Chapter 2 : brand IDENTITY SYSTEM

Chapter 1, on brand essence, began with the plea to focus brand communications on the integrated connections your branding process needs to make, before contemplating various targeted news you want to convey. Readers who felt inhibited by this apparent relegation of market targeting to a secondary status may enjoy the multidimensional freedom of expression inherent in the concept of a brand's identity system.

Today, powerful branding goes beyond a name, to invest in a visual design language -of symbols, colours, sub-brands, flagship products, service promises and other identifying reminders which shape the way in which a brand's sphere of business is recalled by our senses. Brands navigate human associations and perceptions by a constellation of reminders, each acting as a consumer code. A powerful corporate or umbrella brand is capable of conveying multiple messages with particular relevance to different audiences, as well as other mind-expanding interpretations of its essence. In the case of global brands, identities need to be crafted as component forms in an international design language. In this chapter, we will see how analysis of the brand identity system enables us to explore the breadth and depth of the universe of associations which a brand has invested in consumers' minds.

The power of a well designed identity system is difficult to over-estimate. We begin with some examples.

McDonald's

If you are aware of McDonald's, you are likely to make many of the following associations with the brand's identity system : Big M logo, Ronald, Big Mac, Mc named menu items, Red and Yellow...

The identity system is a communications tapestry. The brander must keep on asking two questions about this:

·What identifying "threads" are known to everyone who knows the brand?

·How are they working for the branding process - both its consumer heritage and its future business?

These questions should be guided by an informed belief in design impact and aesthetics. Remember:

·There is no point in cluttering the tapestry with another thread unless it is serving some vital purpose

·The identifying threads must all fit together. As part of a pattern, they should provide overall confirmation of a brand's essence. Identities should not directly clash, but subtle tensions can be good. For example, the most fascinating human characters are those who intrigue because they are at once familiar and continuously capable of surprise.

Table 1 shows some interpretations of how the identity system of McDonald's works for the brand. Interrogate this and add your own insights to our list by asking the sorts of questions tabled.

 

Table 1 : Exploring the identity system of McDonald's

whilst confirming the essence of fast food served with home from home values

WHAT?

WHAT brand identifiers ( eg colours, symbols, stereotypes, slogans, platforms, famous moments in brand's history, product features, design icons, other appeals to senses etc) are in the minds of your consumers?

 

McDonald's integrates

 

M

Ronald

Big Mac

(also Big Breakfast, Mega Mac)

 

Mc

Moscow

Red & Yellow

...

HOW?

An identity system:

· casts leading identifiers with different roles;

· connects everything up to achieve multiple effects such as "multi-positioning", "multi-recognition"...

What leading interpretations can you find when exploring McDonald's identity system? Which identifiers would you show off where if you were directing the McDonald's brand?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Signpost for distant media; nicknamed destination (golden arches)

Children's aspect of multipositioning; local community visibility; anchor of family personality

Adult appetite aspect of multipositioning; Big codes (eg value); Familiarisation slogans, eg Mac Attack

 

 

Linking identity for broadening product menu

 

Global and local PR platform

 

Heartwarming impact

 

To obtain a greater feel of the significance of these identifers to the goodwill invested in - and stewarded by - those who direct the business of McDonald's, read our section on Benchmarking McDonald's (ThinkPiece 1), and then take a second look at table 1.

 

Marlboro

Some would say the cowboy has proven to be the most valuable branded identifier ever created, in light of the internationally popular image he conferred on the brand and its smokers. But don't underestimate the powers of other Marlboro identifiers such as : red, the device of the red chevron with white backdrop, Marlboro (and Big) Country scenery.

The red chevron has always done a great job in ensuring that Marlboro's pack stands out from the crowd. Think of how many ways this works - from making the Marlboro pack visible on a retailers' crowded shelves to being Marlboro's signature wherever one smoker shares a cigarette with another. Twenty years ago, as a rookie market researcher, one of us was talking to a Marlboro brand manager in the UK. As twentysomething marketing ignorami, we were sharing bewilderment over instructions from Philip Morris New York headquarters that while much of the marketing mix, eg advertising, allowed for a high degree of local flexibility, if the brand manager wanted to change one iota of the brand's packaging design, this had to be signed off in triplicate from HQ.

