In beginning the discussion of BRAND several days ago, I made the statement that brand is the biggest word in marketing today. This statement about brands was validated by the number of comments posted when I began this discussion on some of my Linkedin groups. Here’s just one of the comments made during that discussion: “I must say that this is one of the most interesting and informative discussions I’ve seen posted”, said Karen Shillieto.
The brand discussions indicate there is a significant amount of confusion about what a brand is and who controls it.
What is a Brand?
A brand is comprised of the logo, trademark, package design, advertising message, etc Most comments on my LinkedIn pages seemed to agree on this definition of the brand. Chauncey H. Robinson stated that branding “happens over time as the result of a consistent effort to communicate a clear message. It begins with a marketable concept as the foundation of a business.” Others continued discussing brand in this vain, discussing the importance of the commitment of the firm to quality products and services or other actions of the firm. A few mentioned that the brand is the emotional engagement of the customer or a customer state of mind when it comes to the brand.
All of these folks are right because a brand is ALL these things. Yet, a brand goes beyond simple identification of the brand through brand name to include brand personality — which is defined as a set of human-like characteristics associated with the brand. The brand can be seen as sophisticated, rugged, adventurous, romantic, edgy, etc. Perspective consumers look at this brand personality to determine if the product is “for them” or not. Part of the power of branding is a function of the way consumers use products to define their “self”. They choose purchases that help them present this “self” to others and reaffirm their definition to themselves. What we buy confirms who we are and tells others who we are. We look at the brand personalities to see if the brands are like us or not, do they reinforce our notion of who we are or are they inconsistent with this notion.
Here are some of the brand personalities identified along with brands that embody that particular personality.
Controlling the brand?
In the old days, companies controlled the brand — they told us about the brand through a variety of communication channels, both literal and symbolic. Examples include commercials, product distribution (would you have the same image of Rolex if you saw it for sale at Walmart?), pricing (you expect more trendy, sophisticated, and high-quality products to cost more), packaging (think the Gold Ballotin’s sold by Godiva), et)c.
But, that’s changed. Companies no longer control communication about their product because there are many voices in the milieu replacing the unified single voice of the brand. Sure brands still attempt to influence brand personality and other elements for controlling the brand through traditional communication channels, but they have lots of competition.
- The media — both news and entertainment — have a huge impact on brand personality. Negative reports, such as continued coverage of the BP oil spill, create a brand personality that is uncaring, reckless, irresponsible, and incompetent — all of which have very negative consequences for the firm. British Petroleum’s eroding brand personality led to declining stock prices, efforts to boycott their products, and increased lawsuits against the firm. Despite BP’s efforts to control these conversations, by buying keywords from Google, Yahoo, and Bing to ensure their message shows up in the top spot when consumers search for BP, oil spill, oil disaster, etc, so users find their efforts to control their brand before seeing less favorable reports from the news. Thus, the negative conversation still flows — just like the oil. BP can try to “spin” the message all they want, it won’t make any difference.
- Product placement in TV programs and movies also establishes a personality for a brand. Sometimes firms pay for this placement specifically to help establish this personality, but sometimes the placement is done by the director and the message may not be consistent with the firm’s notion of a brand’s personality. This may lead to confusion surrounding the brand.
- Increasingly, consumers also control the brand. They talk about the products among friends, relatives, colleagues, and neighbors. With social media, their reach can be vast. For instance, some social media users have thousands or hundreds of thousands of people to view their message and some of these messages get spread from first level viewers (those linked with the message sender) to second level viewers (those linked to first level viewers who re-send the message) to third level viewers, etc. Hence, if an individual sends a message to 100,000 followers and the message is resent by 10% of those 100,000 and the message is then resent by 10% of those… the message quickly reaches millions of viewers. This is the classic definition of a message going “viral”. Firms attempt to engage customers to make their message “go viral”, but have limited ability to make this happen.
- Consumers also unconsciously transmit messages about the personality of a brand. For example, as you walk through a mall, amusement park, or another crowded venue — you notice what people are wearing, accessories (like shoes and handbags), the type of camera they’re using, where they have been shopping (what are the stores’ names on the packages they carry), etc. Again, social media is replete with these tacit images for controlling the brand. From these images, users form an opinion as to the suitability of products (do they look nice, do they perform well, etc), as well as products to avoid, such as those used by people you find distasteful.
- When celebrities show up in public and are photographed by paparazzi, more people see what they’re wearing, what they’re doing, where they’re going, etc. Thus, celebrities have an enhanced ability to affect our perceptions of a brand, thus controlling your brand. That’s why they get so much of what they have and do for free. For instance, Starbucks ‘ early marketing efforts centered on providing celebrities with their coffee so they’d be photographic carrying the iconic cups. In the days before Starbucks did any other marketing, you couldn’t pick up a magazine without seeing a celebrity with one of their cups. Even Game of Thrones accidentally included a cup in their episode, causing a media blitz that provided significant advertising for Starbucks.
How does your company track consumer conversations regarding their brands?
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