Monday 28 July 2014

Branding people is wrong

In my early days in branding, there was a lot of talk about brands being like people. One brand had a "sophisticated, witty, inspiring" personality. There was another one that was continually "reinventing itself according to the Zeitgeist", like Madonna. Yet another was "your best friend, who truly understands you and is always there when you need her, for tips and advice."

This stuff was all very well up to a point, as long as those bright young marketing people remembered it was just an analogy. But it often got out of hand, with those oh-so-keen execs wittering on about what their brand "wanted" or "needed" or being obsessed with consistency, such that the sophisticated, witty and inspiring personality was apparent at every possible touchpoint - and any signs of imperfection or irrationality were clouted promptly with a large Corporate Design manual.

The point is, it is a mistake to attribute human emotions to something non-human - or worse still - inanimate. You are welcome to love a brand but it is not going to repay your love. Your loyalty, perhaps, but not your love, because it can't.

The tables have now turned with the rise of social media and we hear less about brands as people, and more about people as brands. An entire industry of writers, coaches, courses and programmes is devoted to Personal Branding. 27m plus Google results popped up on the subject. There are thousands of books on the subject on amazon.

Some people have set out to be brands - it's their personal ambition, which is OK if you too want to be "as famous as Persil." But for others, I'd be very wary of being treated (or treating yourself) like a packet of soap powder (or a luxury car if the soap powder stuff makes you squeamish!).

Self-promotion is not the same as self-expression. Self-promotion is about self-packaging - defining everything from your appearance, your online presence and which areas of your skills or knowledge are going to pushed - and what is going to be hidden. And someone - you or your publicist - will be  making a decision about which of those factors will be associated with success.

If you are going to blow your own trumpet, it's a good idea to learn to play it first.

Tuesday 22 July 2014

An insight that rings my bell

For all the trivial jingles and frivolous apps that we get involved in creating in the ad business, it's always gratifying to see strategic and creative communication skills used for good. I don't just mean those brands that decide to leap on to whatever is the latest "issue" band wagon with some tenuous connection to their product, but agencies who get together with NGOs and grass roots organisations and combine their skills and knowledge.

One such partnership is that between Ogilvy and Mather, India and Breakthrough, a global human rights organisation that uses culture to change culture. Working together on a campaign to stop domestic violence, they created the Bell Bajao (Hindi for "ring the bell") campaign.

The challenges for tackling such a complex issue were many. But a simple and elegant solution was found - through the insight that a simple action from a bystander can break the momentum of violence and maybe deter it in future. In the film above, for example, the main character uses "can I use your phone?" as his excuse to ring the bell, even though it's clear he has a working mobile with him. Other spurious excuses included asking for the time or collecting a lost ball.

The campaign employed a mix of mass media such as the film above as well as community outreach. Its success is apparent in that the campaign idea is now being rolled out across the globe.

Sometimes the most effective ideas are the simplest ones.

Friday 11 July 2014

Agile constancy

Which team will win on Sunday? The two semi-finals couldn't have been more different - a glorious walkover and humiliating defeat, and a drawn-out stalemate finally decided on penalties. But in football, anything can happen - we will wait and see.

Success in any field - sport, business or personal life - depends on your definition of success, and how you approach reaching it. Jeff Bezos of amazon is quoted as saying:

"We are stubborn on vision, we are flexible on details."

As a small aside, you might comment that details such as dodgy tax practices, less than ideal conditions for employees and monopolistic bully behaviour may display too great a degree of flexibility. But as a general principle, he's right.

All too often, brands - or the people who manage them - are stubborn where they don't need to be: on details. They compile an exhaustive corporate identity rulebook. They set unrealistic goals on irrelevant parameters, just because these can be measured. They insist on documents being rewritten and rewritten again to reflect the brand tone of voice. And all the time, forgetting their vision.

In the end, you remember who won, but you don't necessarily remember in what formation they played.

Tuesday 8 July 2014

What company does your brand keep?

One of the main arguments against the wholesale adoption of online shopping has to be that of the shopping experience. I don't just mean all the super techy gizmos and gadgets that you get in some shops these days, but the aura of the shop itself - the smells, sounds, sights and tactile experiences that the shopper has while they are there, which become traces on the memory associated with buying that brand, whatever it was.

Take the shop above - a quirky place if ever there was one - Gewürz-und Teehaus Schnorr - in Frankfurt, established in the immediate post-War years. It comes into the niche retail category of "Spice and Tea House" but the product range doesn't stop there. There are teas, yes, from distant shores, from Sri Lanka to Japan, as well as Fortnum & Mason. And every spice known to man and woman,  mysterious and beckoning.

But in addition, there are shelves of jams and preserves and chutneys and lemon curds, stacks of shortbread. Nougat, nuts and honey. Joss sticks, china and tea accessories. Even ornaments, small items of furniture and fans.

It's an emporium of the exotic.

But is it? There are some familiar brands here for me - Walker's Shortbread, and sauces from Stokes and Lea & Perrins. And somehow, the value of these increases when bought from such a shop. In comparison to an English Tescos, you feel as if the products have earned their right to these exclusive shelves via a gourmet tasting, rather than some buyer's deal.

It's worth remembering that the company your brand keeps has an influence on how it is perceived as well as what it says or does.

And on that note, I'll leave you with my discovery from Schnorr. This is absolutely delicious!

Thursday 3 July 2014

Goodness that comes from the heart

I'm all for brands being a force for good in the world, not just fulfilling individual needs and dreams, but making a difference in the community and the world at large. But I find that this kind of goodness works better for everyone when it involves action and when it comes from the heart.

What do I mean by heart? Well, to me, it's not usually enough to say that we're a product used by women so we'll have a big brand message that's all about empowering girls. No, the best ideas go back to the heart of the brand which I think is the product, not some vague philosophical "essence".

What is your product? What can it do? And what can it do to make the world a better place? A great example is the Let's Colour project from Dulux, which aims to colour 1 million people's lives by 2020 since its start in 2011. Communities have already been brightened up from London to Rio de Janeiro, from Paris to Jodhpur.

Also making a difference in the community, but in the opposite way, is Cif in Romania. The brand has launched an app which gives people an easy way to report racist or otherwise offensive graffiti. A cleaning team in a Cif-branded van turn up to remove the stupid scribbles.

Not only do such initiatives do communities good, they do the brand good. Because if you link to what's at the brand's heart, what the product can do, that's the best kind of branding of all.