Our beloved Brew.

Our beloved Brew.
R.I.P. Big guy.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Great Brands Know Their Constraints

Constraints are the essence of branding. Nothing can be all things to all people. In fact, powerful branding is the ability to define your target audience as narrowly as possible. That is not to say appeal to fewest people, but rather, define your appeal by its most significant impact. Keeping in mind at all times, that being well known is not the same as having brand loyalty.

Constraint knows where the edges are, but it does not mean restraints. Rather than that which holds one back, constraints define the boundaries of choice.

An example I use often, because it was an assignment in which I was involved, is the March of Dimes (MOD). Given that the mission of MOD at the time was to overcome birth defects and infant mortality, some might say that every parent, grandparent, and elected official, tax payer, and medial professional and educator is a target of MOD since they all are affected by the health of children. While its true various elements of the population have a significant stake, and we would all likely benefit from them hearing the message, that doesn't make them all a target of MOD. When I spoke on behalf of MOD at various functions, over a couple of decades, I used to start by telling the audience that babies are not the target of MOD, but rather the by-product of MOD. Branding is about behaviors. Babies are not responsible for their behaviors, so why pretend they are your target? This would infuriate various members of the MOD staff because they built their reputation over the years on showing either sickly and deformed children, or healthy, bouncy babies, and reporting on the numbers of babies that fell into each category. Healthy babies represented a goal for MOD, but not a target.

The target of MOD is women who choose to have healthy babies. If women practiced better prenatal care, we could cut in half the number of children who are born this country with birth defects. The last time I checked the US was ranked around 25th in terms of infant mortality. So, it appears education is as important in the MOD mission as is medical research and scientific breakthroughs. And who is the only person that can successfully have a healthy baby? The Mother!

Yes, men have a role in making a baby, but they don't "have" babies. 50% of the births in this country are unplanned. It is safe to assume those pregnancies were not initiated by women who chose to have a healthy baby given what we know today about the importance of preconception life style behaviors, and prenatal care. Likewise, a good portion of the female population is outside of childbearing years, or incapable of having a baby for any number of reasons. That reduces the target population further still.

In other words, MOD's target audience is limited to women who choose to have healthy babies. In tailoring messages to other influencers (fathers, coworker, employers, elect officials, etc., it is critical that MOD frame them through the experience of the mother's education: "Dad's don't smoke or drink around expectant mothers. It my influence them to engage in behavior that is not healthy for the baby they want." That's a targeted message.

The constraints represented in knowing whom their target audience really is (in the case of MOD, women who choose to have a healthy baby), and how to express the brand through the perspective of that limited audience, is key to making a brand successful.