A Non Expert Comments On Brand Management

I am not an expert. As Erich Fromm the renowned critical theorist said in his book To Have or To Be “beware of people who claim to have the answers”. Thousands of years ago Socrates is reputed to have said “I know nothing except the fact of my ignorance.” One thing I do know is that observations such as these help to guard against being locked in Psychic Prisons (Burrell, Morgan) and encourage self reflection on the prior assumptions on which our beliefs and actions stand.

There are three things that I believe about Brands and Brand Management:

1. The purpose of Brand Management is to contribute to the creation of compelling and sustained value propositions. I say ‘contribute’ because it is a ‘systemic’ contribution that includes other organisational capabilities such as the ability to sense opportunities, devise revenue models, and deliver the value offer that customers that people are willing to pay for. (David Teece)

2. We are rationalising not rational animals. A Brand makes an emotional connection with the people. These emotional perceptions might be positive or negative. (Burberry? Toyota? Macdonalds? The NHS? David Beckham? Skegness?)

3. Brand Management is not a marketing communications exercise wherbye organisations ‘tell’ customers what the brand stands for. Gone are the days when , it has never been the case that organisations define their brand meaning. Organisations do not ‘give’ a brand to the market, the market gives the organisation its brand. Whilst initial perceptions can be modified through rhetorical devices and social influence, ultimately Brand meaning is ‘owned’ by the people who don’t use, intend to use, and use the brand. Brand meaning is defined post-hoc. It is created after an experience.

The ability to transform  brand perception is achieved through re-vitalising customer experience not through a new letterhead, logos and straplines. This is not to argue against the power of perception and that perceptions cannot be accessed through techniques such as Zaltman Metaphor Elicitation or Ad Liking. Such methods provide some insight. A starting point. They are also fraught with interpretive dangers.

Find out that a key segment of your vistors are young and come from the UK. Run a campaign that asks ‘Where The Bloody Hell Are You’ and end up offending the Prime Minister of Australia, a significant number of locals who don’t ascribe to the sentiment and where most of the audience you are targetting would reply… Brisbane. Get the essence right and you achieve what Tim Rice has done with his colleagues in Glasgow.See Glasgow

Much of the branding mantra is built upon the notion of ‘dream making’. Setting aspirations. ‘We don’t sell handbags we sell a dream’, a Gorilla playing drums symbolises pure unbridled joy that you will associate with…(so it works!) Although imagine if the product didn’t taste very nice or made you poorly.

The foundations of this approach rest on two assumptions. Firstly, the classic marketing argument that people buy what something ‘does’ not what it ‘is’. Solutions not products. Therefore if that vaccuum cleaner makes you feel cleaner and modern it transcends (yet still includes- Wilber) the need to suck up dirt. Secondly, aspirational differences have to be created when there is no discernable difference in what a product, service or place really does!

To create a difference where there is no difference we have to play mind games. To chunk up from the ‘thing’ to the ‘dream’. From the loo roll to happiness, from the deodorent to sex appeal, from rural landscape to magical kingdom. The challenge with these higher aspirations is that they are by any other term also expectations. They are promises and as J.N.Kapferer states “A brand is a promise of value”.When promises are broken people remember and don’t come back.

And that reminds me of story orginally told by Henry of Huntingdon in the 12th century who lived close to the Fenlands of the Norfolk Broads. The tale is about King Canute (Knut) the 11th century King of England who put his throne by the sea. As we know he commanded the tide to stop but the tide failed to do so. No matter how strong his self belief in his power, capability, and infallibility, no matter what he believed was possible, no matter what he said ‘ought’ to happen, the reality of the matter was another thing. He ensured his entourage were ‘on message’ and they stood right behind him. Nevertheless he could do nothing to stop the tide coming in.

The difference of course for any destination is that they can do something. It’s the experience that counts.

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