The Origin of Brand?
Let’s start with brand heritage, it’s a cliche, but it’s a very important cliche. An interesting question, where does the word “brand” come from?
It’s Viking. It’s Norse. Old Norse, ancient Norse. The word “brandr” means “to burn”. It means to burn the mark of a creator onto a porduct that says “I made this, in a certain place, and at a certain time”. Now, at some point, some unnamed Viking burned a “T” or an “S” onto a sword or a cow to say, basically “this is my fucking cow, don’t steal it”. Over time, that signal of ownership became associated with certain cows or certain swords being better than others, and it passed into this world of consumer based benefits that we live in today.
So this concept of brand origin, heritage is super important.
Defining the Brand
What distinguishes a brand from and unbranded commodity counterpart and gives its equity is the sum total of consumers’ perceptions and feelings about the product’s attributes, about how it performs, about the brand name, and about the company associated with producing it.Al Achenbaum
To understand a brand, I think you should create a continuum between two extreme points. On one end of the continuum we need to create brands, or locate strong brands. At the other end of the continuum we should put the opposite of a brand, which is a commodity.
The reality is, anything can be a commodity. If you pay a price for it and it does a job for you, it’s a commodity.
Now brands, we also pay money for them and they also do a job for us, but they have a third feature. The third feature is all important. Brands mean things to customers. They stand for things. Over and above their performance and their simple price they stand for and represent things to the consumers that by them. It’s meaning that maketh the brand. When you see it that way, you can begin to understand how brands are built.
When Monsieur Vuitton started his business more then a 150 years ago, he had no interest in brands. He was making commodities. He was making wooden boxes. There isn’t much more of a commodity than that. If you’d been traveling around the colony of Australia a 150 years ago, you’d been traveling around with something like this. And it would have been domed because its made from wood and therefore not quite waterproof and the dome is designed to let the water run off the top. When Monsieru Vuitton arrived with his disruptive innovation, he created the iPad of his day, which was the flat stackable trunk. This was it, this was high-tech. The reason it was high-tech is, you could stack them on top of each other and the reason you could do that is Monsieur Vuitton put leather around the wood. When others copied him, he put his monogram on the leather to say this is a Louis Vuitton trunk. This is how the business begins. Now there’s still no real focus on brand of any kind it’s still commodity, beautiful commodity trunks. But over time, these trunks mark the time of travel throughout the late 19th and 20th century. If anyone went anywhere luxuriously, they went with Vuitton. Over time, first by accident, then more and more deliberately, Louis Vuitton picked up two very important associations: luxury and travel. First by accident, later by design. And today, that’s what Vuitton has, it’s far more important than the trunk business it’s to have those associations to have that brand equity front and center.
Building and Breaking a Brand
So, now we see, how brands are built. Anything which takes you from the commodity offer towards the meanings you wanna stand for in the mind of the consumer is fundamentally brand building. Now we talk about advertising as the brand building tool, it’s true. Back in the day this was an attempt by Apple to associate their brand with Nelson Mandela and literally a very brutal piece of association. That’s all ads are, sometimes a frame. But don’t focus on advertising. Anything which communicates the meanings you wanna stand for to you consumers is inherently brand building. If you have a splendid Uber experience with a friendly, non-smelly, non-sexual predator type driver, Uber is building its brand. And even weirdly in some cases if you’re a very exclusive brand, and a client comes in to buy the latest handbag and it’s already sold out, that negative experience is actually a very strong, positive brand experience because the exclusivity is enforced and the desire doubled.
So anything that creates and enforces the meanings you wanna stand for is brand building.
Now, the second reason we have to look at it on a continuum however, is we’ll also begin to glimpse how brands are broken or to use the correct terminology, how they’re commodified or commoditized. Anything that communicates meaning builds brands, anything that contradicts it or is inconsistent begins to break it and send the brand back to its commodity form.
As Apple looks more and more in its product from like Samsung, it’s not different anymore, it’s not creative, it’s not unique, it’s just another tech brand. As Uber hires more and more psychopaths it begins to become increasingly similar to the other driving services on offer to you late at night. Ironically in some cases when clients come to buy the latest bag and we have it in stock, in fact we have six of them in stock, or fifteen of them in stock, and she catches a glimpse of the fifteen in stock, suddenly the dream of the brand is destroyed, even though our supply chain is working perfectly. There’s no rules in here. Anything that is consistent with the brand, builds brand, and anything that’s inconsistent breaks it.
