The Value of an External Brand Energizer
Partnerships should enhance brand personality, like Home Depot and Habitat for Humanity or Valvoline and NASCAR.
However, creating and owning an internal branded energizer that resonates with the target segments and energizes and enhances the target brand is difficult and expensive. It can take years to get traction at a time where action is needed in months. Indeed, it may not be feasible at all in a marketplace in which competitors have strong brands and active energizers of their own.
Enter the External Branded Energizer
An alternative is the “external branded energizer, a brand that is owned by another organization. In essence, you find a brand already established with energy and attach the target brand to it. By energy, I mean some combination of exciting/interesting, involving/engaging, innovative/dynamic and/or purpose-driven/passionate.
There is an infinite supply of brands outside your organization that have the potential to energize and enhance that also have enormous strength, are not tied to competitors, and can be linked to the target brand. With discipline and creativity, candidates can be located. The challenge is to create and manage the resulting co-brand alliance.
An external branded energizer will have a variety of sources, but among the most important are sponsorships and endorsements.
Using Sponsorships to Energize Brands
The right sponsorship, handled well, can energize and even transform a brand, adding a meaningful higher purpose. Home Depot, for example, sponsors Habitat for Humanity. Home Depot supplies volunteers, some of the material needed to build and support in raising money and awareness. It is easy for a Home Depot shopper to know of the connection because of the signage, the programs and the continuity over time. FedEx has received energy by sponsoring the FedEx cup, the world series of professional golf. It culminates in four tournaments, the last of which contains 30 top golfers vying for a 10 million dollar top prize. The venerable motor oil brand Valvoline gains involvement and a visible shared interest through its NASCAR sponsorship, supported by a creative website.
“The challenge is to create and manage the resulting co-brand alliance.”
Prestige events like the Olympics can add energy and give a leadership halo to a want-to-be leader brand. Samsung broke through from being just another Korean technology brand to becoming a real player in the US market as a result of its sponsorship of the Olympics. Prestige events can also add energy to established brands, such as VISA. Brands such as these that are successful at creating links with the sponsorship surround the sponsorship with a host of brand-driven activities including promotions, publicity events, website content, newsletters and advertising over an extended time period, usually measured in decades.
Using Endorsers to Energize Brands
Another route is using an endorser, a personality that is contemporary, visible, on-brand, energetic, authentic and in the news. Think of what LeBron James brings to not only Nike but Coca-Cola, State Farm, and McDonald’s. And Roger Federer to Gillette, Mercedes, Rolex, Credit Swiss, and Wilson. An endorser can also be a symbol, such as the Peanuts characters adapted by Metlife in 1985 or the Pink Panther used by Owens Corning, the insulation company even earlier. These symbols can provide energy and visibility to a brand stuck in a boring product class.
Guidelines for Sponsorships and Endorsements as Brand Energizers
- Make sure that the external branded energizer does in fact deliver energy, and that the energy remains a primary objective during the management of the brand alliance. Be also sure that the branded energizer fits its role.
- Understand and manage the role of the branded energizer. How exactly is it going to be used to deliver on its objective?
- The brand alliance relationship should be entered into and managed as a long-term marriage, not as a fling. It is a marriage. There needs to be a two-way reason to partner that will endure the future strategies and people changes. There should be compelling fit.
- Find ways to associate the target brand with the energizer (it is not important to do the reverse —associate the energizer with the target brand). The key is the long term relationship and a set of surrounding programs so that the link goes beyond simply repetition.
- Consider the external branded energizer as part of the brand portfolio, and manage its links to the other brands in the portfolio. Again, it is not another sponsorship or promotion, it is a brand that is a member of the firm’s brand portfolio.
For more, see my book Brand Portfolio Strategy.
Even leading brands can appear tired, especially when newer entrants generate more attention. Brand managers can’t let that happen, and need to commit to new ways to add interest, including events, sponsorships and celebrity endorsers.