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July 20, 2005

The Blessing (or Curse) of a Strong Product Brand
By Jim Alexander and Mark Hordes

For services organizations that are a part of a product-centered organization with a strong brand (e.g., Xerox, Kodak, Dell), an interesting dilemma occurs. On the one hand, assuming the product brand is perceived as positive, it lends instant awareness and credibility to the services organization. In most situations (and without the need for proof), the services organization will be seen as possessing strong capabilities related to product support services, and possibly given the title of best-in-class without further thought. This can be an enormous advantage and it plays perfectly to the services organization pursuing a Niche strategy. The key in this situation is to make every effort to leverage that strength and co-brand---build a services brand that links closely to the product side of the house. The disadvantage comes if your strategy calls for you to wander from the product, expanding services in areas not directly associated (by the customer) with your core product business. For example, consider a product support services organization that wants to get heavily involved in professional services. Often the customer will have a negative reaction, "You guys are experts at X. What can you possibly know about Y? You should stick to your knitting." This scenario calls for the delicate act of having your cake and eating it, too, by careful co-branding.

Just as co-branding with a strong product big brother is a powerful tool, lesser-known services organizations often can gain credibility by association with other (non-competitor) companies with broad awareness and universal acceptance as market leaders. Sponsoring events that include world-class organizations is the classic model for using this approach. For example, say you were a Niche player in the network security field with limited marketplace visibility. Sponsoring a symposium on security and having executives from organizations such as Cisco and Microsoft, a U.S. Defense Department spokesperson, and a MIT professor on the speaking platform immediately help build your brand by association. Better yet if you are already a partner with the big-name presenters. Better still if they will mention your expertise in a case example or two.

So what should you do? Conduct a mini market intelligence study by phoning (don?t identify your organization) a mix of 20 to 30 prospects and customers within your playing field. From this quick and inexpensive survey you will learn your:

a. Brand Awareness: An immediate understanding of how well-known your services are in the marketplace and what they are known for.
b. Brand Quality: How credible your services organization is perceived and in what areas.
c. Brand Opportunities: What your realistic services offerings and branding options are, based upon current awareness, credibility, and how tightly associated your services are linked to your box.

This will give you the knowledge required to boldly build your brand. Do it this month.

This is an excerpt from S-Business: Reinventing the Services Organization. Alexander and Hordes, 2003. Select Books.
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