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Brand Bending
Marketing Strategies

By Philip D. Zaleon

Branding is more than just a marketing buzzword. Your brand should define you as a designer and a professional, and your company as a business.

There are, of course, some simple rules to branding yourself effectively. But what if you want to bend those rules a bit?
Many big companies have gained tremendous success by bending or even breaking the rules when it comes to branding. But before you think about whether bending your brand is right for your firm, you need to truly understand what a brand is, what it does and what role it plays in how your customers perceive you.

According to the Website of the American Marketing Association (, a Brand is defined as “A name, term, design, symbol or any other feature that identifies one seller’s goods or services as distinct from those of other sellers. A brand may identify one item, a family of items or all items of that seller.” When identifying Brand Image, the Website notes, “The brand image is the perception of a brand in the minds of persons. It is what people believe about a brand – their thoughts, feelings, expectations.”

The traditional concept of developing a brand is a process that begins with defining the company and those who run it, as well as the target market, and then developing an image that allows the business to make an emotional connection with that target through marketing channels and reputation.

Creating a personality for a brand includes designing a logo, determining colors, creating a unique message, coining a positioning line that distinguishes the brand from its competition, and consistently using each in all marketing and advertising to create the “look and feel” of the business. It is that look and feel that makes the company and brand recognizable to the target market and generates the emotional response that helps make the sale.

Tim Aden, CMKBD, a principal at Sawhill Custom Kitchens & Design, Inc. in Minneapolis, MN, adheres to this tenet. “Our name and logo are one in the same, so we are easily able to maintain consistency,” he comments. “We will vary photography and text to correlate with a given audience, but the logo and name always remain constant.”

Karen Dry of Garrett Interiors, Inc. in Westlake Village, CA, adds, “We are always consistent with our logo. It is key for us to consistently place our logo in strategic areas, whether it is on signage at a model home complex, on our designers’ cars [via magnetic signs] or on every office form we use.”

The Pepsi Challenge

But what if someone changed the rules of branding? What if a brand leader – an internationally, instantly recognizable brand – decided to toss a monkey wrench into the world of branding? Well, that’s what Pepsi decided to do, and the results can provide a valuable lesson to kitchen and bath professionals.

In February, Pepsi began a branding campaign designed to create an affinity with sub-markets of its target market. In the words of PepsiCo’s own press release: “The first, most visible piece of this effort will be new package graphics for Pepsi-Cola that change every few weeks to reflect themes close to the hearts of teens and young adults, such as sports, music, fashion and cars. The new graphics will be on more than eight billion Pepsi-Cola cans, bottles and cups throughout the world.
“The iconic Pepsi globe logo and name lettering will remain the same – as will Pepsi’s great taste – but the background graphics will change every few weeks, marking the first time Pepsi has altered its look so frequently. In its 109-year existence, Pepsi-Cola’s look has changed just 10 times, but this year alone it will change more than 35 times. This steady rotation of designs reflects the fast, ever-changing interests of the elusive ‘millennial’ generation.

“Not only will the packages look different, but they’ll be different. Pepsi bottles, cans and cups will give consumers access to exclusive online content, games, contests and sweepstakes through unique Web addresses on each of the designs.

“Pepsi’s global brand restyle will be highlighted in new thematic ad campaigns. The restyle will also come to life in-store with merchandising, account-specific promotions and point-of-sale materials that will showcase an array of packaging representing the wide range of design graphics.”

PepsiCo’s initiative raises the question, “should a kitchen and bath showroom alter its ‘packaging’ to ‘reflect the changing interests of the elusive ‘millennial’ generation?”

While kitchen and bath firms are not interested in today’s kids, they may well be looking at adding a market within a current market: ultra-luxury kitchens, kosher kitchens, outdoor kitchens, kitchens and baths for people who frequent the arts, gourmet kitchens or any number of vertical markets within a community.

So, what does a billion-dollar company’s branding have to do with the typical kitchen and bath showroom’s branding? Everything.

