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The Whiteboard: Brandits: Seven ways that brands can be purloined a little piece at a time

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1. The downside of digital. A popular estimate is that 30 million PowerPoint presentations are made every day. Sometimes I feel like I've seen 29 million of them.

In addition, billions of Word documents are created each year, and the problem with both these incredibly useful software products is they can be brand identity thieves.

They are so versatile — with dozens of type styles, header and footer treatments, backgrounds and flying transitions — that no two documents or presentations may be alike. Brands require consistency, but chances are there are a dozen or more PowerPoint templates using a variety of colors, fonts and logo versions or placements lurking in the hard drives of your employees' computers right now.

Word documents, though less visual, offer the same traps for brand dilution. Major brands usually maintain strict limits on customizing the corporate look. If you have a written brand identity guide (a good idea), setting standards for PowerPoint and Word should be in there.

2. Getting bored with your own brand. Given your daily exposure to your brand elements such as logo, slogan and current marketing materials, chances are you'll be tired of them first. But the rule of thumb is that's just the point when your audience is starting to notice it. There are ways to find out if it's working, but resist the temptation to refresh your campaign or tagline too often.

3. Losing touch with your customer. For the most part, customers won't tell you about your brand unless you ask — or if you make them mad enough to post a nastygram on your Facebook page. They will walk away and buy from the competition.

So find ways to get regular feedback from your customers that includes commentary on your branding and its effectiveness. No, you can't just ask them, "Do you think our brand is effective?" But you can ask them to rate your tagline, comment on your logo revisions or answer what they like most and least about your brand.

4. Undercutting your brand. If you're the lowest price player in your marketplace, you can skip this. But if you're not, be careful about trying too hard to chase the low end of the market. It can cheapen your entire brand.

Rolex doesn't try to compete with Timex, because it would damage its super-premium position. Apple is facing this dilemma right now. There is speculation that Apple may produce a lower cost iPhone to compete with far cheaper models with similar features.

There are two ways to fail with this approach. First, customers might reject the idea of a cheap iPhone and not buy it, and second, Apple could succeed with the cheaper phone and cannibalize sales of its higher-priced and higher-margin models. Either way, the brand could suffer.

5. Buzzword bingo. Even if your company does drill down to a results-driven, real-time, bottom-up, value-added solution, please don't write or talk like that in front of your customer or prospects. It's jargon, it sounds alike, and it doesn't differentiate.

I had an English teacher in high school who would automatically give an F to anyone who used the word "thing" in writing. "There's always a better word," he said. The same applies to buzzwords. Avoid them, and your brand messages will be clearer and more distinctive.

6. Introduce your new brand to your employees and never mention it again. Major brands are continually educating their employees on their brand. They remind them of the core strategy, they update them on successes or new product introductions, they explain how they reinforce the brand, and they educate them on how to represent the brand and deliver the brand experience in their specific jobs.

Here's a simple test: What percentage of your employees could explain your brand in one or two sentences? Of course, the best answer is 100 percent, but the higher that number, the better. And, my guess is, it could be higher than it is. If it is 100 percent, call me. I want to take you to lunch.

7. Reduce your name to initials (usually three). "But everybody knows us by these initials," you say. Maybe so. And that's fine if you never want any new customers, or if you're IBM and have a $50 million ad budget.

But for most companies, reducing their name to initials drops them into a meaningless ocean of alphabet soup. Want proof? Whatever your proposed three-letter initials are, enter them into a search engine and check the results. I promise you won't like them.

David Taylor is president of Lancaster-based Taylor Brand Group, which specializes in brand development and marketing technology. Contact him via

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