Chapter 1 - brand ESSENCE

Please forget what you may have read in marketing textbooks for a few minutes. Before you think of targeting, concentrate on "connecting up". This is the defining - and literally essential - communications purpose of powerful brands.

Peter Drucker says that "the business enterprise has two basic functions : marketing and innovation. Marketing and innovation produce results; all the rest are costs". The power of branding is greatest when it draws on both these functions and communicates the business mission to appeal to all of the company's audiences from employees through to consumers.

The essence of a brand is the communications connections:

· which it has the founder's right to propagate and own

· which will give it an evolutionary right to an unique leadership domain - the brand's service or adding value raison d'etre.

By directing Brand Essence you can interconnect all kinds of reasons why the world values the declaration of independence implicit in a leading brand (or indeed any other leadership identity such as a great nation).

Three immediate consequences of Essence are:

·In the ideal brand world, everything that's done in the brand's name should be a confirmation of its essence

·Choice of essence permeates everything an organisation will be able to do strategically with the brand. We will see that, when other things are remotely equal, the history of marketing communications shows that the most meaningful and communicable essence wins out time after time

·It is vital that companies scope the essence of brands properly and to maximum organisational advantage. It has been estimated that it now takes about one billion dollars of advertising to build a significant share of mind with consumers across North America, Asia and Europe. Consequently, a tragic loss of resources can befall any brand owner who scopes a brand's essence in such a way that the brand's meaning is unable to evolve beyond the first product to carry the brand's name.

As an intellectual concept, brand essence sets a trap for anyone who tries to define it more precisely than we have done above. Essence can involve everything at the core of a brand which works to the brand's unique advantage as a communicator. From this perspective, a brand is vacuous as a consumer promise unless it is also a core business purpose. Fortunately, recognising key aspects of the essences of particular brands is, if not an easy job, one which any business team which concentrates passionately and inquisitively on living a brand's raison d'etre is qualified to do.

Looking back at 20th century market categories, many of the world's biggest essences are remarkably transparent:

· The leadership essence of cigarettes is embodied in Marlboro. This brand was founded with the brief of being "the cigarette for men which women like". The cowboy icon and later stereotyping, such as American Independence and Marlboro's Wild West Country, were identifiers which translated the meaning of this essence into an image for generations of consumers to wear.

· The biggest communications essence for soft drinks is "the refreshing and most friendly drink in the world". These were the connecting visionary slogans of the brand from the early 1900s. Subsequent identifiers translating this lifestyle into reality include Coca-Cola's designer bottle, red for visible packaging and logos, familiarisation as the real thing , the friendship of the "American Dream" which Coke's advertising brings like an ambassador to the world's youth and young at heart.

·The world's most powerful essence for fast foods is McDonald's "fast foods served consistently with home-from-home values". This was the connecting vision repeated in most of the published scripts emerging from McDonald's proprietor Ray Kroc. This resonates through the training manual which every new employees receives.

When you line up essences founded on communications of such "great ideas", it becomes apparent why these brands could be destined to lead the social values that matter most in their marketplaces. Of course, this doesn't happen unless organisations also set about living these essences internally (eg with all the product and service contributions inspired staff can make) as well as promoting them externally (eg cost-effectively to consumers and retail customers). So, for example, Coca-Cola's formative distribution goal was set to be "within arm's reach of desire". An early inspirational act for ensuring continuous improvement of staff training at McDonald's was the founding of Hamburger University.

Many of history's most famous brands grew when they were nurtured by a business person with a consistent vision, the power to command long term corporate commitment to taking the vision to marketplace, and the creative passion which leverages the company's capabilities to distinguish product and market values.

