Brand Warfare: 10 Rules for Building the Killer Brand


A marketing best seller!

...D'Alessandro draws on his personal experience as a brand-builder and examples from America's smartest and most foolish corporations, developing principles that you can use in any market...

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A marketing best seller!

...D'Alessandro draws on his personal experience as a brand-builder and examples from America's smartest and most foolish corporations, developing principles that you can use in any market...

Read More Show Less

Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
One of the most debated issues in the business press is the topic of branding, and few executives are more able to effectively address this critical issue than David D'Alessandro. As CEO of John Hancock Financial Services, which The New York Times recently named as one of the world's top ten brands, D'Alessandro has overseen the transformation of his company into a cutting-edge industry leader with an aggressive "brand first" philosophy. D'Alessandro now reveals the secrets that fueled John Hancock's amazing successful brand strategy and provides advice that will prove invaluable to his fellow executives, marketers, and business owners.
Harvard Business Review
Don't let the generic title fool you. With its engaging voice and pull-no-punches tone, this book stands out from the marketing crowd. The key to effective brands, says the head of John Hancock Financial Services, is an identity that connects to the real problems of customers. To develop and maintain that realism, he contends, companies must protect their brands from the in-house political, legal and operational pressures that have turned most brands into mush. They also need to risk alienating some market segments. Lively stories from D'Alessandro's multi-faceted career in marketing help drive home his points with an all-too-rare concreteness. He takes the reader on a well-organized tour of marketing pitfalls, from advertising "feedback" to wasted sponsorships. And his wry sense of humor akes up for some bluster and his bias in favor of Hancock marketing choices like the Olympics. The books offers no great insights, but it may well prevent executives from signing off on ill-fated brand campaigns.
Chicago Sun Times
David F. D'Alessandro is that refreshing rarity: a businessman who tells it like it is. And he does just that in his gripping new page-turner, Brand Warfare: 10 Rules for Building the Killer Brand. (McGraw-Hill, $24.95, 185 pages). Branding is the buzzword du jour in the business world. And companies such as Citibank, Starbucks, IBM and McDonald's are constantly held up as examples of great brands.

But how many executives really get it? D'Alessandro, who moonlights as CEO of John Hancock Financial Services, neatly lays out what makes a brand great and what smart corporate types must do to protect and enhance the brand.

D'Alessandro got his start in branding at a tender age working in the family grocery store in Utica, N.Y. When D'Alessandro's grandmother died, his grandfather recruited him to go to the slaughterhouse every morning to lick carcasses to determine which were bacteria-free. The meat that passed the licking test was immediately stamped "D'Alessandro Store" to ensure it didn't get switched on the way to the grocery. Because of D'Alessandro's efforts, the store maintained its reputation for selling the best beef.

From such unusual early business practices, D'Alessandro developed an innate feeling for the brand and the importance of protecting its sanctity. And as his new book makes clear, this knowledge smoothed the way for his meteoric rise to the top of one of the nation's major financial services company.

All the rules in D'Alessandro's book really flow from one fact: Every brand has a distinct, appealing, carefully nurtured personality. Anyone committed to sustaining and building the brand should understand that. Inevitably, D'Alessandro gets around to discussing a brand's all-important relationship with its advertising agency, and he's brutally blunt about what is at the core of most such business arrangements. One of the biggest mistakes you can make as a brand builder is to assume that advertising agencies want to help you build your brand and sell your products, D'Alessandro writes. "Don't be silly; what they really want is to keep you as a fee-paying client for as long as possible.

The author wraps up this diatribe by characterizing most agencies as sycophants. D'Alessandro underscores this point with an amusing and telling story about a John Hancock advertising campaign that was in place just before he was named president.

That campaign's central image was a set of scales, which perplexed D'Alessandro until he walked into a secluded part of his predecessor's office and discovered--much to his amazement--shelves and shelves of antique scales.

Judging from his comments in Brand Warfare, D'Alessandro is a big fan of bold, breakthrough advertising. He states several times that one great commercial can do as much to build a brand as millions and millions of dollars spent on mediocre advertising. He has witnessed firsthand the horrific effects of too many, poorly equipped people putting their two cents into campaigns that wound up pale shadows of what they were intended to be. Once good creatives have been subjected to such indignities, D'Alessandro writes, they never again will give their all to developing great, brand-building advertising.

