Quiet brands in a world of noise

Quiet brands in a world of noise

Everywhere you look today it seems, there are people and brands only too keen to spell out exactly what they think and what they want you to know, in the loudest terms possible. As the volume continues to climb, can you even be a quiet brand today?

It takes gentle confidence as a brand to walk away from the many shouting matches underway across markets. With so many look-alike products and so many strategies that are carbon copies of everyone else’s marketing approach, the best resort many feel they have in crowded markets is to yell. Figuratively at least. They release content almost for its own sake, they flood channels with messages that are paper-thin, they match everyone else’s offers …

Three ways to be quietly effective

The decision around how much “personality” you wish to project depends on a range of circumstances, but there is still room for brands that, while they value their customers and believe in what they offer, don’t want to rule the conversation. If you’re more inclined to understatement, here’s a range of ways you can be a quiet brand:

Minimalist – you can make the least noise possible. Minimal brands pare everything back to its barest form, not just in terms of their palette but also in terms of how they communicate. Minimalism works well where you have a highly visual product and you either don’t want to say too much or you credit your audience with the ability to put the pieces together for themselves. It’s effective in luxury and premium markets of course (indeed cliché in areas like fashion and  cosmetics) but it’s also been used to great effect by brands like Apple to disrupt the abiding design aesthetic and present product in powerful and engaging ways.

While perfume commercials for example are frequently lampooned for their self-indulgent approach and absence of meaning, there is a place for understatement when it signals exclusivity, generates intrigue or both. The very clear signal is that there is literally nothing more that needs to be said. This approach fails completely, however, when it reads as a brand with nothing meaningful to say.

Minimalist branding also suits brands whose presence is not customer-facing. It can be used to great effect within busy supply chains (business-to-trade branding) to gently provide recognition and reassurance.

Cryptic – if you’re selling inside a niche or you wish to cultivate a strong cult brand, the quiet use of symbolism or the understated celebration of a particular lifestyle can be a very powerful way to connect a community. From unbranded brands like Muji to those that keep a cool, low profile, these brands communicate in ways that mean nothing to most but that unite their community. Their approach to marketing often cultivates a deliberately off-hand personality that sits well with their urbane and self-aware audiences.

A variation on this idea are those mainstream brands that manipulate their branding to change how people connect with them. Google’s many variations on its logo are a classic example. In other cases, brands like Coke have, for some campaigns, removed their facing completely and replaced it with people’s names. Ironically these brands are relying on their ubiquity to ensure they are immediately recognised – but the clear intention is to project a refreshing sense of playfulness.

Another variation can be seen in the crafts sectors, where brands use understated or deliberately under-refined iconography to signal authenticity and a move away from mass-production. While this can quickly look too studied to be real, it’s an approach that is very powerful when combined with a clear and attractive philosophy. Our/Vodka for example positions itself as “a global vodka made by local partners in cities around the world”. Its use of simple labels makes the product feel like the limited offering of a micro-distillery and yet its marketing clearly positions it as a worldwide idea.

Authority – quiet brands work well in sectors where authority and power are highly respected, so it’s a tried and true approach in sectors such as finance and insurance where brands simply wish to be identified, because their reputation and their networks are doing all the heavy-lifting. This approach is also very much favoured by the professions and by brands operating in the upper echelons of B2B because such marketing is seen to maintain their dignity.

Quiet branding in this context is the branding of the influencer and the networker. It is intended to denote intelligence and knowledge but in the wrong hands it can also signal disdain, bordering on snobbery, for the ‘crassness’ of more mainstream marketing. If you are looking to take this approach to reinforce your authority, be careful not to come across as ‘holier than thou’. Finding a way to inject an element of humanism will add warmth and empathy to what can otherwise be a very cold exterior.

“Not everyone wants to live in Vegas.”

As I like to say when people ask me about taking a less strident approach to their marketing, “Not everyone wants to live in Vegas. But any brand, regardless of volume, still needs to be approached with a clear understanding of the positioning, values, personality and purpose that make it competitive. Quietness doesn’t insulate you from bad thinking nor does it give you a reason to short-cut strategy. The wrong message, even if it’s delivered in a whisper, still says all the wrong things.

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