If a brand does not have a vital consumer meaning, it is not worthwhile investing in its leadership organisationally. It is not worth the enormous financial resources which it will take to continuously publicise it ; nor is it worth the time and political resources required to make it a rallying point for the skills of the company's people; nor is it worthwhile living the value relationships which feed through the brand process to trading customers to their end consumers and feed back again. Conversely, if a brand does have a vital (and self-perpetuating) consumer meaning, companies discover that there are more significant similarities than differences among consumers in their sphere of business as they market a brand's essence around the world.

The fact that a product-orientated and impulse-grabbing essence like " have a break, have a Kit Kat" could also establish a global and local "time-out" meaning in consumers' diaries was never appreciated by Rowntree. It was by Nestle, which acquired Rowntree because of this. It thought that Rowntree's leading brands had enough meanings of this sort to be worthwhile buying. They would then be served up globally as brands which could stand out as unforgettable in their own right, and also play a strong supporting role when cast as entries on Nestle's menu as the world's leading foods company. Although some accountants' renderings of commercial history may tell you otherwise, it was not the past performance of Rowntree's brands which Nestle valued at 4.5 billion dollars - a record-breaking five times book value - when it acquired Rowntree in 1988. It was the future advantages which Nestle as the world class packaged foods company could create out of the latent essences of these brands.

The story of Kit Kat as part of Nestle's global vision is amplified in Chapter 13. So too is the evolutionary story of Guinness as a brand whose essence - beers whose visible characters are so distinguished that brewers around the world prefer to partner them rather than compete against them - is reflected at such different levels as:

·Guinness products - beers instantly recognisable by their unmistakeable physical appearances (stout's black and white poetry, the red beers from Kilkenny, Kaliber's zero-alcohol)

·Guinness corporate style - frothy confidence of a company that knows where it is going almost as focusedly as the record-breakers chronicled in its annual publication ("The Guinness Book of Records")

·Guinness country - the brand that represents Ireland more than any other (the idea that a brand which is a country's major export can take over the essence of the world's stereotyped images of the country of origin is a subtle one which we will come back to in chapter 3)

Test the following essential hypothesis : a strong leader is humanly attractive if 1) leadership is transparent; 2) values added are fairly shared. Before testing this on brands, test this on other great organising identities such as nations. These are opening clues to why powerful brands work. Another clue is that brands are the most democratic of independent competitive beings; the day that a brand process loses it essence in such manners as ruining its reputation or loading itself with too many organisational costs is the day that consumer votes will ebb away in all free competitive markets.

Living and breathing an appropriate cultural philosophy of why branding really matters is particularly important now that more and more companies realise that competing for the future will involve something more important than product branding. This is the banner branding of global business domains with organisational support systems that are specific to the brand and its unique service raison d'etre.

Some banner brand essences may seem to be as simple as focusing on being the world class branded company which leads a designated sphere of business. In fact, electing to be both world class (capable of offering the world's best quality and value) and branded is not a simple cocktail to mix. Branding is not one of those core competences that a business can choose merely to add on to other competences. Instead you need to choose other core competences in a way that will enable branding to be worthwhile. Specifically, brand-orientated organisations need to go beyond the purposes of other organisations in two respects:

·Aiming to have sufficiently unique control over the added value chain glocally so that other companies prefer to partner you rather than compete against you

·Aiming to have economical ways of staying in the news that excite both staff and consumers, and share the brand's leadership essence as closely as possible between them.

For example, the essence of British Airways aims to do both these things through the medium of its slogan "the world's favourite airline'. This declaration of intent is a mission for staff to live up to as well as a meaningful consumer promise. It also connects up competences, which were underexploited in the old British Airways, such as the routes and hub for a global network and world class engineering staff. (See Brand Benchmarking of British airways in ThinkPiece 1).

For another example, the founder of Honda was once asked : how did you originally decide that the Formula 1 motor racing would be a worthwhile consumer promotion? He replied that he had not thought like that. His actual reasoning was : engine technology is a core competence of Honda; therefore we want the best engineers working for Honda; the challenge of winning Formula 1 will be a timely way to ensure this.

