I came across a very challenging article in the Harvard Business Review, entitled What is Your Brand Against? In it, Scott Goodson does a great job of articulating some key points around brand identity.

If you think about it, many brands today basically profess to support motherhood and apple pie [*].  They’re for things that we all agree to:

  • Satisfied customers
  • Loving, warm, happy experience
  • Wonderfully reasonable cost
  • Surprise and delight – never an unhappy moment

The problem with this?  Everybody’s saying the same thing, so nobody’s really saying anything.

Nobody knows what you’re really about.  (See my horror story, below.)

Scott’s challenge is to declare quite specifically what you are NOT, even what you are AGAINST.  Sure, you might disenfranchise some people who disagree with that.  They wouldn’t have been your customers anyway.  But everyone will now have a much clearer idea of who you ARE, because your identity now has some edges around it.

Nope, Cadillac is never going to have cheap boring cars.  GM has a different brand for that.

A somewhat related and interesting story

Growing up, I remember Team Audio, the first store in Arvada that carried high end audio equipment.  I was a tech geek, so I was enamored with their toys.  But I could never afford it myself.

Team changed its name to Soundtrack Audio, Soundtrack expanded into a chain, declared bankruptcy in 2005, then ultimately got gobbled up by Ultimate Electronics.  That company has now gone bankrupt, and the whole enterprise is dissolving in a horrible mess.  What a tragic loss.

But you could see it coming.  When I bought a new vehicle in 2006, I decided I wanted to get a car stereo that I could directly hook my iPod into.  That was fairly novel at the time, so I didn’t have many choices.

Ultimately (hah!) I did get a stereo from Ultimate, but wasn’t very confident.  That played out in the ensuing weeks as I ran into problems with the unit and had it replaced several times by uncooperative service personnel.  I finally just found some workarounds and never went back to the company again.

In recent years, Ultimate Electronics has lost its identity.  It has audio and video equipment, and music and movies.  And pool tables.  While not trying to rebrand under some broader “home entertainment” name – mystifying.

They’ve professed to have the lowest prices.  But if they do have lower prices, it’s on the most expensive equipment.  They don’t carry the less expensive gear at all.  So, for instance, I was looking at GPS units for my car recently, but I’m a cheapskate – I was looking at the under-$129 range.  The least expensive GPS unit that Ultimate had was $359, and that was (theoretically) a bankruptcy clearance price.  Was it a low price for that particular unit?  I have no idea – they were clearly off on a different planet.

Same thing for their 60 inch plasma TVs.  Sorry, I don’t look to a low price leader if I’m in the market for that kind of toy.

So Ultimate Electronics ultimately destroyed their business – at least in part due to very bad management of their brand.  We can all learn from this.

Carl Dierschow
Small Fish Business Coaching in Fort Collins Colorado