These days, we confess to a complete u-turn in thinking. We would be bewildered by any owner of a global brand who did not regard packaging design as a strategic property that requires global control. The consistency of Marlboro's red flag is the connecting thread which keeps the whole history of the brand's equity alive. In some countries, cigarette marketing is so highly censored that only two image-building acts remain to support your product:

1) sponsor an abstract global flag - eg Marlboro's red chevron around the world's grand prix motor racing circuits

2) show your package off on retailers' shelves and in consumers' hands.

By owning red in a product category, the brander enjoys the most impactfully differentiated colour as well as the most popular bold one. Of course, most Marlboro smokers are also reminded of Marlboro's wild west legends by their pack's identity - as Marlboro's continuous flag of independence - even if these associations are only latently charged by memories, or refreshed when travelling to countries where Marlboro imagery is free to express its communications tapestry to the full.

In China, you will see a remarkable modern rendering of a brand's identity system, with the Marlboro brand using its red and big country identifiers to extraordinary effect. Imagine a commercial which mixes footage of:

·a popular sports event sponsored by Marlboro, congregated by Chinese youths who are waving red Marlboro flags as part of their supporters' ritual

·Big Country scenery

You only need to think of the Great Wall to realise that the rapport of Chinese people with the Big Country dwarves even that of people in the USA. In this oriental context, Marlboro's red flag connotes the future dreams and inspirations of China's youth as well as being a visual neighbour to their symbol of patriotic familiarity. At a single stroke, the brand becomes the consumer passport to imagineering the evolution from China's history as a great power to an era already beckoning mankind where the Orient is the most dynamic place on planet earth and where China will have a great international role to play.

Budweiser

In the US Budweiser brand, we have an intricate example of how identifiers can be threaded together as consumer codes to portray a national institution. This analysis of Budweiser's identity draws on a book by Sal Randazzo in which Budweiser is called archetypal of a male mythology brand. Says Randazzo:

"The unique power of advertising goes beyond its ability to build and maintain successful, enduring brands by creating perceptual entities that reflect the consumer's values, dreams and fantasies. Advertising turns products into brands by mythologising them - by humanising them and giving them distinct identities, personalities and sensibilities that reflect our own. In some sense, advertising brands have, in our consumption-driven society, come to serve a similar function as the ancient Greeks' pantheon of gods. They function as projection holders wherein we project our dreams, fears and fantasies...

The connection between advertising and mythology seems fairly obvious to me. Myths are more than entertaining little stories about gods, goddesses and heroic characters. The universality of myths, the fact that the same myths recur across time and many different cultures, suggests that they originate from somewhere inside us. Psychoanalyst, Carl Jung said that myths, like dreams, are really projections that emanate from the soul or unconscious psyche. Myths represent humanity's collective dreams, instinctive yearnings, feelings, and patterns of thinking that seem to be hard-wired in humans and that function somewhat like instincts to shape our behaviour".

Table 2 helps to explain "Budweiserness" by suggesting seven of the brand's most significant consumer codes (together with my attempt to translate meanings for non-American readers).

Table 2 : Inventory of US consumer codes identified with Budweiser

Brand Identity

context as American consumer code

Clydesdales

These are shire horses used by Budweiser at promotional events and previously in delivering beer. They fascinate Americans and connote macho images of power, strength and working pride.

Cvolski

Most famous execution of a long running series of slice-of-life ads featuring blue collar workers as America's real heroes

This Bud's for you

Budweiser's long running brand slogan

Red, White & Blue

Brand's packaging colours (corresponding to America's national colours)

American eagle

The company's oldest trademark modelled on the bald eagle (America's national symbol)

Beechwood aging

As Budweiser's product legend declares on every pack, this proprietary process "produces unique taste, smoothness and drinkability - we know of no other brand of beer that costs so much to brew or age"

Genuine article

The heritage of being America's number 1 brand of beer

Some points to digest from Budweiser's inventory of identities are:

·Each identifying code is a valuable property right as a contributor to Budweiser's image bank. Each code has required a large and continuous marketing investment to imprint its association of Budweiser on American consumers' minds.