As far back as the 1920s, Marks & Spencer developed a philosophy which the Japanese were to (re)invent decades later. The aim was to develop continuous relationships with suppliers who would then be asked to improve their offers at regular intervals. The distinguishing feature of this policy was that Marks & Spencer would choose, at each of these steps along the learning curve, whether the next improvement should be in terms of better quality or better value. Through control of this partnership strategy, Marks & Spencer determined that it would always stay quality steps ahead of the competition.

The essence of a brand-oriented culture should be that a restless spirit of improvement pervades the organisation. The Japanese have a notion of cultural duality which is hard to translate into English but whose spirit can be interpreted as : "organised self-improvement means mobilising self organisational-improvement". From day one, Sony's cultural essence (for the company's staff) began with the founder's mission statement:

"If it were possible to establish conditions where people could become united with a firm spirit of teamwork, and exercise to their heart's desire their technological capacity, then such an organisation could bring untold pleasure and untold benefits"

Over the years this has been translated into the consumer essence of 'Sony being state-of-the-art-electronics'. Sony's cultural and consumer essences are thus reflections of one and the same branded being.

Research by Hamel and Prahalad concludes that the four top level communications investments in branded businesses are:

·domain

·recognition

·reputation

·affinity

If essence guides everything you think and do, these four communicators are the top level and continuing ends that branded businesses seek in order to continuously know themselves.

Consider how close to ten to the power four, Sony's branding investments score:

·Being state-of-the-art-electronics is a great business domain. Unless you're a competitor in which case as one company told us : "Its Sony's unfair advantage. We innovate new features in our product category, but whenever Sony replicates them within a few months, word-of-mouth amongst Joe Public ends up being that Sony innovated everything"

·Sony's identity system deserves its near universal recognition (see the ThinkPiece on brand benchmarking of Sony)

·Reputation - Sony (subsequently joined by other Japanese companies) deserves its place in history for taking the quality of corporate guarantees to new consumer heights

·Affinity - Sony consumers are a loyal club by any standards. For new generations "-man" strikes a pretty hip chord as an integrated part of Sony's brand architecture

We will see that implementation directives associated with "connecting up" brand essence can permeate every level of Brand Chartering - creative development, management, organisation and strategy - and all fifteen branding junctions. Indeed, defining the essence of a brand-orientated organisation, and aligning this with employees who serve the brand, makes the vital difference between essential branding processes and fairly useless ones with nowhere valuable to go.

Brand Essence Workshops - dancing with your core values

To focus on competing for the future, Brand Charterers frequently use brand essence workshops as a navigational tool for aligning business team understanding of the adding value raison d'etre of the business and the strategy for propagating this. There are various reasons why the branding process needs essential communications clarity to thrive. As we discuss these reasons keep in mind that:

·the essence of "branding" is "uniquely purposeful creativity"

·the essence of "process" is "teamworking and connecting up"

1) Team consensus and virtuous spiralling

Leadership qualities can be clarified by questions spiralling round a brand's outstanding virtues (and weaknesses) in order to confirm a business team's beliefs in why the essence of their business is of unique and enduring value. For example, in the case of brands which aim to be world class leaders of product categories, the framework shown in Figure 1 (courtesy of The Leo Burnett Brand Consultancy) has proved to be an invaluable way of connecting up a virtuous spiral of themes to a brand's core. By concentrating on this methodology, business teams can converge both on a consensus statement of the mission of the branded business and why this is the essential communications perspective for directing values that are developed in the brand's name.

 

In consumer terms, strong brand essences are apparent when there is a link between each inner quadrant and where the whole has a degree of clarity. Essences begin to weaken wherever:

·confusion exists in the consumers' mind about what the brand does or is for

·real performance differences over competitive offers are no longer apparent

·personality or image loses unique relevance

·source of authority declines in credibility or in its base for admiration

Inner and outer core questions can be tailored as a function of a brand's purpose and domain of influence. By interrogating the core of the brand, the aim of virtuous spiralling is to iteratively refine team consensus down to the simplest possible statement of the main and distinctive characteristics that make the brand unique and represent its future source of power.