As Paul McDonald of Royal Cabinet Co. in Hillsborough, NJ, states, “Remember that branding is how the public – your potential customers – sees you, whether your reach is a 10-mile radius of the showroom, statewide, regional or global. How you manage your brand will help drive your targeted prospects to approach you as their cabinet provider.”

The Pepsi press release states, “The iconic Pepsi globe logo and name lettering will remain the same – as will Pepsi’s great taste,” reassuring the public that a Pepsi-Cola will still be instantly recognizable on the grocer’s shelf through its logo. Regardless of what the delivery system (can, cup or bottle) looks like, it will still taste like Pepsi.

To make this idea analogous to a kitchen and bath showroom business, regular use of a logo will keep the business recognizable in the marketplace. The “great taste,” in your case, is “great design and customer service,” something all kitchen and bath customers expect. For that reason, Pepsi’s “brand bending” might be worth a closer look.

As discussed earlier, the look and feel, or personality, of a business is determined by the primary components of the brand: the logo, the colors, the message, the positioning line and the placement of the message. Based on Pepsi’s most basic changes, what could be adapted and altered to reach a specific audience?

Creating a Logo

A corporate logo should be an extension of a business. Business owners should look for an image that is conducive to the target market – something legible and unique that creates the “right” impression. Over time, the logo in a market should be as instantly recognizable as the Pepsi logo is internationally. That’s the power of branding.

Michael Luzier, CKD, of ML Designs in Aurora, CO, states, “To establish branding, a logo would remain consistent, although the message and other features could benefit by changes aimed at a particular target market. For example, a showroom currently focusing on the elaborate traditional decides that it wants to refocus on the more contemporary. The showroom would likely need to change the ad image, particularly if that image projects a very traditional look. It may also need to reexamine the current logo. A local company recently changed its 1960s logo to a very simple one using the letters of the company name in a very bold and more contemporary fashion. With that change, it brought in a new contemporary cabinet product line to reflect the new image adjustment.”

Dry warns about taking care when altering a logo. “I would not change the core look or value of the Garrett Interiors logo. We have equity in our logo,” she says.

“Once your logo has become recognizable in your market area, be careful to be consistent in its use,” advises McDonald. “However, if you’re ready to embark on a new business or are looking to re-launch your current one with a new focus, a new image, including a new logo makes good sense.”

Color Cues

When looking at branding, it’s important to remember that each color has a psychological impact. How colors are used in combination creates emotion. Colors can bring back memories and trigger specific responses. Therefore, companies should take time to consider the colors when creating a brand. Even before choosing corporate colors, know your target market(s), understand your company’s positioning, consider the message and know what the competition is using. It is common to select a primary color and one or two secondary colors to be part of a brand.

While Dry notes that her firm would not change its brand colors, “I am starting to elaborate on the colors,” she offers. “The three colors in the fleur-de-lis of our logo each represent the three areas of design we specialize in: green for model merchandising, purple for commercial design and gold/yellow for residential projects. We have been printing our collateral in these colors depending upon the project shown. It looks great when we go to trade shows or place items into our marketing package for builders. The colors really complement each other, but they can stand alone, too.”

Aden recognizes the value of maintaining and being consistent with company colors. “Consistent use of the same colors has an incredible recognition value. Just look at how the red in Target’s marketing works. Or, consider the Coca Cola Company; regardless of the product, if it’s a Coke product –such as Diet Coke, Coke Zero or Caffeine-Free Coke or – red is part of the logo and brand.”

Projecting the Right Message

A company’s message should exploit its competitive advantage. It should talk about the company’s services, its capabilities and perhaps even name drop some company-exclusive brands. How this is accomplished may vary by audience.

McDonald notes, “Royal Cabinet Company, like other kitchen and bath companies, has more than one target market. Our primary marketing focus for the past five years has been to develop a network of dealers throughout the East and Midwest, but we still service our traditional local builder and remodel clients.”

