Marty Katz is a thought leader in the area of branding, especially for companies that have a “sustainability profile” – the marketplace views their products and services as compatible with the environment. In this interview, Marty takes the rather nebulous concept of branding and explains what that term really means.
Michael: There’s so much talk today about branding. It can become a cliché. How do you make branding something that’s real to your clients, something that creates real traction?
Marty: Brand is very much something that translates into dollars and cents. It all boils down to the ultimate deliverable. If I have a successful business, I want to very clearly articulate the end result of dealing with me-not the process, not the products that are included, but what is the ultimate deliverable? A lot of people think, oh, I’m going to change my logo. I’ve finished my branding. That’s not it. Logos are just brand expression. The thing that makes a difference is your identity in the marketplace. What do you do that nobody else can do? You have to develop a whole set of criteria that differentiates you from everybody else, and to make those criteria very appealing to people.
Michael: How do you get people to buy an intangible? How do you convince people that there’s a return on investment on an intangible piece of intellectual property that you’re creating for them?
Marty: The empirical evidence for branding has been out there for decades. There are a number of service companies that have built fortunes based on developing their own brand-larger than life companies like Facebook, Twitter, or Yahoo. There’s no product. It’s all service. All these companies use the traditional branding and marketing approaches to grow their businesses. Service companies can create distinctive profiles for themselves just as much as product companies can, like Campbell’s Soup or Proctor.
Michael: What brands do you especially admire today?
Marty: Under Armour has done an outstanding job of branding and marketing themselves. They’re very distinctive. They’re relevant. They have a whole green division called Under Armour Green. They’ve also avoided the mistake that many companies run into, which is the celebrity business. Instead of speaking about how great the product is, a lot of companies will align themselves with the greatness of a third party-an athlete, a TV star. In marketing language, this is called borrowed interest. It’s an expensive tactic, and consumers are becoming bored with it. It’s not as powerful as it has been in the past.
Michael: What are the biggest mistakes that companies can make when it comes to branding?
Marty: A lot of companies are so involved on a day-to-day basis with what they do that they don’t really see the forest for the trees. They don’t see that there is another way to look at their own business, to really expand what they do. They get very tied to the idea that “This is what we’ve done, and it’s worked well for us. We’ve scratched out a living.” I would say, “Sure. But are you looking to grow?”
Markets constantly shift. People’s interests shift-particularly in the digital age, when people are accessing more information more quickly and from more sources. Consumers are much more fickle. Some people think, well, I already have my brand. But brand is something that’s ongoing. McDonald’s spends $1.4 billion a year on their brand and their brand communications, including marketing and promotion. It doesn’t just stop after it’s set up. You have to review your brand to be sure that you’re relevant, that you are saying the right things, that the message is on point. Companies need to be open to finding a resource who can take what they do and use it in a way that has a new or expanded communications value. If they’re open to that, we can help them with this process.
Marty Katz’s website is Marty@synapsepartnership.com. He can also be reached at 212-920-4555.