 

 

 

2) (Re)Focusing the Brand Architecture

 

Those who direct a branding organisation cannot afford to rest on a blind belief in the company's Brand Architecture. Brand owners must be capable of flexing change, particularly in the competitive environment of the late 1990s characterised by an extraordinary congruence of change trends including:

·business internationalisation

·retailer concentration

·integration of new age media.

As business organisations confront these changeovers, many corporate leaders must deal with increasing urgency with the problem of owning too many fragmented brands representing fragmented product or geographic territories. Across a company's architecture of brands, survival of the fittest will require firm decisions on which brands to demote as investments either by culling them, or sub-branding them to appear not in isolation but as part of a corporate or "banner" brand's family. Conversely, companies must find ways of identifying with higher level branding platforms, which act as banner brands (ie quasi-corporate umbrellas) in the ways discussed in Chapters 11-14.

One way forward is to single out each brand and ask such essential questions as:

·what would consumers really miss if this brand did not exist?

·what would trade channels really miss if this brand did not exist?

·what would the company really miss if this brand did not exist?

and

·if this brand was our company, and if we pumped all our resources into it as our only brand, would its essence be transformable into a leading domain for one of our core spheres of business? This simple visioning exercise provides an acid test of whether there are any hidden jewels in the existing brand portfolio worthy of investing in and directing at higher levels of corporate advantage.

 

3) Stretch-Domains

Japanese tuition

Recently, in a letter from a Japanese pen-pal of mine, I was reminded that our first conversation on umbrella branding got off to a sticky start. It was ten years ago and my first visit to Japan. Typically, I had adopted expatriate defensive posture in being slow to immerse myself in the power of corporate branding. I had argued along the lines that "Perhaps it is only in Japan that a company brand can represent salmon, steel mills and electronics at one and the same time". The reminder in my friend's letter began : "perhaps, we see now that it is only in the UK that a brand (Richard Branson's Virgin) can stretch its virginity from pop music to air lines to colas to personal pension plans". The letter concluded "by the way I hear that your nation's biggest grocery brand (Sainsbury's) now advertises itself as able to supply everyone's favourite ingredient". Fair cop guv.

Memories came flooding back. My friend had coached me with exquisite patience that there is a right and a wrong way of asking how do brands work at making connections. The precisely wrong sort of question relies on literal consumer research. Sadly, a lot of academic research of brand equity still perpetrates this by asking "as a consumer who knows this brand's existing products, what else could be manufactured in this brand's name?" Framed in this way, you will get the response that the manufacturer should at most stretch his knitting to neighbouring product categories.

A vaguely right kind of questioning needs to be asked of the company. If we started with one brand as the company's topmost brand which brand would this be? And more importantly what stretch-domains of leadership can the brand represent in consumers' minds?

Diary entry - Chris Macrae (1995)

It is particularly valuable for those who might be tempted to classify themselves as product manufacturers to ask what if we were to project ourselves not only in this way but also as:

a fashion styler (eg L'Oreal, Dunhill)?

Or a service club for our consumers (eg American Express)?

Or a media owner (eg Disney, Cosmopolitan)?

Or a world class guarantor of competences (eg Sony, Nestle)?

or any other way that prevents the brand being too closely anchored to individual products instead of an evolving business?

Sir Adrian Cadbury once said that chocolate needs to be marketed both as function and fashion. A similar realisation turned Gillette-Sensor into a winning combination of "Best a man can get" lifestyle and visibly innovative product. Previous branding efforts communicating the functions of local best selling lines had come within a whisker of turning the market into a commodity one with a generation of young men perceiving Gillette's leadership image as involving little more than cheap, blue and plastic.