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In this short, concise work, D'Alessandro, CEO of the John Hancock insurance group, entertainingly hammers home the importance of creating and maintaining a brand. In his view, a brand is whatever image a customer conjures up upon hearing a company's name, so everything from the firm's labor practices to its product and advertising must be taken into account. To make his points, D'Alessandro draws heavily on his former career in advertising and public relations. On having Orville Redenbacher as a client: "We literally thought he was insane." But in the end, he says, "Orville taught me...the power of a good brand to trump all rhyme or reason in the marketplace." From a consumer's point of view, brands save time, project a certain image to the rest of the world and make one feel part of the group that uses the brand. He discusses the steps to building a brand, consistently emphasizing that, if it is to resonate, the brand must have one simple image. D'Alessandro doesn't break much new ground here, but he succeeds at reminding everyone from the CEO to the people on the assembly line that their company's brand is its most crucial asset. Practical, psychologically astute and clearly written, this book has much to offer businessfolk of all stripes. (May 1) Forecast: A $500,000 advertising and publicity campaign, national radio and television interviews, a six-city author tour and D'Alessandro's savvy advice and irreverent humor will get the 100,000-copy first printing moving in no time. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781932378054
  • Publisher: America Media International
  • Publication date: 11/15/2003
  • Format: CD
  • Edition description: Abridged, CD
  • Pages: 4
  • Product dimensions: 5.70 (w) x 4.86 (h) x 0.98 (d)

Meet the Author

D'Alessandro developed and directs the company's integrated consumer marketing strategies and operations, which involve an unprecedented and aggressive expansion of the company's product lines and distribution channels. Under his leadership the company has moved from selling its products almost exclusively through its 5000-person agency field force in 1991 to making products available to a distribution network of more than 200,000 individuals who are today authorized to sell John Hancock products.

He joined the company in June 1984 as vice president of Corporate Communications, and was the youngest senior officer in the company's history. He was promoted to senior vice president in January 1986. The following year, he was given additional responsibility for the $1.2 billion institutional insurance division.

In July 1988, he became president of the Corporate Sector, making him the youngest management committee member in the company's history. He became a member of the board of directors in 1990, and senior executive vice president in charge of the Retail Sector, in 1991.

Named by the Sporting News as one of the "100 Most Powerful People in Sports" for the past five years, D'Alessandro is the architect behind John Hancock's successful and widely acclaimed sports marketing programs, including the company's worldwide sponsorship of the Olympic games, the Boston Marathon, Major League Baseball, and Champions on Ice.

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Table of Contents

Introduction ix
Rule 1 It's the Brand, Stupid 1
Rule 2 Codependency Can Be Beautiful--Consumers Need Good Brands As Much As Good Brands Need Them 15
Rule 3 A Great Brand Message Is Like a Bucking Bronco--Once You're On, Don't Let Go 26
Rule 4 If You Want Great Advertising, Be Prepared to Fight for It 49
Rule 5 When It Comes to Sponsorships, There's a Sucker Born Every 30 Seconds 70
Rule 6 Do Not Confuse Sponsorship with a Spectator Sport 95
Rule 7 Do Not Allow Scandal to Destroy in 30 Days a Brand That Took 100 Years to Build 110
Rule 8 Make Your Distributors Slaves to Your Brand 129
Rule 9 Use Your Brand to Lead Your People to the Promised Land 148
Rule 10 Ultimately, the Brand Is the CEO's Responsibility--and Everyone Else's Too 164
Index 179
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First Chapter

Chapter 1 — It's the Brand, Stupid

James Carville, Bill Clinton's brilliant political strategist in the watershed election of 1992, famously kept the campaign on track by scratching three little words on a dry—erase board near his desk: "The economy, stupid."

I've often thought CEOs should be forced to do exactly the same thing: take down the office Monet and, instead, put a thumbtack into a scrap of paper that says, "The brand, stupid."

The recent history of American business is littered with the corpses of executives who forgot that. And a huge number of these executives, by the way, were running companies with very big brands. The problem is that there's a tremendous arrogance that comes from having a big brand, and that arrogance makes it easy to forget that even the biggest brand only stays big at the pleasure of the consumers.


The most incredible example of brand arrogance I ever witnessed personally was at Citibank, where I worked for seven or eight surreal months during the late 1970s. Of course, today Citigroup is one of the biggest and best financial services companies in the world. And back then, it was one of the world's finest banks, except for the division I worked in, which was a lunatic asylum.

Somebody came up with the bright idea that because this was Citibank, all the nation's smaller banks and credit unions were eager to emulate the company in any way possible. And the particular set of geniuses employed by this division sat around thinking about what they could sell to the smaller banks: computer systems, tapes on how to train tellers, prepackaged loan programs—you name it.

No product was too small or trivial. Our bosses would come in and say, "We're doing these Christmas calendars for Citibank, and you know, we can sell these calendars," as if Wachovia Bank were going to buy a Christmas calendar produced by the competition. It was seldom about the quality of the products or services we were offering; it was just about how much of the company's operating costs we could offset by pushing these things off onto smaller players. And the attitude of everybody involved was, "They will buy because it's us."

One meeting in particular opened my eyes to the future of this endeavor. We sat in a conference room while various technical people made presentations about the products that we were going to sell. That morning, one of the company's senior people graced us with his presence. Let's call him "The Executive." Of course, he would never leap down two or three rungs on the ladder to address the person presenting personally. As far as The Executive was concerned, assistant vice presidents like me were nonexistent. He would speak only to our boss.

That day, one of my unfortunate peers happened to be making a presentation about the sales of computer systems to correspondent banks, and he started to say things such as, "There are some limitations to getting this done," "The product has a limitation," and "There's a time—frame lag."

After a few minutes, The Executive bestirred himself to say to our boss, "Put the cup up."

