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By The Drum | Administrator

August 14, 2003 | 14 min read

Branding building for Tennent's Lager and Cutty Sark Scots Whisky

Creating a brand is hard. Maintaining a brand is perhaps even harder as brand owners look to keep their brand fresh and relevant to consumers. So, what are the secrets and the pitfalls of branding? Gordon Laing asks those behind some of Scotland’s best loved brands for their tips.

The marketing excesses of the past few years have left broken brands scattered across the business landscape. Countless companies have tried, and failed, to jump on the great brand wagon. The bemoaned dot.coms of the 90s most recently led the charge, inspired by the notion that throwing infinite amounts of money at the consumer would build a great brand. But it wasn’t long before it was discovered that such branding budgets were actually finite and that, in fact, money alone does not a good brand make.

But now, following the collapse of this bull-market, comes caution – the nemesis of the era. Budgets have been slashed and every penny has become accountable. Still the quest for the perfect brand continues.

But if money is not the be-all-and-end-all when it comes to developing a successful brand, the million-dollar question is, what is?

“First, and probably most importantly, the product has to be right and has to be good,” says Stephen Halpin, managing director of Curious Oranj. “No amount of window dressing is going to make a success of a shitty product.

“Secondly, too often agencies are brought into the new brand process too late. The product or service has already been defined and made. A company like ours can bring huge benefit if brought in to the process early enough to help to define the product or service and align that to the market.”

“Never stand still,” offers Newhaven’s creative partner, Zane Radcliffe.

“The market is an organic entity, consumers are fickle and their tastes are constantly changing. A moving target is hard to hit. It’s not good enough to always be playing catch-up. For a brand to be developed successfully it must be forward-looking, anticipate and initiate change and take a leadership position.

“Too much time can be spent collating and poring over reams of market research data. The anomaly is that brand development decisions are then being taken based on findings that are already outdated. You’ve got to be proactive, not reactive, to develop a brand successfully. Trying to justify decisions using historical data is akin to driving while looking in the rear view mirror; you can’t anticipate what’s up ahead.”

Bryan Hook, managing director of Hookson, agrees: “You can create endless designs, IDs, logos, adverts, direct marketing, but at the end of the day it comes down to audience reactions. The activity needs to be constantly evaluated so you can learn from past successes and failures and use that knowledge to up-weight the right areas.

“You have to remain innovative and fresh; you can’t just go on riding on the past success. The only way to do this is to engage with the audience and check on the success. And, when it comes down to it, a successful brand normally comes down to successful sales figures.”

However, if sales or customer relationships are not going to plan, a genuine re-brand can be very costly – and not just in terms of money. You have to spend a great deal of money to get people to drop their baggage of previous conceptions of the brand. And normally, a re-brand has to be dramatically different from the initial brand, which can push a company too far in the opposite direction – which may mean they cannot live up to the new positioning.

However, despite the dangers involved in a rebrand, sometimes it is important for the survival of a product.

Shaw Marketing and Design has been working with Cutty Sark International on a number of brand development projects for several years, most recently completing a number of packaging assignments for the Korean, Portuguese and worldwide markets.

Cutty Sark whisky is popular in Korea, and the agency was tasked to redesign the original, 12- and 17-year bottles for this market.

In Korean clubs, it is usual for a hostess to bring the bottle on a tray to the table. The previous bottles were thought to be too large for the hostesses' hands so a smaller and narrower 500ml had to be introduced.

Alistair Bruce, managing director of Shaw, says: “The most common reasons for a rebrand are when a brand becomes stagnant – reflected in issues such as falling sales, failing communication between the brand and its audience, lack of long-term vision or, in the case of Cutty Sark in Korea, a difference in cultures.”