Nor should we assume that manufacturing is an essential competence of operating a brand franchise. Manufacturing for Nike's flexible range of merchandise is largely contracted out. Similarly products are sourced for Body Shop or the Virgin range of drinks without these companies needing to own manufacturing plant.

The right origin for (re)developing a high level brand is not a product per se. The brand should consider drawing on any or all channels of access which the company has already won -the communications kind, the distribution kind, the world class competence kind.

The way that your company scopes the essence of a brand has a simple but vital consequence. If you think of a brand's essence as being a singular product, then potential consumers will too. And if you ever want to move the brand on to endorsing something else it may be nigh on impossible to do. This has been a costly lesson for many late twentieth century manufacturing companies. So much of the brand power they invested in was dedicated to individual products that it is now hard to transfer these investments to higher level branding domains on whose future playing fields world class branded companies are assembling.

One constructive approach is to debate what is the essence of particular world class domains from the consumer viewpoint?...

·The essence of manufacturing - best quality? best value? really innovative products I didn't know were possible? safe and caring?...

·The essence of retailing - best prices? exclusive offers? widest range? at my doorstep? a socially rewarding atmosphere?...

·The essence of the service company - all the information/help I need in one place? worth knowing for a lifetime? helps you learn about costs and benefits? warm human feelings?...

·The essence of the fashion company - new ways of making impressions? escapism?...

Swatch was formed out of the great idea of re-interpreting the watch to have more than a manufacturer's hallmark of excellence by being fashionable too. Swatch marketers now reckon that their brand's equity extends to any category that can potentially be re-interpreted in a surprisingly fashionable way but not product neighbouring categories such as clocks.

Given time and consistency of presentation, apparently intricate details can help consumers widen their brand's horizons. For example, it is noticeable that Ariel's UK advertising in 1994 has begun to evolve away from the standpoint of the detergent product. With the help of a mere preposition - "At Ariel we believe in..." - the brand's tone of voice appears to be taking on the form of a company with competences such as stain removal instead of being confined to the product domain of the detergent.

In other cases, brands which hone their characters to epitomise a product category's most impactful emotional values - eg soothing and trusted in the case of cough mixtures - may proceed to unlock a character whose extendibility across other categories is the envy of competitors' brands whose own characters have not been visioned beyond those of aggressive product salesmen. The choice of which founding product is right for a new brand involves more subtleties than first appearances suggest.

There is a never ending list of human needs out there for brands to portray and serve. Consequently, it is sad to see companies investing a lot of money in product-obsessed brand essences whose stretch capabilities are something less than vital. And we do fervently believe that the essential opportunity for every brand leading business is to make a valuable difference emotionally as well as functionally - a double act which makes it hard for any other organisation to follow.

 

4) Connecting up other core strategic properties

For higher level brands including corporate and banner ones, it is critical that everyone in the company understands the strategic direction (vision, culture, mission, values etc) which a brand's essence simultaneously represents by being:

·a corporate source of advantage (over competitors and for partners)

·a continuous pathway for added value leadership

·an uniquely relevant consumer meaning

·a reference point in the sphere of business

The brand oriented business also seeks to broaden strategic perspectives on every operating matter. One particular advantage of a strategy being expressed in terms of brands is that it is perceived as alive and thus more stimulating to work with than, for example, an abstract level of return. (Organised purposes of leadership are a subject we return to in Chapter 14).

Some connected strengths to consider when revisiting which inspirational qualities essence can contribute to forming a fully integrated business perspective are shown in table 1.