I had no idea what The Executive was talking about. Our boss whispered something to somebody, who produced a Styrofoam coffee cup and set it on the table in front of the poor guy doing the presentation. Then our boss explained to the guy that every time he said something The Executive didn't like, he had to put a nickel in the cup.

What The Executive didn't like soon became abundantly clear. He refused to hear anything that in any way, shape, manner, or form took him off his timetable and delayed the launching of the product. And every time he did hear something that suggested the product was not yet ready for market, he'd hold up one finger and indicate that it was time for the peon irritating him to toss a nickel in the cup.

My colleague had a couple of nickels on him, but that was it. Watching him root around in his pockets looking for change was just painful. So finally, our boss put a $5 bill in the debit cup for him so he could finish his presentation.

I was thunderstruck by the whole scene. Despite the childishness of what was unfolding, the project that my colleague was trying to tell the truth about was a rather significant one that was costing millions and millions of dollars. And it was not just that The Executive—this arrogant shell of a professional manager—was humiliating someone who seemed to me far more honest and competent than he was. It was also what he said at the end of the meeting: "We're Citibank. This is a marketing problem, not a product problem."

In other words, because we were Citibank, and so obviously bigger and better than every other player, the quality of what we were selling didn't matter. We just needed to market it.

Though he was considered rather brilliant otherwise, The Executive misunderstood completely what it meant to have a strong brand. The presenter, on the other hand, had it right. We had to work harder and be better than anyone else simply because we were Citibank and had a reputation to uphold. Add in the fact that the smaller banks, the intended market for these products, were already suspicious that Citibank wanted to take them over, and there was simply no way we could sell those banks anything if our products were not so superior that they felt they couldn't live without them.

My colleague, of course, quit soon after, unwilling to work for an organization that would allow him to be publicly embarrassed just for doing his job. The meeting convinced me, too, that the division was going to fail, and I'd better exit. Sure enough, it cost Citibank hundreds of millions of dollars to watch this little notion implode. Thankfully, John Reed soon took over, and Citicorp became an enviable powerhouse. And The Executive was jettisoned to a premature retirement.

I tell this story because many of the biggest brands in America were once run by people like that. Complacency used to be rampant in the business world. Part of the explanation was probably generational.

Of course, there probably isn't a Baby Boomer or Gen—Xer in America who hasn't felt a little soft in comparison to the World War II generation he or she is now taking over for. After all, those people survived the Great Depression, kept the world safe for democracy, and went on to prosper in almost everything they did. Tom Brokaw's recent bestseller, The Greatest Generation, makes the case for them about as directly as it can be made: "This is the greatest generation any society has ever produced," he writes. He's largely right, of course. The self—confidence of the World War II generation was earned—it came out of bitter experience.

One small problem, however: This older generation of executives retired believing that they had not just seen the rough—and—tumble of war, but also had seen the rough—and—tumble of business. And on that small point, I beg to differ. By today's standards, these heroes of the three—martini lunch were playing a country club game.

Twenty or 30 years ago, if you had a good solid brand, it tended to stay good and solid for a long time. Big players ruled: CBS, NBC, and ABC controlled television; Sears dominated retailing to the middle class. AT&T owned telecom, and the U.S. Post Office owned the mail delivery business. The life insurance business might have been a little more fragmented, but we were all reasonably happy. We knew who the competition was, we were making plenty of money, and no one threatened our business model.

In fact, the big life insurance players all did business the same way: We pushed our products through agents who went door to door and earned big upfront commissions on every policy they sold. For consumers, it was the most expensive, time—consuming, and intrusive of all possible ways of delivering life insurance, but that didn't matter: The Prus, the Mets, and the John Hancocks were the only places they could buy this stuff.

Then, when the Fidelitys and the Schwabs started appearing and siphoning off dollars into their mutual funds that would once have gone to life insurance, and when new players started selling life insurance through new distribution channels at a lower cost than we could, the guys at the top of the industry sat around saying, "Who's going to buy mutual funds when they could buy life insurance?" And later, they said, "Who's going to buy life insurance from these newly branded companies when they could buy it from us?"

Clearly, the life insurance industry at least was waiting for a fall, but for decades it didn't happen. It used to be very difficult for upstarts in many industries to catch any traction, mainly because there was only one way to establish a new brand: Advertise on network television. This actively discouraged new players from entering the arena. Network TV was prohibitively expensive. Plus, it was insanely wasteful: The demographic group you were targeting might represent only 10 or 20 percent of the network audience. The rest of the impressions you paid so much for would be throwaways. And network TV actually deterred innovation: Because you were paying for a mass audience, you'd be forced to make your products more generic to appeal to as wide a group as possible.

It cost such a huge amount of money to launch a brand that the marketplace was dominated by major corporations. They were like sumo wrestlers pushing each other around on mats. Their only competition was each other. And naturally, the conventional wisdom about branding reflected this inertia. The idea was that brands had to be built over a long period of time, and the more established you were in people's minds, the better. One theory called "double jeopardy" suggested that brands with large market share not only were bought by more consumers, but also were bought more often by more loyal consumers. In other words, all the advantages were thought to go to the incumbents. Some people even thought market share was static. The number—one brand simply stayed the number—one brand, no matter what.