·Each identifying code is intimately related to Budweiser's essence as a leader - namely being the product hero of the American working male by portraying the American male as (unsung) hero. Budweiser's inventory of identities are engineered to work with each other in developing an integrated picture. It links product connoisseurship with images of working males with the integrity of traditional American values and overall pride in belonging.

·Once you have examined how intimately a brand's vital reserves depend on its inventory of identities in consumers minds, it is difficult to attach credibility to any analysis of brand positioning, brand valuation or brand 'anything' unless it includes an integrated analysis of brand identity.

Kodak

It is prudent to think of the brand name as an audio-visual symbol. It can serve to connect up customers around the world only if they all find it readily pronounceable. Early World Class branders like George Eastman knew this. He christened his camera Kodak because it was 'short, vigorous, incapable of being misspelt ... and meant nothing'.

Kodak's Identity system nicknamed "Big Yellow", remains a source of competitive advantage for the brand today. The ways in which the brand's colours grabbed Japanese attention in the late eighties would surely have made George Eastman proud.

Sky Wars

At a time when Fuji and Konica were committed to heavy spending abroad, Kodak spent three times more than both of them combined on advertising in Japan. It erected mammoth $1 million neon signs as landmarks in many of Japan's big cities. Its sign in Sapporo Hokkaido, is the highest in the country. It sponsored sumo wrestling, judo, tennis tournaments and even the Japanese team at the 1988 Seoul Olympics, a neat reversal of Fuji's 1984 coup when it won the race to become the official supplier to the Los Angeles Olympics.

Kodak's cheekiest ploy was to spend $1 million on an airship emblazoned with its logo. It cruised over Japanese cities for three years, mischievously circling over Fuji's Tokyo headquarters from time to time. To Fuji's chagrin, Japanese newspapers gleefully picked up the story. The Japanese firm was forced to spend twice as much bringing its own airship back from Europe for just two months of face-saving promotion in Tokyo.

Half of all Japanese consumers can now recognise Kodak's goods instantly. kodak's recent growth puts it within sight of second-place Konica in Japan's market for camera film.

(The Economist, 10 November 1990)

 

 

 

A creative break

Before further examination of how identities work to create and renew brands , it is worth noting some of the organisational implications of investing in brand identity. Like most of the component frameworks of Brand Chartering, identity system seems to be naturally anchored in one arena of branding, creativity in this case. But interconnections with all other arenas of the brand as business process must be constantly reviewed.

Identifiers represent valuable property rights of the branded communications process. They have often involved significant investment costs to become symbols whose power is proportional to the global share of mind that they have accumulated. In spite of this, archaic national laws do not always provide protection against visual counterfeiting. Wherever this geographical anachronism persists, branded manufacturers must be wary about the extent of their possible exposure.

For example, at the start of 1994 Coca-Cola's UK business was the largest manufacturer's brand monitored by audits of packaged goods products carried out by Nielsen market research. One year later (at time of writing) a proportion of this business has been lost to partnership combinations involving Cott colas, major British retail chains and in some cases host fashion brands, eg Virgin. This vulnerability has not been due to replica products as such - since well formulated own label colas have been around for years. The new cola warriors have been "lookalikes" deploying two identifiers that had previously been Coke's very own : namely red livery and classic associations with Americana.

How did this gap in the brand's defences emerge so suddenly, in spite of Coca-Cola's world of experience? A slightly technical answer is that a manufacturer's "me-too" of another's famous branded identity never proves profitable when both are competing on level playing fields. This is because some of the me-too's communications will be mistaken by consumers as messages for the real thing. Even more will be interpreted by the consumer as an impostor's challenge to their loyalty to an old friend. But the mechanics of competition from a major retailer ( one like Sainsbury's, whose distribution power represent over 10% of grocery purchases made by UK consumers) are different. With only marginal overheads (instead of advertising and other marketing budgets) the retailer can offer product at a lower price, (though this did not make previous own-label colas particularly big business). The sting to the manufacturer's brand comes, from the retailer's control over shelf space. In some UK retailers, consumers have seen red American lookalike colas being given up to four times the display of Coca-Cola's facings where the points of sale are made.

