Strange Magic

Brand is a notoriously slippery concept with a tremendous amount of power. Where does this slipperiness come from? What can we—as marketing leaders—do to clarify things and tap into that power? Let’s take a moment to pause and reflect.

  • Recent headlines about Canadians “vaccine shopping” for Pfizer over Moderna are a reminder of the power of brand. Even when two products are very similar, we humans develop opinions and preferences that don’t have much to do with logic.
  • The Moderna problem also reminds us how hard it is to control brand perceptions. Your brand isn’t really defined in your brand book. It’s actually made up of “the sum total of all the impressions a customer has, based on every interaction they have had with you, your company and your products.”
  • Even the word “brand” is hard to pin down: “It can refer to a mark, set of values and guidelines, set of associations in the mind of the consumer, a product from a certain company, or the company itself.”
  • Unsurprising, all of this blurriness has been known to make CFO’s roll their eyes—and ask uncomfortable questions about the marketing budget.
  • So is it possible to pull this blurriness into clearer focus? Maybe a history less will help.
  • Branding actually has a very long history. Preliterate societies in the ancient Mediterranean could tell who made their wine or oil based on the distinct shape of the amphora it was packaged in.
  • Flash forward to the 1950’s, when consumer packaged goods companies like P&G and Unilever developed the discipline of brand management to help distinguish otherwise similar products.
  • In the 1970’s, things got a bit more sophisticated. Very smart British planners like Stephen King took note of the way people tend anthropomorphize brands and a new set of tools was born.
  • As Faris Yakob points out, recent decades have seen brand move beyond the marketing department and become entwined with corporate constructs like mission, vision, values and purpose.
  • This shift actually makes a lot of sense. As Mayur Gupta puts it: “Brand is NOT Brand Marketing. Brand is an OUTCOME of EVERYTHING an organization does.”
  • We’d actually take it a step further. Brand is an outcome of everything you do PLUS some things that are totally out of your hands. For example, the Moderna vaccine’s brand issue has many causes. Including heated TikTok debates about which vaccine is “for hot people”.
  • Like anything else that’s driven by the complex machinations of the human mind, brand will always be complex and a little hard to pin down.
  • But we should take comfort in the fact that the basic idea hasn’t changed for thousands of years. Customers will naturally form impressions of your company and products that will inform their choices. Blurriness aside, it’s worth doing what you can to shape those perceptions in your favour.
Issue #121
May 30, 2021

Further Reading