Table 1 - a list of approaches for clarifying essential connections

·Big meaning for company and consumer (providing everything coheres and is relevant in a self-perpetuating way) a bigger brand beats a collection of smaller brands)

·Connections to sub-meanings (usage meanings, performance differentiation, source/platform of values owned, personality/image that is consumer-smart)

·Uniqueness that company can protect and which can't be outpositioned by a higher level appeal

·A capacity for growing and growing, eg by coining its own legends/heritage and creating buzz and self-perpetuating momentum

·Consistently adds value, should ideally encompass highest quality points in core markets (as well as other value points) if it is not to be outpositioned

·Strategic fit with company's core competences, ie brand pathway matches corporate advantages to deliver (although not necessarily to produce, eg Nike sources products as of course do top retailers)

·Has sufficient flexibility to be proactive to change (whether this is in environment, consumers or competitors). Robust as a competitive survivor even when not optimally supported.

·Clarity of its own territories versus rest of corporate brand portfolio. Focused so that company organises around : eg NPD for this brand

·Competitive Impact - easily lends itself to great identities, newsworthiness etc; here again company must be clear on which brand services it can profit from and which are vital for brand's essence as image-makers etc

·Consistency/Integration, alignment in everything done in the brand's name, eg masterbriefing or "intuitive feel" of serving this brand. Ideally, a very simple core so that it is never misinterpreted by corporate personnel etc

·Global Prestige (from staff pride and motivation, to communications channel newsworthiness, ie free PR to distribution channel partnership), eg to be perceived as world's number 1

·Values/vision as if it were a company brand intent on two-way smart relationships with every audience

5) Global and local ownership

We have observed two common organisational models where brand essence is king and the brand process is directed in an action-oriented way:

1) the benign dictatorship - where the quality of being benign comes from a brand owner or founder whom the team recognise as having a dedicated and true belief in the gospel that if consumers' needs are not properly led then the brand's franchise will surely die.

2) the soft-wired culture - where the brand's essence is networked as the operating culture for everyone who serves the brand. For many organisations, this is the ideal model provided there exists a will and a way. The will must come from seeing branding as the ultimate service that organisations can seek to deliver; one systematic way is continuously uniting organisational action and vision by Chartering the brand's essence and living script.

When a business has previously fragmented branding responsibilities to operating territories - countries, product streams or business units - whose divisional managers were free to rule as long as they met their own revenue targets, the sizeable challenge of becoming an integrated brand-oriented organisation is not to be under-rated. Visioning the brand's essence will ultimately be a way of strategic bonding. But sometimes it is necessary first to concentrate on agreeing the few most important strategic elements of the business. Focus on elements that must be developed in a consistent way by all involved because they are the value-differentiation heart of the business. By recognising and formalising a consensus between managers that they are organisationally interdependent, you are pathing the way for two things:

·a communications strategy is needed to harness value-creating commonalities

·someone has to have leadership responsibility for directing this

If this kind of agreement cannot be reached then you may need to conclude that either you do not have a brand-orientated business or that you do not currently have the right people skills to serve one.

The craft of preparing any workshop is to be forewarned and forearmed. If a collection of people have not previously had much in common, start with some team building procedures which may range from:

·rehearsing strategic essence first for somebody else's business, eg a competitor's

·dramatising extreme organisational cases where other companies have - in crisis - resorted to a not-so-benign dictatorship and profited from mandatory pulling together!

Most of the time, however, brand essence workshops serve to develop constructive tensions out of natural and healthy diversity. Brand decision-making is frequently a balancing act between imperfect alternatives. Judgements should be transparent to all teamworkers and not hidden away in expert silos. Thus essence forums are a constructive way to initiate or revitalise multifunctional teamworking. When we have facilitated this with brand teams around the world focusing on a global brand process, it has almost invariably been a real privilege to participate in such progress towards global and local, thought and action. And unlike many other teambuilding events, globally organised workshops of this kind are guided by an essential purpose.

6) Audit of lead opportunities and risks in systemising and (re)vitalising essence

A brand-orientated business focuses on organising unique added values. Throughout this book, we will see various examples of why organisation systems of branding need to feed back and forward through brand essence. In a sense brand essence is like taking out a contract on what particular business relationships you wish to form. Here are some examples of leading questions which drive organisational form through perpetuating the value and realising the investment of brand essence:

What focal points evolve from brand essence in terms of value creating functions? Specifically, what needs to be developed inside the organisation and what needs to be contracted out?

