Warning: Sometimes You Can Take Brand Too Far

By Janet Driscoll Miller | May 16, 2011
More Articles by Janet


I won’t lie. I love Washington Post columnist Gene Weingarten. I look forward to his piece every week in Sunday’s Post, and joyfully, this week’s column spoke directly to me as a marketer.

In a nutshell, Weingarten had mentioned the Stetson brand in a previous column, essentially stating in the previous column that if you wanted to feel more American, “put on a Stetson.” Now to me, and clearly go Weingarten, this appeared to be a compliment.

But the Stetson company apparently disagreed. Weingarten received a letter from a company representative requested that he clarify that “‘Stetson’ is the name of [their] company and not a generic term for a hat.” Really? Weingarten essentially compliments your company by making Stetson synonymous with an all-American hat and you feel the need to clarify that not all hats are Stetsons? Seriously?

This reminded me, too, of the classic textbook case study we used to learn about in public relations back in my college days of refrigerators being referred to by the “Frigidaire” brand, tissues by the “Kleenex” brand, or bandages being referred to by the “Band-Aid” brand. Sometimes, in the effort to protect a brand, it becomes too easy to restrict opportunity as well.

The same is true when it comes to search engine optimization. I can’t tell you how many times, in an effort to protect a “brand term” I’ve been told to avoid using popular search terms on a website. The most famous example was a client that wanted to attract potential buyers to their “Certified Pre-owned Vehicles”, but didn’t want to refer AT ALL to the term “used cars” anywhere on the website. For the record, the term “used cars” is searched approximately 31,250% more than “certified pre-owned vehicles EACH MONTH.

I try to help clients understand that there CAN be a healthy balance between brand and search terms. You can’t completely abandon using popular search terms because you want to brand a particular way. In the case of the certified pre-owned program, we crafted the text on the page to read: “Our certified pre-owned vehicles are not like all used cars — each car has gone through a 100-point inspection.” See? You just have to get a little creative with the copy, but you CAN balance brand and search terms, even if you don’t want to tarnish your brand with a search term that you might find less than appealing.

So when you’re protecting your brand, be sure not to overdo it. Don’t get me wrong — brand is very important. But sometimes our zealousness to protect a brand can cause us to deny opportunities, as in the case with Stetson and Weingarten.  No where is that case more evident than with SEO. Don’t deny your brand great opportunity. Instead, learn to embrace opportunity and become creative with how you associate brand terms with terms that you might actually want to distance the brand from. Are you up for the challenge?

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