Branding 101: Keep It Simple Stupid (KISS)

Photo: Marc Weinstein / CEO Ascent Communications Photo Credit: Courtesy Ascent Communications
Marc Weinstein / CEO Ascent Communications | Courtesy Ascent Communications

Many companies stumble while trying to achieve brand recognition. That’s because they want to be many things to many people.

These companies simply ignore the fact that product or service expansion dilutes a brand name in the over-marketed minds of the consumer. Strong brands require contraction, not expansion.

A case in point: A CEO of a technology company complained that no one understood what his company did and the market it served. Maybe, it was because the company was marketing itself like a New Jersey diner – it had mostly anything you wanted but none of it was exceptional.    

Realizing the company’s marketing was misdirected, the CEO launched a new marketing campaign that focused solely on his company’s consulting services, which were seen as a significant growth area for the firm. 

Part of this campaign consisted of a public relations program designed to build awareness of the company’s consulting services via press coverage in key media outlets.  The coverage included articles about the firm’s unique approach to helping their clients find more efficient and effective ways to use technology in their operations.  In addition, The company submitted columns on technology issues in highly read publications, creating the perception that it was a thought leader in this area.

As a result of this positioning, the company was getting significantly more calls for its consulting services which, in turn, led to more business with the other services it offered.         

Let’s take a look at other companies that adopted the contraction model of branding: Starbucks and Subway. It should be noted that both companies have flirted with brand extensions but not enough to sway consumers from associating them with a singular product.

Starbucks focused on one product (coffee) to become what it is today: a multi-billion dollar company that has thousands of locations around the world (a little trivia: the company was named after the chief mate on the whale ship Pequod in the novel Moby Dick).

Founded by two teachers and a writer in the early ’70s, the Seattle-based Starbucks began its global ascent after entrepreneur Howard Schultz acquired the company in the late ’80s. It was Schultz’s vision that led Starbucks to be known for selling highly caffeinated roasted coffee, not just a bunch of menu items. This branding strategy paid off: Starbucks now commands more than 30 percent of the market share for coffee in the US alone.  

Subway also opted to keep its offering very focused. It didn’t want to be another delicatessen but just to be known for selling submarine sandwiches. Today, Subway has nearly 38,000 locations in 98 countries. Its US sales are second only to McDonald’s.

Here are a few tips on creating a successful branding strategy:

  • Sharpen your sights – Powerful branding always starts by contracting the category, not expanding it.
  • Go wide – Have more inventory available than your competitors. For example, a typical Toys ‘R Us store carries thousands more toys than a large department store. In the case of Starbucks and Subway, a lot of different types of coffee and subs, respectively.
  • Be the king of the hill- The end goal of any branding strategy is to dominate the category. In order to achieve that objective, you must (yep, you guess it) sharpen your focus.

The author is Marc Weinstein, CEO of Ascent Communications (, a marketing/public relations agency specializing in creating results-driven communications for technology companies.

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