Example : being Benetton (1994) includes organising the following value functions:

% of value function developed within Benetton

Design themes 100

Design options 5

Catalogue 100

Store range 0

Material procurement 100

Knitting 1

...

 

 

For every function, what opportunities/risks particularly interact with brand essence?

Example : essential risk audits

Wherever brand essences of global businesses represent the key to billions of dollars of goodwill, you might think that companies would audit the functions most at risk of destroying their perceived value. At the time of writing (mid-1990s), a surprising number of companies do not do this.

The 1980s essence of Perrier was about purity at a single source, but then trouble at the source of production caused Perrier's essence to temporarily self-destruct (and many feel that it has not fully recovered to be the brand it once was).

In the summer of 1994, one of Body Shop's founding family was alleged to question whether being positioned as an ethical company was worth the candle. This was prompted by press reports that part of Body Shop's US operations had been charged with some local misdemeanours relating to waste disposal. It was specifically because of Body Shop's ethical brand image that this issue did pose a serious question as to whether the company was being faithful to the essence of its contract with the public.

1994 also saw the European launch of Unilever's "Power" detergents. Seldom has a company invested so much time, money and reputation in a marketing war that was lost before it started. In spite of the imposing battle cry of a PR campaign revealing "Unilever's largest launch in a decade" and a continental launch process costing close to a quarter of a billion pounds, an unintended part of the launch mix was retrospectively confirmed by co-chairman Tabaksblat as "a product which had a defect which we had not detected". As another Unilever executive subsequently opined "We were very enthusiastic about an exciting new product and did not look closely enough at the negatives. Somewhere between research and marketing something went wrong".( See also Chapter 14, Drama of Leadership for why World Class companies cannot afford to imagine that the reputation of the corporate brand is separable from the essences of their product brands.)

In conducting risk audits of a brand's essence it is very important to explore acute sensitivities which can arise from:

·interaction with uniqueness of a brand's essence - eg Perrier's problems were greater because its positioning was purer than pure

·extremities of a product's use particularly if the consequences can be dramatised by a competitor - eg the critical weakness of Unilever's power products was evident for only a few special fabrics/dyes, but was dramatic enough for Procter & Gamble to obtain European news coverage of the crisis; earlier in a 1980s UK relaunch of the Persil brand, Unilever's initial failure to clarify that the new product was biological caused a highly publicised furore with an UK pressure group - The Eczema Society - which had previously endorsed the Persil brand

To vitalise brand essence across internal departments or external business partners, are there lessons to be learnt from brand franchising?

Many of the world's most consistent branding operations employ franchising mechanisms from the fully franchised McDonald's to the part-franchised Coca-Cola. In the latter case, Coca-Cola Headquarters effectively franchises the latest marketing concept for worldwide use to sales organisations around the world, many of whom are independently owned bottling companies. Franchising kits do offer advantages including : consistency, speed of global implementation, shared knowhow. As management structures in organisations flatten, marketing skills will increasingly need to be networked instead of departmentalised. Franchising modules, as communications-sharing toolkits, will play an increasingly active part in experience-based marketing.

7) Clarifying essential keywords and picturing the big ideas that embody them

There comes a time, in any branding, when a creative agency needs to be briefed. And the brand will have to be turned into messages which communicate as simply as possible to consumer values.

Some points to note are:

Brand essence is usually not a slogan that you can directly campaign on. (British Airways being an exception). Moreover, the essence of the branded business mission ( eg from a team's virtuous spiralling in section 1 ) may be stated in terms which include the industry sector you wish to lead. So, it should not be surprising that the essence of a business vision will often need to be translated into consumer vocabulary. For example, in the clothing industry product lines range from "haute couture" to "basics". So if your brand is to be the leader of an everyday clothing sector, "basics" is not a keyword for external consumption even if this is part of essential vocabulary for the internal mission statement that the business team are aligned round in directing the brand.

