Verizon: good branding or good business?

At Tuesdays’ Global Branding panel discussion (thanks to the NYAMA and Getty Images), Professor Joseph Plummer began by stating the axiom that brand strategy must be joined to the business strategy.  And then he went on to point out the reality that the two often never match.  It is as if branding lives in a parallel universe to the rest of the company.

So a good brand by definition is one that supports and advances the business strategy.  We can all agree with that, even if it’s not so easy to achieve.

Then does  it hold that a good business has, by definition, a good brand?

Unfortunately, no.  

It is entirely possible to have a good business with a lousy brand.  In fact there are entire categories where the brands are either irrelevant or disconnected from the business success.  Those categories tend to be either highly regulated, have a limited amount of competition (aka oligopolies) or highly commoditized.

Verizon is a prime example where the business is growing despite the branding.  Verizon has been able to post positive business results for a variety of reasons including the growth of wireless category, the still highly regulated telecoms market and the limited amount of competition.

In fact, you could make a strong case that Verizon’s business would do even better if they dialed back on their advertising.  It would immediately drop to the bottom line, increasing margins.  And it would remind people less often of how mistreated they feel by Verizon.

Over the past couple of years I have frequently brought up Verizon as an example for many things that can go wrong with marketing.  They have had some very strong people in their marketing departments.  They have worked with world-class agencies.  And yet nothing inspiring has replaced the Bozell campaign that ran 5 or 7 years ago, the “Can you hear me now?” ads.

And that campaign was inspired.  It was a brilliant story, a wonderful metaphor.  It made the cultural connection with Verizon immediate and visceral, not a deliberate and ponderous decision.  

So we see that a great brand and a great business are non-synonymous (if there is such a word).

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