The stupidly simple truth about branding

The stupidly simple truth about branding

One of the most influential and controversial books of the past decade has recently launched a line extension: ‘How Brands Grow: Part 2’.

I’m a big fan of the books and their key insight: that brands grow by increasing their ‘physical and mental availability’. The physical aspect is self-explanatory, but the idea of mental availability is a really useful new concept that captures one of the fundamental (but often unspoken) truths of marketing: people have better things to do than think about your brand.

As a result, brands continuously strive to find the key to what John Hegarty famously described as: ‘the most valuable piece of real estate in the world – a small corner of the consumer’s mind’.

Addressing this challenge lies at the heart of what marketers and agencies do with our lives, so it’s initially quite a shock to be told by the authors that a brand’s meaning has little effect on consumer behaviour; or that very few consumers have deep feelings (love or hate) for brands. Instead the vast majority of people think that most brands are simply OK, and they buy them in proportion to their (physical and mental) availability

So if we’re not here to create ‘love brands’ or enrich the meaning of consumers’ lives, can we console ourselves with the task of increasing these metrics?

Of course, but don’t try to do this by addressing a target group with a clearly positioned or differentiated brand promise. What you need instead is to advertise how you answer the generic needs of the category (and as many of these as possible, for as many people as possible).

The simple but unpalatable truth, it seems, is that what a brand needs to grow is frequent, diverse and relevant communication, showing how it is the answer to a wide range of ‘Category Entry Points’.

The new currency

But there is light at the end of the tunnel. Brand designers and communicators are responsible for giving the brand its ‘distinctive assets’, the new currency of brand-building among HBG disciples.

Distinctive assets start with the brand name but extend to design and communication properties such as logos, colours, typefaces, symbols, characters, sounds and straplines. In the FMCG world, many of these elements start their lives on packaging.

These assets, collectively, make your brand easier to remember because different stimuli activate different neurological processes. This diversity of brand identity ‘increases the quantity and quality of a brand’s presence in its environment’. In other words, its mental availability.

As a brand designer this all makes perfect sense to me, but it has not always been fashionable to include lots of branding in communication. This is partly because of the (real) concern that big, blunt ‘hard sell’ branding can put consumers off; but it’s also a hangover from the time when advertisers could expect far more of consumers’ attention by running a big TV or print campaign.

Sweat every asset

Nowadays, the number of brands and media channels and the sheer volume of information makes attention a scarce commodity. Brands need to sweat every asset they can muster to grab that elusive piece of the consumer’s mind. This means your packaging should be designed to be a treasure trove of unique, memorable assets that can be extended creatively in all communication, creating mental availability through every touchpoint from TV to IoT.

How Brands Grow warns that ‘changing the pack is practically never buyer-friendly’, but in the small print it adds: ‘unless it brings a distinctive asset onto the pack, or makes it more prominent by removing distracting material…’

I would agree with that but also include: ‘creating distinctive assets for a brand that doesn’t have any to start with’. Do this right and the consumer will thank you with more purchases, and also believe that the new asset was there all along.

Does this mean they care about what you stand for? Maybe not, but I still wonder if ‘distinctive’ and ‘meaningful’ are more closely related than HBG knows.

Steve Osborne, Managing Director, Osborne Pike

Tel: +44 1225 489269



Twitter: @osbornepike

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