Some years ago, on a business trip to Boston Massachusetts, I woke up first morning, to snow. Or, at least, that’s what the radio announcer was telling me. So, what did I do? Well, I dashed to the window to see for myself.
I’d arrived at my hotel late the night before, it was dark but clear and dry during my two hours drive from Logan International Airport. Now, it was a white world, thick with fresh snow, still falling from the sky. Icicles at least six feet long hung from the hotel roof, above this white landscape. It was a wonderous scene.
But what actually happened to me when I hurried to the window? Seeing is believing, there is no doubt about that. But a whole range of brain neurochemical activity had been triggered. Neuro-responses that do much more than perceive simply what snow is. And it is exactly these responses that marketers appeal to, when developing client brands or corporate identity.
Like the sight of the snowy landscape, the most successful and enduring brands appeal and extend far beyond the narrow bounds of their functional utility. Their foundations are in emotions, values and aspirations. When fully developed, companies and brands are complex composites and syntheses of both rational and non-rational components that are capable of invoking favourable responses in target audiences. Why do some people always shop at Waitrose? And different people at Sainsburys? Or Tesco? Loyal shoppers to each of these get far more than perceived best value on their grocery shop. Similarly, a Barbour jacket gives its owner far more than just protection against the British winter weather.
In this article, we will expose two myths commonly made about marketing and make the case for developing two essential components that your company and product portfolio need, if they are building a brand to endure.
Myth no.1: all brands follow a lifecycle and die
Marketers were once taught that brands are launched, grow with promotion, enjoy a period of sustained success and then decline, either in the face of competition or lose their appeal with changing marketplace circumstances.
If that were true, Heinz would have thrown up their hands in horror when generic baked beans entered the supermarket chains. Similarly, Kellogg’s would have called it a day on cornflakes long ago. Far from doing so, both brands endure, for reasons we shall see, later.
A slightly different and interesting example of endurance is that of the Fairy brand. Earlier I mentioned values, emotions and aspirations. For Fairy, these were established at the outset as mild, gentle, effective cleaning. And it has been successfully imaged with the baby-in-nappy symbol. So, while the products in the Fairy range have changed over many decades, the brand and everything about it, endures.
Myth no.2: a company can chose any image they want for their brand
Some companies take their brand to an agency and ask for an image, a logo, some brand colours and a promotional campaign. Then they scratch their heads when they’ve spent a fortune and it all comes to nothing.
Here is the truth: many products fail because they have chosen the wrong path. Choosing the right one speaks directly to the values, emotions and aspirations that I have mentioned above: those composites and syntheses of the rational and non-rational components. And credibility is the key. The psychological composites must link credibly to the functional attributes of the brand. In fact, unrealistic brand advertising will irritate and lose customers. Too many campaigns try to be topical but fail the credibility test. Expensive perfumes worn by well-known actresses do not guarantee a purchaser that they will mesmerise a field of potential suitors!
The two components you should consider at the beginning of the branding process are:
• Your Core Concept
• The Brand Essence
In the same way that an iceberg owes its strength to what is unseen, below the water, so a brand will be more powerful and enduring if these two components are developed before you attempt your livery – logos, designs, materials etc. You don’t choose your curtains, carpets, paints and wallpaper before you choose your home, so why do it to your valued brands?
And the good news is that the development of your Core Concept and Brand Essence is not going to cost you anything like the outlay you will make when it comes to promotional activities (see fig 1).
Essential component 1: Core Concept
The Core Concept for your product or service defines what it is, the reason you developed it and what benefits it provides, particularly the ones that differentiate it from competitors. The right Core Concept captures your vision for the brand and is the foundation for all you can achieve.
The Core concept of your business, your products/services portfolio and the individual products/services themselves, should all align , with a common vision and set of values.
Essential component 2: Brand Essence
In developing a Brand Essence, you need to identify the components of the brand to which I referred earlier, and our responses – neuro-responses – to them. For practical purposes, we look at three interlinked grouping of brand attributes, the:
• Functional (F) – what does it do, where does it do it, why is it needed, how is it presented?
• Evaluative (E) – how well does it perform, how do we judge it, and against what evidence or
• Psychological (P) – how do customers feel about it, what motivations does it satisfy?
Each of these components needs to be considered through interactions with the other two, from which we develop a complex map of qualities that describe the brand. The Brand Essence is distilled down from this map to provide a unique bridging position (see Figure 2).
The “Gentle (E) Softness (F,P)” of Fairy. The “Unsurpassed (E) Safety (F,P)” of Volvo.
Next time you buy a favourite brand, have a think about that: the neurochemical activity that has been triggered. And maybe – just maybe – we will get snow this Christmas, too.
Rob has over four decades of professional experience and is a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Marketing