So why wouldn't you be arrogant if you were IBM or Sears or the U.S. Post Office? And why wouldn't you dismiss any other way of doing business except the one that kept you on top? After all, who's going to want a personal computer? Why would anyone need to buy any other brand of appliance but Kenmore? And what's the big deal with overnight delivery, anyway?

It's amusing to consider the idea that all the advantages go to the established brands in light of today's marketplace. Brands that once seemed invincible—JCPenney, Sears, AT&T, the U.S. Post Office, and the "Big Three" television networks—are now just shadows of their former selves. Newer names have taken their place in the consciousness of the American consumer: The Gap, Home Depot, Sprint, FedEx, CNBC, and the WB Network. The landscape of business now looks like a series of earthquakes, as the Mount Everests crumble and upstarts who truly understand consumers rise out of nowhere to take their place. Every week, another big American brand wakes up out of a deep Rip Van Winkle sleep and finds that upstarts are shaking the ground out from under it. And the pace of change is only accelerating: Companies like eBay and that did not even exist a few years ago are now dominant brands in their fields.

We're not watching sumo wrestling anymore. Instead, the marketplace looks more like the bazaar scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark, where there's a big, menacing guy dressed in black, swinging a saber. He thinks he's tough until Harrison Ford pulls out a gun and shoots him. It's no longer the biggest guy who wins, but the fastest, smartest guy with the best command of new technologies.


Three very important events toppled the "sumo" brands. First, consumers' attitudes changed. The Baby Boomers were better educated than their parents and constitutionally less accepting of the status quo. Everything from Vietnam to Watergate to the Exxon Valdez disaster taught them that big institutions were not to be trusted. And suspicion of big corporations has proved to have real endurance as a pop—culture concept. In just the last few years, the movie A Civil Action had John Travolta battling Beatrice and W. R. Grace; The Insider had Russell Crowe and Al Pacino fighting Brown & Williamson; and Erin Brockovich had Julia Roberts shooting down PG&E.

Guess who came out looking better: Julia Roberts, overflowing her miniskirt and bustier, or the big utility brand, leaking poison from its wastewater ponds? It is a small step in this world from rich corporation to villain, and any big brand that doesn't keep that constantly in mind is foolish.

The second thing that's happened is that thanks to technology and the explosion of media outlets, it now costs a fraction of what it once did to enter a business and create a brand. The "high—tech company born in a garage" myth has been around for some time now, but the Internet has lifted the ability of intelligent people to launch a business on a shoestring to another level entirely. Jeff Bezos got off the ground with $300,000 of his parents' retirement savings. Pierre Omidyar launched eBay with no more resources than his own ability to write code and a $30—a—month Internet service. Yahoo! was launched in a trailer by two procrastinating Ph.D. candidates who were more interested in creating an Internet index than in doing the work they were supposed to be doing.

Whatever struggles upstart companies eventually face down the road, technology has made it easier than ever for them to at least get onto the field.

And whether you're in a new—world business or old, it's no longer only those corporations that can afford to advertise on the network evening news that speak to consumers. Two—thirds of American households now have cable television, which means that today there are 40, 50, or 60 channels you can use to reach them. There were also almost 18,000 consumer magazines in 1999, according to The National Directory of Magazines—a 40—percent increase over the number just 10 years earlier.

With its several billion pages, the Web offers a nearly infinite variety of ways to reach consumers. And e—mail has turned word of mouth into a force to be reckoned with. Within its first 30 days in business, without any press or advertising, was able to sell books in all 50 states and 45 countries. Jeff Bezos simply asked 300 of his friends and family members to spread the word. When it comes to the Internet, six degrees of separation is probably five too many.

The demographic cuts are so fine in these new media outlets that you can speak to precisely the right audience. For a fraction of the money you'd have spent on network television, you can run commercials on the Lifetime Channel, the Discovery Channel, or the Food Network and create a subcult for your brand. You can advertise in Teen People, Brill's Content, or Fine Gardening and use the Internet on the backswing. Suddenly, you've grabbed market share from the established brand that seemed to be king. And there's a good chance that the established company did not even see you coming.

The result, in almost any product category you can name, from microbrewed beer to mutual funds, is an exploding number of brand choices for consumers.

The third leg of this revolution is the unlimited access to information that consumers now have. What's occurred is the business equivalent of the fall of the Soviet Union. The Marxist state survived as long as it did only because it controlled the flow of information. It was the "mushroom" theory of public relations: "Feed 'em horse manure and keep 'em in the dark."

The Marxist capitalists—the big dominant corporations of the past—maintained their power in a similar fashion. Consumers had only limited access to information and distributors; therefore, corporations had to give them only limited choices. The pre—Internet marketplace was not unlike a Moscow grocery store before the fall of Communism: You could have the brown sausage, or you could have the white sausage, but you were going to have sausage.