Now there is of course one other beloved Australian technique which breaks the brand even quicker, much faster than incongruity and inconsistency and that’s of course the beloved sales promotion. We are bedeviled by it in this country, are we not? The problem with sales promotions is as you can now glimpse is, they are the ultimate commodity form, because they say to the consumer “don’t buy us what we stand for, fuck that, buy us because we are cheaper than we were last week, buy us because I’ll give you two for the price of one”. You will sell more, your margins will be hurt, but even more invisibly, and more importantly, you begin to commodify the brand. That’s not to say that a sales promotion is not a good thing every now and again. The problem with sales promotions is they are the heroin of marketing. The first time you do heroin, I would imagine, it’s fantastic. The problem is the 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th times and as you become addicted to it your life falls apart. In the same way the first sales promotion is fantastic, a sudden surge of traffic just when you need it. The problem of course is the sudden surge of traffic begins to commodify the brand, which gets rid of the traffic, which means you need another sales promotion, which means you being to commoditize the brand and you keep going down this vicious cycle and before you know it, your Rivers advertising $3 sandals on Channel 7 that make no sense to man or woman.
The most important reason why we put brand and commodity together is because when you do that, you glimpse the secret of brand. Such a secret if it does exist. Take your brand, subtract from it commodity, and whatever is left over, if there’s anything left over at all, is the concept we call brand equity.
Brand – Commodity = Brand Equity
That’s how you work out what brand equity is. Let me give you a stupidly simple example. Let’s take a famous brand, Coca Cola. Now, what’s the commodity equivalent of Coca Cola? Well it’s a can of cola, unbranded cola, right? That’s the category generic equivalent. Take the cola out of Coke, do it in your head right now, take cola out of Coca Cola and what’s left in your head is probably “Christmas”, or “summer”, or “refreshment”, or “overpriced”, or “calories”, or whatever it might be. The jumble of associations that you have stored in your head about Coca Cola. Could be positive, could be negative. This is the substance of brand. All those lost souls working of fucking consistent looking feel and fonts, don’t get this point. Brand managers they do that. That’s what they manage. Nothing tangible, all that shit with the websites and all that it’s all pointless. The pantones? Doesn’t fucking matter. Change your pantone every week? Nothing’s gonna happen.
The Questions of Brand
It brings up an interesting question. Why don’t we take your brand, why don’t you think about the generic equivalent of your brand, and why don’t you imagine, with your target customer, performing that calculation. Now, it’s not quite this simple, you can’t just ask him, there are certain research techniques that need to be done, but in a nutshell, your brand minus commodity equals what in the head of your customer? Because I don’t care what you think, you think it’s innovation and integrity and all that other horseshit that you got in your pointless positioning statement. That’s not what the question’s about. Everyone thinks they have a beautiful husband at home. The point is, what does the consumer think when we make that calculation? Now we get close to pointee part. What does she think when we take the commodity out of the brand. This should start a series of questions in your mind which are the questions of brand. Do I have anything?
Second. Is it positive? Because every brand, no matter how wonderful, has negative and positive associations. I’m always stunned when I look at brand research that only has positives, and I’m like, “where’s all the negative shit”? How much of this stuff, even if it’s positive, is important to the consumer? How much of this correlates with purchase or switch or net promoter score? How much of all of these different attributes are actually worthwhile?
Finally, even if it’s positive, even if it’s correlates with purchase, do I own it more than the competitors, or am I coming forth in this increasingly competitive country we live in? These are the questions of brand.
- What do I actually want this to be?
- Do I have anything?
- How much of it is positive?
- How much of it is important?
- What do I own vs competitors?
While still the majority of morons in this country that have a branding job are working on fonts and logos and pantones and a consistent looking feel, the growing minority of more savvy brand managers are working on answering these questions and the biggest one of all. What do I want it to be? If I think about my target consumer right now, walking down George Street, and if I imagine I had 3 brain cells, and you’d be very lucky if you’ve got 3, that I can drop 3 different associations into their head from my brand, what would I wish them to be? I wanted to know that I exist and now I’ve got 3 brain cells. What do I want them to think, when she thinks of my brand? This is positioning. An army of morons have descended upon marketing and branding and told you that positioning is an end in itself. It’s not. It’s much more simple than that. Positioning is what you want those brain cells to hold if you do your job successfully. All of this shit:
- Brand Values
- Brand Purpose
- Value Proposition
- Brand DNA
- Core Attributes
- Brand Promise
- Brand Personality
- Brand Essence
means the same thing. Charlatans and agencies and consultants have told you: “oh no, you have to have a brand purpose next to your brand attributes in a triangle with the brand characteristics”. It’s all because they are trying to sell you this stuff by the yard. It’s all the fucking same. Choose any you want. Make one up. It doesn’t matter. The principle of positioning is the same. The 3 brain cells, what do you wanna have in your positioning that hopefully will get into those brain cells. That’s it. That’s positioning. It was never meant to be complex, we’ve just bastardized it over the 40 years since the concept was first invented.
