Wednesday, May 30, 2012

You Are What You Do

Paul Rand said that a logo, or in this case a brand, only develops significance in relation to the company that it represents. The logo for IBM looks high-tech, but that's only because it identifies IBM.

This illustrates the part about branding that so many marketers miss, primarily because they frequently have nothing to do with this element of the business: the actual business.

Most marketers deal with the wrapping and not what is actually in the box. But what is in the box is what actually builds brand power.

For example, the Apple brand is IMMENSELY powerful, but go back merely a decade, and they were one-fiftieth their current size with a brand that was toy-like and playful. Apple's transition happened not because of its marketing, though that had a part to play, but because its products were, as Steve Jobs liked to say, magical. Year by year, product by product, Apple built up a stable of excellent, perfectly crafted products that slowly propagated out into the zeitgeist.

Or perhaps the most amazing example of all time: Starbucks. Starbucks didn't do any out-of-store marketing for most of its life, and yet built its name into one of the most well-known, valuable brands on the planet. They did that by focusing on the product, the experience, and accessibility of it all. You can build a brand with no marketing at all. You cannot build marketing with no product at all.

A company must never lose track of the fact that the most important and salient element of their brand is what they are actually doing. That is why I made fun of Hewlett-Packard for their hilariously high-tech re-branding effort. The engineered brand impression was high-tech, edgy, hip, and envelope-pushing... all of the things that HP is not.

The product must precede the packaging. Before you can be edgy, you have to be edgy. If you don't know how to do that, find out how, or hire someone who does.

This is why the American car companies absolutely fell on their face long before the 2008 recession was a shot to the head. Instead of focusing on their product, they focused on the branding as a band-aid. During the late 1990's and early 2000's, Chevy alone created more stupid car names, frequently based on the same chassis, for its litany of brands than every Japanese car company combined. They wrapped mediocrity in every wrapper that they could conjure, and it was amazingly enough to keep them afloat for three decades.

Everything that you do gets wrapped up in your brand. That's why you don't want to fuck up. You do not want to make people angry, and if you are making them angry, make sure that you have a really excellent foundation to your action. This is why Chinese factories have been such a thorn in the side of Nike and Apple.

Your company must always be friendly, principled, and highly professional. Never should your company be cast as the bad guy. Never should your company's product be seen as default. Because then, no matter how hip your marketing is, your company is a bad guy that sells default crap. There are few places that a company should loathe more.

So when you're thinking about how to allocate budgets, just tell yourself, product, product, product. It is not naive to think that is all you need, especially if you are a company that is already well-known. You aren't battling a lack of public recognition, because that absolutely requires marketing. But once you have the recognition, think about almost nothing but product.

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