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Best New Thinking Winner 2010

Brand Promise

This is a topline introduction to some of the concepts and tools I have developed or have in progress on the brand as promise. If you don’t understand what the Brand as Promise means then I suggest you click through to the New Playing Field for Planners page and it will explain what I mean by it and how this facet of the brand fits with the others.

The Brand as promise needs broadening if you are working with disciplines other than advertising. Even PR which largely works with the brand as promise needs some amends. So here are some suggestions for moving beyond your brand characters and onions and making your brand promise more compelling. You may also find the page on Changing Attitudes useful.



Here’s the list so far:

Brands as verbs not nouns

 Genres, market categories and how to subvert them

Generating bylines (multiple propositions)

 Defining the emotional distance/focal length of the brand

Brand Archetypes

Writing screenplays for brands

Brands as verbs not nouns

One of the main anomalies about brand theory is how curiously static brands are. This is entirely because in conventional advertising the brand character is a kind of freeze frame – advertising does not allow for character development and most brand theorists have come from an advertising background. But if you are engaged in almost any other form of marketing communications brands can change their personality based on situation. Therefore brand templates ought to be verbal, and brand values adverbs rather than adjectives. Brands do stuff. Try generating a list of adverbs which is different from competitors. You will find that it is much easier for promotional, DM an new media teams to develop mechanics which are on brand if you can give them behaviours instead of abstract characteristics.

Genres, market categories

Market categories move together. Partly because marketing people often stay inside their own market sectors for the duration of their career so set out to produce work that fits the conventions of the last few brands they have worked on. No wonder most communications for cars is identical. Travel, booze, I could go on. What is particularly interesting is that this is mostly unnecessary. The messages may be the same but the communication genre could be entirely different. One of the best ways to make your brand different is to identify the rules of the convention – that is to say the genre. And then to either spoof that genre or to use a completely different one. Of course the classic rebuff to this is to say we have to use the standard genre otherwise people won’t know what it’s for. And the classic rebuff to THAT is to say – if people can’t remember the brand then you are promoting the category not the brand – and helping to sell your competitors’ products. Check out the page on category marketing as well.

Generating bylines

A proposition should contain a single thought. True. But how many propositions can you have? This’ll make the ad brethren shudder but one reason PR agencies don’t have a lot of use for planners is that they need lots of propositions. They call them bylines. And one of the ways of getting coverage is to give exclusives to individual publications. And planners who say there is only one message and you can’t give it exclusively to the Telegraph aren’t a lot of help. Of course you can have lots of propositions. You just need to ensure that they tie back memorably and credibly to the brand. In the End of Marketing as we know it (and yes you can buy it from this site) Sergio Zyman recounts how he made his agencies develop multiple propositions for Coca Cola and no they weren’t very happy about it. But he did it because he believed that different audiences bought different propositions. So to unlock an entire mass market you had to unlock it piece by piece. So let’s have a little less serial propositioning and get all your propositions out on the brief in one go.

Defining the emotional distance/ the focal length of brands

We try to develop relationships between brands and consumers. But most of the time we never define the emotional distance. Funny that. Though it is critical to direct marketing and to mobile communications. Because the more personal and the more direct the communication the more intrusive that communication is if you get the focal length wrong. In her 1997 APG paper on the launch of the Audi A3 Carol Lowe of Limbo went into huge detail on the emotional distance they wanted to establish with the Audi A3. It was completely different to that of the A4 or the A8. And it’s about the only example I’ve come across. So if your brand character is a female character – work out if they’re supposed to be iconic, talk like a newsreader, bark at you like a drill inspector or come round for a girly night in. It matters.

Brand Archetypes

This ‘un has been rattling around for a while and a number of agencies are using it on the quiet. Archetypes are unlike like stereotypes and we all use those don’t we dear readers? The difference is that archetypes are theoretically universal – hardwired into the structure of our brains and endlessly reinforced by culture. With sensitive adaption archetypes can leap cultural barriers when stereotypes assuredly won’t. And developing brand personas along the lines of the lover, the judge, the cook as universals can be more potent than Meg Ryan, Lord Denning and Jamie Oliver. The point about archetypes is that we use them all the time and that we pay attention to them. So brush the dust off your brand and check out which archetype it’s closest to.

Writing screenplays for brands

Brands are verbs not nouns as I keep saying. And your average brand doesn’t do a lot. They’re one trick ponies who never falter, or at least never admit that they do. And after decades of this stuff it’s not surprising that we’re a little bored with them. In Hollywood you would never pitch a character without a storyline to bring them to life. Every brand has an audience of interested onlookers who would follow the storyline if one were provided. Some of the most successful brands of recent times have been autobiographical – they have wrapped themselves around their celebrity founders and we happily lap it up. There are at least 2 implications for this. If you haven’t got a celebrity founder don’t worry about it – write and disseminate stories about what your brand is up to – allow your brand to feel discouraged from time to time (and show it) explain how your brand is going to change and get better to overcome the obstacles they face – it’s what every blockbuster is based on. And secondly even if you don’t dare to do this then write the stories within your teams as part of the development process and use them to think up your promotional plans and your web programming – storylines make better briefing tools than static creative briefs because they show how the brand goes about it’s business.



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