The concept of a ‘brand’ is often misunderstood. It’s not uncommon to confuse the terms ‘brand’ and ‘logo’. In fact, a brand is a way of signalling a set of values that could be important to the customer. Signals are communicated exclusively by language. How they are received is extremely personal and varies drastically between cultures. For example, there are hundreds of businesses that produce high-end sportswear and advertise it on the high street. There are a few you would be able to recognise by their logo, like Adidas, Nike and Reebok. You’ve probably seen those logos before, and you probably have a set of assumptions attached to each of them. These assumptions are the basis of ‘brand awareness’.
Ghodeswar says that the key components that form a brand’s toolbox are:
- Brand identity
- Brand communication (such as by logos and trademarks)
- Brand awareness
- Brand loyalty
All elements of branding are individually helpful in promoting awareness, interest and desire in a product. However, when all the tools in the toolbox are used together, they can form the backbone of a company’s identity. A brand, when thoughtfully promoted, prompts people to quickly call up a set of expectations and assumptions about a certain product or service.
For customer interest to be converted into a transaction, that customer has to choose a particular product or service over the thousands of options available on the market. Choosing one of them is based on several different criteria:
- The problem that the customer wants or needs to solve; the problem that creates the need for a product. How well will the product solve the problem?
- The perceived risk of purchase. Risk can be financial, social, functional or time-cost associated. Will the product do what it says it’s going to do? Brands that the customer is familiar with will engender more trust in the product.
- How does this product stand out from the potentially hundreds of other options? There has to be a good reason for a new customer to change their normal buying behaviour, and switch to a new brand.
Businesses are beginning to realise that more people can be distinguished by their behaviour than by their demographic. There is a greater market opportunity in serving behavioural needs, as opposed to the age related or location related needs. This is called ‘tribal marketing’.
Tribal marketing addresses segments of the market categorised by their behaviour and lifestyle choices, rather than their demographics (for example, age, location and profession). People within certain ‘lifestyle categories’ are grouped based on their buying behaviour, and what kind of ‘model’ they adhere to in terms of ambitions and needs. For instance, someone who identifies as a ‘travel lover’ will have a different set of priorities and needs to a ‘home body’. Segmentation is the key to effective marketing. Catering to the exact needs and wants of a particular segment, is most effectively communicated via a brand.
If our lifestyles are no longer distinguished by age or location, but by our values and behaviour which are often represented by the brands we choose, then businesses have to find ways to appeal to our personal ‘tribe’. For the record, a person can belong to multiple tribes; I personally fit into several juxtaposed categories!
How does a brand communicate with its tribe? There are so many channels, so many immediate ways of connecting with customers, that brand messages get lost in the noise far too easily. The most successful brands have a consistent, integrated approach to communicating with their customers. That simply means that the defining values of the brand are depicted in adverts, across social media, in conversations with customers and most importantly, internally within the company.
So having a brand that people recognise can be advantageous to businesses, because it provokes emotion, loyalty and customer retention. If someone from the ‘travel lover’ segment experiences input from a brand that speaks to their personal ambitions, say, North Face, then they are more likely to exhibit recognition of and desire for that brand. The distinguishing factors don’t need to be told to the customer. The customer, by recognising the brand, already knows them.
To illustrate why the brand is such an exciting way of communicating distinguishing factors, I’m going to describe planet brand. Planet brand is a visual way of explaining all the different facets of a brand. For this example, of course, we’ll take The Word Gym.
Imagine a small planet with a blended orange and white hue. Perhaps some low-hanging clouds. Now zoom in under the atmosphere, close enough to see buildings and cars and people. There aren’t any signs that say The Word Gym. But the entire culture of this little planet revolves around reading, understanding and working out. Fitness for purpose. You can feel the brand in the air.
Now the main languages of this little planet are a balance between English, French, German, Scandinavian, Arabic, South-East Asian, Eastern European, Russian, Portuguese, Spanish, Italian and Dutch. Everyone on the planet is extremely curious, and eager to communicate with one another clearly and effectively.
The governing ideology behind every individual on planet Word Gym is fitness for purpose. The over-arching mission of the population of planet Word Gym is the ability to communicate with everyone else on the planet individual values, ideas and conversations.
The main differentiating cultural barrier between the tribes on this planet, is not the language spoken, but the professional spheres of the people. So two German and Arabic speaking engineers will find it much easier to communicate with one another than, say, a doctor and a cook with the same mother tongue language.
Added into this equation, is the fitness principle of the planet. No matter who a person is, or what they specialise in, they are most interested in two things; communicating with other people, and working out. They are very interested in fitness, in being able to adapt to and fit into all sorts of environments. If two people from different professional spheres want to collaborate, they are fit and able to work together in extremely tricky environments That’s what planet Word Gym is all about.
This is an especially wonderful way to consider the notion of a ‘brand’ in the modern climate of marketing, with the customer at the centre of all value propositions. Which kind of customer would best suit a life on planet brand? How could the economics and socio-politics of planet brand be adapted to better suit the customer? Can life be improved, or is it simply a matter of attracting more people to live there? There are as many aspects to consider in the marketing mix of a brand as when considering building an entire planet.
It’s just a nice way to picture a brand working in the modern day consumer world. It’s not just about one campaign in one language. It’s how to communicate the real values of the brand in a meaningful way to the ideal customer, worldwide.