November 16, 2006

News & Opinion: Branding by the numbers.

By: 800-CEO-READ @ 7:40 PM – Filed under: Marketing & Sales

Maybe its because Im the daughter of an engineer, or maybe its because I actually liked my algebra teacher back in high school, but theres something about using numbers as a source for ideas that Ive always found particularly fascinating.
In branding and new product creation, the ability to own a particular number is invaluable. Think about the difference between a blended vegetable drink and V8. From the name, you know that there are eight vegetables, or servings of vegetables, in every bottle. Heinz 57 brags on its website that in 1896 Henry Heinz turned more than 60 products into 57 Varieties. The magic number becomes world-renowned and now is virtually synonymous with the H.J. Heinz Company. The number has well outlasted the name, with many of the 57 varieties, such as mincemeat and pickled cauliflower, thankfully gone from the shelves. You can also use numbers as a source for new product and brand ideas. Start with the number first and see where it takes you.
Numbers can evoke any number of things, from ingredients, such as Five Alive juice drinks; time it takes to use, such as the Aussi 5-Minute Miracle; the frequency with which you use it, like One-a-Day vitamins. The best part? Numbers can also be totally made up. The Oil of Olay brand created their 7 Signs of Aging only to have their lotions contain the ingredients that treat them all. Car companies do it all the time with their 3000, 6000, and 9000 model cars. What do they signify? Absolutely nothing. Software developers use numbers to show newer versions and editions. Razor brands use the number of blades they have to suggest efficacy, which is why we have the Mach3 from Gillette only to be outdone by the Quattro from Schick, which has been (temporarily?) trumped with the five-bladed Fusion from Gillette.
Theres a risk here: when the number means something specific, such as a sale number, an interest rate, or something that can be easily one-upped by a competitor, its better to look elsewhere. Also, when thinking about numbers be wary of using numbers like 2000, especially in our post-millennium world. The Dilbert cartoon featured a product called the Gruntmaster 6000. You dont need me to tell you that if your product sounds like a Dilbert cartoon, run.
In most cases, however, numbers can help formulate your products promise and turn what could be a parity product into something that has a clear point-of-difference. So pick a number. Any number. And see what happens when a certain number or numbers become attached with your brand. If youre feeling indecisive, use the number 3.
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By Lynn Altman, author of Brand it Yourself.