Let’s talk about brand

Originally ‘branding’ was a way to tell livestock apart and to stop them from being stolen – the word actually comes from ‘brandr’, an old Norse word which means ‘to burn’. While that core thought is still true – brand helps us to tell products apart – it has become much more complex. Branding as a discipline has changed over the years, and that change is accelerating at greater rate than ever before.

Here at Home, we know that having a strong brand is one of the best things that you can do to make sure your marketing and communications activity works as hard as possible. That brand becomes the foundation that everything else can be built on. It helps you make decisions about what you should do now, and which option is the best idea for the future.

THE PRINCIPLE IS THE SAME, THE CHANNELS ARE MORE COMPLICATED

A good brand platform helps you to tell a cohesive and connected story across multiple channels, without saying the same thing over and over. It acts as a set of common principles, which in turn help marketers to make decisions about things such as how to run social media, which charities to support, which NPD ideas should be investigated, and how to produce fully integrated omni-channel campaigns. The best brand platforms go a step further though – they help marketers to navigate the glut of complex channels that we have at our disposal. By knowing what the brand is about, the way that message reaches its audience becomes an easier decision to make.

It’s also important for corporate culture – a strong brand provides a set of guidelines which can help to hire the right people and make sure everyone understands the business they work for, and it makes them confident in communicating that externally. That is more important than ever before. In this hyperconnected world, it’s easy for people to see inside brands and businesses; something that has been dubbed the ‘Glass Box Brand’ phenomena.

A brands’ internal culture is on show in ways it never has been before, with high profile examples where brands have got this both disastrously wrong, and when they’ve got it right. On the one hand, think Starbucks not paying their taxes (when their brand talks about caring about local communities), but on the other hand there’s also the CEO of HSBC (a brand that is all about cultural values and being considerate of them) in Taiwan, walking a gay employee down the aisle when her father refused to attend her wedding.

A brand is no longer defined just by the messages it is putting out there. Now every person, every value, every action, every thing that a business does could be visible to the world. It could affect how people see that brand. This means that brands aren’t just the concern of a marketing department; these days brand needs to work at a corporate culture level because ultimately anyone could be the ambassador for the business at any given moment.

WHAT’S THE REWARD?

This is starting to sound like hard work, isn’t it? It’s complex, it needs near total understanding and buy-in from across the business, and because a brand isn’t static you need to make sure you are constantly evolving it. So, how do you make sure all this hard work pays off? Over the years we’ve found that there are five core ways that having a strong brand helps businesses to grow:

1. Competitive Advantage:

Maintaining a USP that is based on functional products is harder than ever before. Competitive advantage is being eroded as it becomes quicker and easier to bring a similar or superior product to market. Having a brand that stands for more than just functional products makes it easier to build up a unique positioning in people’s minds – one that it is much harder for a competitor to encroach on. For example, many places make affordable furniture, but by putting cost-consciousness, great design, accessibility and fun at the heart of the brand, Ikea has managed to conquer the world with its Billy bookcases and Lack tables.

2. Emotional Attachment:

It’s also easier to create emotional attachment when people really believe in a brand, away from just functional benefits. Non-Apple mobile owners have been extolling the virtues of other devices, OS, and brands – but despite a product that isn’t functionally on top, Apple has maintained its position in the market and its loyal product following by creating a brand that people are emotionally attached to.

3. Long Term Consistency:

We know that the biggest, strongest brands have been around for a long time, saying pretty much the same thing for the whole of that time. And that’s because when it comes to consumers, consistency will often trump credibility. Say something for long enough (we’re thinking about brands like Coca Cola, John Lewis, Nike) and your brand and business will be strong enough to weather temporary storms. For example, John Lewis have recently issued a profit warning for the first part of 2018, but because their brand is about investing in people, in the business, and being fair, their explanation for the profit warning makes more sense, and no-one is sensationalising it.

4. Mental Shortcuts for Consumers:

The best brands have told a story about themselves that means that it’s quicker and easier for consumers to make choices, they have reduced the customer effort score required to pick and buy that product. At the end of the day, we’re all lazy, and brand is a really useful mental heuristic (read: predefined shortcut) that helps us choose things. When I’m stood in the freezer aisle in the supermarket, and I really want ice-cream, Ben & Jerry’s is a no-brainer for me, because I believe the brand will deliver the indulgence and fun I want from that category. I don’t even look at the other brands in the cabinet and have loyalty (to the brand, and its cookie dough) hardwired into my brain.

5. Future Proofing the Business:

Another really important function of brand is the ability for it to become a tool by which you can make decisions for the business. For example, should we make product X, or move into category Y? Having a clear idea of your brand, what you stand for, the values you live and the reason your customers choose you will make sure that you can make the right decision more often. Take Innocent, a brand that is built on health, fruit and fun; their offices are even called ‘Fruit Towers’! A few years ago they moved sideways into producing microwave lunch pots – full of veggies. It seemed like a logical move, but the brand was so focused on drinks and fruit that it was a step too far for the consumer, and the brand ended up selling that part of the business.

HOW DO YOU GET TO A STRONG BRAND?

Whilst there’s a lot of information out there about how brands work and why they are so powerful, usually the branding process is carried out behind the scenes. Many books look at the theory of how branding can be done, but not many brands go out there and publish the ins and outs of the process and how they’ve applied it to their business. We as consumers see the end result, and as marketers we extrapolate the questions they asked themselves to arrive at that conclusion.

There’s a good reason for this. Brands need to be built upon insights, and a strong brand platform needs to be not only TRUE to the business, but also RELEVANT to the audience, and UNIQUE in the marketplace. It’s those insights that are such a crucial part of a brands’ competitive advantage.

HOW CAN WE SHOW YOU WHAT WE MEAN?

Whilst we’d love to talk you through our full process, the insights we’ve uncovered, and how we’ve helped achieve business growth through a strong brand, that would be letting you in on too many business, category and audience secrets! We never kiss and tell, but we still want to be able to show you how we go through the process of branding.

This project started out as a flippant aside in the pub one evening. Our team couldn’t believe that Planning Exec Miles had reached a dead end in his quest to find somebody to love. After all, we know he’s pretty amazing. Then it struck us that the situation was strikingly similar to a brief we’d received… A great brand, with lots of hugely positive qualities, that was running under the radar and failing to connect properly with its target audience.

So, naturally, we thought we’d run our TRU branding process on Miles; helping him to achieve his goals, find TRU love, and strengthen his own personal brand along the way. And Miles agreed (with surprisingly little arm twisting) to let us use him as an example, thus giving you an insight into the process we go through to create strong brands.

You can find out more details about the TRU Love project here. And yes, he has since found love! 😉

Here at Home we believe in the power of strong brands. We work with all of our clients to make sure they have solid foundations to build upon. If you are reading through this, or any of our articles on Planning and Insight, and have questions about how this sort of process might help you achieve your own business objectives, then please get in touch. We’d love to come and chat to you.