For Coca-Cola this UK lookalike phenomenon is insidious. Its image is becoming diluted and its value undifferentiated, because confirmation of the brand's essence was invested in Coca-Cola's whole visual language, not the mere name.

The drastic impacts of "lookalikes" are so far confined to Britain and a few countries whose attitude to designer's rights might be labelled as "third world", like any country that refuses to recognise artistic copyrights protecting audio, visual or computer software. Britain's isolation in Europe on the lookalike issue was evident from a recent test case in which the UK's leading brand of wine Le Piat D'Or - positioned as French blend for English palate - was able to negotiate a halt to a lookalike offer from the same British supermarket chain that started the Cola wars. Appeals were made won not in UK courts but to French law which was applicable because the wine's bottling was done in France. Until Britain's laws are changed, no manufacturer's branding strategy is secure from the possibility of a lookalike invasion without:

·development of a design that is protectable but more complex than consumers really need

·ownership or long-term partnership of retail channels

·ownership of a scale or other product advantage which cannot be replicated.

Another major organisational issue connected with identity systems involves the networking of design skills. These are increasingly relevant at the interface between tactical and strategic decision-making on the branding process. In chapter 11, Brand Architecture, we discuss how many brands a company needs and how high level banner brands can be designed to connect up much of the company's goodwill with lower level sub-brands targeting local consumer needs. Nestle assigns a lot of its detailed thinking on these matters to visual communications experts who are specifically charged with two major jobs:

·arbitrate in a balanced way between strategic brand requirements from Nestle's headquarters in Vevey (Switzerland) and ideas on brand identities related to marketing initiatives of national subsidiaries

·control the design formats used to ensure that Nestle's banner brands are communicated with global consistency compatible with the consumer image of a world class company and yet sufficiently flexible to connect up with every sub-branding presentation. Figure 1 shows an example taken from the design catalogue of approved ways of representing Nestle's corporate brand:

(Figure 1)

(For further details: see Brand Benchmarking of Nestle in ThinkPiece 1)

Table 3 shows extracts from recent speeches by an executive from American Express. It highlights some intriguing points about the importance of taking corporate identity systems seriously.

Table 3 : "Keeping a brand image up-to-date" (at American Express)

I'd love to be able to claim that everything about our brand is the result of thorough research and careful deliberation, but I guess we all know that in real life things don't always work out that way.

Take our Centurion, for example. You see him on our Cards and our Travellers Cheques, embodying such brand characteristics as security, integrity, strength, protection, service. We couldn't have created a better symbol if we'd employed droves of researchers and designers and branding consultants. Which we didn't. The truth is altogether more serendipitous.

We owe our Centurion to an explosion of forgery after the Second World War. In the postwar years our Travellers Cheques became hugely popular, not only with travellers but also with counterfeiters. We desperately needed a harder-to-forge design, but at the time new engravings could have taken a year or more. So we asked our printers, the American Bank Note Company, to help - and from a dusty shelf they produced this guy; he'd been engraved for another job which had never been printed. From the obscurity of a printer's store-cupboard he's gone on to become one of the best-known brand marks in the world - proving that great symbols aren't always made to measure. You can sometimes get them - literally - off the shelf.

...

In 'Project Jigsaw', we recently undertook a complete revamp of our visual identity. We laid out all our direct mail packs and product literature and they looked as if they had come from a whole bunch of different companies. So we needed to reassert a consistent visual style that every part of the company could use. But Project Jigsaw went far deeper than a routine rethink of graphics and typography : it examined the style and tone of voice we use when we talk to our customers and potential customers.

