Defining The Definition Of Brand

I’ve run into a brick wall. When that happens I find it’s useful to step back, look around, ask questions and think a bit.  It started with some deceptively simple questions from insightful commentators on my last post which was in-part about RadioShack’s branding efforts.

First Brad Shorr asked if The Shack’s new branding would change my shopping habits (I am a relatively frequent shopper there, wannabe geek that I am).

Good question. First, an admission. I love RadioShack and hope that The Shack campaign works. Would hate to think that one of my goto geek stores would bite the dust. However, the advertising so far means nothing to me. (“Our Friends Call Us The Shack.” I don’t, what does that make me?) But Brad’s question about branding isn’t only about advertising. Brand is supposed to be the whole shebang. Geek Field Trip!

Has anything changed at RadioShack?

  • Yes, I was greeted when I entered the door. This sounds silly, however, I’ve gone entire trips to RadioShack in which I’ve never felt like I interacted with another human being. Even when I made a purchase, so that’s really saying something. Point for ‘The Shack”.
  • Yes and no, there was green signing telling me I was now at The Shack. Who Cares? No points.
  • Yes and no, merchandising had moved around a bit. Took me a while to figure out if ‘my’ categories were still in stock. Several audio areas were lightly stocked with empty pockets (missing SKU’s). After reviewing the store the truth is, I couldn’t really see any change in product mix. Point against “The Shack”.
  • No, the wires, adaptors and resistor section seemed relatively un-changed. This is both a relief and a dreadful disappointment at the same time. There is so much opportunity in the DIY Geek market that one would think updating how they sell resistors, plugs, wire and kits would be high on the list of leveraging loyal customers. Let alone the service opportunities. No points.

Because I was there on a mission, I asked the now social manager what the whole thing with The Shack was about. “Are you changing your name?”

“No, it’s kind of a nickname. Nothing is changing, except we got T-Mobile.”

The new cell phone line is actually big news for RadioShack since cell accounts for about 30% of revenues. I bought my first cell phone there a few de…, um, well, um, when I was younger. But I haven’t bought one there since. (Not sure why. Never thought of it I guess.) The manager and I talked a bit about cell phones, reminding me that my daughter is due for a new one. Actually a very good sales interaction. Surprising. Point to “The Shack.”

Has RadioShack actually gone through a radical re-brand or not? My answer is no, but read on….

J.D. Meier asked, “When to rebrand? … when to leave the brand alone and fork or launch a new brand?” I have pretty strong opinions about this, but decided to go back to the books a bit and see what others had to say.

What a confusing mess of self-serving drivel about branding I’ve found so far.

The problems caused by the ‘departmentalization’ of marketing appear to be in full force when discussing brand. Part of this is a land grab. If an advertising agency can convince a manufacturer that the ‘ad’ is the primary holder of brand equity, that pumps money towards communication and away from other areas of brand experience that may be equally valid and important. How else to explain GM wasting advertising resources on the Chevy Volt, a car several years off while today’s product lines and dealer networks require so much shoring up. Most branding discussions revolve around logos and creative campaigns while the fulfillment of brand promise is forgotten.

Which brings me to my brick wall. Definitions have power. Wrong definition and whole worlds of innovation and creativity can be lost to an organization.

The misapplication of the word ‘consistency’ in marketing for example.

Or confusing ‘Marketing Communication Tactics’ with the marketing discipline. I can get tongue tied in a discussion where components are confused with the discipline. So the discipline of marketing has to be modified with some other term such as:  Holistic Marketing from Phillip Kotler and Kevin Lane Kellor.

“Holistic marketing recognizes that ‘everything matters’ with marketing — and that a broad, integrated perspective is often necessary. Four components … are relationship marketing, integrated marketing, internal marketing, and social responsibility marketing.” Kotler & Keller Marketing Management 12e.

But I haven’t found modifiers for the term brand that I like yet. The concept has been around for centuries (or longer) and germinated from the idea of a mark that distinguishes one item or manufacturer from another. Today we still discuss brand in terms of the mark, but most realize it includes everything your product means emotionally and intellectually. Depending on your product/promise the creative aspect of logo and brand vary in importance to the overall emotional impact.

In truth BRAND is a function of everything that affects the customer/non-customer notices. In other words brand equity and image is a function that combines all elements of a prodcut: Brand (logo) from Brand (communication) from Brand (service) from Brand (quality) from Brand (price) ….

With that background you can see why I’m thinking RadioShack has not really gone through a radical re-brand. They’re playing with their name which may be a royal waste of money, but changes on the ground that consumers will notice so far are missing. It resembles an experiment in Canada done with Circuit City a year or so ago which also is not promising. Currently things resemble a company facing the Uncertainty Paradox without a clear course for survival.

When you think your name is the source of a problem, you’re usually wrong.

