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The 10 Commandments of Branding

When you decide to invest in creating a brand, follow these guidelines to ensure that you get your money's worth:

1. Be distinctive. You'll land your company in expensive legal hot water if you attempt to steal or encroach on another company's identity. Apart from legalities, you tend to get the most bang for your branding buck when you generate a powerful contrast with competitors' images. Do something different.

Smartfood popcorn's glossy black bags still stand out on store shelves as few other food products do. And what macaroni-and-cheese maker besides Annie's offers free "Be Green" bumper stickers and information about the company mascot, a real rabbit named Bernie, on the packaging?

2. Repeat, repeat, repeat! The more times your slogans, logo, stories, colors, themes, values and other elements come before your intended public, the greater their effect. Normally, if you have XXXXX dollars to spend this year spreading awareness of your brand, you're better off creating thousands of small impressions than spending it all on one blow-out event.

Think of the radio and TV ads that sing in your head while you're trying to concentrate on something else. No matter how catchy those tunes, they wouldn't do that if you heard them only once. The same goes for the world's most creative restaurant sign. When prospective customers also see that logo on magnets at their friends' houses, on tote bags at the day care center, on thermoses in taxicabs and on the uniforms of the local softball league - then it's really starting to make an impact.

Sounds obvious, but even powerhouses like IBM have neglected this rule. In the early 1990s, IBM had several hundred different logos and slogans circulating. In mid-1994, it laid down the law on which identity elements were authorized and which prohibited. Partly as a result, in 1995 IBM rose to the position of the world's third most valuable brand from position number 282 the year before.

4. Be persistent. Those within a company will be tempted to change the image of a brand way before it's time to do so. Never, never modify or update a central element of a brand just because you're tired of it. If it's working, it can continue working for decades.

Since the 1880s, Ivory soap has successfully called itself "99 44/100% pure." Marlboro has linked itself with cowboys since the 1950s - and the brand has a current value of around $13 billion. Betty Crocker has changed her hairstyle, but she's been wearing red and white since her first appearance on food products in 1921.

5. Don't water it down. A brand must stand for something and must be linked with something specific in the minds of your public. If Ben & Jerry's ice cream were to move its headquarters from Vermont to, say, Las Vegas, a crucial part of its identity would be lost. When Packard, which had been America's top luxury-brand car, suddenly announced in the 1940s, "Now everyone can afford a Packard," the company slid into deep trouble. Cadillac picked up buyers who'd previously wanted the cachet of a Packard.

If you owned a locally well-known travel agency and inherited a toy store, you'd be better off keeping the identity of the toy store or inventing a new brand for it than trying to extend the travel agency's brand to toys. Brand identities can stretch only so far before they snap.

6. Give it away! The more often people encounter your brand identity, the more you receive the benefits of familiarity, credibility and visibility that accompany branding. Giving away imprinted merchandise to potential buyers inexpensively keeps your brand in front of them. Tens of thousands of promotional items exist besides the familiar paperweights, coffee cups, T-shirts and jelly bean jars. Hold them out as premiums for sizable or frequent orders, or as prizes in monthly drawings.

Ironically, giving people a chance to win your promotional items often prompts inquiries from people who are willing to buy them. Some companies have even turned their imprinted merchandise into a profit center in addition to gaining greater visibility. BMW owners can flaunt their identification with their cars by buying $85 jackets or $195 watches bearing BMW-related insignia. Harley-Davidson's merchandise for bike owners brings in more than $200 million a year for the company, not counting the indirect benefits of having so many branded items in circulation.

7. Make word of mouth easy. Hotmail and MCI are two companies that grew exponentially by making it easy or providing incentives to tell friends and relatives about their company. You can spread your brand quickly on a smaller scale by, for example, enclosing two business cards or promotional magnets in a mailing instead of just one, sending two hats when they ordered one and providing lots of opportunities for people to request brochures, catalogs or identity merchandise for friends and colleagues.

Stonyfield Farm harnessed the power of word of mouth through its "Adopt-a-Cow" program in the early 1990s, which created a bond between yogurt buyers and the cows on its farm and gave consumers something worth telling friends and relatives about. The program was so successful that enrollees had to share adoptee cows.

8. Evolve as necessary. Brands may need to mutate when they're perceived as misrepresenting a company that has changed or as out of step with the times. A dramatic example is the updating of Betty Crocker, who lost the original gray flecks in her hair over time and changed from homey-looking to dressed for success to more informally attired as society changed.

With bank mergers now epidemic, it's crucial to try to keep brand equity going, and when one bank does not simply swallow the other, designers have come up with elegant new combinations of old identity elements -- one color from company A and one from company B, one syllable from each, a new shape incorporating symbols from both banks, etc.

9. Be creative. To promote her book, I Love Men in Tasseled Loafers, Boston humorist Debbi Karpowicz commissioned a new drink, The Tasseled Loafer, from the New England Bartenders School. When she found out her hairdresser used coffee to get rid of red highlights in hair, she sent out a media release for him with a packet of coffee stapled above the headline, DISCOVER HOW TO PERK UP YOUR HAIR WITH COFFEE.

A mascot, a theme party, branded advertisements located in unusual places like bathroom stalls can attract precious media coverage as well as attention from current and future customers. Actor Norman George, who plays Edgar Allan Poe in the show Poe Alone, enclosed a 12-inch black feather reminiscent of Poe's poem "The Raven" in press kits about his show. "An inexpensive promotional item helps your release stick in the mind of the editor," he says. So let your imagination go.

10. Protect it. Registering a trademark gives you a measure of legal exclusivity on your brand identity, including sometimes even a color scheme, a product's look and feel or an interior decorating scheme. Even so, you may need to police unauthorized usage of your brand elements by searching out offenders and sending cease-and-desist letters. Contact an intellectual property attorney for details.

Don't let your brand name degenerate into a generic term. "Aspirin" used to be a brand name, as did "Escalator." You may feel flattered that people are using your product, service or company name to stand for its entire category, but when that kind of usage becomes widespread it can open the door to competitors having legal license to trade upon the investment you've made in injecting that name into people's minds.

Marcia Yudkin is Head Stork of Named At Last, which affordably brainstorms creative product names and tag lines for organizations all over the world. For more articles on branding and naming, go to Named at Last - Branding Articles (www.namedatlast.com/brandingarticles.htm).