Let me quote you a few sentences from the internal manual that resulted from Project Jigsaw:

'The transition from the 80's to the 90's was traumatic. People who were happy participants in our 'prestige dream' have changed. They now speak about getting value. Words like 'exclusive', 'privilege' and 'select' seemed to permeate every level of our communication. The tone and manner generally suggested someone who felt he was getter than most...but attempts to apply this florid (and, to today's ear, pompous) language across a wide array of marketing communications ended up working against us...looking old-fashioned and out-of-date. People talk about the world moving forward and American Express lagging behind".'

In short, our brand attributes and values might have been as good as ever, but the way we were presenting them had lost its relevance. So what are we doing about it now? Again, I quote from the manual:

'Our tone and manner should reflect those of a service company...a group which consistently reinvents itself to meet and exceed it customers' changing needs and expectations. Our voice should no longer be from the 'Chairman of the Club's Membership Committee' or from a disembodied global corporation that's full of itself. Rather, it should be the voice of a consultant... a skilled, flexible and entrepreneurial advisor and supplier. Someone who earns his customer's trust through performance nit promises. A competent, confident professional.'

And that, I think is the essence of everything we're doing to bring our brand up-to-date. The values don't change but the audience's perceptions do. The attributes don't change but the presentation must. In conclusion, I think the most important step we've taken in renewing our brand image is to be honest with ourselves; to listen to what customers were saying and admit that our corporate style had become outmoded. Once we'd taken that on board, we could see that a new style of advertising would help, but that advertising alone would not be enough.

A brand is a very public thing."

The brand identity system offers immense power to the brand-oriented company, but the use of this capability by many twentieth century brand owners has been underwhelming. Why?

One reason, frankly admitted by American Express, is "honesty" about an organisation's current weaknesses. The biggest impediment to valuable evolution of service values in every great company is often arrogance. It takes a subtle blend of modesty simultaneously to be proud of being number 1 and continuously to interrogate whether your presentation values are up-to-date.

Marketers have sometimes tended to enjoy advertising as a sexy activity where you subcontract out dream-making to an external agency. In contrast, designing a corporately branded identity immediately involves the laborious business of serving the lifestyles you present. Here, the point to reiterate from Amex's confession is that : true service unites performance and promise. In fact, one good test of a design consultant is the extent to which (s)he converts you to the service theme. Avoid those who fail to make this point, because they may hit you with artistic brilliance but run away from the deeper organisational issues involved. Conversely, one of the best design consultants we have ever met was adamant that the first slogan of marketing should be that "all brands are services". We last met him preaching this gospel at every operating level of a World Class packaged goods company, and promising to excommunicate anyone who referred to the company as a manufacturer.

Now that we have developed more of a feeling for identity systems, take a deeper look at some of the initial questions we suggested every brander should keep on asking about identity systems which (s)he is operating.

 

What consumer codes are identified with the brand?

Often, the brander will end up with quite a long list for each brand. If appropriate, cluster them where they have similar meanings and try to locate the topmost one which most clearly represents each cluster.

Then start classifying:

·Which of these associations come for free with the product's visibility? - Eg the colour of your pack if one has been consistently chosen, or if you are really lucky your personifying icon, eg the Centurion of American Express.

·Which involve a heavy investment to keep in consumers minds? - Eg an advertising slogan is usually a heavy investment. It will usually need a lot of repetition if it is to stay in consumers' minds. It may take literally 5% of all your advertising time spent and probably more than that in terms of your share of consumers' attention. It will usually be at the expense of establishing some other consumer code.

·Which of these consumer codes are strategic? - Eg being a vital confirmation of the brand's essence or a permanent part of the brand's visual recognition. Which of the codes are tactical or transitional? Eg helping the brand to compete on a fad value in the local market but something that you do not expect to be permanently associated with the brand.

These details are worth clarifying before the brand team addresses the purpose of each consumer code : How exactly are we using this identifier in the brand process?

- eg, what does it do for the brand in consumers' minds in relation to 1) recognising, 2) purchasing, 3) enjoying the brand?

Table 4 shows that quite a long list of answers are available, and it is there for you to add to them.

Table 4 - HOW IS THE BRAND'S IDENTITY SYSTEM WORKING?

