Driving word of mouth is a great ambition, but it can go too far.

I’ve got a packet of “repositional notes” on my desk.  You’d probably recognise them as “post it” notes.

I will probably use them in the same way as I would genuine post it notes, just as I will “hoover” my carpet with a Henry and chuck a “flying disc” in the park instead of a Frisbee.

Generating word of mouth is an ambition for many brands.  Who wouldn’t want to become a household name?  The myth busting Ehrenberg-Bass Institute include in their best practice marketing principles building and refreshing “memory structures” or “associations that make the brand easy to notice and easy to buy”.

In the words of Slim Shady : Be careful what you wish for.

Overuse of the brand name by the public may lead to “Genericide” : becoming so much the generic for your category that people don’t think there’s any point to seeking out the original.

There are of course lawsuits that can be put in play for infringement of copyright and businesses that seek out and stamp out improper use of trademarks online.

But the real killer is the misuse of your brand name by the general public.  Google have a set of “rules of proper usage”, and in the UK it is pretty unusual to search online at the moment using a different engine.  If search takes off in other social media channels the search giant might worry about people “googling” in other channels.

Simon Tulett comments that Twitter raised open concern about brand genericide in its initial IPO in fact mentioning that “there is a risk that the word “Tweet” could become so commonly used that it becomes synonymous with any short comment posted publically on the internet, and if this happens, we could lose protection of this trademark”.

Brands exist to be noticed.  They succeed when they short cut the decision making process to become the default choice for the category.  Exclusivity and distinctiveness is crucial to sustained competitive success.  Once YoYos, Thermoses, and Escalators were brands in their own right.  I’m not sure now what I’d even call a small round object that you can pump up and down on a string if I couldn’t call it a YoYo.

Investment in brand fame is important, but fame alone is not enough.  You need sustained investment in distinctive brand behaviour and continued development of your products to swerve the genericide trap.



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