Helen Edwards on Branding: Blurred visionaries

Helen Edwards on Branding
Helen Edwards on Branding

Too many marketers are hiding behind grand statements that actually mean little to consumers.

These are the MKJs (marketing knee-jerk statements) that I hear at pretty much every workshop and brainstorm that I moderate. They are harmless in their way, and occasionally some even make sense, but they can also be a symptom of an insidious malaise: creeping obfuscation.

In these tough times, marketers need all the clarity of thought that they can muster. So let's make an early resolution to resist MKJs in 2012 - or at least to think before we speak.

MKJ one: We want to be a challenger brand This was Adam Morgan's big idea back in 1999, with the publication of Eating the Big Fish, and what a monster it turned out to be. Back then, it was about the little guy outthinking the big guy, but today, marketers of brands of all sizes want to be challengers. Many don't know what it involves, but they love the way it seems.

The problem is that if they all succeeded, there would be no one left to challenge. What's wrong with gravitas, leadership and scale? If your brand has those qualities endemically, no amount of 'challenger' narrative is going to make it seem fashionably alternative, sassy and 'street'.

MKJ two: We don't want to be just a problem/solution brand Someone must once have shown that 'negative' branding is bad, and somehow that spilled over into squeamishness about the P-word. If your brand can solve one of life's problems - colds, breakdowns, stains, pains - then it is a knight in shining armour. Far better to write it large than go all fey and build a positioning around undifferentiated 'positive' notions such as 'liberation'.

MKJ three: We're looking for a 'Marmite' Translation: we are feeling bold and outrageous and want a positioning that, frankly, is going to turn off as many people as it seduces, and we REALLY DON'T CARE about that, in fact we are going to shout it to the hills.

Polarity is much-loved in our industry. However, some of the most successful brands - Ford, Coke, John Lewis - succeed through precisely the opposite strategy: inclusiveness.

MKJ four: We want to be the 'Apple' of ... Everyone wants to be Apple.

No matter that they make fish fingers, lubricants or face-wipes, the darling of Silicon Valley is the only one to emulate.

Trouble is, no one wants to be as crazily obsessive about the micro-detail of product design as the late Steve Jobs. Except, perhaps, the next Steve Jobs. And he/she is unlikely to show up in the fish-finger category.

MKJ five: We want to 'own' this concept What is your brand essence? Freedom? Curiosity? Care? Here's a tip: don't try to 'own' it. You never will. It is hubris to imagine that a mere commercial fragment such as a brand can 'own' pieces of human mental space that have been shaped by 1m years of evolution.

Just try to live up to it. In fact, that's a pretty good mantra to face the future with, no matter how tough things get: decide what it is you stand for, and live up to it, in everything you do, every day that you do it. Better that than a life of worshipping the latest fashionable dictat, on your knees.

Helen Edwards, PPA Columnist of the Year (Business Media), has a PhD in marketing, an MBA from London Business School and is a partner at Passionbrand, where she works with some of the world's biggest advertisers

30 SECONDS ON ... marketing fads and fashions

- 60s: Despite the publication of Levitt's seminal Marketing Myopia, which called for firms to lift their gaze and reverse-engineer from consumer needs, marketers' focus was still on selling produced units.

- 70s: Marketers began selling product benefits rather than attributes; cue the renaming of every piece of stationery as an 'office solution'.

- 80s: As marketing seeped throughout the firm, and every department's goal became the addressing of customer needs, an emotional approach gained traction. Brands weaved themselves into consumers' identities, as Belk's work highlighted. 'I shop, therefore I am' was the consumer's take on Descartes' adage.

- 90s: 'Relationship' became the new marketing buzzword as high consumer acquisition costs - shown by Kotler to be about five times more than for retention - made the idea of 'settling down' with incumbent customers more appealing to brands. Customer lifetime value was suddenly the metric on every manager's lips.

- 2000s: The social decade: triangular interaction between consumers, other consumers and brands was fostered by the internet and social media. The rise of user-generated content and intrinsic values deepened the relationship to become a fully immersive, all-encompassing brand experience.

Discussion

Before commenting please read our rules for commenting on articles.

If you see a comment you find offensive, you can flag it as inappropriate. In the top right-hand corner of an individual comment, you will see 'flag as inappropriate'. Clicking this prompts us to review the comment. For further information see our rules for commenting on articles.

comments powered by Disqus
Brand Republic Jobs

subscribe now

Latest

John Lewis walks consumers through its history to celebrate 150 years of business
Waitrose boosts content strategy with 'Weekend Kitchen with Waitrose' C4 tie-up
Hottest virals: Cute puppies star in Pedigree ad, plus Idris Elba and Fruyo
Amnesty International burns candles to illuminate new hope
Toyota achieves the impossible by calming angry Roman drivers
Tom of Finland's 'homoerotic' drawings made into stamps
YouTube reveals user habits to appeal to 'older' marketers
Ex-M&S marketing chief Steven Sharp consulting at WPP
Wolff Olins reveals new CEO after Apple poaches Karl Heiselman
Glasgow offers £30,000 prize to best digital idea for 2014 Commonwealth Games
Google's revenues surge but shares drop as it grapples with transition to mobile
Facebook beats Twitter to most 'marketing friendly' social media site crown, says DMA
Fableists believe children like Finn should be outdoors enjoying life
Homebase, Baileys and Camelot join the line-up at Media360
MasterCard renews Rugby World Cup sponsorship to push cashless message
Lynx unleashes £9m 'Peace invasion' campaign
Social Brands 100 Youth: Pizza Hut most social youth brand in UK
Cheryl Cole is wild and arresting in new L'Oreal work
Morrisons told not to show alcohol ads during YouTube nursery rhymes
O2 head of brand Shadi Halliwell departs after 23 years at company in restructure
Tesco hit by further sales decline as it turns to digital Clubcard and social network
Branding guru Wally Olins dies aged 83
Duracell short film captures epic Transatlantic voyage
Ash runs Tinder experiment to show smokers are less desirable to opposite sex
British Airways teams up with Gerry Cottle Jnr for summer of rooftop film screenings
Arklu says 'girls can be superheroes too' with doll design competition
Coke enters squash market with Oasis Mighty Drops
Virgin Galactic signs up Land Rover as space flight sponsor
Motorola marketer Andrew Morley departs as Google gears up for sale to Lenovo
US Airways apologises after tweeting obscene image at a customer