Strong brands use identifiers to work in many, many ways. HOW? Make a list of all the ways in which your brand's identity system must compete for consumer attention, such as:

·General recall of brand as top of mind

·Specific recall of brand as top of mind (eg occasion of use, calendar of mind)

·Heighten visibility/recognition of brand (eg impact in a specific media or on a new platform)

·Badge brand with personality or other image to wear

·Extend a brand

·Endow a brand with a stereotype bringing instant cosmopolitan appeal

·Local buy-in to a globally branded phenomenon

·Develop architectural strengths of high level brands (eg corporate/banner brands, see chapter 11)

·Build linkages between brands (eg corporate brand and product sub-brand)

·General reminder of brand essence

·Pre-emptive (eg symbolic) ownership of brand essence

·Souvenir of brand essence (or other empathy translator)

·Connect up values of flagship brands to benefit other brands

·Seed a brand's cachet

·Brand a word-of-mouth legend

·Identify a brand's own PR platform

·Transition a brand through evolution of its identity system

·Translate essence into lifestyle or service guarantee

·Express a corporate tone of voice; a cultural style

Identity for Brand Recall

Historically, packaging and product design have often been sidelined from their role as a brand's first (and almost-free) medium. We are now witnessing the passing of an era of mass communications where advertising agencies, as their name suggests, had certain biases as creative suppliers, particularly towards the provision of tv advertising, and away from helping to integrate design and other forms of communications that holistic brand identity systems need to exploit.

Notably, brand recall can tap a richer spectrum of brand power than many branders practised when results of communications campaigns were routinely judged by superficial measurements of advertising and brand name awareness. These measurements were made by market researchers paid for "precision", defined by the amount of data they collected and the standardisation of formulae they used in number-crunching.

Now that brands are increasingly aiming to be umbrellas for various products, there are many new subtleties in the ways that brand awareness works in consumers' minds. They cannot be calculated merely from such basic market research questions as : which brand names (or advertising) do you think of spontaneously when I mention a particular product? Or which brands do you know when I prompt you with a list of names?

One way to identify valuable brand recall involves uniquely associating a brand with an occasion of use that is a vital part of every consumer's diary. For example, from Malaysia we see how simply "Showertime is Lux Time" associates the Lux brand with taking a shower - what a suitable diary entry in a humid country for the Lux brand's core range of beauty cleansing products. It is easy to imagine why a Lux brand manager should rather have Lux spontaneously return to mind every time a consumer thinks of the joy of taking a shower than when questioned generally and out of the blue by a market researcher.

(Figure 2)

Identity for taking advantage of new and global media

Today's global media calls often provide only a fleeting glimpse of the brand, whether this is as the sponsor of an advertising hoarding behind the goal on a football pitch or of the player's shirt or of the backdrop to the interview after the game. Clearly, concise brand identifiers like capital M of McDonald's or the Coke of Coca-Cola work to ensure that their brands can play with the best in front of global audiences. So do such gems for brand names as the four lettered Mars and Sony or the three lettered Lux. One consequence of the natural visibility that short brand names command is that you are now unlikely to find any name which is :

·globally pronounceable and

·clean (ie free of unfortunate connotation in someone's mother tongue) with

·four letters or less which has not already been registered as somebody's trademark

Table 5 provides an Italian souvenir of how the suitably identified global brand stands out from the crowd.

Table 5 : Worldwide footage

Unlike local brands, the world class identity also enjoys making cost-effective use of such global media spots as trackside hoardings at the Olympic Games. Being seen in the neighbourhood of other world class brands is to inherit a state of international approval which local brands cannot muster. Subliminally, historical replays of such global media events create a cumulative sense of discrimination between brands with world class status and those with something rather less.

Alongside the footballing superstars of Italia's 1990 World Cup, the serious competitive pitch was reserved for brand hoardings. As events turned out, many of these identities looked under-rehearsed to play their part behind the scenes, being handicapped by over-long names or graphic logos designed to exploit media opportunities offering more time or space in front of the audience. In contradistinction, one four-lettered word made use of every camera angle. The MARS house colours - dramatic red with gold bordering and black background - proved to be a stylish flag for the confectioner's global panache. By easily scoring the most global rating points, the Mars branding was the visible winner of the championship. World Class Brands (1991), Chris Macrae

And, of course, it's not just global media sponsors that are prone to materialise in fleeting glimpses from the crowded brandscape of our mass communications society. Think how many identifiers flash by the city worker on an average commuter's journey, or the shopper travelling with a trolley through the aisles of a hypermarket.

