This serves as a very brief introduction to how brands are constructed particularly with an eye to “new marketing” taken from a paper I gave at an advertising symposium at the Greenbelt arts festival in August 2000.
1. Brand as Trademark Corporate ID
The origin of brands is a mystery but one theory is that it the term was first drawn from the branding of cattle so that one rancher could tell their cattle from those of their neighbours. So if you were buying flour 50 years ago scooped up from a bin in your local greengrocer, the logo on the side would reassure you as to whether the company who produced it were the real McCoy or in this instance the real McDougall. A core element in branding is to have an identity that is different and can be protected by copyright. Companies fight tooth and nail to protect their visual identity as deployed on packaging, point of sale displays, and on staff uniforms, all symbols marking out the brand as original. This is one of the most essential element of a brand because your perception that the product is safe, hasnt been tampered with, is worth the asking price, all of these things come from the brands identity.
2. Demonstrable rational benefits
But from these beginnings far far more has been added to the values around the brand. Brands come complete with assertions as to why they are better. Who washes whiter? 9 out of 10 cat owners prefer which brand? By establishing performance claims consumers can justify their choice because it is provably better. And this is also something most people are happy to admit to in influencing their choice of products. In truth the increasing variety of products available and the pace of technological change have made it more and more difficult to establish these claims.
3. Emotional benefits
Marketers recognised very early that emotional territory was much more powerful than factual territory. You may not believe that cosmetics will make you beautiful but you probably want to believe that they will make you feel more beautiful: pleasure, comfort, excitement, none of these can be proven. They can be asserted. So intangibles began to be offered. Along with this came lifestyle branding. You want to buy the brands that the Jones next door are buying either to get ahead of them or (this is much more modern) so that you can belong. The brand offers a tribe that you can join to prove to yourself in these individualistic times that you are successful and that you fit in. Emotional values are much harder to nail down as legal decent honest and truthful. And they are the stock in trade of most advertising campaigns for that very reason.
So far so good. But these first 3 levels of branding are still clearly aimed at romancing an actual product, creating the conditions for a sale. The next 3 are moving beyond the hardware to create something more powerful and much more intangible. Marmite is still Marmite but what will Virgin get up to next?
4. Branded Information/Education/Wisdom
The most dynamic brands are becoming publishers; aiming to answer all the questions you could possibly have, assisting you to become more expert in the area where they are selling in the sure expectation that as an expert you will spend more money with them. To sell Scotch you have to teach people the difference between a good malt and a bad malt. If the brand mentors its customers it will make more money out of them. Barnes and Noble the US book chain is offering an online university: entire courses complete with booklists. If you can afford the books and have the time to do the course then education is free! And you ought to get your hands on John Grant’s book After Image where he describes advertising as the new junk mail and forecasts that brands will be built around educating their customers.
5. Entertainment/Experience as an end in its own right
Brands who in the past were content to sell through retailers are building stores in their own right. And these just arent any stores. They are showcases, mini theme parks. One commentator described them as temples. Nike, Sony, Disney, Time Warner have built showpieces to bring their brands to life in 3 dimensions. Volkswagen has just opened a real theme park in Germany with an area for each model and they expect it to sell cars for them. Coca Cola entered football sponsorship for the same reason. By creating or funding experiences brands buy attention, involvement and eventually the sale. Try The Experience Economy for an introduction to experience marketing
6. Spiritual values and Big Culture stories
Brands are getting into spirituality. Most of this is covert. It is a sensitive area. Heres a comment by Scott Bedbury Starbucks marketing director. We want to align ourselves with one of the greatest movements towards finding a connection to your soul. And Starbucks is single-minded in its determination to become the third place where you are most comfortable after home and work. It has created quasi-religious symbolism around the core product: a cup of coffee. 4 elements: earth to grown, fire to roast, water to brew, air for aroma. What is on offer is way more than justification for more than £3 a cup. Starbucks are selling the environment in return for which a £3 cup of coffee is a small price to pay. And brands are lining up to tell us what our work life should be like, how to balance home and work, how people should communicate with each other, what real family life is like, how to safeguard the future of the planet. Try Dream Society for an introduction to brands as purveyors of big culture stories and Corporate Religion for a guide to the extreme application of brand values to internal culture marketing. Remember that people who buy into the brand of the company they work for work longer hours for less money and stay motivated. Be warned!!