To ensure an optimal strategic fit between brand and business purpose, the business team should vision their brand essence as a summary of relevant leadership qualities that a good agency will be able to work it into big ideas. However big your communications budget, simplicity is a core operating principle of branding because of the practical working hypothesis - your public is never completely there, in mind and spirit, to listen to you. The intriguing and defining characteristic of commercial media is that of aiming to propagate a message to people whose primary reason for being there is very different from your own. This is literally the common denominator of all media : from reading a newspaper, to watching television, to playing a computer game, to sifting through correspondence whether this is in historically postal or futuristically electronic form.

There are a variety of eliciting tools for the business team which wants to transform brand essence into a transparent creative brief. One of the best and simplest is keywords. Get every member of the team to write down the one word they would hope consumers most associate with the brand. Then another if it has a valuably different meaning. And repeat this, stopping as soon as no more unique value triggers are forthcoming.

When a brand has a weak essence, the team will have produced a very long list of conflicting words which is a finding in itself. When a brand has a strong essence, a handful of keywords capture it.

Consensus on a handful of essential keywords is an excellent place for a brand team to be. A creative agency may, for example, transform these words in a single picture - eg Marlboro's cowboy - which will prove as useful as any verbal translation of brand essence. Note that most consumers picture a brand in their mind's eye much more clearly than they can verbalise it. This is a topic which we will come back to when we discuss the identifying property rights of branding investments in chapter 2.

In creating personal relationships, brands exhibit a knack of their own when they play the humanising role. They take on unique characters, express themselves - and their businesses - through particular tones of voice, and may even be capable of offering a change of mood to the consumer, as well as a lifestyle image. In these and other essential style rules of branding, any way of prompting and retaining a commonly held feeling for a brand's essence across the brand team is to be valued. Whilst we are not advocating that every CEO needs to dress up as the legendary Kentucky Colonel who founded the world's leading chicken fast foods take-away (KFC), this organisational means of globally identifying with the brand's service disciplines was not as corny as it may appear at first sight!

Summary

Many brands these days are supported by business teams comprising hundreds of people. Alignment makes a vital difference to the power of the brand. Imagine the contrast between the brand whose every team member shares a common belief in a leadership purpose, and one where every member of the business team has a tangentially different perspective on the brand.

Higher level brand leadership bundles up the communications of everything that a company has accomplished, eg product competences, know-how, trading partnerships, reputation and consumer values, and projects this forward to tomorrow's marketplaces. We do not believe that it is now cost-efficient to think of the origin of a higher level brand process as merely a product. There should be a lot more than that for a leading company to serve.

Within the branding of a business process, Essence is a vital branding junction. It works to keep branding faithful to its leadership purpose. The transparency of brand essence as an organising contract helps to guide a business team in thought and action, through the short-run and long-term, aligned towards an integrated and value added direction.

You might make your own long list of reasons why Brand Essence matters wherever business strategies are highly dependent on organisational goodwill. But a shortlist of lead connections made by orchestrating brand essence thought processes runs as follows:

·The valued meaning of a brand both for the company and the consumer

·The clarification of what is in the brand for other stakeholders : eg trading channels, company shareholders

·A tool for aligning a brand's resource allocation and focus within a company relative to other brands and in relation to a company's core competences

·A way of maintaining integrity for a brand at all points of delivery

·An engine for new product delivery

·A procedure for driving communications and advertising briefs

·A means for inspiring (new) personnel both inside and outside the company with the meaning of the brand

·A system for defining the organisation required to deliver the brand and to take proactive advantage of change

·An approach for ensuring that a business culture is foresightful and value-orientated

-> For an agenda of a typical Brand Essence workshop, please refer to ThinkPiece 2.