He continues, “What we offer as a company is equally important to all of our customers, so our message consistently talks about our quality custom cabinets, attention to detail and high service levels – important buying criteria of all of our clients. We may wrap our message differently to reach a showroom owner versus a local builder, but we always drive home our competitive advantages.”

Positioning Line

A positioning line, sometimes referred to as a Unique Selling Proposition (USP), discusses the company, the competition and what makes one better and/or different. It should further define a business from the competition and tell a target market why the one being focused on is the best option.

Many times, the positioning is as much a part of the brand as the product itself. Some of the better known USPs include “Melts in your mouth, not in your hand” (M&Ms) and “When it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight” (FedEx).

Dry notes, “We consistently use ‘excellence in interior and exterior design – purveyors of fine gifts’ as a positioning line, but I do tend to shift Garrett Interiors’ positioning through press releases and other publicity. I include that our diversity in reaching many audiences is a real positive to each individual or business we work with.

“For instance, I tell my home production builders that hiring Garrett Interiors for their model home design gives them a better marketing advantage over some of my competitors because I have an extensive business in custom and remodel residential. I let them know that we design and install on a weekly basis items we know our residential customers are asking for. We can bring a real grounded ear to our builders and let them know, from first-hand experience, what the ‘real world’ is asking for in their homes. This can be a tremendous marketing advantage to a production builder building 300 homes in a tract who needs staying power in the market. We can provide sound advice as to where that builder should spend money in offering upgrade options to potential home buyers based upon our experience with the residential interior design market.”

Message Placement

Where a message is placed can have the greatest impact on how a brand is perceived by a target market. Each medium and the channels within have target markets that a business can choose to make its own. Bending a brand to make a connection with the audience may be as simple as altering the message. For example, reaching the luxury market with an ad in the symphony program may require a different headline than an ad in the local religious newspaper, but the overall brand remains instantly recognizable.

Taking the Pepsi challenge and deciding to make a concerted effort to create an affinity with a particular market through a branding campaign is certainly doable in the kitchen and bath industry.

Luzier points to the Internet as a viable network. “…it is figuratively broadcasting the front window of my showroom 24/7,” he remarks. “We already know that over 70 percent of women shop online before they make a purchase locally, and I can only imagine the GenXers and GenYers are at an even higher percentage. As these groups become a larger part of our customer base, I can see myself adapting my branding strategies to their comfort levels – not mine.”

As for Pepsi, Dry believes the company will be okay. “If the company does it well, then each of its markets will identify with the particular ‘look’ or ‘feel’ and buy that item based upon those simple emotions. As long as the consumer knows the item inside – the taste of Pepsi – isn’t compromised, and the public is assured that the only thing changed is the outside, then it could be fun.

“The kitchen and bath industry could use some shaking up and could accomplish the same thing,” she adds. “As long as the public knows there is quality and customer service inside, we are already selling on the emotional level, so it is just a matter of creating the right look and feel for the niche we hope to attract.”

She continues, “I believe many of the manufacturers are beginning to do just that. I love the new colors and textures being brought into the marketplace. I love the marketing by some of our suppliers. They encourage our customers to think and then rethink; that it’s okay to be brave and think outside the box; that a 50+ consumer can actually think a ‘Jetsons’ kitchen is now attainable with beautiful results.”

At the end of the day, branding is about how a company is perceived by a target market. Certainly, a logo, colors, a message and placement should all work to create a desired market position in every medium used – from print ads to the Web.
By altering colors, message, positioning and media placement, a kitchen and bath firm can attract a new client segment. But, it is up to that business to deliver the same great taste.

Remember that graphic changes are only a portion of the Pepsi strategy. The intent is to create an affinity with each group through exclusive online content, sweepstakes, merchandising, etc.

Keep an eye on Pepsi and be open to new branding ideas from companies both in and out of the kitchen and bath market. A company doesn’t need to be a billion-dollar corporation to effectively brand itself and create an affinity with its target markets.

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