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June 2, 2014
Don't Let Your Brand Get Fat
As human beings, many of us struggle with managing our weight and are constantly hearing about how terrible it is to “get fat”. A recent experience with a close family member that is losing a weight battle and is suffering serious health issues because of it got me thinking about how important it is to stay in shape. I hate to admit this, but that train of thought led me to then consider how brands also need to stay fit and not get fat.

What does it mean for a brand to be fat?

To me, for a brand to figuratively “be fat,” means that it has/is:

  1. Excessive product and/or service lines

  2. Targeting too broad of an audience

  3. Utilizing unnecessary marketing tactics or channels

  4. A team with too many decision-makers


How do brands get fat?


Brands put on extra weight because they either get greedy or desperate. Often times when a brand sees tremendous success, it can become arrogant and gluttonous and start launching new product extensions. This could easily cause the brand to stray from its core competency and lose its focus, which may result in a drop in sales of the main product. Dr. Pepper’s meat marinade is one example of an odd product offshoot that indicates a brand that is getting a little greedy and possibly headed toward fatness.


Other brands may see a drop in sales and/or market share and start making haphazard and futile attempts to grow their revenue numbers. If and when a brand gets desperate, they don’t “watch what they eat” and will make poor strategic decisions that only benefit them in the short-term and could have terrible long-term consequences.


A mistake that many, many brands make is not narrowing in on a distinct target audience. Instead, they want all types of people to be their customers. Trying to create marketing and advertising messages that resonate well with everyone is impossible, so brands just end up talking to no one. If a brand can choose a thin slice of the population pie at which to aim — instead of trying to devour the entire pie — the creative executions will be crafted more carefully to reach this specific market. Luxury brands like Ritz Carlton, Burberry, and Maybach are famous for successfully staying thin (and focused).


Unless your brand is on the list of “25 Biggest Advertisers,” you probably have a strict marketing budget that limits the tactics and channels you can employ. To stay in good marketing shape, the goal shouldn’t be to promote your brand in as many places as possible; it should be to be in as many SMART places as possible. Smart and strategic placements are those that:


  • Help you reach your explicit business objective

  • Your target engages regularly with

  • Complement and work well other placements

  • You have the resources (people and money) to make it happen

  • Are not cluttered with competitors’ messages


Another way to determine if your brand is becoming heavy is to observe the marketing/management team around you and ask yourself questions like these:


  • How many people need to review and approve the marketing plan and corresponding creative ideas?

  • Do great ideas get watered down before they get implemented because they fall victim to decision-by-committee?

  • Are the brand and marketing plans serving our overarching business goal and company mission/vision?

  • Are you afraid to try new or experimental things?

  • Is your job fun or is it a chore?

  • Can important decisions be made very quickly (within minutes), if necessary?


Although the Omnicom/Publicis merger never came to fruition, that would have been one of the best (or worst, depending on how you look at it) examples of a completely obese brand with too many important players at the helm.


The worst part of being a fat brand is carrying around the extra weight, which will cause you to move slower and lose your agility. In today’s chaotic and ever-changing world of marketing, not being able to adapt quickly to new conditions could mean the death of the brand. Take a minute to measure your brand against the four criteria listed above to see if you could benefit from losing a few pounds and get your swagger back.

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Emily K. Howarda marketing strategist since 1997, developed her skills at some of the country’s top marketing firms including DDB Worldwide, while working on brands like American Airlines, Pepsi, Bloomberg and Merck. Now as Vice President of Esparza, Emily’s integrated communications approach helps clients find order in marketing chaos. She’d love to hear from you and can be found on LinkedIn or @ekhoward on Twitter.
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