The Story of the Branding Process from My Perspective.


This is a story of my experience working on, with and alongside a lot of brands and describes my learning about the process of branding. Learning to create a brand is more like learning to ride a bicycle on ice than build something in Lego. Things don’t always work out as you planned.

What a brand is and does

Brand marketing is young. The Bass Red Triangle trademarked in 1875 was “trademark number one on the UK”. The story of brands is primarily a post war phenomenon and was focused on TV advertising and fmcg/grocery brands. In simple terms a brand is a guarantee of reliability to the consumer. It comprises a promise (which can withstand legal challenge) and develops value as it gains in scale and customer experience. The “brand-trick” has been to build a more emotional relationship with its users by offering an intangible promise as well as a functional one. Thus John Deere is the most desirable (and most stolen) tractor brand in the world (as we saw to our chagrin at Ford Tractors). Brands are regarded by CFOs and investment analysts as very important because they protect margin and add shareholder value.

Brands are more about art than science

At face value brands don’t quite make sense. How could we persuade people to pay more for Nike than Adidas in 1985 when they were just a challenger brand? By targeting the key street-fashion, opinion formers in the Afro-Caribbean community of Brixton with streetwise ads in the 1990s we made Nike the “talked-about” cool brand. And by overtly positioning Panasonic Broadcast as challenging the market leader, Sony, in this professional market, we helped Panasonic become “the try-harder” David brand, stealing attention and share.  Because of this it gained sales momentum, status and reputation. In my experience sales success and being talked about go hand in hand with brand success.

The consumer and customer experience

  • Perception
    – the perception of Eagle Star as an insurance brand far exceeded its real value with brokers and customers alike. Years of advertising were still paying off as Zurich who’d acquired it just before the Millennium tried to argue the Zurich brand had more potential.
    Lesson: Be ruled by customer perception and how you can shape these.
  • Authenticity – launching the Club Méditerranée brand in the UK required a long story to be told about it as perceptions  of it were that it was aloof, French, expensive and quirky. The brand needed to be rooted in the reality of its total experience – its  great locations, food, diversity of activity and child friendliness. Lesson: In building a brand the truth about it always works best…especially in today’s sceptical climate.
  • Reassurance – consistency of marketing and advertising reassures customers that a brand is active, consistently reliable and thriving. Re-launching brands is always hard. They suddenly appear again in front of the consumer a bit like zombies especially if, like Harvey’s Bristol Cream, there is a new advertising campaign and different brand positioning every Christmas. Consistent brand marketing is required to reassure the consumer and trade customer that all is well with quality and resource. Lesson: You need consistent marketing activity to help create a brand.
  • Repeated experience – fmcg brand marketing, owing to the regularity of purchase of a Scott’s Porage Oats or a Typhoo Tea, sees results fast – hence its appeal to impatient marketers. Longer strategic partnership business like Ford Trucks where building the brand with a positioning fundamentally different from the car marque need greater patience and even more rigorous architectural consideration. Lesson: Repeated exposure to a brand marque defines its brand importance.

Different kinds of brand

  • Global brands – Nike – speaks the common language of what-sport-is-really-like through sports stars. Can be done through fashion, film, family, common values (this gets harder although through social networking youth have a new, common language.) Lesson: They say in global branding:  think global, act local. Where you can find a common language.
  • Corporate brands – Heinz – there are others (Kelloggs) and evidence now that brands like Unilever are going corporate. Heinz = “no taste like Heinz” and being  the natural option: “it has to be Heinz”. Corporations need to constantly innovate, improve and have new things to say. Lessons: Corporations are lucky. Just one name to spend money on. But all the eggs are in one basket.
  • Mono brands – Mazda MX5 – corporate brand plus unique product. Corporate brand = quality reassurance. Sub brand = personality and sex appeal. An exercise in stealing authenticity (the MX5 designer had been the designer at MG.) Lesson: Detail matters. The Mazda MX5 sound was fabricated to sound authentic sports-car.
  • Fmcg brands – Bulmers’ Cider – Bulmers owned cider – Woodpecker, Strongbow etc in a very traditional market. Along came a raft of new brands Magners etc. and appealed to new young users. Bulmers started to look old fashioned. Same story as the lager market. Lesson: Don’t stop running or you’ll be overtaken.
  • Causes – Smoke Alarms for the British Government Home Office– “wake up fit a smoke-alarm”. A brand? Not really. A highly focused cause at Christmas when most house fires happen. A campaign enrolling manufacturers, fire brigades, the media, local councils, top government officials. An exercise is co-ordinating a cause became like a branded campaign. Lesson: to make things matter and behaviours change you need to get a lot of people on your team.