Thanks to the Internet, however, consumers are no longer limited to what their local retailers are willing to stock, and comparison shopping no longer means expending considerable shoe leather interviewing a number of dubiously trustworthy salespeople. No matter what the consumer is searching for, from bird cages to mutual funds, a half—hour online will generate enough information to turn him or her into a walking, talking Consumer Reports.

The old economy was a product—push economy. Manufacturers made what they wanted to make, at the cost structures they liked. And then salespeople pushed those products off onto a gullible public. The new economy is a marketing economy, with the consumer firmly in charge.


Charles de Gaulle put his finger on the political implications of consumer choice when he expressed his own exasperation with the French: "How can you govern a country that has 246 kinds of cheese?" The truth is consumers who have that many choices are ungovernable, especially by despots. Choice teaches consumers to make increasingly fine distinctions between what they like and what they don't. In the process, it raises the bar for anyone trying to sell them anything from a political idea to shampoo.

Not surprisingly, many of the brands that ruled in a world in which consumers had less power are also—rans today. The truth is, brands are much more vulnerable than the executives in the dominant corporations of the past ever believed them to be. It was a particular collection of historical circumstances that kept many brands on top for so long, but the top executives of these brands mistook the size of their market share for the genius of their management. And now many of those brands are fighting for their very identity.

It's a pattern repeated over and over: Big companies that mismanage once—strong brands suddenly find themselves slipping in consumers' eyes. They go through a period of bad publicity and falling sales, and falling sales and bad publicity, that feels almost like a death spiral. Of course, many of them recover, mainly because their huge reserves of capital keep them from crashing completely. The best of them, like IBM, remake themselves into modern competitors, but none of them ever seem to achieve the same dominant market share they once had. They may be among the top brands, but the top is now shared.

Clearly, the arrogant old dinosaurs offer plenty of lessons in how not to win friends and influence people. But that leaves another question open: How do you compete in a world in which consumers have infinite knowledge and choice?

You can trade in commodities and try to win on price alone, a depressing downward spiral, given the almost limitless competition most businesses face today. That's why, in many industries, the smart commodities producers are turning their commodities into brands and commanding a premium for them. Increasingly, consumers no longer just reach for milk; they reach for Horizon Organic milk at almost twice the price. They don't drink unbranded water from the well or from the reservoir; they drink Evian or one of hundreds of other brands of bottled water at over a dollar for a little bottle.

If you don't want to compete on price alone, you can, of course, try to win on product features or service. But technology makes it unlikely that you'll offer anything that can't be copied by your competitors in record time.

Or you can join the battle of the brands. In that case, everything you once thought was important—margins, service, information systems, and even the products you sell—will have to become subservient to the brand. Because no matter how well you do these other things, consumers will never notice if there isn't an appealing brand out in front whistling for their attention.

Business theorists are now talking about the emergence of the "experience" or "entertainment" economy, in which the most successful companies no longer sell goods or services, but instead sell an experience. This is just what Nike, for example, does in its spectacular NikeTown stores. It's not selling athletic shoes based on product features; it's getting the consumer to buy those shoes by enshrining the whole idea of athletic competition. Starbucks is another example. No one would ever accuse it of just selling coffee. Instead, it sells the entire coffeehouse experience, meticulously controlled down to the reading material offered at the counter, which even included, for a time, its own magazine, Joe.

Actually, the phenomenon is at once simpler and broader than the ascendancy of shopping as entertainment, and it applies to brands like John Hancock that will never offer a purchasing experience that can be confused with a trip to Disneyland. It is simply human nature for people to prefer the richer experience to the more austere. And the experience of purchasing anything is richer if you buy a good brand, since a whole host of pleasant associations, by definition, accompanies that brand.

Why is it the brand, stupid? Because consumers have so many choices today, there is no reason for
them to buy anything that doesn't give them enjoyment. Strong brands are simply more enjoyable to buy, so you'd better have one if you hope to compete.

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One of the best lessons I ever learned in business, I learned from one of my first public relations clients. Although I was just a kid out of college, I was working at a big New York City public relations firm and feeling pretty wise in the ways of the world. The client, on the other hand, was this little old guy from the Midwest with a bow tie, a center—parted hairdo that hadn't been seen since Alfalfa left "The Little Rascals," and the preposterous name of Orville Redenbacher. The Chicago office of my firm sent him to us to help him promote his product in the East, and one day he showed up in our offices in the big city to tell us why his gourmet popcorn would revolutionize the popcorn industry.

First of all, it was news to us that popcorn was an industry. At the time, there were only two ways to buy popcorn to prepare at home: the generic in bags and Jiffy Pop, a brand that was free of all gourmet tendencies. "As much fun to make as it is to eat" was the idea there.

Then Orville went on to explain in minute detail why the hybrid corn he had developed was better, how his kernels popped up almost twice as big, and how he personally guaranteed that almost all of them would pop. To say that Orville took his popcorn seriously was a severe understatement. He'd tell us conspiratorially, "Don't you hate it when the husks get caught in your teeth? Well, that's not going to happen as much with my corn. The husk is thinner." He anthropomorphized every kernel to the extent that the ones that refused to pop he called "the old maids." We thought he was insane. We literally thought he was insane.

