Why are we so obsessed with brands?

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When Jobs and Wozniak first got together in a garage and built the first Apple computer, it’s unlikely the thought crossed their mind, that one day Apple would become the biggest brand in the world. They were simply two very bright guys with an interest in technology and creating something better than anyone else.

So why is it that today there seems to be a disproportionate fascination in business and social media to create ‘brands’. And what is a brand?

Back in 1975, I’d just finished my first degree and had moved to London. Until then I had never seen a Porsche – today most 5 year old boys dream of driving one. Of course brands existed back then. I did know that Hoover was a brand that also became a generic term for any sort of vacuum cleaner. I knew Kelloggs made breakfast cereals. As a youngster I ate numerous chocolate bars like Mars, Milky Way and Kit Kat. As a student I lusted over an Olympus OM1 SLR camera. I was a regular visitor to the Penguin Bookshop on the Fulham Road and I washed my Lacoste polo shirt in Daz because it washed whites whiter! But brand wasn’t a word tripping off most peoples tongues back then. They were just companies and products and things to eat.

So why is it that brands are now considered to be so important?

The internet has made access to information easy. The world has become smaller and more transparent. Today the customer is very powerful and can easily damage a brand’s image with adverse comments on social media. The world used to competitive, now there’s really no word to describe how competitive the world now is. And so companies and products have become brands. Their aim – to be personalities that will seduce their customers – brands that their customers will fall in love with. They aspire to the most spectacular visions with the aim to inspire everyone their brand touches.

Considerable sums are spent on branding, marketing, advertising and social media. For large corporations and organisations with large marketing budgets this is all well and good, but how about the small business or start-up, where every penny is important – how can they compete.

If you love what you do and your product or service is so good, you can’t wait to share it with the world – that’s a good start.

And this is where it becomes tricky.

Over the last 40 years I’ve experienced and worked with brands, big and small. Many start-ups believe a logo is the answer to all their prayers. If you’re starting a business and believe that by having a logo designed or ‘designing’ one yourself and sticking it on everything will make you look like a proper brand, it won’t. First you must have a clear vision of what your business offers, who your customers are, what they like, and why they are likely to like you.

Branding is important and a good brand identity, creatively and consistently applied can effectively reflect a brand’s personality, but unless all aspects of what your brand offers is consistent it won’t be a success.

Many established brands who believed that by having a ‘brand refresh’ they would attract new customers, have learnt this the hard way. Unless the very core of any business is absolutely true and consistent across everything they do, and is genuinely interested in their customers, then no fancy new corporate branding is going to make the slightest dent in the universe.

When I see big name brands who have lost their way, diluted their promise, confused their customers, by trying to please everyone and pleasing no-one, then it makes me throw up my hands in despair.

Does this situation sound familiar – you go to buy a whole pile of stationery items, folders envelopes, post-it’s etc., at a store whose goal is to become “Britain’s most popular high street stationery, bookseller and newsagent”. The first thing you’re asked at the till is do you want to buy a large bar of chocolate for only £1 and do you want to buy a carrier bag for the numerous items you’ve just purchased. It doesn’t leave you with a great deal of love towards that brand.

Recently I visited a toy store and as I hand over an Elsa doll from Frozen, the girl at the checkout asks whose birthday it is. I tell her it’s for my daughter – she’s been poorly and while I’m in London I decided get her a get-well gift. The girl then asks me her name and her favourite Disney character. She pulls a card from underneath the counter and writes “Get Well Soon ……….” and signs it Mickey (in the famous style that is familiar to millions). This brand’s vision is “To make people happy.”

Both brands are well established one has lost its way, the other continues to grow and develop its products, entertain and look for new opportunities to connect and please their customers.

Many books have been written on branding. In a short article it’s not possible to cover all aspects but for fans of bullet points I will leave you with these:

Have a clear vision for your brand
Know why it’s important and who it’s for. Everything you do or say must be held up against your ‘vision’. If it doesn’t feel right don’t do it.

Know what makes you unique
Think hard about what makes you different and could give you an edge over your competitors?

The ‘look and feel’ of your brand (branding)
This must reflect your brand personality and be attractive to your customers. It must also be consistent in its application across everything you do. Don’t attempt to do this yourself – work with a professional, someone whose work you admire and who you feel comfortable working with.

You must really care about your customers.

It’s surprising how often these simple rules aren’t followed. Do these things right and you won’t go far wrong.

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