Advanced Brand Strategy Masterclass – Week Two

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by: Idris Mootee

It was a great
start last week. Taking together what was discussed: brands exist as symbols in
popular culture with their meanings contingent on particular cultural contexts;
brands embody stories constructed by the companies that produced them, and by their
consumers; brands have histories. I like Dr. Morgan Gerald’s post which talks
about brands entering a “performative” stage. I think this is a great
piece to set the stage for my second week presentation on “Managing Brand Meanings“.

Morgan is an anthropologist by training so his view is refreshing without
any coloring from the ad world. You can read it here without having to dig deep
into the posts:

Performance is the experience and expression of identity,
image, emotion and experience. It is also an elaborately choreographed type of
behavior. But it’s bigger and better than the sum of those parts because it’s
creative, (de)constructive and, in some cases, transformative. When we perform
something – particularly in ‘public’ and with or for other people – we
transform that something, ourselves, those near us and, however modestly or
briefly, the world (society, culture, reality, whatever) around us.

Brand as performance would:

– be a celebration of cultures and meanings made as much
(if not more) by consumers as by boardrooms

– be more collaborative, more about opening participatory
folds of design, packaging, retail, advertising, marketing etc within and
between (how consumers actually consume) brands 

– generate symbolic, ritual power through play and
display by providing a stage for social dramas: scenes, parties or spontaneous
mobs that – on streets or online – forge greater alliances, extend
word-of-mouth through the tribe, make meaning through co-participation and can
be fun

– use that power to mobilize corporate and consumer
communities for social transformation; above donations or sponsorships, beyond
Just Do It and Be All That You Can Be and with accountability becoming more
central to success than authenticity, take a leadership role in championing
causes and affecting them

Here’s the week two presentation. I was trying to cut down a full day’s
talk into a smaller deck, and I’m not sure if I’ve been successful. It takes
quite a while to go over all of it (72 slides) as you might need to stop at
certain points to think about the questions I’ve put forward. 

I started looking at brands from a historical perspective and it helps to
explain how the meaning of a brand changes over time and how managerial intention
intersects interpretations made by multiple constituencies. A good brand
strategy is about finding ways to tap into emotions and connect with others.
That’s when they transcend products or even the product category. A brand is
also a metaphorical story that connects with something very deep — a
fundamental appreciation of mythology. Stories create the emotional
context people need to engage themselves in a larger experience.

There are basically no theories for branding. Surprising isn’t it? You might
ask why we need a theory for strategic brand management. It’s simply because
theory is eminently practical. Managers are the world’s most voracious consumer
of theories. Every time a brand strategy decision is made, it is usually based
on some implicit understanding of what causes what and why. The real problem is
they often use a one-size-fits-all theory. There are many ways to build great
brands. Here are the four basic approaches:

Branding by Expression

Here companies put the role of brand building into the hands of customers.
This has long been practiced by industries such as luxury and sporting goods as
well as the fashion industry, where there’s never enough time to build a
relevant and meaningful brand that keeps pace with fast-changing customer
needs. Consumers also do not want to use the brand to endorse or reflect his or
her personality; rather it contributes to building a personal or individual
brand. In another words, strong brand identities deter customers because they
are dominant. The user uses the brand as a maker of status in a society,
but they add in their own perceptions of what they want to say as to who they
are and how they see things. The brand only requires some associated meaning so
customers can pick, mix and match with other values he or she identifies with
as part of building for his or her “Me” brand. The user is actively
participating in creating meanings for the brand and using it as a symbolic
representation of his or her inner self. This is becoming key due to the rise
of social media.

Branding by Imageries

Here branding is being approached in a more functional manner. Usually
advertising agencies take a leading role and advertising is linked to branding.
The levers of brand building consist mainly of TV commercials, big posters and
print advertisements etc. In some cases, a first showing of a 60 second TV spot
during the Super Bowl is a milestone of the brand building effort. Or the
visually stunning posters and magazines supplement in national magazines such
as Vogue or Vanity Fair. Marketers and agencies closely link the brand to
advertising creative execution. Sometimes the burden is given to a celebrated
photographer. Calvin Klein’s success is hugely indebted to Bruce Weber and
Benetton as well as Oliver Toscani. These photographers gave those brand
meanings. The risk here is advertising failure means brand failure. However, a
great campaign produces a very desirable brand and many products and
advertising agencies came to fame with just one highly memorable campaign and
the marketer continue to enjoy the benefits for years.

Branding by Experience

Companies see customers taking functional benefits, product qualities and a
positive brand images as a given. What they want are products, services and
marketing communications that dazzle their senses, touch their hearts and
stimulate their minds. Here the customer becomes the most important part of the
brand. Over the years many brands have transformed themselves into
experience brands by creating a compelling customer experience. Starbucks and
Body Shop did not use mass advertising to build brands. Instead, they put their
resources into designing and delivering unique experiences. The Tiffany
experience consists of not only the purchase experience, but also the whole
experience of giving and receiving something special. The Tiffany trademark
experience is inseparably linked to the ageless elegance and quality that
defines the brand and the blue box serves as an identifier and sensory
reminder. In a similar case Hermes has the orange box and the ribbons
which both serve as a sensory reminder. Google, eBay and set the
standards for online experience by relentlessly improving user experiences.

Branding by Planning

Here branding is approached as part of a formal strategic planning process.
Most of the time this occurs in the context of strategic marketing planning.
The typical approach uses portfolio and product life cycle concepts together
with overall market overviews and competitive intelligence. The information is
distilled and analyzed through each individual brand’s performance in terms of
market share and margin contribution. The heart of the exercise is positioning
to ensure that products cover all necessary profitable or emerging segments and
use brand to achieve these objectives. These are usually multi-brand
organizations and category managers that normally assume the ownership role of
the brand portfolio and manager of the brand architecture. The key is to
articulate the overall brand strategy and approach (e.g., a master brand
approach using targeted sub-brands in target markets). This entails far more
than just organizing the brands as individual performers. To truly optimize
their value requires a dynamic framework that makes the most of their
inter-relationships under a system of brands working together to drive clarity
in the marketplace and synergy and leverage within the company’s portfolio.

I will post some
questions tomorrow and see if we can have another good exchange of ideas.

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