Bringing your brand to life

Rob Virkar-Yates unveils a third way to ensure your brand really is the beating heart of the business...

Bringing your brand to life

When I’m presenting about the importance of brand I use this quote a lot:

“If Coca-Cola’s assets were destroyed overnight, whoever owned the Coca-Cola name could walk into a bank the next morning and get a loan to rebuild everything”

The attribution to the VP of Corporate Communications at Coke may be apocryphal. Or it may not. But that isn’t really the point. The point is that it is a powerful statement about the absolute power of brand. I’ve been working with digital and brand agencies for nearly twenty five years. I’ve been lucky enough to work on the ground with agencies in New York, Mumbai and Hong Kong and to work with some of the world’s biggest brands - Virgin, Unilever, P&G and the like. But most of all I have been lucky to work with some incredibly talented people who taught me and carried on reminding me of two simple but important facts - first, that brands are strategic; second that strategy is only strategy if it’s deliverable.

To many outside the brand and marketing community the idea of brand is often negative. Seen as marketing - in the manner of health and safety - ‘gone mad’. There are numerous actual events to back this up - the hilarious story about a certain university in the North East amongst the best.

But even within the business community the concept of brand seems polarised. At one end of the spectrum stands the viewpoint that a brand is simply a collection of visual elements and a crafted sentence or two - in other words it’s within the purview of creative types who can ‘do you’ a brand for a few quid and a recommendation. At the opposite end stands the viewpoint that considering brand through a strategic lens - that is, as more than a bag of creative bits - is to stray inexorably into the domain of the expensively outfitted ‘brand strategist’ who will charge a six figure sum for delivering a deck of incomprehensible triangular diagrams annotated with buzzword bingo. I have seen both of these polar opposites in play more times that I care to mention.

So it’s a relief to consider then that there is, as New Labour used to tell us, a ‘third way’. And it’s even more of a relief to find that this third way is simple, achievable and deliverable in businesses of any scale.

But before we look at this ‘third way’ let’s consider for a minute why brands matter. Why choose Audi instead of BMW, Adidas instead of Nike, Virgin Upper Class over BA Club Class? Why choose Heinz over supermarket own brand or Hovis over Warburtons?

A little bit of understanding about how a strategic framework is framed enables us to unpick these questions in a way that goes beyond the simply qualitative.

In basic terms, there are three ways of trying to understand (and thereby be able to manipulate) why a customer chooses one thing over another. These are reasons that are functional, emotional and self-expressive. So brands meet consumer needs in three broad ways:  first, that the thing does what we need the thing to do, and does it very well (it goes from 0 to 60 in a very few seconds); second, that the thing has a deep emotional resonance us (it’s crafted in Germany to be a beautiful object);third, and often most importantly, it tells everyone else something about ourselves (that I may be commuting daily down the M4 corridor but I’m still a brave adventurer at heart).

Brands occupy the functional, emotional and self-expressive in a broad spectrum. Some focus almost entirely on the functional (think low-cost airlines, DIY retailers); some focus almost entirely on the emotional (think Heinz or Yorkshire Tea) and some almost entirely on the self-expressive (think Calvin Klein or pretty much any premium apparel brand).

The varying degrees of alignment that a brand has with these three elements - known in brand speak as the value proposition - absolutely have to underpin the marketing, communications, products and very commercial heart of the business. That’s why EasyJet don’t try and do business class and why Heinz don’t advertise the health giving qualities of their soup any more than Calvin Klein advertise the longevity of their underpants. This is, in short, why brands matter - because they are - and if not they should be - the beating heart of the business AND the critical interface between the business and the consumer. Like the diagram above (I’d normally charge at least £10K for this but today I’m giving it for free).

But you don’t need to be Richard Branson to develop, curate and activate your own business brand or brands. Hence the ‘third way’. There are simple and focused ways to work with the key stakeholders in the business to develop a lightweight, easy to understand but definitively accurate reflection of the business and the needs of the consumer: and articulate these as the strategic brand framework. Then - and just as importantly - there are a number of simple tactical assets that are informed by this framework to ensure that the strategic brand is deliverable. In this way that brand is not just a bag of ‘creative bits’ any more than it is a raft of indecipherable documents: it can live and breathe and in so doing ensure that everyone in the business - from top to bottom, left to right - understands the strategy and has the tools and guidance they need to stay within the purview. Not to mention that the businesses’ customers have a crystal clear view of what the brand does for them, makes them feel or says about them.

As a process it’s fast, it’s fun and it pays immediate dividends. Why wouldn't you do it?

If you would like help with your brand strategy, please contact us to find out we can help. 

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