What’s Your Brand Challenge

By Mark Borkowski

Are you in the process of creating or managing a corporate or a personal brand? Do you want to learn as much as possible to succeed? We spoke with Boris Tsimerinov, a seasoned investment banker and a member of the Advisory Panel of Prolific Wisdom, a Harvard Alumni Business Book Club about this topic.

Several members of Prolific Wisdom (including Mark Brooks, CEO, Courtland Brooks (Malta); Andre Lamontagne, Research Manager, Servomex (UK), Hena Rana, Operations Manager, Beca (New Zealand) and Boris Tsimerinov, CCC Investment Banking (Canada) reviewed The Brand Challenge and spoke with the editor (Kartikeya Kompella) of this book which is a compilation of thought-leaders’ wisdom on branding. It draws on knowledge from some of the world’s leading experts in this field: Allen Adamson, Tony Allen, Al Ries, Peter Fisk, Jeremy Hildreth, Thomas Meyer, Jonathan Paisner, Mike Symes and 12 others.

The book is well-written, has many practical examples and gives a good overview of branding. Topics and industries covered include branding focus, identity and innovation as well as branding in luxury, retail, B2B, media, financial services, non-profits, fashion, urban development, technology and sports!

Boris Tsimerinov shared some of Prolific Wisdom’s takeaways from The Brand Challenge:

Some Facts about Modern Branding:

– The Battle for Your Mind: It is a misconception that branding is only about market share as it really deals with emotional attachment, respect and “mind share”. Brands work to align with people, their values and their psyche. It is all about creating mental associations which takes.

– Top 2 or 20% Dominate: Many markets are dominated by two leading brands. 20% of the brands often attract 80% of the profits.

– Local First: In most cases, brands develop locally, acquire heritage and prove themselves, before spreading globally.

– You Can’t Hide: Consumers share faster and in greater quantities than ever. Brands must be nimble to adapt and prosper.

– Marketing Gets Technical: Gartner predicts that by 2017 Chief Marketing Officers will spend more on IT than Chief Information Officers.

How Have Others Done It?

– Media Engine: See the amazing Red Bull Media House (http://www.redbullmediahouse.com/) which runs the Red Bulletin (http://www.redbulletin.com) as an example of using media to drive the brand. It is also its own profit center.

– Brands Working For Good: See the new B Corporation for a new kind of corporation that focuses on principles over profit.

– Unconventional Bank: Find inspiration in the Umpqua Bank from Oregon. It serves as a coffee shop, hosts book clubs, “business therapy sessions” and have local bands play there on Friday nights! Their experimental branch has a bowling alley. Umpqua aims to be interesting, when most banks are boring.

– Affiliation Branding: The Economist wants readers to feel like they are part of an elite club, yet anyone can join. NY Times also continues to do well as a powerful media brand people are willing to pay for. They are strong leading brands.

– Luxury Is Incomparable while Fashion is Fleeting: The goal of luxury brands (Hermès, Patek Philippe and Rolls-Royce) is to create incomparability and timelessness. Fashion is distinct, but not luxury. Luxury brands avoid simple feature/benefits vs. pricing trade-offs. Luxury is about art, indulgence and culture. It is based on implied superiority and does not acknowledge competition. Fashion is fleeting, and not necessarily expensive, quality is less of an imperative. Once the fashion is over, it’s deeply discounted.

What Should One Consider in Their Branding?

– Use Actual or Verbal Visuals: “Focus on a single visual and then use it to hammer your words into your consumers’ minds.” The leaning tower of Pisa sees more visitors than the Pantheon in Rome. It’s a simple message to tell someone visually or by creating a visual image with words. Also, think about engaging senses other than sight – some highly effective branding is done by engaging hearing, smell or touch.

– If They Go Right, You Go Left: If you are not the market leader, be the complete opposite (e.g. Redbull vs Monster – standard energy drink vs. an extra large out-sized can; iOS vs Android – closed system vs. open system). Some will love It, some will hate it – that’s OK: be prepared to alienate some people in reaching out to your key demographic.

– Focus: brand managers used to apply USP (unique selling points) to position the brand by analyzing competitors and identifying as many gaps as possible. Now, it is believed better to focus a brand and/or it’s messaging to be narrow and then expand, if necessary (e.g. Volvo / Safety, BMW / Driving Experience, Subaru / 4 wheel drive vehicles.)

– Trademarks Are Identity Beacons: Great trademarks are the tips of great identity icebergs. They need to be distinctive when conceived, continue to make sense and me carefully managed over time.

– Brands Can Inspire: Brands can become a reflection of customers uniquely shared values. Brands can encapsulate an irresistible idea and help channel it: (e.g. Nike swoosh is about confidence). Brands exist outside of for-profit-business. Brands have the power to change the world, not just to sell products and make profits.

What Else Should One Consider?

– Consider David Aaker’s Dimensions of Brand Equity: Awareness, Image, Perceived Quality and Loyalty.

– How Does the Brand Help People Do Better? Rationally – What does it enable customers to do? Comparatively – Why does it enable them to do it better? Emotionally – How do people feel about the brand as a result? Connect these three to your purpose for your brand and articulate it in a memorable way.

– Don’t Interrupt! Tell Stories: Interruption advertising is dead. Now you need brand resonance by telling stories that are relevant and timely to engage people during and beyond their purchase point and drive advocacy.

– Be Careful With Brand Extensions: Before extending your brand, carefully consider the brand innovation journey, the sequence of which can ensure success or failure.

– Evaluate: What do you do better than anyone else to deliver value and impact? Define your unique leadership position and set out your promise. What do you do you do best now and what can you do best in the future? How are you different from competitors? What space could you own? What do key audiences and stakeholders value?

Boris Tsimerinov Recommends the Following Further Readings on the Topic:
– The Brand Challenge
– The Edge: 50 Tips from Brands that Lead by Allen P. Adamson
– Focus by Al Ries
– Brand Relevance: Making Competitors Irrelevant by David Aaker
– The Definitive Book of Branding, edited by Kartikeya Kompella

Boris Tsimerinov is Vice President with CCC Investment Banking. He can be reached at

Mark Borkowski is president of Mercantile Mergers & Acquisitions Corp

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