However, if people don't know what a product or service is or what it can do for them, then they are not going to connect with the brand at all – one of the problems encountered by the initial generation of organisations. So, it's critical to get the positioning right. After that, everything else should fall into place, says Brian Crook, managing director of The Bridge advertising agency: “Developing advertising, packaging or whatever for a brand with a clear positioning is relatively easy and should generate a good return on investment. Developing advertising or packaging for a product without a clear positioning is a nightmare. And spending money on apparently brilliant advertising for a product with flawed positioning is one of the ways of ensuring not only that yours is one of the nine in ten launches that fail, but also that it's one of the more expensive failures. Something like Scottish Blend, when it launched, had a very clear positioning: specially blended for the soft water of Scotland. This positioning worked, it created a connection with consumers – they had always been led to believe that Scottish water was special - and it created a new ‘need’.”

Plato may not be known as a brilliant marketer, but he unearthed the fundamental principle that lies at the heart of every great brand: the concept of essence. When everyone in an organisation understands the essence of the brand, employees can unleash innovation in every quarter – from advertising to product design to promotions – and it all connects to something larger and more enduring.

This is a view echoed by Ken Dixon, strategic partner at Newhaven: “To be successful, any brand development exercise must have the backing of everyone involved and that includes a real financial commitment. And to be effective the new branding must be applied to everything a client does, run through all product communication – above and below the line - like letters through a stick of rock.”

Curious Oranj’s Stephen Halpin agrees: “Every bit of communication needs to work together – therefore every agency you work with needs to work well together. Once you start to get more than one agency involved, various agendas start to be put on the table. The ad agency wants more budget – because that's how they make more money. The design agency wants to remain as lead agency, as they know the brand better than anyone. The brand manager has to be strong enough to manage this battle."

Bryan Hook of design agency Hookson feels that it is not just about external communication, though. One of the most vital areas to conquer is the internal communications – and the staff: “The most important area that people forget about is the internal communication. Externally, the brand communication may be fresh and innovative. However, if the brand ambassadors – the front facing teams behind the brand – do not display the same values, then often the message will be lost, or at least confused. The staff are so important – they need to believe in the project and be able to carry the brand values through. Without good internal communication to complement the external brand values, all the hard work could be for nothing.”

But once a brand is created how can it be continued and developed successfully?

In a word, “consistency”, says Brian Crook of The Bridge: “People's relationships with brands are like their relationships with people; they like them to be trustworthy, they like them to be true to their essential nature. Sometimes when we have been researching new work for HEBS - now Health Scotland - consumers have been able to tell "that's a HEBS" ad long before they have seen any physical branding. They have recognised it just by its tone of voice. Too often clients and agencies risk a healthy brand by taking needless risks with the advertising. That is not to say that advertising can't be exciting and risky but it can only be those things if those things are appropriate for the brand. You don't want to see your granny in a miniskirt.”

Raising a brand has, in the past, been likened to raising a kid. Great brands take patience, steady guidance and uncompromising values. Brands, like children, absorb the qualities of those who nurture them. They thrive in an inspiring, caring, learning environment where they are respected, protected and understood. Good brand ambassadors, like good parents, build values into their brands that help them grow and endure. The shuffling of brand responsibilities can easily produce a troubled brand. Great brands outlive their creators - just like kids. And if you do your job right, they can make you proud.

Furthermore, brands, like children, play an important role in the future of society.”

Newhaven’s Dixon says: “Historically, consumers would have known personally the providers of their food or clothes or transport. This personal relationship disappeared with mass production. Brand relationship allows the individual to buy into values of quality, taste and aspiration in much the same way as previously with an individual. As the brand is a shorthand for a set of values, it is of paramount importance that it delivers consistently against these.

“But as a rule, few if any brands can survive indefinitely if the product is flawed. Ask M&S or even Apple, who realised that its flirtation with badly constructed clone machines in the mid-90s (and, in the case of M&S, badly constructed underwear) was seriously undermining credibility and brand loyalty.”

However, the flipside of this occurs in “me-too” markets like washing powder, where every innovation can be tracked and perfectly replicated. In a me-too market where product differences are negligible, the brand is the only point of difference.

