With all the talk about Brands, Branding, Brand Building, Brand Strategy you’d think that the meaning of the word Brand was clear, and that this crucial aspect of business would be one which is clearly understood.
The reality, however, is very different. Many business people are still struggling to come to terms with exactly what a Brand is and how to build it. I just “AskedWiki” the question: What is a Brand?, and this is what they served up:
A brand is a name, term, design, symbol, or other feature that distinguishes products and services from competitive offerings, as defined by the American Marketing Association; however, according to The Chartered Institute of Marketing, a brand represents the consumers’ experience with an organization, product, or service.
The roots of Branding – a little history
Branding has been with mankind for longer than most of us realize, dating back to the earliest discoveries of human communication where symbols were used as representations for ideas or entities, most notably in ancient Egypt.
Skipping forward to the not too distant past and we stumble upon the concept of â€œcattle brandingâ€, whereby farmers used specific symbols burnt into the hides of their livestock to identify them as their own.
Brands have been used as marks of identification at some time in all countries and civilizations. The branding scene below is shown on Egyptian Tomb walls dating back to 2,000 B.C. www.barbwiremuseum.com
Criminals were also marked or fire-branded, i.e. labelled as criminals by burning marks onto their skins.
The Fore-runners of Today’s Brands
The modern equivalents of Brands are not very different to those age old methods in my opinion, using symbols and their associated value.
Modern Brands started appearing around the late 1800’s. Pears soap started producing its transparent soap commercially in 1789. The Pears Brand is thought to be the worlds oldest continually existing brand, according to Unilever. Heinz Beans is another of those old Brands (established in 1886) which took the lead in marketing innovation and product diversification, with its wide range of baked beans, 57 to be exact. The Brand is now worth Billions worldwide and is one of the most well known in its category. So it all started with some soap and a can of baked beans then.
So what makes up a Brand a Brand?
All the Touch Points
What is a touch point? Think about it; itâ€™s every point at which you touch someone, be it physically, psychologically, emotionally or spiritually. Every point of contact and means of engagement someone has with your company, product, organisation or even yourself, represents your Brand for that specific entity. A Brand is therefore the sum of all influences resulting from an entity, whether it is a single entity or a group of entities. If you applied this idea in a wider context, you will see that people are in fact Brands, because each aspect of an individual; be it their look, sound, approach, accent, language, clothing, mannerisms etc, make up the perceived entity. This also stretches further to more abstract traits like the emotional and the spiritual.
With regard to commercial Brands, orchestrating touch points to create a consistent experience, is a fundamental aspect of developing the Brand and building a strong relationship. Every interaction goes towards reinforcing the perception of that Brand and every slip-up eats away at this consistency.
My Changing relationship with the Apple Brand
An example of this is my own changing relationship with the Apple Brand. Years ago as a young designer working in the Advertising industry I was accustomed to working on Macs instead of PC. My education at design college was done exclusively on Mac, so naturally I had a relationship with the Apple Brand. When the first series of iMacs were unveiled, the cool designs and user friendly approach got me to purchase my own iMac. Unfortunately that was where the relationship started being strained as I experienced endless problems with my iMac which created an increasingly negative picture of the Apple Brand in my mind.
Up until very recently, I have been very much a PC lover, influenced by many things including price, compatibility issues, availability of software, and cheaper/easier upgradability. When I won an iPod Nano (from cerebra.co.za) in a blog commenting competition recently, my old relationship with the Apple Brand received blast of positivity. The little product has been such a huge benefit to me in a short space of time that I am now looking to become a Mac notebook owner in the near future.
It is true, however, that certain Brands have managed to transcend the point where mistakes are immediately punished. Some Brands have managed to create a virtual cult-like status and following amongst its adherents, displaying beliefs related to the Brand and it’s culture and even setting up certain rules of engagement..
Putting a stake in the Ground
Itâ€™s really all about owning a unique space in your target group’s mind, or for that matter, anyone’s mind. When we ponder upon of some of the most well known and unique Brands in the world, we can quickly gauge that each has done a good job of staking claim to this specific space in people’s minds. Think of the Virgin Empire and you’ll make connections with Richard Branson and his daring personality, doing things differently, challenging conventions and always being up for a challenge in terms of countering the norms of how things are done.
The archetype is a like a common mould or pattern which contains certain inherent characteristics.
The word “archetype” was coined by Carl Jung, who theorized that humans have a collective unconscious,
“deposits of the constantly repeated experiences of humanity…. a kind of readiness to reproduce over and over again the same or similar mythical ideas….” This shared memory of experiences has resulted in a resonance of the concepts of hero and heroine that transcends time, place and culture. Jung called these recurring personalities archetypes, from the Greek word archetypes, meaning â€œfirst of its kind.â€ found on tamicowden.com
An Archetype is a great way of understanding Brands, as archetypes are like brands themselves, constantly repeating the same characteristics and essential elements in a way that is recognisable. Big brands like Nike have latched onto these mythological characters and modelled themselves many times on recognisable personalities. Nike was the name of the goddess of victory.
Carl Jung, the Swiss Psychiatrist responsible for advancing the concept of the Archetype in Psychology, has outlined some of the patterns which repeat themselves across all cultures in human society as highlighted on this wikipedia page.
The visual representations of Brands are only a small part of the overall Brand. The logo is a visual symbol which gives people a way to recognize the brand and something to identify with as well as a way to visually differentiate one Brand from another. These visual symbols should represent the essence of the Brand’s vision & personality in some way. Other Brand visuals like photography, illustration and extended Brand graphics should work towards enhancing the desired perception of that Brand.
