Brand Recognition: or kids say the darndest things

brandsFor those of you who know me in person, have spent any amount of time listening to me speak, or follow my conversation via other Social Media outlets, you will (quite likely) have heard my reference my daughter. What can I say, I’m a proud father?

For those of you who don’t know…I am blessed with a rather loquacious daughter (who, at the time of writing, is almost 31 months old). Talkative enough, in fact, that those who know our family are fond of the statement “She takes after her father.”

In spite of my expectation of her perspicacity…she still manages to surprise. In the “early” days of parenting, I oft described the experience as “simultaneously the most beautiful and horrifying experience of my life”…now, I would amend that statement to include “thought-provoking”. On recent interaction, in particular, caused me to rethink the concept of brand recognition.

Let me give you a bit of background…

I have worked in the software sector for a fair amount of time. Long enough that some have described me as “experienced”…although I may disagree. The past several years, in particular, have been spent in the startup and micro-ISV space. In those years, since my departure from Rational Software in 2003, I’ve run the gamut from consumer software to government consultation to enterprise retail to my current role in IP Commerce. In each of these companies, the perspective on brand his been wildly different. This perspective is understandable, expected, and appropriate due to the differing business models of each company.

So what did my daughter say?

It was a simple phrase that first caught my attention. As we were driving down the street (a bit away from our home and outside her usual stomping grounds) she exclaimed.

Daddy, that’s Walgreens.

and…she was right.

She had never been past that particular store location…and yet something triggered the recognition. So I began to observe the behaviour a bit more closely. In my, clearly non-psychological, analysis her recognition is based on the shape of the building and the signage. There are quite a few retail locations that she recognizes in this way…Starbucks (“Nan worked there”)…Target (“They have hotdogs…and toys”)…and, in a non-retail fashion, Apple.

This is my computer (black macbook)…this is daddy’s computer (macbook shown above).

Something about these brands has captured her attention. Something about these brands has become memorable for her. Brand recognition is a skill that is acquired at a young age and remains prevalent throughout life.

But how does this affect a platform company? Particularly a platform company in a multi-sided market?

Before you determine a brand strategy, it is important to address several questions*:

  • Who is my target audience or audiences?
  • Who, actually, needs to know my brand?
  • Does brand equity matter to my business model?
  • If brand equity matters…to whom?**
  • Does promotion of my brand provide a benefit to my desired network effects or a detriment?

The single most important step for any company serving a multi-sided market (be it a “platform” company or not) is to recognize the value chain inherent in your ecosystem. Who benefits the most through the decreased cost of interaction? What network effects are you currently experiencing, or do you foresee occurring, in your ecosystem?

Once these are noted…an intelligent decision about branding can be made. For example, perhaps there is a benefit to your company by gaining broad (perhaps consumer) based brand recognition…if so, go for it…guns blazing. Or, perhaps, the ultimate “end-user” benefit in your ecosystem is an indirect participant…if so, will promotion of your brand result in the disintermediation other key participants in the ecosystem?

As a marketer, and technologist, the typical approach is to to push what you are doing to the exclusion of others. That approach has resulted in some great business success. However, I am beginning to see that there are large business being based on the concept of being the “technology enabler” and focusing less on their corporate brand and more on the success of their partners (frequently through a white-label strategy). These successes of partners point back to the capability of the ecosystem, and the unique power of the platform that enables the ecosystem, and are less costly (than a brand campaign) while remaining core to the extant business model.

A bit lengthy, a bit of stream of conscious, but that which has been ticking through the back of my brain since my daughter started calling out her favourite stores and restaurants (as well as, to my delight, computer hardware and guitars). There is no formula I can provide…no pat answer…Quite simply, the approach will differ based on who you are and how you achieve (and measure) success.

What’s your perspective? Agree? Disagree? Anything to add? Critiques? The comment form is below…

*NOTE: These are by no means holistic questions, but an important starting point for the discussion.
**AKA – start back at the beginning and make sure you have the right answers…not just answers.

June 8, 2009

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