The Last Word: March Madness? How about Brand Madness?

The Last Word: March Madness? How about Brand Madness?


Remember that rainy day in grade school when recess was held in the gymnasium? The scene and the scent probably come right back to you! Chances are you played the game bombardment. Nowadays it’s called dodgeball, but the premise remains the same: rubber balls of varying sizes being hurled your way with the sole purpose of hitting you and knocking you out of the game.

Fast-forward to 2015, and yes, we are still playing bombardment—except now it’s with brands and messages. Experts says we are confronted with anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand branded messages daily!

These “messages” come at us from all over—ads on television, radio and billboards or in newspapers and magazines, branded e-mails, word of mouth, social media, items and apparel from designers and sports teams donning logos, and car emblems, to name but a few.

Within moments of getting out of bed, we confront messages from our phones to our toothpaste, and even from our refrigerator full of branded products. Then there is a stroll down an aisle in the supermarket or drugstore—hundreds more! How about at a ball game above the urinal, or on the back of a restroom stall door? Even the doctor’s office isn’t safe; messages are there on the video monitor. Enjoying a pizza at home? Don’t look at the box it came in—ads there too! Mailing a letter? Check out the stamp. Have you been to Times Square lately? How about to a movie or watched a reality show? Notice any brand or product placements? The list goes on and on.

Clearly, some messages connect with us and others simply evaporate. Perhaps a few of these intrusions are clever and we are favorably impressed by their ingenuity. Other times, we almost feel barraged and overwhelmed by the lack of respite from the overstimulation and the clutter.

While we wrestle with our “branded” environment, it screams for us as individuals or as small businesses to establish our own personal brands. How can small business owners and creative service providers differentiate themselves from the growing pack of competitors? They, too, need a brand persona—just like we immediately recognize Target’s messaging with its red bull’s-eye logo and clean, simple and fun use of vibrant images. Or those from Geico as they make us smile and remind us of its “ownership of 15.”

After all, your personal brand is really a promise of what consumers can expect from you. Usually, they want assurance that you are authentic, professional and expert in your field, and certainly a good value. This is expressed from the moment they lay eyes on you or your messaging. Everything differentiates you, from your logo, colors and slogan to your “story” as captured on your website or e-mails to social media engagement and advertisements. 

With all of the distractions jockeying for our attention, can your brand be quickly and easily identified?

So, where to begin? First, identify some of your own favorite brands; not just commercial entities but nonprofits, celebrities and sports teams. Then create a list of why you “like” them. Is it the quality of their products, the way they connect with you, the tone and consistency of their messages? Is it about familiarity and convenience? Maybe it’s just a no-brainer—it’s a brand you have been purchasing for years.

Next, how can you take some of these strengths and apply them to your brand? Every time we “touch” a consumer it should look and feel like the same brand is speaking, just like how Nike and BMW’s efforts do. 

Think about focused and straightforward messaging and a consistent visual look. Is the “tone of voice” appropriate: humorous, serious or sophisticated? Do you have a slogan that captures what your brand stands for?

While messages do not need to be identical, they should be similar and tailored to your audience. What’s appropriate to say in a direct mail piece will be different than on social media. While a tweet can only be 140 characters, a Facebook post can be longer but not more than a paragraph or so, as that is what is customary. Instagram is a terrific tool to visually bring your personal brand to life, as is a blog to demonstrate your creative abilities and expertise.

As the saying goes, “If you can’t beat them, join them.” In the dizzying array of brands and messages out there, make yours count and stand out. Who knows, maybe the next set of golden arches will be yours!

Steven Jarmon is a passionate professor of mass communications at St. John’s University. And as an accomplished communications executive, he has driven change and built brands for world-class trademarks, including Dr Pepper, Nikon, Snapple, and Timberland.