Monday, 8 October 2007

Brand is for Beginner

Hello blog reader, I have sinned; it's been 3 weeks since my last post. Sorry it's been so quiet. mostly because my life hasnt been. All the action by the way is over at greenormal, in the run up to my new book launching:

There's a thought I have been musing which doesnt really fit the green blog though. It's the notion of 'brand' being for beginners; being a concept we need to use to gain easy acceptance in general audiences, but something which nearly always gets in the way of the real work of thinking through a strategy to connect your organisation well with people.

I was chatting to someone who markets a (new generation, relatively unknown) university. On the one hand 'we need to build our brand' is a consensus that gets him a budget. On the other hand this leads by a piece of linear thinking to the idea they need to spend this money on a logo, some ads talking about something generic to higher education ("a brighter future awaits at..."). Meanwhile everyone they want to speak to is on facebook, talking to real current students about real reasons for going there, eg they happen to have some of the best parties in the North West, the media course has really good links with a local broadcaster and loads of people get jobs there etc. You know - real reasons to choose this place.

I met several other similar new universities at that conference. With one I hatched a plan to pitch a documentary to C4 called simply "Freshers" (you can guess the rest) which was set on their campus. With another who has especially strong green credentials we talked about whether there were ways to leverage those in schemes and education campaigns which connected with young greenpeace members and similar.

I dont know about you but I expect a college logo to look something like the badge on a school blazer. And it really wouldnt matter to me if they had a 'better one'. I expect a university ad to feature a picfture of an ex student giving a testimonial, and/or to feature a stock shot type image of 'blue skies' with a headline like 'The sky's the limit at...'.

Educational branding is of course rather tricky anyway. But I'm just using it to illustrate a general point that has come up often recently. You use 'brand' to describe a 'need for spending' - a shortfall in public regard - but for god's sake (usually) dont use it as your strategy, as if it described the solution to that problem.

There's another side to this too. Brand as a concept overall in consumer markets is also for beginners. Coca-Cola in the 1870s and AOL in the 2000s both offer a certain kind of safe familiarity and certain quality in a new and chaotic frontier market - amidst (then) tainted drinks and (now) worries about data and credit card and identity security. They were 'for beginners'. But do not necessarily survive any transition to a more sophisticated, knowledgeable mindset; a move to juices and open browsing respectively. Just as in the wine market, only beginners buy safe well known brands (Piat D'Or).

Much to discuss here, just wanted to post something to dust off the cobwebs :J


john dodds said...

As you know my view of "branding" is that it's also a shorcut for the marketers - marketing stamped on the outside rather than running through the entity. A tattoo rather than DNA and, as such, potentially embarrassing in later life rather than life-enhancing.

Asit said...

Interesting thought John. Another take on this thinking would be " What brands offer to consumers should be aligned with that particular's society's stage of development"...familiarity and identity for a society at the "basic and esteem" needs level of maslow and a higher level cultutal/life idea for a society operating at a level of self actualisation . This is where your thought of "brands as ideas" first espoused in the great marketing manifesto fitted in. Most brands listed in that book succeeded in a western /developed market. It would be interesting to find examples of successful brands in the developing world which have used the philosophy of "brands as ideas to live by" .

Rodney Tanner said...

Welcome back John.
We are about to start a project for a corporate travel management company and it seems all eyes are on what will happen to the logo and the budget.
So thanks for a very timely post.
Good luck with the book.

Anonymous said...

john - this is off blog and does not entirely relate tp posts but i wanted to make contact- someone suggested i should meet you - then i said i already had
i am giving a paper on scapegoat and saintly brands later in 2008 and some of your discussions impinge greatly - i work with Mcd starbucks news int. as well as nspcc and wwf
it would be good to meet and break bread
sincerely chris payne