The Difficulty of Effective Branding

Talking about how easy it is to brand a company reminds me of the scene from the movie Moneyball where Billy Beane (Oakland A’s general manager) is trying to convince Scott Hatteberg that the move from playing catcher to first base is easy:

Billy Beane (to Scott Hatteberg): “We want you at first base.”

Scott Hatteberg:  “I’ve only ever played catcher.”

Billy Beane:  “It’s not that hard Scott.  Tell’em Wash” (to Ron Washington, A’s infield coach).

Ron Washington:  “It’s incredibly hard.”

Like Ron Washington, marketers are generally realistic about the difficulty of their job.  In a branding study I conducted with more than 150 marketing and sales executives only one-third of participants felt that brands have unaided awareness.

Participants in the study (Challenges and Opportunities in Effective Branding, Top-of-Mind Branding, 2011*) were first asked a general question about any market category with the question: From your experience, typically what percentage of brands in a given category are…? The results:

  • 30.7% – Mentioned when the market category was given (unaided awareness)
  • 37.1% – Known when the company name was mentioned (aided awareness)
  • 32.2% – Unknown even when the company name was given

Later in the study, participants were asked to rate the brand or brands they were working on at the time with the question: Is/Are the brand(s) you are working on today…? The results:

  • 33.1% – Mentioned when the market category was given (unaided awareness)
  • 49.7% – Known when the company name was mentioned (aided awareness)
  • 17.2% – Unknown even when the company name was given

As the results show, participants were more positive about the brands they were working on at the time, especially in the aided awareness category. This makes sense since 70.9% of the participants had marketing responsibilities within their organizations.

But in the unaided awareness category, which indicates high brand recognition and preference, only about one-third rated their brands as being mentioned when the market category was given.   Brands with unaided awareness have a strong competitive advantage because buyers are predisposed to research, contact or purchase them first. Rather than a generic search on a market category, buyers search companies they know first.

If you look at the results another way, two-thirds of brands in a market category have to remind buyers about themselves or are not known even when buyers are given their names.

The bad news:  Even when companies dedicate some resources to branding, it is very difficult to break through the clutter and be remembered.

The good news: There is tremendous opportunity for companies that are willing to make the consistent investment necessary to build their brands.   By focusing on all elements of effective branding, a company can stand out from the crowd and be the one-out-of-three brands that are remembered when a market category is mentioned.


Postscript on Moneyball

Through hard work and patient instruction from Ron Washington, Scott Hatteberg became an “above average” fielding first baseman and contributed his superb hitting skills to help the A’s win 103 games and reach the playoffs in 2002.  He played another six years in the majors as a first baseman.

The unique statistical analysis for which Billy Beane and his staff became known and built a winning franchise with a low budget was copied by other teams in Major League Baseball.  Lesson learned: Innovation as a competitive advantage has a limited life span and you need to keep innovating to maintain market leadership.



© 2011-2018 Bill Fellows, Top-of-Mind Branding All Rights Reserved