Part Two - Adventures in Rebranding: Louisiana-Pacific
Two things I liked about John Neilson's presentation on the rebranding of LP:
1. His philosophy on the elements of a brand. With his evident background in consumer goods, Neilson comes across as a true retail marketer at heart. He describes a brand as the combo of four components (I paraphrase and embellish below):
- Identity: The "thing" itself. The name and any marks and symbols that go with it. What you see.
- Awareness: What consumers think when they hear your name--if anything at all. Brand recognition.
- Trust: The result of relationships and public perceptions of the brand, built over time.
- Heart: The emotional ties layered over the intellectual or rational understanding of the brand's benefits.
It seems an interesting exercise to use a traditional consumer packaged goods approach in the branding of an industrial B2B company. In the end, consumers are consumers, whether they are purchasing for their personal use or business. The difference is that public brand awareness, trust, emotional benefits--all the things that a consumer brand craves--do not necessarily "trickle up" to the decision maker in a B2B context. In this case, it is hard to gauge whether Joe Homeowner's warm fuzzy feelings toward LP will influence a homebuilder's choice of siding for his next building project.
2. His decision to create a brand architecture that makes sense. By architecture, I mean the way a "parent" brand (such as LP) and its sub-brands or product brands come together and relate to each other. The first big step was obviously to create a strong enough handle for the corporate brand--hence the catchier and more memorable "LP." Nielson then took all the company's disparate products and logos and reworked them to include LP in each of their names, to reflect a more consistent and coherent link with the corporation.
On the other hand, a few other things made me doubt the wisdom of their marketing strategy.
The company doesn't seem to have their story straight on how to justify the purchase of 10-year naming rights for Titans stadium. Neilson began by minimizing the importance of retail sales to the company, saying that the end consumer is just a "halo" or incidental target. In other words, they care mainly about the homebuilders, and if consumers buy LP products for their own use as a result of their familiarity with the brand, that's just icing on the cake. If consumers don't matter that much, it is not clear to me why a company would spend $30 million on a sports venue to get its name in front of, well, consumers. Granted, Neilson made it sound as if $3 million a year was just a drop in their marketing bucket, but the choice still seems a bit odd.
The rationale for buying these naming rights went something like this: we can get more eyeballs by having our name on the stadium than by spending the same amount on traditional media, such as radio, TV, or print. No other alternatives, including internet marketing, were considered. What I wonder is...are these the right eyeballs they're getting? Is there a high enough correlation between NFL fans and decision-makers in the homebuilding industry? Or is LP relying too much on the "trickle up" effect from consumers? It seems LP's marketing ROI model places equal value on all marketing impressions. They do not qualify some targets as better or more valuable than others, and this seems to be a troublesome blind spot.
I certainly respect the complexity of allocating marketing expenditures and making decisions at the multimillion dollar level. I realize posting my opinions on this blog (with the benefits of hindsight and personal distance) is too easy by comparison. It's quite a task to do what these folks do, and I don't want to trivialize it.
Therefore I want to end this post on a positive, by mentioning one other thing I enjoyed about Neilson's perspective on brands. This concept really stuck with me. In keeping with his own philosophy of brands, I asked Nielson what he thought the "heart" component of the LP brand should be at the end of this process. He candidly admitted they are still looking for that hook--a brand promise that would do for LP what the image of the Michelin baby (and the sense of warmth, caring, and protection it conveys) has done for Michelin in the tire industry. It seemed a very appropriate comparison and benchmark to aspire to, and I look forward to seeing LP become that kind of brand.