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War Paint or The 8 Tenets of Successful Branding

I had the thrill of seeing the new play War Paint at the Goodman Theatre starring Patti LuPone and Christine Ebersole the other night. And what a great musical adventure it was! The lives (somewhat embellished for theatre) of these two women and their drive for success is a lesson in willpower. And though there are numerous story lines throughout the 40 year span of the play — such as: the struggle of women for respect and recognition in the business world; the acceptance and practice of anti-semitism and class discrimination; the American dream of immigrants rising up from modest means; the balance and choices of business success over personal fulfillment; the cruel truth that business can profit from war; and so, so much more — the story of brand-building kept me focused on every word in every scene.

But this is not a theatre review.

This is a realization that the basic tenets of branding and marketing have held true for decades. This story of building successful business empires is — to me — a lesson in branding that is as applicable today as it was in 1930. Without giving away too much of the story, these are the branding lessons I believe this play teaches:

Innovate to Survive

Times change, people change, technology changes. Companies — their products and services — must also change and adapt.
STORYLINE: With the onset of WWII and rationing, each woman had to find ways to reinvent their products and their market relevance.

Marketing Matters

Smart marketing, meaningful messaging and knowing what keeps your target market up at night are keys to success.
STORYLINE: Born and raised when makeup was “reserved for two professions: stage actresses and sex workers”, these entrepreneurs understood ‘fear marketing’ and began to promote ‘hope in a jar’ to aging socialites.

Don’t Ignore the Data

Sure, in today’s world there is often an overload of data but a lack of insight, yet decisions must be informed by reality.
STORYLINE: Both businesswomen refused to acknowledge the data that showed younger women becoming the greatest market for beauty products, to their mutual decline.

Never Underestimate the Value of Brand Equity

With consistent use of visual brand elements and clarity of brand purpose can come recognition, retention, choice and loyalty.
STORYLINE: At the end, when Elizabeth Arden was being replaced by her Board — spoiler alert — the most valuable brand asset (more than her helmsmanship) was the one element she was obsessive about — the color pink.

There are Always Competitors

Regardless of your product or service, there is someone out there vying for your marketshare. It may be direct competition in a crowded industry, or simply other organizations hoping to capture share-of-mind. First to market is great, but it’s not enough for long-term success.
STORYLINE: Yes this is a story of how the competition between these two women drove much of their success, but it is also a lesson in how other competitors can rise up and forever change the game (i.e. Revlon, Max Factor, Maybelline, etc.).

Know Where Your Customers Are

As new channels of communication and marketing options emerge, explore, understand and assess their value — do they reach your target audience and can they drive awareness and conversion?
STORYLINE: When offered the opportunity to sponsor a TV show, both women discounted this new medium as inappropriate. Oops.

Your Customers Will Age

Some brands can adapt and follow their core client base throughout their lives, but many are challenged to bring in new, younger audiences.
STORYLINE: Though generations of younger women idolized them for forging paths for women in business, they both failed to connect with these generations as consumers.

Brand is an Experience

All touchpoints affect an individual’s perception of a brand. From messaging and marketplace reputation, to media mentions and word-of-mouth, to product performance and services execution, to packaging, color, identity and tactile appeal. Every one can positively or negatively affect perception.
STORYLINE: Both brands were absolutely unique in their personality, essence, backstory and market presence. Both were successful because all experiences with each brand were true to that brand and its unique positioning.

All in all it was an entertaining look at two brands — as well as two women — and the challenges and opportunities through marketing and design. It clearly drew the connection between design and branding, and the critical role that great design plays in successful brands. A quick-read article in Fast Company titled ‘9 Principles For Great Branding By Design’ underscores this connection. My favorite of these principles just may be number 3:

Brands need to create an emotional relationship with people. “We are all emotional beings and we have emotional relationships with brands we trust,” says Brunner. “Designers need to make that happen. A designer must take the values and assets of a company and transform them in a special way that connects with people emotionally.”

screen-shot-2016-04-14-at-3-22-44-pmAnd, after all, not only was that a theme within this play, it also applies to the play as a brand. For War Paint to be a success on Broadway it needs to create an emotional connection with its audience. I believe it succeeded.

The play is a work of historical fiction, for a wholly factual account of these two business titans, read Lindy Woodhead’s book War Paint.


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