In commercial terms, a brand exists to create a potentially higher value from goods and services in the minds of consumers than the equivalent value of generic goods and services.
This definition can be seen in many brands. Look at the over the counter medicines shelf in your local supermarket. A generic box of aspirin costs as little as 50p: The equivalent packet of branded aspirin, can cost eight times that amount.
Look at the cost of bottled water compared to the cost of tap water. Brands have value. Brand equity often sits as a separate category in company accounts and brand names have value attached to them.
But brands have value beyond the financial. They have value above and beyond the physical. Brands exist in the minds of consumers.
The leanest definition of a brand is the physical product or service and the intangible values and associations related to the brand in the minds of consumers.
However, to simply compare brands with their generic equivalents is unfair. Brands tend not to compete directly with generics; they compete against other brands. Nurofen doesn’t compete with the plain white box, it competes against Anadin or Hedex.
Brands can leverage advantages across a huge range of disciplines and activities:
- New distribution channels
- Product bundling
- Service Initiatives
In fact right across the marketing mix and marketing strategy.
However, a brands competitors will likely be leveraging the brand in the same areas. All too often competing brands converge on the same answers leading to identical innovations and strategies. An ‘Us Too’ marketing strategy.
When competing brands converge in this way, you can end up with consumer-led brands where their needs are met in predictable ways by brands. this is where a brand’s rough edges and quirks are removed to meet market conformity. However, when these rough edges are removed you remove the reason why target consumers love the brand.
Marketing is about leveraging difference. If your brand simply conforms to market expectations, you destroy difference. You can also destroy the one brand facet that is not present in your competitors; the reason your existing customers love your brand.
Such belief is often the reason a brand exists in the first place.
Henry Ford, in many ways an awful human being, was driven by the belief that the ‘Highway is for all Mankind. That belief was the impetus for the Ford brand.
So in today’s world what are brands for? Are they for improving the lot of human existence through creating small differences based on big conventions. As George Gilder said “Capitalism begins with giving” (a statement reflecting much of the work of Adam Smith)
Many big brands were created with the intention of making the public’s lot better and to end abuses such as adding chalk to flour and sand to sugar. The first trademark, the Bass Red Triangle was a quality mark intended to separate the quality of Bass ale and beer from the adulterated product of others.
Look at the impact of Quakers on successful brands. All of the following firms were created with the founding principles of the Religious Society of Friends, simplicity, honesty and integrity: Quaker Oats (obviously), Lever Brothers (now Unilever), Philips, The Cooperative. Barclay’s and Lloyd’s are Quaker banks. then there are confectionery brands such as Cadbury, Fry’s and Rowntree.
These firms were set up not only to sell products to consumers but also to care. Cadbury built a model town, Bournville to improve the living conditions of their workers. Lever Bros did the same by building Port Sunlight. These firms provided their workers with healthcare, education, sports facilities and libraries. The brand was much more than a strategy to increase turnover and profits.
These principles created brand belief which is a potent force. It is the foundation of sought after brand qualities: Character and authenticity. The hallmarks of ‘passion’ brands are character and authenticity.
Belief also creates commercial advantage through deeper emotional engagement amongst customers and impassioned commitment from employees.
Brand belief in the minds of consumers is drawn from self identity and self actualisation: The higher level needs of Maslow’s hierarchy. People want to make a ‘narrative of self’. Their belief in brands is used to reinforce and calibrate that self identity.
The more authentic a brand, the greater it is capable of creating belief in the minds of consumers. This allows consumers to develop strength of character. Brand authenticity is an important artefact of self.
As people use brands to self identify, not everyone will be attracted to a ‘passion’ brand. Passion brands attract some consumers and repel others. However, passion brands cannot be ignored by consumers. No one can ignore a brand’s authenticity.
However, for a passion brand to succeed, it must be truly authentic and belief in that authenticity must be genuinely held. You cannot fake authenticity and you cannot fake belief in a brand. And no matter the short term issues with a brand, you cannot abandon brand belief.
Passion brands are not simply brands with belief attached. Creating a passion brand is not that simple. You belief in the brand must be accompanied by a deep understanding of people which is fused with capability, confidence and exuberance. A passion brand MUST be relevant to the lives of target consumers.
A passion brand must be active, not passive. It must act to exert influence. A passion brand is dynamic. it is a gravitational force actively drawing consumers towards its values.
So, in summary:
- A brand is a product or service plus its associated values
- A consumer-led brand habitually uses consumer research for direction not illumination
- Brand Belief is the brand’s take on the world in which it exists. It is your view of how your brand can make the world better.
- A passion brand is a brand with clear belief, a deep understanding of people and the capability, confidence and exhuberance to connect the two.
Passion brands are the intersection of two internal and external forces; internally your organisations capability and ideology; externally the consumer and the environment in which they live.