Certifiable or not, however, his money was good, and we were his as long as his checks remained good. He clearly had his own game plan and would not be dissuaded from it. I remember someone at our firm trying to convince him to call his product the "100—Percent Better Popcorn." No, Orville said, they'd started out with a different name, but now he liked having his name on the jar.

Orville didn't spend a lot of money on advertising. He needed a public relations firm to get him some attention, so we threw a big party in New York City for hundreds of food editors. We weren't fools—we made sure the liquor was free flowing and managed to get everybody smashed. At a certain point in the evening, we trotted Orville out in his little bow tie, and he made a little speech about how every kernel of his corn pops.

To our amazement, all those jaded and allegedly sophisticated New York food critics found the concept amusing. Suddenly, every newspaper and magazine in America was writing about Orville's obsessive search for the world's best popping corn. Not only that, but supermarkets and consumers signed on to the idea, too. It was the start of a whole new life for Orville Redenbacher, who became a pop—culture icon and sold the business a few years later to Hunt—Wesson for a considerable sum of money.

If this were a Hollywood movie, I would now say that this admirable old man opened my young eyes to one inspiring truth: Quality always wins in the marketplace. But actually, that was not the lesson I took out of this experience. My apologies, Orville, but I've always suspected that the incredibly precise instructions you gave for popping it were as important to your superior popcorn as the stuff you put in the jar.

The real lesson Orville taught me was the power of a good brand to trump all rhyme or reason in the marketplace. Consumers were willing to pay a huge premium for his popcorn, not, in my opinion, because the product features were so startlingly different, and certainly not because they were saving money over the generic brand by eliminating the "old maids" that wouldn't pop. Instead, they bought Orville's popcorn because they found Orville endearing.

What Orville Redenbacher did is the absolute definition of branding: He took what had been a commodity nobody thought twice about and gave it a voice. He convinced consumers his corn was worth more because, unlike its competitors, it had a personality. In the process, he created an industry out of nothing, just as he had told me he would.

The lesson was not wasted on me when, in 1984, I went to work for John Hancock Financial Services. The bulk of our business back then was a very old—fashioned product, life insurance, with one extremely new—fashioned aspect: The product itself is vaporware, as insubstantial as any service peddled by the airiest dot—com company today. The only thing the consumer is buying when he or she buys life insurance is the company's promise that it will pay up if it's ever necessary. And the only thing life insurers are selling is their reputation, because if consumers cannot trust the quality of that promise, better prices or better product features mean nothing. (This is particularly true because you have to die in order to trigger those product features.)

If ever there were a brand—based business, life insurance is it. But most life insurance companies, which tend to be run by number crunchers, fail to comprehend this essential truth. The management of John Hancock, however, was smarter. When I came to John Hancock as head of communications, my assignment was to take its sleepy old brand and turn it into something as appealing to consumers in its own way as Orville's bow tie. And management and our board, fortunately, gave me plenty of support.

Fifteen years later, we wound up on the New York Times' list of the 100 best brands of the 20th century. More important, a strong brand enabled us to outsell our competitors and to convince a generation of consumers that prefers investments to life insurance that we are an excellent place to buy investment products, as well.

Of course, there is nothing original in my understanding that brand counts. By now, most American businesses have figured out that consumers like strong brands better than weak ones. In fact, two factors have led in recent years to a kind of brand mania in American business. The first is the widespread realization that investors are willing to pay a serious premium for the stocks of the most popular brands. The brand consultancy company Interbrand ranks the world's most valuable brands each year and calculates the value of these brands as a percentage of market capitalization. In the case of 2000's number—one brand, Coca—Cola, more than half the company's value—51 percent, or some $72.5 billion—is attributed to the brand.

The second factor encouraging brand mania is the incredible volatility that the Internet has contributed to the business landscape, as some of the dot—com brands have became towering giants overnight and some established brands have found themselves knocked to their knees equally abruptly. Taking a page out of the playbook, the startups of the great Internet surge of the late 1990s routinely fought first to establish themselves in consumers' consciousness and only second to make their businesses profitable. And, in the short term at least, this was not necessarily a stupid strategy.

Brand mania is by no means limited to business, either. More than any other business concept of the day, the idea of "brand" has infiltrated the culture. A movie star like Tom Hanks now talks openly about the importance of protecting the Tom Hanks brand. The State of Vermont thinks it's a brand, too, and is developing regulations to stop out—of—state companies from falsely appropriating the "Vermont" cachet. When the New York Times asked the official exorcist of the Cathedral of Notre Dame a few years ago why he was drawing customers from all over France when they could be exorcised just as well at their local churches, Father Claude Nicolas answered this way: "Evidently, they think Notre Dame is better. Of course, it has a certain brand name."

To say, then, to any group of professionals anywhere in the world that brand counts is to preach to the converted. So why bother to write a book about branding? Here's why: While the importance of a strong brand is widely understood, nothing is as misunderstood in American business as the question of how to use it.

