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08.02.2012How to Score Big Branding Wins

Big brand success is built on meaningful product or service innovation.


Jerry McLaughlin, Forbes.com

The other week, I exchanged emails with a reader in Atlanta who has worked himself into a tough spot.  He has invested his savings and a couple of years of his life into building a mobile phone application that people are not yet using in the numbers he needs to turn a profit.  He feels he is running out of money, time, and maybe enthusiasm.  He wrote privately for advice.  I hope I helped.

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His problem illuminates the difficult truth about all branding efforts, everywhere.  As I wrote in my last piece, however good we are as branders, the product or service is the source of the power.  A brand builder cannot open customers’ wallets with an unexciting product or service—except perhaps briefly, by overpromising, which no professional wants to do.

In that way, brand builders are a little bit like doctors.  Part scientist, part artist, we can achieve impressive results, when the circumstances give us a fighting chance.  But like a doctor, we can’t just change the underlying facts. Branding has no miracle cure for me-too products and services.

Worse still, innovation is a hits business.  There is no failsafe formula for creating an exciting new product or service. Sometimes you nail it.  Most times you don’t.  Only those who can stay resilient in the face of repeated failure stand a chance.  Thomas Edison tried one failed light bulb design after another—his famous “several thousand things that won’t work.” That’s tenacity.  If you had attempted it at all, where would you have quit?  Ten failures?  A hundred?  A thousand?

Given the inherent uncertainty of innovation, many companies don’t even bother to try.  Good luck finding a big pharmaceutical company doing pioneering new product discovery in niche markets today.  Big Pharma decided years ago that it was easier to let the little biotechs do that pioneering work, and simply buy the winners at handsome prices.

The successes of others motivate us to strive for branding greatness, but our strivings will be more fruitful if we look for the broad patterns of success.   Our potential success as brand builders is circumscribed by the power of the product, service, cause, or idea to which we are dedicating our professional lives.   Big brand success is built on meaningful product or service innovation.

To my reader in Atlanta: I’m proud of you.  I hope you find commercial success.  But no matter what, you should be proud of yourself for establishing your new brand on a genuine innovation.  Successful new brands are always built on an innovation.  Blockbuster brands are built on game-changing innovations.  And the only way to get one of those rarest of hits is to work only on high potential opportunities – again and again and again.


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