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  Brand Driving School
  By Jean-Claude Saade
 
Big and Small
Size does really matter for brands and businesses from different aspects especially when it comes to areas like global reach, financial clout, and large pool of talent. However, we have strong reasons to believe that at the core nerve center and driving seat of the brand things would look very much the same.

The opposite hypothesis is most probably a recipe for confusion and lost focus that will lead to poor business and brand performance. The market will give us plenty of examples every day on big brands and large corporations which spirit was diluted by their size. Both small and big brands will present their advantages and disadvantages that are very important to take into consideration when looking at each case by case.

Small Brands—Fresh Opportunities: A new brand is naturally running the high risk of being new to the market and to mind and during the initial phase the majority of new brands will fail to click in the consumer mind or will not manage to survive the financial strain of the take-off. This is an intrinsic part of the game. On the other hand, new brands can benefit from having a fresh start and a new and differentiated offering to address consumer needs with no previous perception baggage. Usually when a brand is still closer to its cradle, its inventor and roots the whole brand world would look crisper and sharper in the way it is presented and what it is adding to the category and the market. New brands will have the natural advantage of "novelty attraction" which is best used while it lasts to boost the brand take-off.

Big Brands—Big Challenges: The very prime objective of business; brands and companies aim to be successful. The most desired success will bring growth and expansion (to sell more, to reach more countries and more people and eventually become a global brand). With growth and expansion come a series of drawbacks that could be magnified by internal and external factors namely the lack of clear and appealing brand strategy. From this particular angle, big brands face bigger possibilities for the "lost of purpose" syndrome that can take the brand into different directions; however, successful ones manage to evolve with time while staying true to their genes and spirit.

Brand Driving School
To attempt solving the problem of brands loosing focus along the growth path we will use the simple analogy of the driving school where "drivers" are given some theoretical and practical training before sitting behind the wheel. Some of these basic advices should be kept for life.

This reminds me of simple analogy that I keep using with colleagues and clients. "Whether it is a Volkswagen Polo or Freightliner trailer, there is always a driving seat, a steering wheel, and a dashboard."

A very similar process applies when it comes to brands; some basic rules for driving brands for success would remain the same regardless of the brand size, age or field of activity. Whether it is a is a new apparel brand with a couple of years in its account, a 15-year-old communications brand or a 100-year-old automotive brand, the basic rules for brand driving are the same.

Once these basic rules are perfected, each brand would need a unique set of skills and platforms to keep delivering on its promise to consumers every time and over time.

In other words, driving a brand for success follows the same underlying guiding principles whatever was the brand; but when it comes to more complex phases of brand management each brand and each case will require a specific set of skills, systems and know-how that answers a specific consumer need in a well defined category.

The First Driving Lesson—Brand Driving 101

Before we get to the "brand driving test" in this special driving school; one basic first lesson that we need you to always remember; especially when your brand and business size becomes 100 or 1,000 times what it is right now.

When you first sit behind the wheel, three main things will need to be checked before even starting the drive. These are the very basic elements that any brand no matter how small or big; new or old need to have. Without these three P's, any brand will be looking at a very short stand in the market and in the memory.

These three basic elements are:

  1. Clear Point of View and vision to the world, the market and the consumers.
  2. Clear Personality, self-awareness, and role in the specific context of the previous point.
  3. Clear Proposition to consumers/customers that is the base for long term connection and relationship
After checking and making sure that these three elements are in place and well functioning we can start the "brand drive." Here are the main rules and hope you will pass the test and have your license.
  1. Keep close sight on the road. Know when and where you are taking the brand.
  2. Hands on the steering wheel. Keep a close control on the path you are taking and how you want to deal with it. (What kind of driving style.)
  3. Keep monitoring the meters on the instrument panel in the dashboard. Have updated market and consumer information on how your brand is performing in the market and in consumers' minds compared with the competition.
  4. Regularly check on your competitors ahead of you or in the rear-view mirror to be aware of where they are and how this is going to affect your driving decisions.
  5. From time to time you can put some nice music and open the window to get fresh air… ?
If all the above are performed without mistakes you are ready to receive your "brand driving license." The rest is up to you: the skills, the marketing knowledge and techniques, the learnings and the people you mange to rally around you in order to grow the brand and the business. Your marketing instinct can still save you from dangerous accidents.

On the Market Roads
Now that we know the basic rules to get the "brand driving license" we wish we had some kind of "brand police" that can suspend licenses if major infractions and mistakes are done. If that police exists many to managers would have their licenses canceled with and extra large fine.

However, no need for a "brand police"—the market dynamics and immune system has created the necessary defense mechanisms to deal with the cases which are not respecting the natural market dynamics. Brands and businesses that do not follow the basic rules are doomed to suffer and vanish. Some will disappear very quickly and some will drag for years.

As a final word, you can either take our advice and follow the basic rules to drive your brand for success or eventually go and hire an expensive international consultancy that will, most probably, package very much the same advices in a fancy report with a very fat bill.

With all scenarios, we wish you a pleasant and safe drive. Enjoy it.

________________
Jean-Claude Saade is a brand strategist living and working in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

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