Vol. I, Issue 3 – August 2016
Or how marketing and advertising agencies take advantage of you
This is not to say that marketing and/or advertising agencies are evil masterminds planning to engulf the world as we know it in minimalism, false promises and cats – no, we all serve a purpose, and we all (more or less) believe in what we do.
But it is to say that more often than not, an agency whose primary role is something other than branding – such as marketing, graphic design or advertising – but lists “branding” as one of their services, is putting this discipline into a secondary category, thus luring unsuspecting businesses into making unwise decisions (decisions that could ultimately cost them their pensions). Because believing that your plumber Mike can fix your car just as well, is just naive.
Let me explain. The problem lies in the misunderstanding of the word “branding”, often thought of as just logo design or slogan writing. Branding is a fairly new science/art in these parts, and business owners have yet to accept the concept of developing all of the constituting elements of their brand (messages, stories, visual identity, tone of voice, etc.) in order for it to be perceived and loved the way it is supposed to be. A marketing agency will not do that, nor will an advertising agency – rather they will take what you already have or don’t have, and put it on the market in this way or another. The process of branding comes before putting anything in front of your target audience. And by the way, do business owners always know who their target audience is?
How does someone expect to be marketed well if they haven’t created their visual identity, or told their stories and expressed their values, or discovered their general tone of voice? Without all of that, how can someone expect a brand to be remembered, let alone loved? That is something people usually don’t know much about and that non-branding agencies take advantage of by claiming all of that work falls under their services. But the fact of the matter is that branding is a long-term commitment and has no easy-fix solution, something on which other agencies base their business models in order to have a fast turnover. Many businesses have fallen to these false claims and have suffered for it.
Brand yourself first. Market it later.
Let me give you an example. A recent marketing campaign was put out by a well-known Serbian brand, Plazma cookies, and the marketing materials were excellent. Yet they would all count for nothing had the company not been branded for decades as one of childhood, compassion, family and love. In return, people love it, respond to it, and trust the brand. They perceive the brand as an extension of their livelihood – the brand is a part of who they are.
On the other hand, a franchising brand named Kvas came to these parts a few years ago about which the public knew nothing. The company, having thought that their brand was established enough (as it is in their home country), pushed immediately into advertising. It failed spectacularly. And now no one drinks their product. Because they have no emotion towards it, the people don’t connect with it.
The lesson: branding first and everything else follows.
In thinking of marketing your product or business, take a step back to think about what it is that you are trying to market, will it be understood, and will it be remembered.
It can be said that we all have a purpose here, and we all want to do business successfully, but if you’re talking to someone who offers branding as a side thing, the rule is always the same – run!
Remember the time when you were a kid and you just had to have that super cool bicycle? You even dreamt about the moment you saw it in your house waiting for you on Christmas day. It had that awesome shape, your favorite colors, some “rad” things written on it (even though you had no idea what it said), the stories you heard about it, and the tricks you heard about other kids doing on it. It was just so cool. You imagined it under your fast-peddling legs, free-riding down the road or in nature, doing wheelies and feeling on top of the world. Then remember waking up on Christmas morning after waiting so long for your bike (that in your mind already belonged to you) and then you saw…..it. A totally different bike that you had never imagined belonging to you. And the thoughts over-power your mind. “What is this…who’s is this…it’s not mine…I didn’t want this one…is this a cruel joke?” Oh man, the excruciating disappointment. You knew deep down these thoughts were ungrateful but you couldn’t help how you felt but you also didn’t want to hurt your generous grandma’s feelings. You politely ask her if you can exchange it for the other one you had waited for so impatiently. It just wasn’t the right fit for you. You had already emotionally connected to another one and unfortunately for you, this was not it. Then your grandmother tried to explain to you why this one is so much better. She told you it’s even faster than the bike you liked, it can do more tricks, it’s for riding on the flat road or bumpy rides through nature, it’s safer, it came with a helmet, and a ringy-bell thing. But, no. No, grandma, no!
The push and the pull
This right here is an example of the innate nature of human beings. There are things we are simply drawn to and there are reasons for that. The difference between the pull and the push. The pull is the allure of a product, so dear to your inner desires, you feel emotionally attached to it, or the desire to experience it. Because it is what it is, it stands for what it stands for, you can relate to it, and you feel drawn to it. This is a brand.
Grandma pressing firmly and persistently to convince you that the other bike is better, well….this is marketing. Marketing is the push. And we are not against marketing, in fact, we are all for it. But if you’re not branded properly first, you risk “pushing” out messages to the wrong people, may risk pushing out the wrong messages altogether, or push out messages which are unmemorable. The messages must reflect who you really are, what you’re about, why you’re special, what makes you stand out, and it should be clear why people should love you. I mean, who knows, maybe Grandma was right and the other bike was better, but you didn’t hear, know, see, or feel anything about it, so it meant nothing to you.
Ok, let’s be real here, most of us still have that inner child hiding inside and feel the need to connect with things because we identify with them. But what happens when we are promised something and do not get what we had hoped for or thought we were getting? Here comes the inner child, disappointment sets in, and we ask, “Why was I told this and got that!?” This is the ultimate way to lose customers, profit, and most of all, trust in your brand.
