It’s easy to think of what your brand is there to do (purpose) and how your business intends to prosper (strategy) as separate things, different agendas. But more and more brands are looking at ways to bring these two ideas together: building and focusing their business around the wider impacts they intend to have.
There’s crises and dangers everywhere we look. From ISIS to mass shootings, pandemics to weather events, Greek debt to commodity slumps, the actions and repercussions stream onto media in a seemingly endless scroll. In that sense the world we live in has changed little from when I was a child.
In this post from some time back I talked about the difference between brand energy and brand focus. I discussed how marketers often put the emphasis on spend (energy) and hope it ties to an outcome. I contrasted this with marketers who begin with the outcome they want (focus) and apportion an appropriate level of energy to achieve it. Above all, I emphasised the need for balance between these two forces.
It’s tempting to believe that every brand must be vastly different and that every opportunity to push the boundaries should be taken if the brand is to win. But is there a case for normality that we’re missing here? Should, as Jay Bauer has suggested, brands stop trying to be amazing and just get on with being useful?
As more brands seek to engage in what Denise Yohn has referred to as the “cultural conversations” of today, they encounter reactions ranging from strong endorsement to cynicism about their motives. Starbucks, for example, hit turbulence with its Race Together campaign. (There’s an excellent analysis of why here.) Levis on the other hand seems to have had an easier ride with its Water<Less campaign. Patagonia’s Don’t Buy This campaign was hailed by many as honest, genuine and utterly in keeping with their beliefs.
As marketers we take brand promises for granted. We just accept that every brand in its right mind has one and that it is committed to keeping it. As consumers, we have no such awareness. We don’t wander around with the strategies of our favourite brands on our devices checking that, wherever we see them, they are doing what they said they would do in the strategy.
In economics, signalling focuses on the ability of one party to effectively convey information about itself to another party. That was relatively easy pre-Internet. Brands simply pushed claims into the marketplace through a range of set-play media actions and waited for consumers to react. The ability of a signal to reach an audience rested almost entirely on the message itself and the media budget.
I was first introduced to Tom Asacker a number of years ago when he and I were on the same contributor panel and I’ve always been taken by four qualities that come out time and again in his work: his call-it-the-way-it-is approach; his extraordinary ability to condense whole systems to meme-length summaries; his relentless search for new form; and above all his humanity and clarity.
We’re all tempted to do it at some stage: to overstate the advantages; to push the benefits of what is on offer past the point of credibility; to state that what we are doing or offering is better than what others are offering, but with no substantiation for that belief.
Pitch a new brand identity system to almost any large company with multiple divisions and inevitably someone will plead to be an exception to the new rules. This is particularly true where brands or divisions have had their own identity in the past. Attempts to consolidate a myriad of “brands” into a consistent brand identity system or to replace a whole portfolio of marques with a single power brand will be met with varying volumes of indignation.