Oh the irony. For years, many of us tried to get the people we worked with to broaden their understanding of what a brand was. It’s not just a logo, a product, a TV commercial – that conversation. We were fighting to make the definition of brand bigger. Now I’m wondering whether we have to start going back the other way.
Suddenly, there are no people, countries, groups anymore. Instead, everywhere I look, everything’s a brand. Donald Trump is a brand, Charlie Sheen is a brand, so are Kate and William, the President’s a brand, Greenpeace and just about any professional sports team or association you care to name. America’s a brand, so are the Tea Party, Survivor, Wikileaks, the Beckhams and Lady Gaga. You are a brand.
That suggests to me that the media is in the process of redefining a “brand” as anything that gets or has our attention. In the new parlance, brand now is much more about profile. So I think Paula Lynn is right when she comments on this story in MediaPost that, “The media and its frenzy make brands brands.”
Brand increasingly means buzz, or perhaps something or someone that is buzzed about: something or someone who has got or is getting attention, for good or bad reasons.
Today on Branding Strategy Insider, another brand strategy question from the BSI Emailbag. Lisa, a marketer in Washington D.C. asks:
“What is the difference between repositioning and rebranding?”
Thanks for your question Lisa. Rebranding has become quite popular, especially for brands that want to shed a previously negative image. For instance, Philip Morris rebranded itself to Altria. Or brands that are facing increased competitive pressure like McDonald’s. Rebranding is simply changing the brand’s identity. It typically includes changing most or all of the brand identity elements such as the name, icon, colors, type font and tagline. The identity change may also be accompanied by brand repositioning.
However, a brand can be repositioned without changing its identity. Repositioning focuses on changing what customers associate with the brand and sometimes competing brands. This usually entails a change in the brand’s promise and its personality. Taglines often change with brand repositioning (to communicate the new promise). And sometimes the identity itself is updated or refreshed to reinforce the change in the brand’s positioning. However, most brand repositioning projects do not result in completely changed identities. That is, usually the brand name does not change. And frequently, neither do the identity elements other than the tagline and perhaps a slight identity system updating.
The most effective brands on Earth are abundantly clear about “who they are” and obsessive in monitoring how consumers see them. Brand architects are often seen as magicians because of their ability to make the unknown known. The plethora of approaches in the marketplace rival Las Vegas in terms of breadth and scope of choices – enough to satiate any appetite. However, this can have a deleterious effect because of the cascading effect of over complicating an already cumbersome process. This is largely because “branding” has become the buzzword of the moment. Surprisingly, I have met very few people that have a robust understanding of the true meaning and the far reaching implications of ineffective messaging.
Branding is identifying what the brand is and ensuring consumers see the same picture. After months of reviewing countless approaches, I would like to humbly submit my branding philosophy. My approach is entitled “Back to Basics” which entails: 1) developing a corporate identity 2) communicating effectively and 3) continuously improving the brand.
Defining The Approach
1) Develop identity: The most essential step is to have a clear picture of one’s self or business. One of the best ways to do that is through an honest assessment by cataloging words that represent the brand. Then, try to identify a common link between the terms (much like a shoelace on a shoe). Companies without a clear vision & mission statement usually have not completed the exercise above. Next, do a SWOT analysis to help mitigate some of the inherent risk. Lastly, the brand should ask itself what is its unique value replete with value proposition.
Inspired by Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., a young man named Ralph Lifshitz decided to design a wider European style neck tie. With the goal of appealing to the upper crust, he decided to ask a close friend and confidant what the name of the company should be. The friend urged him to name the company, Players, after shunning the other recommendation. Today, we call that company POLO; which now generates billions in revenue. The Company’s brand names, which include Polo by Ralph Lauren, Ralph Lauren Purple Label, Ralph Lauren Collection, Black Label, Blue Label, Lauren by Ralph Lauren, RRL, RLX, Ralph Lauren Childrenswear, Denim & Supply Ralph Lauren, Chaps and Club Monaco, constitute one of the world’s most widely recognized families of consumer brands. Yet, each of these respective sub brands has a very clear identity. For example, Purple Label is the sub brand under the corporate umbrella that speaks to the businessman with the most discerning tastes. Conversely, RLX is the sub brand that speaks to the athlete in the athlete in us all.
Being non-popular is not the same as being unpopular. Brands that are non-popular are simply not prepared to do whatever it takes to court popular favor. They do their own thing, their own way – and look to attract cult followings via like minds. But brands that have become unpopular have lost likeability. That’s a disturbing development if you’re trying to be liked by as many people as possible.
The hardest thing about seeking to be liked is that we all do business today in an environment where criticism is ubiquitous. The ability for anyone with an internet connection to not just hold an opinion but to broadcast that opinion to the world is freedom of speech on a good day and freedom to abuse on another day. At a time when it’s easier than ever for others to get the knives out, the problem it seems to me has shifted for those on the receiving end. The dilemma these days is less about what do the critics think and rather, which criticisms should you act on and which are you better to brush off as beneath your dignity?
While every brand will quite rightly set its own guidelines, there are some clear principles that make sense to me in terms of meeting the balance between maintaining reputation and over-reacting:
1. Hold firm on your purpose, your worldview and your values.
2. Debate priorities, opinions and options.
3. Initiate or at least participate in conversations about matters that have been raised that you believe have not been properly explored and to which you believe you can bring a refreshing perspective.
4. Encourage suggestions, feedback and criticism of experiences and service. (As long as you’re prepared to reply stating what you’re going to do about what’s happened.)
On All Saint’s Day 1517, Martin Luther posted the 95 Theses on the door of Castle Church, sparking, in the eyes of many, what would become the Protestant Reformation. Whether or not he actually did post the Theses (of course there is historical debate) and what that generated are off-topic, but the action of pinning your colors to a statement of beliefs for all the world to see lies at the core of building and articulating an opinionated brand.
Brands build trust through behaviors. And behaviors should be based on clear principles. Those principles should bring your purpose to life by laying out the clear psychological guidelines within which your brand operates. They are, when done well, an inspiring précis of your organization’s worldview.
Martin Lindstrom made the brand case for opinion for me in this post several years ago when he wrote: “The fact is that consumers are tiring of perfectly polished brands. Inoffensive brands. … Brands without well-defined opinions will find it increasingly difficult to gain traction in the market place. The challenge is to ensure that the opinions are in tune with the core values of the brand. That they are authentic, and not an opportunistic and superficial play for attention by deception.”
Diesel’s famous “Be Stupid” is one of my all-time favorites. It’s a wonderful mix of observation, grace, defiance, sarcasm, insight and counter-intuition that lays out Diesel’s anti-smart stance, including the fabulous assertion that “Stupid is the relentless pursuit of a regret-free life”. You’re left in no doubt as to Diesel’s abiding philosophy, and the case is put in such a way that the viewer is pretty much asked to choose one way or the other, stupid or smart.
So what’s the basis for a powerful manifesto? Jean-Claude Saade captured it nicely here with the thought that there are 7 doors to connection between people and brands: