Although it has become somewhat of a fad amongst companies, co-branding is a way for businesses to extend their brand’s identity and cut expenses by partnering with compatible products and services. For instance, Tropicana and Chiquita have made numerous fruit juice concoctions by blending their respective specialty flavors. And Betty Crocker uses real Hershey’s chocolate in their brownie mix. And financial companies have even jumped on the bandwagon. A slew of credit card companies has-been teaming up with retailers to offer co-branded items such as the L.L. Bean credit card.
On the Web, co-branding, or what is better known as strategic relationships, are rampant. Besides content swaps, companies invite branded products and services to be sold from their sites in what are known as affiliate programs.
Co-branding works because it creates new excitement for the brands involved. One brand teams with another to offer a product with an enhanced (or seemingly so) benefit. However, before you jump into a co-branded relationship, ask yourself if the excitement that the deal will bring will build the brand or sabotage it. Sometimes a co-branding strategy isn’t as advantageous as it may seem, particularly for small companies that oftentimes get overshadowed by larger partners. The larger company receives the added benefits from the smaller company’s product, but the smaller company’s brand doesn’t really receive much attention.
Check that your potential partner is not only compatible with your product but also that it won’t eclipse your own brand. For instance, Intel’s Pentium Processor campaign has-been so successful that many computer buyers don’t care whether they have an IBM or Hewlett-Packard or Dell computer. Instead, their question is, “Does it have Intel inside?” In fact, Intel has been so successful at marketing their brand that the industry now benchmarks the performance of other semiconductor chips based on Pentium by calling them Pentium-like Processors.
No two brands have exactly the same impact on the consumer. Therefore, one partner in every co-branding partnership will receive more attention than its counterpart. If that risk is accurately assessed and accepted by the junior partner and it’s still a net gain for its brand identity, then the partnership is sound.
B. Identity Contact
Identity contact is the sum total of all information and experiences that a customer or prospect has with a brand. As you can imagine, there are many different ways that a customer can have contact with a brand in such a way that it communicates his or her identity.
“It’s the marketing team’s job to prioritize identity contacts and to judge how they might contribute to the brand’s identity, and in what way they are relevant to the realities of the consumer’s everyday life,” writes Upshaw.
For example, if a software company comes up with a new version of one of its programs, more can be done than just change a copy strategy and run new advertising; nearly all of the brand identity contacts can be manipulated to increase emphasis on the new functions of the software. For example:
• The product’s packaging can be reprinted so that bursts highlighting a “New” or “Improved” version of the program.
• Store salespeople can wear pins alerting customers to ask them about the new software features.
• Support staff can tell current users that there is a new version available when they call for help or service on the older version of the software.
• The company can highlight the new product at trade shows or conventions.
• A press release can be generated about how programs need to keep pace with the demands of the workplace and provide proper functionality.
Identity contacts are important because they can set a tone for subsequent contacts with the company and the brand. GM’s Saturn is one brand that has been able to establish the commitment of the brand before a customer even walks into the showroom.” Saturn said, ‘We are not going to sell the car; we are going to sell the company’s brand,'” says Kosgrove. “They say ‘We are a different kind of car company, and we are going to prove it.’ They do that by making sure that every point of contact with a customer is going to be completely different. When a customer enters the showroom, they see people in matching polo shirts rather than suits, and the showroom itself is clean and friendly, not slick. And when there is a service problem, they give coffee and doughnuts to the people when they come in, instead of being crabby with them and making them wait.”
The result, says Kosgrove, is that the brand is known as just what they said it was — “A Different Kind of Car Company”— even though they are still selling the same products that every other car company is.
Grassroots marketing is a form of branding that has really hit its stride in the last few years. Sponsorships of everything from local baseball teams to non-mainstream musical events have been sought by marketers looking to carry their brands into the customer’s backyard.
Vans, a shoe company in Santa Fe Springs, Calif., has led the way in sponsoring events that their younger customers care about. The sneaker company has become synonymous with alternative sports by hosting events in the skateboarding, BMX biking and snow boarding categories. Besides just sporting events, events where shoes are a prerequisite, the company has done well stepping into other areas of their customers’ lifestyles. Vans sponsors the very popular alternative Warped Tour, an alternative music festival that combines other types of cutting-edge live entertainment. Last summer’s roving tour featured punk and “ska” bands as well as pro demos from skateboarders, in-line skaters, rock climbers and BMX bikers. In past years, the tour has also featured the Mega-Pump Climbing Wall Competition and Spike and Mike’s Festival of Animation.
Nantucket Nectars has also garnered fame by using grassroots promotion strategies. The juice company sponsors two Winnebagos to roam the countryside and entice consumers to become “juice guys.”
Smaller companies, while they may not have the budget to get involved with paying the gas and living expenses of sending two employees on a cross-country jaunt to spread the word about their brand, can easily sponsor community events. East Providence Cycle, a bike shop in East Providence, R.I., for instance, tune-up students’ bicycles on a local college campus to get them ready for the back-and-forth trips from the dorms to classes. The business also sets up makeshift service shops off area bike paths on sunny summer days.
“You want to look at what your customers care about,” says Kosgrove. “If you have a retail business in a neighborhood, you may want to focus on a charitable or community organization in your neighborhood and make a commitment to it so people understand that you are committed to the community. Ask yourself: What do my customers care about, and how can I get involved in those things?”
D. Word of Mouth
Whether it is planned or not, word of mouth is well worth the effort it takes to generate it. “Word of mouth is still considered the most potent marketing communication of all because it’s dispensed by the most credible sources of all — ordinary citizens who don’t carry a built-in bias of commercial sponsors,” writes Upshaw. “When your company is lucky enough to be the beneficiary of word of mouth, your identity problems may be over, and your capacity problems may just be beginning.”
Some of the better known beneficiaries of word of mouth phenomena: the Wii, the videogame system sensation of Christmas 2008 that sent parents into shopping frenzies, and Zhu Zhu Pets, the hot toy in 2009.
Snapple also hit it big when kids started passing the word about the delicious iced tea beverage. The company capitalized on that by highlighting the word of mouth phenomena in its television ads, going out to ask people who wrote to the company if their passion for Snapple was really true. In one memorable ad, the ex-Mayor of New York City, Ed Koch, visits a young fan from the Midwest to ask if he really believes that” Snapple is the only good thing to have come out of New York.”
For Web-based brands, word of mouth can work extremely well. For instance, the company US Wings, which sells genuine military jackets and gear, has never posted an advertisement online. Instead, the company has relied on word of mouth to promote its brand and Web site during its four-year history. The founder, Sergeant Dave Hack, says that by staying true to its mission, the company has been able to generate positive promotion on the Web. “We are selling something with quality and value. People are going to tell other people,” he says. “It snowballs, and you end up with something that is very positive.”
While it is difficult to intentionally generate a positive word of mouth branding strategy, it can be done if you have the right product and the right strategy. It also doesn’t hurt to have something extremely unique, be it the product or the promotional vehicle.
One word of caution: Brands that are propelled by word of mouth often run out of steam quickly since most tend to be just fads or trends. Competitors are also quick to duplicate the product or service being hyped. Once strong word of mouth is achieved, the company needs to convert the brand into something that will sustain the hype. For instance, after Snapple’s success, nearly every beverage company came out with their own line of iced tea — each one with a different gimmick, be it sun-brewed, spring-filtered, ginseng-fortified, or some other herbal concoction. After the onslaught of the copycat brands, the company’s earnings slid. Snapple was smart to sell its brand to the Quaker Company in 1994 for $1.7 million.