Are You Aware Of Brand Schizophrenia?

Posted: March 8, 2011 in Brand management

Nowadays, I am reading the book “In Search Of The Obvious” written by marketing guru Jack Trout. This book not only entertains me but also makes me think about marketing and brand management strategies at the same time. Especially, I am really interested in the chapter 5 which explains the concept “Brand Schizophrenia” while giving examples of ill-fated marketing programs of global brands. Therefore, I want to share important points criticized for generating more confusion than clarity by many researc people.

Trout says that powerful brands have distinct personalities by giving the examples: Duracell’s batteries last a long time. Dove includes skin cleansing cream. However, even dominant brands can fade if they fall prey to multiple personality disorder, in other words, brand schizophrenia.

If you consider General Motors, which muckep up its brand over decades of endless line extensions, or Mercedes Benz, which has done it in less than one decade, it is obvious to see these automakers’ brand schizophrenia. As a result, in 2005 GM prefered to narrow its selection of cars although this effort to control brand schizophrenia is too little too late. Moreover, in Europe, Mercedes Benz is not listed as the top brand. The Audi A8, BMW, Maserati and Jaguar have taken over this position.

It is possible to give more examples that are similar to the GM and Mercedes stories. Let’s come to the main point emphasized by Trout: “…Once a company abandons its brands’ distinctive personalities or positions, it’s just a matter of time before confused customers start to drift away.”

It won’t be truism to regard Jack Trout as being tenaciosly against line extensions. Since he highlights the ways to execute line extensions without confusing and losing your customers. And the common point shared by these strategies is rigorous attention to the brand’s position — consumers’ sense of the brand’s distinct, overarching identity. This statement makes it easy to reach the conslusion that “managed carefully, a good position is timeless.”

Unfortunately, most of marketing people have a tendency to tinker with a brand without saying “Things look pretty good, let’s not touch a thing.” Then, the result is obvious: A bad case of brand schizophrenia. But there is worse of it. Most of the time, a marketing executive advocates that brand schizophrenia is a good thing. The case with Larry Light, the ex-chief marketing officer of McDonald’s, is the one of the examples. In a speech, he said that “brand chronicles” or multiple messages (i.e., personalities) was the way to go, as opposed to brand positioning.

Dissenting from Larry Light’s idea related to “brand chronicles”, Jack Trout does not regard the “brand chronicles” as the way of the future. “…It’s only a way of turning a brand that stands for something into a brand that stands for nothing.” he says. He also believes that positioning is how you differentiate yourself and you cannot survive in a brutally competitive world unless you stay focused on that position.

After all, it is the most obvious fact that brands are all in search of the obvious solutions that will seperate their product from their competitors. Whether marketing people can be an ‘obvious’ problem or not, whether it’s futile to change minds in the marketplace or not; the important thing is what is obvious to customers.

  1. […] businesses can be said to have a schizophrenic brand identity simply because they try to be all things to all people and go with what is currently […]

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