This handsome fella is Neil McElroy, and Neil McElroy has one claim to fame. Well two actually because he ran NATO for a while. But before he ran NATO in the 1960s, Neil McElroy, what for this, invented brand management on a wet April morning in Cincinnati in 1931, he looked at a soap powder brand and another soap powder brand, …, and he sat around the typewriter and he wrote this: the McElroy memo. He laid out a new role called brand man, who would manage a brand. That document remains still a fundamental description of brand management to this day. Right down in page two is item (e): “Keep whatever records are necessary, and make whatever field studies are necessary to determine whether the plan has produced the expected results”. The day, the morning, when brand management was invented, tracking, research were parts of it.
Neil McElroy Memo
COPY MARKETING – Brand Teams, 1931
cc: Mr. W. G. Werner
Mr. N. H. MoElroy May 13, 1931
Mr. R. F. Rogan
ADV**N. H. MCELROY
Because I think it may be of some help to you in putting through our recommendation for additional men for the Promotion Department, I am outlining briefly below the duties and responsibilities of the brand men.
This outline does not represent the situation as it is but as we will have it when we have sufficient man power. In past years the brand men have been forced to do work that should have been passed on to assistant brand men, if they had been available and equal to the job.
(1) Study carefully shipments of his brands by units:
(2) Where brand development is heavy and where it is progressing, examine carefully the combination of effort that seems to be clicking and try to apply this same treatment to other territories that are comparable.
(3) Where brand development is light
(a) Study the past advertising and promotional history of the brand; study the territory personally at first hand - both dealers and consumers - in order to find out the trouble. (b) After uncovering our weakness, develop a plan that can be applied to this local sore spot. It is necessary, of course, not simply to work out the plan but also to be sure that the amount of money proposed can be expected to produce results at a reasonable cost per case. (c) Outline this plan in detail to the Division Manager under whose Jurisdiction the weak territory is, obtain his authority and support for the corrective action. (d) Prepare sales helps and all other necessary material for carrying out the plan. Pass it on to the districts. Work with the salesmen while they are getting started. Follow through to the very finish to be sure that there is no let-down in sales operation of the plan. (e) Keep whatever records are necessary, and make whatever field studies are necessary to deter- mine whether the plan has produced the expected results.
(4) Take full responsibility, not simply for criticizing individual pieces of printed word copy, but also for the general printed word plans for his brands.
(5) Take full responsibility for all other advertising expenditures – Field, D.C.A. etc. – on his brands.
(6) Experiment with and recommend wrapper revisions.
(7) See each District Manager a number of times a year to discuss with him any possible faults in our promotion plans for that territory.
In short, when the brand men have approached their fullest responsibilities, they should be able to take from the shoulders of the Division Managers and of the District Managers a very heavy share of individual brand responsibility. This would leave the sales heads in a much freer position to administer the sales policies of the Company and apply general volume pressure without having to give such a large proportion of their time to thought on how to bring up volume on a certain brand in a certain part of the territory.
Assistant Brand Man
(1) Take care of the office work which will have been laid out by the brand man, which must be followed through, checked and edited.
(2) Make field studies as directed by the brand man.
(3) Keep in touch with all printed word, field and D.C.A. plans.
(4) Finally, be able to step into the shoes of his superior at a moment’s notice.
With the above outline of responsibilities it is not hard to understand that one man should not have to work on more than two brands at the very most. I am sure that the need for a Group Products brand man, part of whose responsibility will be chain and voluntary chain promotion, will be equally obvious.
Group Products Check-Up Men
The brand men in the past have unfortunately been tied up too closely to their office work because their assistants have had to be out of the office on field check-ups a large share of the time. A great majority of these checking jobs could be handled by less responsible men than assistant brand men.
We believe that we can relieve the entire situation by adding to our organization two men – and perhaps more as their need is felt – whose duties would be field checking on all products. These men would relieve the assistant brand men of good share of their traveling. This, in turn, would allow the brand men to pass over to their assistants office work which is keeping them from their more important field studies.
With these two men our organization would be lined up as show on the attached chart headed “Division of Brand Responsibilities in 6-Man Organization.”
N. H. McELROY