Can Your Brand Image Be Too Strong?

Posted by Marty Brochstein on February 17, 2014

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The commercial, which has run periodically on television in the U.S. since last February, opens with an actress directly addressing the camera: “When I say Xerox, I know what you’re thinking,” as she pushes the print button on the office copier.

But that’s when it takes a turn. Out of the machine pops an urban subway map, and she exclaims:

“Transit Fares! As in the 37 Billion transit fares we help collect each year.
No? Oh, right, you’re thinking of the 1.6 million daily customer care interactions Xerox handles. Or the 900 million health insurance claims we process.
So it’s no surprise to you that companies depend on today’s Xerox for services that simplify how work gets done… which is pretty much what we’ve always stood for. With Xerox, you’re ready for real business.”

This commercial for Xerox Business Services is an object lesson in how one huge multinational brand attacked a somewhat uncommon problem: Can a brand image be TOO strong? Can your identity be so closely tied to a single business or category that it threatens to strangle your chances to expand? The commercial plays off what everybody (or at least most of us) think of when we hear or see the word “Xerox.”

Of course, on the list of potential business issues, this is a pretty high-class problem to have: “Darn, my brand identity is so strong that my name has become the generic word to describe the category!” Kind of like complaining that you’re making so much money that your tax bill has gone up.

(By the way, according to a blog post by Barbara Basney, VP Global Advertising at Xerox, Xerox is about much more than copiers; more than half the company’s annual revenue is generated by “back office solutions and services we provide companies, governments and municipalities around the world.”)

But Xerox’s approach – “We’re not who you think we are” — is a reminder of the nature of branding, defining brand equity, and wrestling with the challenge of how, and into what categories a brand can be extended – whether via licensing or by the brand owner itself. How do you define the business you’re in?

A decade ago, for example, you might have said that Total Licensing was in the magazine business. But, as communications technology has advanced over the years, it’s become obvious that the company is, more accurately, in the information business. Yes, it publishes this magazine (whether mailed or downloaded), but it also imparts information via a Twitter feed, a Flickr gallery, Facebook and Linked In. It’s all about how you define yourself.

We’ve all heard or participated in academic discussions of how to define the word “brand.” A simple one that I’ve always liked is “A promise of performance.” It’s about setting expectations, and a key facet of marketing is to define and set the brand promise – specifically enough so that it means something, but broadly enough so that it leaves the brand room to maneuver into new businesses.

Corporate brand licensing can be a frustrating business. Talk for a half hour to an agent who’s involved with corporate brands, and you’re certain to hear about the some nearly-completed deal that’s stuck in limbo because a brand owner is having second or third thoughts about whether they really want to take the brand into this new business. A big part of the challenge of corporate licensing is to sell the deal internally.

As the vast majority of you long ago discovered, this is a complex business, and even the simplest deal has lots of moving parts. Part of LIMA’s mission is help you acquire the tools that make you more effective in your job.

We’re well into the process of assembling the Licensing University seminar program for Licensing International Expo in Las Vegas this coming June. There will be introductory sessions for those relatively new to the business, but we also plan several seminars and presentations aimed at those who are wrestling with higher level issues, whether in the entertainment, corporate, sourcing, legal or other parts of this diverse business. We encourage you to check out the program when it’s released in the next few weeks, and to take advantage of the chance to hear experts give their advice and perspectives on the path to success.