Billions of dollars are squandered every year in the name of the brand. Businesses routinely milk their brands without investing in them, extend their brands without asking consumers what they think of the idea, buy up valuable brands in "merge—and—purge" binges, and then throw the brand names away in favor of corporate control.

Brand decisions are often treated as merely questions of advertising. But the stakes are much higher than that. Sears' move into the financial services business in the 1980s is a typical brand decision in that it determined how enormous amounts of capital, distribution, products, technology, and people were going to be used. Unfortunately for Sears, it turned out that consumers were not particularly interested in buying stocks from a store they associated with wrenches and undershirts.

Even some of the brand geniuses of the 1990s—companies like Nike and Coca—Cola that have been extraordinarily focused on keeping their logos swimming in front of consumers' eyes—have stumbled occasionally out of the failure to recognize one essential principle of branding: Brand is everything, the stuff you want to communicate to consumers and the stuff you communicate despite yourself.

By definition, "brand" is whatever the consumer thinks of when he or she hears your company's name. Thanks to the information revolution, "whatever" now includes labor practices, quality controls, environmental record, customer service, and every rumor that wings its way around the Internet. Nike is a prime example of a company whose brand has been affected by an issue that has nothing to do with marketing, namely, the working conditions in the third—world factories where Nike products are made. In a 1996 BusinessWeek story, when asked about the way the company's Indonesian subcontractors treat their workers, Nike Chairman Phil Knight said, "There's some things we can control and some things we can't control." That might have been true from a legal and practical standpoint, but from a brand standpoint, well, a corporation had better try to control everything, because there is nothing a brand cannot be held responsible for. Indeed, Nike suffered a relentless press pile—on over the labor issue and in 1998, Knight assessed the damage with refreshing honesty: "The Nike product," he said, "has become synonymous with slave wages, forced overtime, and arbitrary abuse."

Since everything a corporation does reflects on the brand, for better or for worse, every decision a corporation makes—whether to cut back on customer service, to expand into new markets, or to indulge the CEO's jock self—image by sponsoring a sports team—ought to be filtered through the prism of the brand. But too often, the brand is treated instead as an afterthought and ignored until it is in trouble. Why? Because, despite the lip service given to the concept of branding, the entire infrastructure of most corporations is hostile to brand building.

The truth is that even the best American corporations tend to be full of people who actually think they are doing their job by keeping the brand down. There are the lawyers who slow down a company's response in a crisis because they believe that short—term liability concerns ought to trump long—term brand considerations. There are the clerks who allow scandals to brew because they feel they have little to gain by reporting the dicey things they uncover. There are the financial types who allow good brands to atrophy because they resent the dollars it takes to build a brand. And there are the advertising managers who spend millions on campaigns that mean nothing to consumers because they fail to understand that the brand ought to drive the advertising and not the other way around.

As a result, most brand builders have to wage two wars at once: They have to beat competing brands into submission, at the same time as they hack through the corporate kudzu within their own organizations. By "brand builder," I mean anyone who is in any degree responsible for the care and feeding of a brand, from the enlightened CEO to the neophyte in the public relations department. To be a brand builder within a corporation is to risk being considered something less than a serious business player, because you will constantly be advocating that money be spent on what many people consider vaporous goals, such as establishing a voice and winning the goodwill of consumers. Whether you are the CEO or the new hire in marketing, it means constantly fighting the great skeptical "harrumph."

I wrote this book to help the brand builder win on all fronts, internal and external. It is not easy to build a great brand. It takes leadership to persuade the rest of the company to follow your vision. It takes an artistic sense of proportion and timing. It takes a ruthless willingness to distinguish yourself from competing brands and, hopefully, bury them in the process. It also takes a certain empathy with the people who buy your products and with humanity at large. To be a great brand builder takes some qualities that probably cannot be taught.

But whether you're a new economy player or an old economy behemoth, there are a handful of rules that can help you win the game. This book intends to lay them out.
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Sort by: Showing all of 8 Customer Reviews
  • Posted April 4, 2011

    great book

    This book is small but don't let that fool you, D'Alessandro does a good job of packing in the info. Also this is a great book to read for people and is suprizingly interesting. Its a book that is not just relevant to marketing people of a company, it explains the whole picture and clearly explains it. I'm not a business person of any sort and I haven't completed high school, yet but this book is a fluid easy read, and no confusing words that require me to pull out a dictionary. I wouldn't suggest this book to many of my friend but if anyone is starting a business and has some serious change I'd suggest this book to them.

