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More than ever, brands need to get into your heads

The true connection with consumers will only happen at that particular point

Gulf News

Looking out into the world today, if you want to be successful building a brand, don’t do it the old way.

Products have life cycles. Brands outlive products. Brands convey a uniform quality, credibility and experience. Brands are psychology and science brought together as a promise as opposed to a trademark.

Brands are valuable … many companies put the value of their brand on their balance-sheet. When Kraft bought Heinz for $143 billion (Dh525 billion), what did they buy?

The beans? The ketchup? The factories? The recipes? The people? No … they bought the brands.

In December, Disney paid $52 billion to buy Murdoch’s Fox … and what did that buy? The actors? The writers? The studios? No, they bought the brands and branded content.

If you are still not convinced, let me give you another example. The dollar is a world brand. In essence it is simply a piece of paper.

But branding has made it valuable. All the tools of marketing and brand building have been used to create its value. On the front you will find the owner of the brand — the Federal Reserve.

The dollar is a world brand. It confers a uniform value globally. But as I said, it’s really just a piece of paper. Branding has made it worth something.

I mentioned earlier that brands are more important today than in the past. There are a few reasons for this. Firstly, the world is watching. There are many new markets and a growing middle-class.

The best branding today is based on a cultural movement idea. The best brands have remarkable creativity in advertising to help them break through people’s wall of indifference to create a sort of brand heat and product lust.

A case in point: We created the “Hello Tomorrow” for Emirates airline to rally people from the four corners of the globe to make the world smaller to overcome misconceptions and misunderstandings. This stand is ultimately more clever and effective than a traditional advertising campaigns pushing products or services.

What we also learnt from this case was the power of optimism and hope in the message. It elicits emotion and it allowed us to have control of millions of people’s state of mind.

Secondly, creative writing is central to breaking through. Creative writing can express the innermost feeling people have and this can break through people’s walls of indifference, by aligning with how people feel.

Thirdly, when we create new brands, we have fewer names to choose from. The pharmaceutical industry has patented everything under the sun for new medications. This makes existing brands, with their strong, well-known names and credibility more valuable.

It also means creating a new vibrant brand is a challenge and requires a sophisticated strategy.

Fourth, the internet has redefined how brand building is done, but the internet alone is not the platform to build a brand. In the past when brands could go viral for free, by aligning with cat videos or exploding watermelons, or by putting a post up on Facebook, there was the internet difference.

But today, building a brand on the internet is as costly as media dollars invested as TV or outdoor media. A big turning point came when Silicon Valley got into advertising, into the art and science of advertising, and started selling this media.

Of course, the internet translates into customised marketing. More recently micro-celebrity influencers are posting photos of brands to their community, but this is also somewhat limited and will eventually lose credibility with consumers.

To succeed, it is a mix of all of these media together that company leaders need to invest in, developed through the framework of a cultural movement strategy as opposed to simply a brand building strategy.

Our attention spans are shrinking. If you look at what people pay attention to, the science proves that we are not at our voluntary control. We are attracted to the issues and ideas that we are passionate about.

Cultural movement — not traditional brand building — is the great Trojan Horse of our times. Once you have cultural movement, you can do anything in a fragmenting media environment.

With no branding, no differentiation. And with no meaningful differentiation, no nultural movement and no long-term profitability. People don’t have relationships with products, they are loyal to brands with a strong point-of-view.

In a movement strategy, brands have a purpose that people can get behind. The role of marketers today is to get inside people’s heads at a time when that is increasingly becoming difficult to do.

— The writer is founder of New York boutique agency StrawberryFrog and author of “Uprising: how to build a brand and change the world by sparking cultural movements”.

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