“It justifies a price premium, commands an often irrational loyalty and, for established players, it even creates breathing space when things go wrong,” continues Dixon. “But, of course, when a brand has become more important to the supplier than the consumer then it’s in real trouble.”

Gordon Brown, non-executive director of Curious Oranj and ex- Bass director of brands, takes the hot seat to give The Drum a five-minute master-class in branding.

There are three things you need to

know when developing a brand:

ïWhat’s at the core of your brand - do you really understand it - inside and out.

ïWho is going to buy it - and do you understand them?

ïWhy will consumers buy your brand and not another brand?

The secrets of success:

ïA rock solid marketing plan - including a thorough expression of the brand positioning.

ïBuy in to the brand from the whole business.

ïA bloody good product.

ïA passionate team/person working on the brand - if the marketing team don’t believe in the brand why should anyone else.

ïBe ambitious but keep it real.

The most common reasons for a company

to feel the need to rebrand:

ïUnderperforming sales.

ïNew management (be it marketing personnel or other senior personnel).

ïGood insight into the market and the brand.

ïCorporate issues - i.e. a desire to line up brands on a global basis.

But remember:

ïBe prepared to react to the consumer, the market and listen to your customers and sales force.

ïHave faith - most brands go through a rough patch at some point but if you’ve really done your homework and the team is on top of things then stay in there.

ïApply the right amount of resource - marketing a brand is an investment in the future NOT a cost. If you don’t invest correctly you may as well not invest at all.

There are dangers involved in a rebrand:

ïDon’t throw the baby out with the bathwater - if you don’t understand your current brand you can throw away what’s good as well as what’s bad.

ïYou may not need to do it - a rebrand may not be the best solution to your problem - have you considered all the other possibilities?

ïYour existing consumer’s reaction - in going for a new/ market you could hack off your existing consumer and lose more than you gain.

ïLoss of heritage and brand positioning in the consumer’s head if the rebrand is too far away from the original.

How important is it to get the branding right first time?

ïVery - it’s hard enough to create the right brand the first time - even harder to undo it if you get it wrong and re launch.

ïBut not fatal - even the best companies get it wrong and you can, sometimes, dig it out of the fire - but if you do your homework up front then you can reduce the chance of failure.

How important is the brand?

ïEverything - if you’re not a brand you’re a commodity - if you are a commodity, price is the weapon of choice and there is always someone out there that can be cheaper than you.

ïEverything - people can copy your product but not your brand - branding is one of the best forms of defence and attack in a market.

Brand Disasters

Gerber Singles

Gerber is perhaps responsible for one of the most infamous brand failures of all time. Behind perhaps the launch of Harley Davidson perfume and Coca-Cola’s New Coke, the baby food manufacturers foray into the adult food market backfired spectacularly.

The idea was to introduce small servings of food for single adults - in the same jars used for baby foods. However the ‘Creamed Beef’ flavours and the ‘I live alone and eat meals from a jar’ image destined Gerber Singles to the branding hall of shame.


Pepsi doesn’t get everything right. Taiwan’s Pepsi advertising slogan ‘Come alive with the Pepsi Generation’ was translated as ‘Pepsi will bring your ancestors back from the dead.’

Gerber (again)

Gerber got it wrong again when it pushed its products into Africa using the same packaging as it did in the West. The label included a picture of a baby boy. Wondering about the low sales Gerber discovered that most customers in Africa can’t read English and Western companies tend to put a picture on the label of what’s inside.


Coors had just as little luck in Spain when its advertising slogan ‘Turn it loose’ was translated to “You will suffer from diarrhoea.’ Ouch.

Frank Perdue

US food company left customers bewildered with its ‘It takes an aroused man to make a chicken affectionate’ Spanish slogan. It was meant to read ‘It takes a strong man to make a tender chicken.’ Perhaps the brand’s values were lost in translation?

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