When we don’t have a strong identity, we leave marketing companies to improperly represent our product or service. After all, it’s not their fault that your product doesn’t have a strong enough identity. They’re just doing their job, which is the “push” previously mentioned.
There is of course a huge connection between branding and marketing. Both are just as necessary as the other but the brand identity has to come first and be extremely solid so that the “pull” on your demographics’ emotions is there.This way, when the existence of your brand gets pushed out by a marketing team, consumers know exactly who and what you are. Getting this right is the greatest avoidance of disappointment and the way in which great brands and loyal customers are established.
Back to the future
Now let’s go back for a moment to your childhood and look at the future as well. Some of us did get the bike we wanted. Was it all that you thought it would be? Did it make you feel like you thought it would? If it was, then it probably made you a customer for life. A well-established brand is a brand that delivers what it promises which has the high potential of creating life-long customers. It’s what remains in the heart and soul of its consumers long after the various marketing strategies have come, and gone. In the end, branding and marketing are a match made in heaven as long as they are both executed properly and in the appropriate order. There is no chicken or egg came first argument here. Branding simply comes first or you’re facing a recipe for disaster. So get your branding on! Your brand is the core, the foundation in which you can build marketing strategies based upon. Know and establish your brand’s values, stories, and personality before you start throwing it around the market like a lost soul. Doing it backwards causes more harm than good and can be very costly and difficult to recover from. We don’t want to see you go down the road of no return. As we like to say, “Let us help you, help yourself!”
Words matter. How we choose to develop the language of a certain discipline is important in shaping our perception of it, and branding is no exception. We need to keep in mind that any language environment is a cycle – it creates while it is being created. That’s why branding will always be deeply affected by the language it produces, and this will, in turn, mold the language and the very identity of our future brands.
Comment by Sara Novicic
“We believe that brands absolutely and firmly need to be true, and more than ever they need to have a clear, differentiated positioning message. But at the same time, they have to be willing to evolve.”
Comment by Nikola Sekulic
What do you do when the sensible brand of work-boots that you designed to make factory workers’ lives easier and more comfortable suddenly become a fashion statement for skinheads and punks?
by Chris Farmer
Fashion is a fickle force.
When I was working at Ellesse International in the late 1990s, our main goal was to revive its spirit as an elegant sportswear brand for tennis and skiing. The glory days of the 70s and 80s for Ellesse were long since past. Back then, its founder, Leonardo Servadio, carefully curated the brand’s destined consumer. He sponsored the greats of tennis (Chrissy Evert, Boris Becker) and the winning Olympic ski teams from France and Slovenia. The designs were tasteful and discreet. The colors were classical and subtle.
When, however, the front page of a 1999 London daily carried a photo of a young man arrested after a smash-and-grab job, and he was wearing a dark blue hoodie with an enormous Ellesse logo emblazoned upon it, the battle started going south.
We had just been hijacked.
Large logo sweats, which we very nearly eliminated from the international collection, were being produced in the UK under license and selling hand-over-fist. It was a GBP 100 million business, and the bean-counting board decided they wanted the money more than they wanted the brand.
Where is Ellesse today? Nearly 20 years later, the brand has all but given up the ghost. After being hijacked by the disenfranchised and petty thugs, the brand’s traditional demographic no longer wanted anything to do with it.
Impasse? It did not need to be. But since other forces were in play, the UK’s sales figures ousted the brand defenders.
The hijacking shows us something about the nature of branding. Once a brand is endowed with a character, a personality, a look, and an attitude, our control over its development is loosened. People are attracted to the brand that may never have been imagined or intended in the design studio.
Another case in point is the brand Doc Martens. Conceived as comfortable work boots, the brand was coopted by a very specific
social stratum in the 1970s. The punk movement and ‘skinheads’ used Doc Martens to convey a bold rebelliousness and stark individuality. While this was never the intention of Klaus Marten in 1945, being adopted by this group probably saved Doc Martens from early extinction as a brand.
Another footwear manufacturer was appropriated in a similar way. Birkenstocks were first registered in 1774 as an orthopedic shoe, contoured to fit the foot. In the last two centuries, however, Birkenstocks have been coopted three different times. In the 60s they were adopted as a symbol of simplicity by the ‘hippie generation’. Thirty years later, they were taken up yet again by Millennials and environmentalists as a sign of oneness with nature and a rejection of the dictates of fashion. And finally, only in the last couple of years, fashion designers appropriated the ‘ugly shoe’ as a statement, coupling it with luxurious designs and fabrics. There is even a Birkenstock iteration designed by Celine with fur lining and diamonds…
Birkenstock and Doc Marten both survived these transformations as brands because they embraced them. Ellesse, sadly, could not bring itself to accept its adoption by a different group of consumers, choosing instead to develop along the bifurcated lines of tennis-posh and street cred. The brand was divided against itself and could not stand.
Appropriation of a brand by an unintended consumer group, however, should be taken as a great success. While many brands disappear and are forgotten as time passes, others are able to adapt to a changing world. Our readiness to embrace the change will make all the difference.