Different life cycles

  • Launch – Weightwatchers from Heinz – the concept was to build a partnership brand that allied the “great taste of Heinz” with the puritan diet regimen of Weightwatchers. It allowed dieters the love-affair with good food they craved. Lesson: create a platform clearly.
  • Re-launch – Brut – the Faberge aftershave that Henry Cooper ‘s advertising had made famous was ailing. We proposed refreshing Henry by having Mr Cooper meet and react the new Henry, comedian Lenny Henry. ..old meets new = roots becoming relevant again. The brand idea that actually ran was less potent. Lesson: Build on the past.
  • Hi Tech – Technics – the premium Hi Fi brand was given ownership not of technology but of contemporary chic style and great music. Of imagery outside not inside the Hi Fi box. Lesson: Own consumer territory not Tech territory.
  • From marque to brand – Lucas. Automotive car parts, from Hi Fi to DIY to professional parts. It was seen as a series of small B2B silos. The word brand was not used. After a two year programme we positioned Lucas as the name to trust – day and night – and linked this advertising thought on TV to a new nationwide dealership with a new Lucas signage campaign. Had a massive positive impact on share price. Lesson: A name is not a brand. A name needs presence and reasons to be talked about to begin to have brand-power.

Changing attitudes of people today

There’s an increasing view that people are people and varying what and how you say it by their role in life or their job, is mad. Everyone is a stakeholder now.

  • Employees – your champions, your brand builders. It was BA who said “bonfires start at the bottom not the top”. They seem (at last) to be rediscovering this. Lesson: without employee buy-in you can’t have a brand
  • Customers – people who matter next most. The need to create, nurture, and defend relationships with them is vital. Thus when Unipart changed their business model their relationship with customers was key. Lesson: without distribution you don’t exist
  • Influencers – and those whom customers listen to – your secondary sales force – look at that Smoke Alarm team. Lesson: without reputation you won’t exist
  • Consumers – most potent of all. If they love your product it will have a big effect on customers (and vice versa). Retailers stocked organic food because of consumer attitudes. Lesson: if the consumer wants it they’ll be given it

The changing relationship people have with companies

  • From targeting consumers to consumers talking back. You can’t target people now – they seek you. This is partly owing to the influence of the internet and partly simple people-power. In Brighton the Green Party has 45% of council seats and the only Green MP in Britain. People do this, not politics. Lesson: people-power is real.
  • Values and ways of doing business. At Gleneagles Hotel – best luxury hotel in the world – the employees live the values and are empowered to do what it takes to create great service. A top to bottom branding programme inside the business changed the way it was seen. Lesson: you develop a brand programme set-by-step through a business
  • Trust and Transparency – Without these you are toast. Thus the John Lewis Partnership and the Co-operative reach “the top ten most influential brands in the UK in 2010”.  Lesson: your employees are the voice of trust and transparency, not bosses
  • The employment brand – Google, Skype, Innocent, Diesel. Look at the websites. Read what they say. Listen to what they think. Lesson: your employees are your most important partners

Key steps in building a brand

a) Research and discovery

  • Understand what the brand is seen as and how it’s seen by all key stakeholders.
  • Understand what it could be (and couldn’t be)
  • Align these with what your top team want it to be…and if you can’t align these you have a problem

b) Reality checks

  • Check the reality of this with the corporate voice – viz. will they vote for it?
  • Write your brand values and character down on not more than two sheets of paper in simple language anyone can understand. Define what you stand for and where you want to get in 10 years.

c) Weaving the fabric of a brand
Brainstorm the possibilities and focus on three things:

  • What makes us special and proud of what we do
  • What we are like
  • What we stand for

d) Key steps in making the brand
Brands like garments have the fit the body of the company and the personality of the company. In all the brand exercises in my life the most successful reflect the nature and character of the company and are never imposed on it.

  • Simplify
    – reduce the essence of the brand so it becomes in the simplest language a phrase or a few words that are easy to understand and identify with. Your current “motto” does this (does it do it well or compellingly enough?) The Innocent way of talking makes it punch above its weight with the consumer. Simple. As does the Comparethe way. Simples.
  • Unify – you do this with simple typography and a logo – like a swoosh (Nike), a half-eaten apple (Apple) or a red triangle (Bass). Everything doesn’t have to look as though it’s from the same template but from the same people. Try to make it all make sense too. For example:Nike = Goddess of victory; swoosh= speed.
  • Amplify – folklore, case studies, success stories, human stories (read the Warburton’s or Ben and Jerry website.) If you are finding it hard to get stories maybe the brand you’ve created isn’t inspiring them?
  • Involve everyone – brands develop with the people in a businesswhat they do and believe and their relationship with the world. That’s how Google does it. The way the Google people are involved is that brand. Check out their offices.

How long does it take?

  • Shaping a brand takes years not months and in the case of Tetra Pak like Lucas, Panasonic Broadcast or Ford Trucks we should be looking at 10 years to embed the brand properly
  • You are building relationships first and through that the brand will develop
  • The first part of the journey is the most important and is about creating the basic foundations. It’s as this stage that things can go wrong. Like with the Ford Edsel or Laker Airlines or my worst brand failure…Watneys Straight 8 “the beer that doesn’t die in the glass”. Unfortunately the carbonation process meant instead that it exploded on the shelf.

Richard Hall 20/5/11

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