Understanding the levers that drive your brand is a critical element in moving forward, especially in periods of gross uncertainty. Where you fit in your target audiences perception drives what you can charge, how large your market is, and who your competitors are. It also provides limits and direction for next steps.

For RadioShack the challenges are extreme. They are competing against big box stores, but their small footprint can be an advantage.  In a world where children are building computerized robots using Legos, RadioShack seems to have lost the imagination of the electronics DIY world. Cell phones is high margin business but not very capable of providing differentiation. The RadioShack of old was a place of affordible electronic possibilities. I’m not sure where “The Shack” is going now.

So, I’m working on ‘reasons to re-brand’ and how that is affected by uncertainty, but that will take a while. If you have any resources or pointers you would like to share here in the comments (or for those of you a bit shyer via email) as always very appreciated.

And in answer to Brad’s question, will I visit more often? They got me one extra time (and I made a purchase: RadioShack ROI $19.00) but have not provided a change in shopping environment that will change my habits yet, good or bad.

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8 Responses to Defining The Definition Of Brand

  1. LaVonn says:

    My definition of Brand is simple ” delivery of the promise” It doesn’t matter what a business promises….only what they deliver and that, is their brand — no matter the pretty coverings.

    Great post!

  2. Brad Shorr says:

    Hi Fred, Gee, I’d feel guilty about you’re having to answer my simple question with a sweeping blog post, but it’s just too good of a read. The fact you haven’t altered your habits exposes the superficiality (or to be more charitable, the first steppedness) of The Shack’s revival. A branding exercise I’ve done with clients is a question response game: What’s the first thing that pops into your head when you hear McDonalds? Starbucks? Apple?

    Strong brands evoke immediate, crystal clear responses. That is because, as you say, the same message oozes out of every corporate pore. Our responses may not be identical, but they’re almost always strong and immediate.

    What’s the first thing that pops into your head when you hear RadioShack? The Shack?

    For me, the answers are, Nothing and Nothing. As far as I’m concerned, RadioShack isn’t rebranding because they never had a brand in the first place. As an outsider looking in, I get the impression RadioShack is trying to move from having a cult following to being a popular brand. It’s like the Grateful Dead trying to morph into the Jonas Brothers. Not possible. The transition will alienate the RadioShack core (which I’m sensing is the case with you), and the general market won’t embrace it because they don’t need another seller of electronic gadgetry.
    .-= Brad Shorr´s last blog ..A Writer Finds a Winning Formula in a Bad Economy – Guest Post =-.

  3. That also indicates that changing the covers won’t trick people into thinking a soft mattress is a firm one. I like the broad definition.

  4. Hi Brad, Here’s a time when I wish the twitter conversation was incorporated.

    I agree. As much as I wish there was more to this, it has the feeling of a ‘change the sheets’ approach.

    Your feeling that the old RadioShack image was lacking got me to wondering why I felt so strongly about it. Turns out, as I said on Twitter, that my feelings were formed years ago during visits to the store with my dad who was a tinkerer in his own right. From there to here I’m now beginning to notice the real lapse in direction. This really is beginning to look like a store that is unhappy with what they are, in part because they have no idea what they are. This has bummer written all over it.

  5. J.D. Meier says:

    I like your drill down into the details.

    This actually helped me simplify how to think about brands. I think the power is an evocative token. It means something.

    I think it’s like culture too. Culture is values, but it’s not what you say your culture is, it’s what you do. Actions speak louder than words. I think brand is like that.

    I guess a good starting point for me to think about is, “what’s your brand stand for?” … and “what’s your key differentiator?”
    .-= J.D. Meier´s last blog ..Seeking is the Granddaddy of Emotional Systems =-.

  6. A brand as culture is an interesting road. Forces you to look deeper than face value and assess what is driving things. ‘Actions speak louder than words’ also has a powerful way to put the logo and other communications in their place.

  7. Terry Heath says:

    “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
    By any other word would smell as sweet;
    So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call’d,
    Retain that dear perfection which he owes
    Without that title.”

    Assigning names is just a superficial convention which has no effect on the nature of the thing we’ve named. I could ask you to call me “Stone Phillips” because I think it sounds studly, but calling me that won’t make me gain one ounce of muscle or one iota of machismo.

    At the risk of sounding redundant because I used this quote the other day at Brad Shorr’s blog:

    “What you are shouts so loudly in my ears I cannot hear what you say.” –
    Ralph Waldo Emerson

    As you say, rebranding goes far deeper than a name. If RadioShack wins or loses it will be because of how they played the game and not because of whatever they decide to call themselves.
    .-= Terry Heath´s last blog ..“The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” à la Gilbert and Sullivan =-.

  8. Pingback: RadioShack: Defining The Definition Of Brand

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