guy Kawasaki, if you want to stand for something in your customer’s mind, then you can’t stand for everything. This is a mistake that many companies make.

The Macintosh is a polarizing computer. It was designed for typographers, graphic artists and design geeks for whom computers are not machines but extensions of their own fun, whimsical personalities. The Toyota Scion is a polarizing car. It was designed for 25-year-old adventurers with snowboards and a golden retriever, not 45-year-old mothers with four kids.

Some people will love your product and evangelize its benefits. Those are your customers.

Some people will hate it with a passion. Those are not your customers.

That’s far more preferable than people not caring about your product. Those will never bring you customers.

If you take a stand, if you innovate, some people will inevitably not like what you do.

So what?

Bill Bernbach, founder of the DDB ad agency, once said, “If you stand for something, you will always find some people for you and some against you. If you stand for nothing, you will find nobody against you and nobody for you.”

Don’t establish a mediocre brand just because you want to reach as many customers as possible. Stay focused. And take a stand.

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