The classic branding system works just fine if four ranches and 1,000 head of cattle share a valley. But put 800 brands on 1,000 head of cattle, and you've created a valley of confusion.
No one is better at doing this than the auto industry.
According to a May 17 story in Automotive News, the number of automotive nameplates in the U.S. market has doubled in the past three decades to 267 today.
What's more, today you can count 78 SUV nameplates; that will rise to 100 before you can say Arianna Huffington.
That means confusion, and fighting it requires strong measures.
Car buyers have more choices than a glutton at a buffet table. Meanwhile, too many marketers beaver away, "branding" everything in sight and "partnering" with everything from Turkey World magazine to the Little Sisters of the Poor.
Brands should help people make choices, not confuse them. When every last thing available for purchase is portrayed as a "brand," the word loses its meaning. GM finally figured that out and junked its brand-management system.
Like a rancher branding cattle, a company must burn a lasting mark into its product. But too many marketers refuse to use the hot iron necessary to leave a permanent mark. What's happened to our creativity and daring?
Branding requires differentiation - making a product stand out in a look-alike herd. But the trouble with real differentiation is that it makes your product more attractive to some folks, less attractive to others and of no interest whatsoever to the rest. That willing forfeiture of a sizable part of the market causes some marketers to break out in hives and to hide out in the herd.
The Acura brand is a case in point. How cars that good can be so invisible is a continuing mystery.
Acura seeks some acreage in sports sedan land, and its cars have gone from good to great with the addition of the new TSX and TL. But Acura advertising, characterized by every conceivable sports-sedan cliche, has become no more than costly white noise. What stops Acura from making a real statement in its advertising? Is it afraid of offending someone?
Those who lack vision or the ability to innovate won't ever be different or better.
Worse, they never intend to be different or better.
In the car business, there seems to be no shortage of companies that unashamedly say, "We want to be just like Honda." Honda is a worthy target. But the world already has a Honda. Even if you replicated Honda - or Toyota or BMW - how can you think you'll reap the rewards Honda has earned without paying your dues?