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Brands – how deep is your love?

June 10, 2014
Fry's Cocoa - Blighty's Best. Alas, the factory was taken over by Kraft of the USA, shut down, and now the brand is but a badge. Sic transit gloria mundi, we must say...

Fry’s Cocoa – Blighty’s Best. Alas, the factory was taken over by Kraft of the USA, shut down, and now the brand is but a badge. Sic transit gloria mundi, we must say…

It is argued that true love is repaid by deeper investigation. This probably explains why marriages based on the visual alone rarely stand the test of time. It also explains why those based on responsive interrogation are more likely to stay the course. Given that brand marketing today is based more on the former than the latter, what is the way forward in today’s image-conscious world?

Substance, it is argued, engenders greater longevity of emotional loyalty than the fickleness of beauty. Yet today, most brands – those led by the brand strategists rather than the engineers – are designed around the brand conceit of emotional involvement. There is, surely, a conflict of interest between the producer and the marketer?

A failure of theory?

Today, following academic process, marketers and brand strategists often obsess more about perception than reality. They have been taught that a brand is a set of emotional values existing between a customer and a company to the mutual advantage of both.

Some brand strategists even adopt marketing strategies which have no strategy save campaign “recall”. The product comes second to the vanity of the strategist. Ego comes before message. The brand has become the creative’s toy.

Consequently, we are told that a new model car is a “classic” before the epithet is earned. We are told a new suite is “beautiful” as if we are unable by our own inquisition to deconstruct quality and aesthetics. In time-honoured style, we are made to believe that a brand will somehow convey the success or good looks of a “celebrity” onto ourselves. And tomorrow we wake and our lover has gone. But we saw it on TV.

The education of sheep?

Dutifully, like sheep to the dip, we as customers pass along the line to be processed and made sterile by our purchases. If we buy the “wrong” product, we are lampooned by friends and neighbours. If we buy the “right” product, everyone wants to be associated with us. Or so the marketers tell us. As Flanders and Swann might have said, “when we started buying brands, when we started making friends”…

If we ran our lives in the way many marketers try to get us to buy new products and services, we would all be on our second and third marriages by now. This is why the conceit of the brand as marketing apogee is flawed. After we have married the page 3 model or the super-hunk male, do we really want to spend the rest of our lives in the inanity of a tumble-down seaside town, our ear drums destroyed by an endless drawl of broken sentences and corrupted vowels?

But, as Jean-Marc Lehu states:

“A brand that builds relationships with consumers solely on the cognitive bases of its promise is a brand with a promise that will always be prey to the direct or indirect challenges of its competitors … In a study conducted for Young & Rubicam group, Agres (1990) clearly showed that in advertising terms, the combination of an emotive benefit and a material benefit produced superior results to the outcomes of either one of these benefits in isolation.”

(Jean-Marc Lehu – Brand Rejuvenation (Kogan Page, 2007))

Airbrush beauty is but a cracked mirror, playing to the weaknesses of our inner consciousness. So it is argued that responsible marketers should avoid the promise of false love.  It is argued that marketers have a duty to profess honesty and, in so doing, attract those who are also honest. By conveying self-evident credibility, love is more likely.

The creation of loyalty through truthfulness

As in marriage, so in marketing – true love creates loyalty; critically for companies, loyalty brings costs down. This of course brings us to the nub of the issue and to an understanding of why marketing must be true: loyalty is delivered by performance.

Long after the marketers have gone home, or moved on to their next job, or been sacked, the product is all that’s left to burn in the hearts of those who relate to it. Consequently, it is suggested, it is a mistake to hire differing brand agencies in an attempt to rejuvenate brands by marketing alone. To do so is to risk all your assets on one roll of the dice. Once the brand conceit falls away, the customer gets the roving eye.

It is argued therefore that companies need once more to understand what it is they do and why they do it and to own their brands responsibly. In owning their brands, companies need to be fully alert to what they do and not rest on their laurels.

Crucially, they need to appreciate that the solution to their problems is not marketing cosmetics or the plastic surgery of brand strategy divorced from product.  Marketing activity must reflect the substance of the business. Business must stay alert to customers. Quality must always be conveyed.

As Professor Malcolm McDonald famously said, marketing is too important to be left to the marketing department.

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