Brand coherency v. Brand myopia

I was reminded of how much marketing has changed when I read a recent column from one of my former marketing heroes, Al Ries. The book he and his partner, Jack Trout, wrote almost three decades ago, Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind, shaped much of my thinking about marketing. I thought it was brilliant.

But his recent lamentations in Ad Age about brands offering consumers too many choices highlighted why many marketers are confused in today’s digital era. The premise in Positioning was to stand for something single-minded that consumers could remember you for and could categorize you relative to other brands. In my words, it encouraged brand myopia. Think “Volvo=Safety.” In a mass communications world, this was important because the human mind could only remember a limited number of brands. Being single-minded in messaging helped marketers cut through the clutter and win mindshare over time.

In today’s digital world, consumer’s have a wonderful, mind-expanding resource to help them choose products: the Internet. Complete with search engines, product review sites, community forums and user ratings, it has changed how brands are experienced and built. It frustrates traditional brand marketers who are stuck in a much simpler era. They lament the declining importance of brands and are worried about the commoditization of their category. Yet consumers have unprecedented levels of choice to buy products suited to their unique needs and value preferences. It is a great time for consumers and business buyers alike. Brands that get this are building loyal followings. Apple. Southwest. Intuit. Zappos.

We have entered an era of marketing when we must move from brand myopia to brand coherence. We must still avoid brand schizophrenia, but we can embrace the market’s desire for choices with well thought-out brand extensions. Apple was not myopic about being a user-friendly computer company. It took a coherent approach to expanding beyond iMacs, by launching iPods, iTunes and iPhones. It focused on creating a great brand experience for anything from Apple. And that approach turned the company around.

So where is your brand today? Limiting yourself with brand myopia? Destroying yourself with brand schizophrenia? Or capitalizing on opportunities with new products that exhibit brand coherency? Let me know where you’re at.