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Best New Thinking Winner 2010

Kata No. 5

Kata No 5 So you want to interrogate the brand?

If your brand were car, animal, cuddly toy…. gimme a break will you? Here’s some suggestions of some tough questions you might want to ask of your brand that might shed a little new light. Not definitive of course but every little helps…

1. Who is the brand really for?

Brands come from all kinds of odd places. But they all have this in common. They pretend they can simultaneously point in all directions. Which by and large they have to. But they usually give away their origins. Where did the brand come from? The founder? The marketing department? The sales conference? The shareholders meeting? The personnel department? Or the advertising agency?  Think about VW for example.  What do you think does it feel like to work at VW? Does the brand provide any clue? Really? Brands work a lot better when they are true to themselves and don’t spread themselves too thin.

2. Is the personality male or female. Or neither. Or both?

Gender remains a big discriminator in our culture. So much so that both men and women are continually trying to leap over the walls or at least push them out a little. Of course whether the brand is male or female relates a little to the preceding question. When I worked on M&S it felt right to describe the personality as female (best pal to the middle class housewife right?) Only it felt odd because knowing  the internal culture it was very dominated by male management. Which suggested that the brand was less about empathy and more about service: the brand knowing what the customer wanted. Shortly after this time M&S started having problems. Apparently they DIDN’T know what their customers wanted. And now they have a size 18 woman prancing around a hilltop without a stitch on. Interesting. Should service brands embody the server or the customer?  Discuss! As a thought exercise try swapping the gender and see what happens. If the brand is genderless then stick one in and watch what happens.

3. What political party does the brand support?

I’m not kidding. I was once on the receiving end of a brand briefing for United Airlines which I can only describe as typical of most airlines – thoughtful, people focused, efficient,  – the usual generic bland nonsense. So I asked if they were Republican or Democrat. This was the reply I got. ” No way are we Republicans. We leave that to American Airlines. They’re uptight, loud, and pushy. They’re basically rednecks from Texas.  We’re Democrats. Our roots are in the Mid West, we’re a lot more relaxed, better at listening, better with people. We work at a different pace.” Bingo.

4. On what will this brand not compromise?

Because a principle isn’t a principle unless it costs you money. You may think that brands will do or say anything. But every culture has it’s no go area. They may be quite uncomfortable about going there. The client may get quite emotional.  Often agency people get frustrated by clients’ caution. And often this caution is exercised in category or industry no go areas which results in all the brands looking the same and saying the same sorts of things about themselves. But it IS worth persisting with no-go areas peculiar to the client’s own organisation. They’re not necessarily a handicap. They can be turned into a strength.

5. How does this brand relate to people?

Brands mediated predominantly by advertising used to have a fixed focal length – they were rather distant. These days brands have to get up close and personal. They need to have interpersonal skills. Because most people don’t want a close relationship with a brand. And haven’t got space in their lives for more than a few of these even if they did. So try to define the emotional distance desired for the brand and then work out how the brand can justify closing the gap to the right emotional distance without switching the punter off.  I just got a phone call from Nokia asking for my help in a game and suggesting I watch Channel 4 at 6.30 Sunday night!

6. What is the private life of this brand like?

This gets us into story telling and brand narratives and screenplays an area I am starting to explore elsewhere on the site. Brands can be dreadfully dull because they represent the blazer, fake suntan, and toothy smile of the travel exhibition. We know it’s not real but we don’t know how to move the brand towards being more real. The brand is always on its best behaviour. So how would the brand spend an evening off. This would be a really interesting evening theme after your next brand away day with the client! Any excess permitted so long as it’s on brand! The media build up a persona on celebrities by finding out what their weaknesses are.  Why shouldn’t brands have pecadilloes too?







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