Nowadays everybody talks about brands - they have become the way by which we define our lifestyles and identity as individual creatures in this global town. But when you think about it, what is a brand?
Is it the logo? Is it their cool website? No. A brand is the difference between running shoes and a pair of Nikes. In some cases, a brand is the archetype of a product; you don’t ask for a plastic container, you ask for a Tupperware. Brands are part rational but mostly emotional.
The secret key to a strong brand is focus. Great brands stand for one thing: keeping things simple without many distractions. For example, Volvo has defined their brand with a single word: ‘Safety’ - for decades, this has been their watchword. It seems to work but sometimes we have to think beyond our product/service. Harley Davidson makes motorcycles and rather than stand for smoother rides or reliable bikes, they stand for Freedom.
Brands are experiential; think about Starbucks and how they differentiate themselves in many ways and how they offer a consistent brand experience in any shop you visit. They have created a community of coffee lovers with their unique naming of experiences (Cinnamon dolce latte) and are true coffee ambassadors. They have acknowledged that their business isn’t selling coffee; their business is serving people.
Seven hundred years ago, the church was the most powerful institution in the world; one hundred years ago it was the state, these days, brands have risen to similar heights of power which is effectively tied to a monetary value. Interbrand Research announced that 61% of the Coca Cola foundation is brand. That’s a lot of money when you think about it, particularly when we are talking about something that is immaterial.
The game has changed. Brands no longer belong to CEOs or brand managers. Brands belong to people. Before brands could buy power, they would spend money on advertising and as long as the advertising was decent and placed in the right places they would get customers. But that reality has changed and the change is bigger than one move from old media to the new media. It’s actually the fragmentation of masses, therefore, the collapse of massive media and mass marketing synergy.
Corporations used to be able to dictate their image and hide behind their brand. That is no longer possible as everyone is connected and knows what’s “happening in everyone’s backyard”. So everything a brand does is an open book and this is the symbiotic connector both in the physical and digital worlds, such as social media. It doesn’t matter what a brand says about itself compared to what people say about them. This happens all the time as people place trust in a brand’s values and behaviours rather than just the quality of the goods themselves.
“Companies should start by being really clear on what they care about, what they believe, what’s important for them. Marketers are taught and trained to start with the customer to get to know the customer more and what we advise is actually the opposite. Start with introspection, know yourself, what you believe, what you stand for and then look for the overlaps, the authentic points of connection between what you care about and what your stakeholders care about. Because that point of connection can be the birth of very authentic and successful marketing”. Bob Garfield and Doug Levy, authors of "Can't Buy Me Like."
A brand is much more than the colour of a logo - it’s something intangible – it is how people perceive it, but mostly on an emotional level. Great brands are focused and stand for something. They’re not just seen and heard, they’re experienced in a unique manner. To be successful, brands should be different (they should stand out), vigilant (stay focus) and relevant (keep up with the marketplace). Despite corporate coffers suggesting otherwise, it is actually the customers that own and give power to a brand, not the opposite. Those successful brands are the ones that have tremendous value and this is how modern brand conceptualisation should be treated.