The style of the logo and all other Brand imagery must connect with the targeted audience in order to maintain a common, clear level of visual identification with that Brand.
The BP visual re-brand a few years ago is a classic example of how making changes to the visual aspect of the Brand can have an impact on how the Brand is perceived. This was also achieved by speaking a new language. The reality however is very far from what has been claimed by the visual re-brand, and the new messages created. By re-interpreting the meaning of BP from British Petroleum to “Beyond Petroleum”, a serious message was sent out. The Company has been heavily criticized by those who know more about it’s activities saying that its actions are not living up to the statements it is making and that it is leading the consumer to believe it is doing more than it actually is.
While the visual aspect of the Brand plays a big role it has to synchronize with the real activity on the ground. Promises made must be kept if Brand messages are to be believed.
Something which allows us to have a generally accepted expectation from any specific Brand is consistency. The coffee from your favourite coffee shop always tastes the same, they always create a nicely shaped swirl with the foam of the cappuccino, the waiter has a specific approach, the , the lighting in the store, the music, everything works together to create a perception of the place and a relationship with the Brand.
If these elements were not consistent you’d never know what to expect from the Brand, kinda like someone who you always step around because you’re never sure if they’re gonna be nasty or nice.
Consistency does not necessarily mean being overly obsessed with unimportant details that add no value, but being consistent in the things which form perceptions and influence decisions is important. Neither does consistency mean having a static Brand which does not change, far from it, it could actually mean keeping up with regular changes, as has come to be expected from leading Brands.
The Future of the Brand & new Branding Approaches
Like the old traditional Trademark, the current form of Branding is destined to become outdated. Kevin Roberts, CEO Worldwide of Saatchi & Saatchi and Author of the book Lovemarks: the future beyond brands, takes a look at the evolution of Brands from another angle.
An advertising man, Kevin’s approach is naturally to look at ways of making Brands more appealing and creating a greater sense of aspiration towards those Brands. The way he proposes doing so is by looking further than merely core human needs to those higher up Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. He focuses on the sphere of the emotional, which play more on the imagination, dreams and self-realisation.
It seems to focus on pampering and flattering the consumer to the point that they are infatuated beyond reason (Kevin’s wording of this concept is more subtle).
First we had trademarks, then we had brands. That was last century. The concept of Lovemarks is that businesses and consumers can aspire to something more than a world full of homogenous brands and branding.
Whereas a brand is owned by a corporation, the starting point for a Lovemark is the consumerâ€™s life and point of view. Lovemarks are owned by consumers â€“ take a brand away and people will find a replacement, take someoneâ€™s personal Lovemark away from them and they will protest its absence. – www.lovemarks.com
I’m not completely sold on the idea of the Lovemark being very different from traditional Brands. I see it playing more of a subtle role in terms of stroking the targeted egos into submission. Ideally we would like to see Brands moving in the direction of providing maximum benefit to society on multiple levels. The Utopian vision of a society where businesses refocus their offerings to take society forward and remove all their negative influences is probably a tall order.
CLUE TRAIN MANIFESTO
The Clue Train Manifesto has a different take on the relationship between the Corporation and the consumer.
As far as I know the Clue Train Manifesto was the first to predict the downfall off the corporation as it exists today, heralding the coming of a new era of B2C interactions.
As society evolves and the relationships between company & consumer go through constant changes, it’s inevitable that companies will have to up their game and give more value to their target audiences. In an age where attention spans are shorter and competition is fiercer, the value companies add to people’s lives with their products and services has to improve.
It’s no longer of any value to push messages down the throats of captivated TV audiences, expecting thousands of feet through ones doors(no matter what those messages may be). The way people make decisions is changing fast, and the speed with which technology is enabling people to network and inform each other is creating a complete different playing field. Human values, ethics, environmental well being, corporate social responsibility and genuine trust are ideals which have come to be expected of companies. Those who don’t meet the real needs of individuals are doomed to die a quick death.
The Anti Branding Movement
The negative side of branding is one which does not get that much airtime though we can all know how Big Brands can and are exploiting their power.
Organisations like Adbusters.org have sprung up to counter and expose the bad practices and influences of big brands. These organisations aim to give consumers an alternative to brand names and their negative effects. One venture of this anti-capitalist organisation is the blackspot Brand.
In their own words:
- 100% organic hemp upper
- recycled tire sole
- made in a union shop in Europe
- hand drawn logo & sweet spot
- designed by John Fluevog
- produced by Vegetarian Shoes
Another attack on the evil Corporation is the No Logo campaign, which started with the book written by Naomi Klein.
No Logo uncovers a betrayal of the central promises of the information age: choice, interactivity, and increased freedom. And as job security disappears, the respectful reverence which corporations enjoyed as engines of the economy is also dissipating – as is their protection from worker and citizen rage.
Equal parts cultural analysis, political manifesto, mall-rat memoir, and journalistic exposÃ©, No Logo is the first book to put the new resistance into pop-historical and clear economic perspective.
Naomi Klein tells a story of rebellion and self-determination in the face of our new branded world.
The world of Branding is by no means dull, with battles raging on all fronts, and Victors on all sides of the fence. Whatever business you’re into, adding value and building trust are the cornerstones of building successful Brands. It’s those companies and organisations which have a holistic approach, and develop real, meaningful relationships, which stay a step ahead of the rest.
There’s no one recipe for guaranteed success. In many respects Brands are like people, there are good ones and Bad ones. Some of the Bad ones get ahead and some really good ones die way too early. You be the judge!