Battle cry equals brand success

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Does your brand have a battle cry? This short, punchy phrase can inspire a company and intrigue a marketplace. A battle cry will focus a brand message, tell employees how to act-and consumers what to expect.

I've facilitated strategy-development sessions with many sophisticated marketers and, surprisingly, there is rarely a battle cry in place. Most companies have "mission statements"-but they tend to be ponderous and collect dust in a bottom drawer. Ask an employee what the company's mission statement is and you'll get (and this is guaranteed) a blank stare.

I once interviewed Bill Gates and asked if he could tell me, in 10 words or less, how he inspired Microsoft code writers to develop innovative software that computer users would want. Without hesitating, he answered: "Information at your fingertips." Four powerful words-a battle cry-that gave staffers marching orders for creating revolutionary software. Those four words also told customers what to expect in Microsoft's shrink-wrapped boxes.

Bill Clinton used a famous battle cry during his 1992 campaign, "It's the economy, stupid," to focus his campaign workers on what voters cared about most: the increasing swirl of economic insecurity.

Before creating a battle cry, make a graphic map of the competitive landscape. Use a two-axis grid labeled with marketplace realities. (For example: highest quality vs. lowest quality on one axis, most profit vs. least profit on the other.) Position the brand relative to competitors. Now decide where it should be positioned in three years. Draw a line between the two points-this is your "strategic path."

Next list all the brand's strengths. Then dig deep and list weaknesses. Think expansively and list possible future opportunities. Move on to list threats that could be lurking. Finally, poll the room to determine the most significant factors in each strength-weakness-opportunities-threats category. The best strategy will match the brand's key strengths to its best opportunities.

There are four elements to a battle cry.

* It must be focused externally on what customers want. Wal-Mart said: "Give ordinary folk the chance to buy the same things as rich people." Snapple Natural Beverages says: "Made from the best stuff on earth." Internally focused statements such as, "Increase sales by 8% next quarter," won't ever budge consumers. Or how about this blood-curdling, internally focused battle cry: Honda's "Yamaha o tsubusu." (Translation: "Utterly waste and destroy Yamaha.") That might have stoked internal fires, but surely would have left buyers cold.

* The battle cry should ring true in the marketplace-be believable and unique within the brand's competitive set. Consumers should respond by thinking: "Yeah, that feels right to me."

* Keep it short. It's best to use 10 words or less. Long-winded? Go with 12 or 13 words-no more. A multiple-sentence paragraph is a death knell for a battle cry.

* The fourth element is stickiness. Try using an unexpected word. For example, Snapple's oddball word "stuff." Or President Clinton's politically daring word "stupid" (an inspired way to make his campaign strategy stick like flypaper).

Creating a battle cry is hard work. Involve your best thinkers-forbid negative comments-and cheer them on as they create phrases. Nobel Prize winner Dr. Linus Pauling said: "The best way to get a good idea ... is to get a lot of ideas." Don't stop until there are 30 or more candidates. With luck, the winner will jump off the wall at you. Not satisfied? Keep plugging.

Here's a powerful battle cry from JetBlue Airways' Web site: "Bring humanity back to air travel." Seems simple, but I'll bet creating it took a lot of aborted takeoffs. Most radio stations figured out the battle-cry game long ago. On-air pitches are short, memorable phrases that promise listeners what they want. Hear "Oldies ... goldies ... nothin' moldy" and you know what that station plays. If it's "All rap ... all the time," then, if rap is your cup of tea, you know where it's being poured.

Once that customer-focused, ringing-with-truth, short, sticky phrase is picked, pledge eternal allegiance to it. It is something precious that your competitors, in all likelihood, do not possess. The new battle cry must be vigorously infused into sales meetings, customer presentations, press releases, brochures, Web sites and all other marketing communications. Its inspiring spirit-if not the actual words-should be reflected in your advertising.

A battle cry brightly illuminating the strategic path avoids the insidious "Alice-in-Wonderland trap." That was when Alice-asking directions of the Cheshire Cat-said she didn't much care where she went. The cat grinned widely and said, "Then it doesn't matter which way you go." n

John Emmerling is CEO-chief creative officer, Emmerling Communications, New York, and often facilitates strategy-development and idea-generation sessions.

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