Sunday, September 27, 2009

Branding Essentials: Why Do You Need A Strong Slogan?

Today is Brand Critical's second birthday!!! Happy year two BC! I apologize the entries over the past few months have been more scattered than regular, but that's what happens when you work long hours and have had 14+ hours of travel every week. Luckily I'm on a new assignment and am spending fewer hours running through airports. Whew! In the meantime, I've been gathering some topics recently to help make up for my absence and hope they'll be of interest...including this entry on one of the key elements of an integrated brand identity.

In case your memory needs a jogger, an integrated brand identity contains three basics: a name, a logo, and a slogan and today I want to discuss the third of these. In the world of branding, the slogan is generally used as the positioning factor. Its purpose is to convey your brand promise to the customer. And since each of us is exposed to millions of messages every day (whether or not we decide to pay attention to them), our brand's tag line needs to be clearly understood to avoid any confusion or misinterpretation.

When you look at a brand from inception, all three elements are generally present. However, for some reason the slogan is the one that's the most difficult to pin down as a constant thread (i.e. as the name and logo remain the same the slogan doesn't). Why? The reason is fairly simple. Sometimes (OK, often) brand managers find themselves in a position where their ad agencies want to change their slogan to fit each new, flashy ad campaign whim (Are the brand manager warning bells should be going off in your head yet?). Since they are the advertising experts, why should you resist? I'll give you some good reasons...

When you change a brand’s slogan too often, customers start to get confused or think you’re hiding something. Inconsistency can be extremely destructive to a brand. You wouldn’t go and change your logo or name every two years (or less), so why do the same with a slogan? You don't want to give your customer the impression you're wishy-washy. Sure there are some factors that would require the creation of a new slogan. But these aren't things that happen every day. (Some reasons would include your competition (or market) has changed, your potential customer needs to be re-educated due to a major product quality issue, etc.). Get the picture?

Max Sutherland, author of "Advertising and the Mind of the Consumer: What Works, What Doesn't, and Why" summarized that most brand names, being only one or two words, can't stand alone as compressed communication. As a result, the brand slogan plays a key role and the usage of this slogan should be disciplined. "Discipline means keeping sight of the need for each message to reinforce previous messages and to reinforce the prĂ©cis of the brand’s DNA...(it) should not change. If it does, then pretty soon the brand loses sight of its own essence. Buyers get confused and wonder does the brand truly stands for anything if it keeps switching?"

Now we come to the example of a brand possessing two strong elements and one that is a little bit fuzzy. Ford is the perfect example of a brand with a strong name and impactful logo. However, it seems to have struggled over the years to come up with (and stick to) a meaningful and lasting slogan. You may ask why it really needs one seeing that Ford has such great brand recognition even though it has changed its slogan numerous times. In fact, if you see the Ford name or the Blue Oval on anything you think cars, don't you? The reason Ford needs a strong slogan is due to three major factors occurring today:
  1. Its industry is in tumoil
  2. Overall Americans have become disenchanted with American automobiles
  3. Although Ford currently has quality topping its major competitors it still needs to sell itself to the many disbelievers out there

A couple of months ago the Detroit Free Press ran an article claiming "Americans are buying Fords: 'Drive One' slogan isn't connecting with public." In it, Art Spinella (President of CNW Marketing Research, Inc) said of Ford's most recent slogan: "The Drive One campaign is so amorphous that it doesn't mean anything." This isn't surprising seeing that the company seems to have changed it's bread-and-butter brand's slogan every couple of years:

  • Bold Moves.
  • Built for the road ahead.
  • Designed for living. Engineered to last.
  • Have you driven a Ford lately?
  • Drive One.
  • Feel the difference.
  • Built Ford Tough. (Generally consistent with their truck products, not the entire brand)

For a brand with such a rich history and great products it’s difficult to understand why no one’s created a strong, lasting slogan that fits the brand’s image. Why not come up with something that will last more than a couple of years – say something that follows the brand at least into the next couple of decades? Something that truly stands for what the brand is about and plans to be in the future? Other major companies have successfully used their slogans for 20+ years (and psst, of them is a fellow automaker):

  • "Just Do It." (1988)
  • "The Ultimate Driving Machine." (1975)