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  • Posted April 4, 2011

    Brand Warfare; Good Read

    I chose to read this book for my Economics class, as an assignment, at Santa Monica High School knowing very little about what it was about. Being the type that "Judges a book by its cover", i didn't expect to enjoy reading this book. It was surprisingly very informative, yet a fast and easy read. D'Alessandro shows the reader how to stand out from the crowd by developing your own personal brand. In ten rules he lays out the foundation in which a business can be successful. 3 Words will stick to you when having read this book, Develop, Build, and Defend.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 10, 2001

    Demystifying Brand Warfare

    If you ever wonder how great brands become great, this book will solve the mystery. It's a book about being tough and being focused and standing for something. I've read a lot about David D'Allesandro in the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times business section. Finally, an opportunity to see his view of 'brand warfare' first hand.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 12, 2001

    I recommend this book

    This is a good read. I'm not a marketing person, but I enjoy reading business books. With 'Brand Warfare,' what I found especially enlightening were the passages on how to get value out of corporate sponsorships and avoid getting suckered, and how the networks overpay for the rights to big sporting events and then soak corporate advertisers by coming up with ingenious new ways to pass along to them the cost of their mistakes. Good stuff!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 15, 2001

    Your Brand is Everything

    I enjoyed reading Brand Warfare because it succinctly outlines key brand principles in building and maintaining a brand. Mr. D'Alessandro's examples and case histories were helpful in better understanding the principles. There were a few sections that were most interesting to me. First, the chapters on corporate sponsorships were enlightening. To learn how to choose sponsorships that support your brand, to understand how to deal with event producers and to recognize the importance of measuring the value to the brand was beneficial. While his examples pertain to large companies, it was clear that any size company could gain from the appropriate sponsorships. Second, rule number 8 was fascinating, 'Make your distributors slaves to your brand'. I thought Mr. D'Alessandro's decision in l999 to direct John Hancock to partner with online insurance aggregators was brilliant. This strategy showed great confidence in the John Hancock brand. Far too many companies set up their own website's to drive sales and don't have the success that John Hancock has had. Third, his insights on how the brand affects employee recruiting and retention was very relevant to me. Employees do want to work for the most successful brand. And I agree whole heartedly with Mr. D'Alessandro that employees should uphold the brand. They should be brand experts and consider the brand every step of the way. The CEO is not the only person who should be responsible for the brand. Overall, I thought this book was a good read for anyone in business.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 10, 2001

    A good read for businesses big and small

    As the owner of a small but growing technology-driven business, I have to make my company and my brand stand out in a highly competitive environment. At first, I wasn't convinced that this book would be helpful to me, since the author refers mainly on his experience building brands for large companies like John Hancock. But it's chock-full of insights that are relevant to businesses both large and small, whether they peddle life insurance, micro-brewed beers, sneakers or high-speed Internet access. The 'top 10' list-format breaks the daunting subject matter of how to build a killer brand into easy-to-read, manageable pieces. Sprinkled throughout the book are unabashedly honest, and at times, amusing case studies for companies like Orville Redenbacher, Old Crow Whiskey and Toys 'R' Us. It's one thing to be told how to build brands and be a successful leader. It's quite another to see how real, live companies have to deal with the consequences of their actions whether they sink or swim. Overall, a good read for anyone who cares about their company's image and wants to make their brand stand out.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 1, 2001

    Great brands don't just happen, they are built

    Understanding branding, how brands evolve, and what it takes to build a 'recognized' brand are extremely important points for marketing managers to comprehend. Yet, branding is not the stuff of business school classes, at least not to the point it should be. Thus, I found this to be an excellent book to read to bring myself up to speed on the 'state of brand-building' today. I do wish the book spent more time on how to build online branding. Online companies exist in a high-flux industry where there is much lower brand loyalty. It's still not clear how online branding will shake out, and how it will differ, though some researchers are starting to make great in-roads into this type of research.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 6, 2001

    Reputation Counts: Good Branding Principles Detailed

    Mr. D'Alessandro is the CEO of John Hancock, and rose to that position after starting with the company as head of communications. The many successes that John Hancock has enjoyed certainly relate back to good brand thinking and implementation. Although the book contains many details about John Hancock's experiences, it mostly recounts examples from other companies to provide a full perspective on the difficulties of establishing and maintaining a positive brand image and awareness. My only complaints about the book are that it would have benefited from more context about how branding fits with other critical activities for corporate success and more constructive metaphors than those of warfare and competition. Most students of marketing will scratch their heads at his list of 10 principles. Yet, I see these principles violated every day by dozens of leading companies. So, even if the rules seem obvious, it easy to go astray. For example, 'It's the brand, stupid.' Despite this, few CEOs spend time measuring and understanding what is happening to image and awareness of company brands . . . must less thinking about what needs to be done. Most spend more time in 100 other areas that are mostly unrelated to brands. Another good example is 'If you want great advertising, be prepared to fight for it.' I agree with his observation that many marketing executives and advertising agency people will tend to try to produce copy that will be easily accepted by company decision makers, rather than copy that will increase sales and profits. Many CEOs don't even realize how they have been maneuvered. Some don't care, like the CEO whose girl friend was in all of the company's ads. I meet CEOs who like to date the women who appear in the company's ads, so the problem hasn't disappeared. To my mind, Mr. D'Alessandro is probably best at thinking through event-based marketing. Most companies are horrible in this area. The book is well worth its price just for the sections that explain how to select events to sponsor, how to work with the event's organizers, and how to connect to the event for maximum advantage. The section on how you use advertising on how to create brand differentiation for relatively undifferentiated products was well done, but is probably too subtle for most to really understand. This section could probably have used some more details and

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