Identity for brand image and brand personality

Marlboro without the cowboy would never have got started as a global brand; Lacoste without the alligator would have no fashionable meaning. The competitive make-up of brands whose products are primarily consumed in social settings requires an identifier which badges the brand with an image for consumers to wear.

Throughout this book, you may detect many subtle ways that we suggest personality icons - in human and animal forms - give their brands extra metamorphic powers. At this stage, just a short list of illustrative examples is:

·Introduce a dramatic new value to the brand - eg Amex's centurion

·Make the brand more personally recallable to occasional purchasers - eg Johnnie Walker in the seasonal market of Scotch Whisky

·Give the brand child - and therefore family - appeal : eg McDonald's Ronald or Disney's cast of animal characters

·Authenticate a slogan through the brand's announcer - eg the way Tony the Tiger establishes that Kelloggs Frosties are Grr..rreat

·Stereotype a brand's essence without saying a word - eg the power of any advertising copy which features Esso's Tiger

·Merge fantasy and fashion - eg Lacoste's Alligator

 

Identity for brand extendibility

A particularly interesting challenge facing many companies who are finding that one-product brands are no longer economic involves extending (some would say stretching) the brand. Table 6 is only a slight exaggeration of how a poor frame for brand extension decision-making is something which brand decision-makers can ill afford.

Table 6 : Which of these alternative approaches to brand extending is more sensible?

·Option 1 : Stretch the brand instantly by announcing that new product X is now offered by the brand

·Option 2 : Review whether the brand has any identifying codes which are relatable to product X:

->If yes, brief your advertising agency to help consumers interpret the brand's extension to the new product by portraying the brand in a way that emphasises the relevant codes as signposts to and from the brand consumers know to the new product you wish to announce

->If no, and in the absence of other brand alternatives, integrate into your brand's identity system a relevant new identifier and only once this has been cultivated proceed to announce the new prod using the new identifier as signpost

Through the process of extending a brand, the ultimate difference between these options can be "all or nothing". By enabling consumers to interpret where you are going, option 2 allows a brand to become all that its leadership essence is capable of. By confusing consumers, option 1 can end up diluting the consumers' feel for brand essence until the brand's relationship has lost all its meaning. Yet, in the 1990s as brand extendibility has increasingly become the most valuable creative talent associated with branding, many companies have adopted option 1 either in an ill considered rush to obtain new product revenues or through failure to develop an organised understanding of brand identity systems.

Unfortunately, faddish frameworks (often compounded by measurements of so-called proven - ie historical - brand power like brand valuation and early US research into brand equity) seem to have been accessories to the folly of disorganised stretching of brands. The acid test for any framework on the future power of the brand revolves round prioritising the following line of questioning : Does this framework recognise that a brand's future power is largely leveraged - positively or negatively - by what you creatively make of it? In particular, is it agreed that the most relevant communications creativity involved in extending a brand is that which helps consumers to translate their imaginative connections between :

·where your new products and service values are going to, and

·where they think your brand is coming from?

Identity for enabling global and local communications

You may find some clues to construction of strong brand identifiers by brainstorming how human languages work:

·Brands contribute characters to an experiential language designed for human exploration of quality and value - a language which is the first truly global and local one. Presence in the mind depends on the consistency, creativity and visibility with which a brand makes particular values its own. Key identifiers assist in this process both by adding particular nuances to a brand and by being devices which heighten recall. Ultimately, just as familiarity governs which words you choose most regularly to express yourself, familiarising devices breed a comforting inclination towards certain brands; just as some words appear to have a particularly distinguishing tone, some brands strike irreplaceable personal chords.

·One particular power of the brand is to mix image with reality. For example, brands can work like package tours that transport the human imagination without the physical strain of leaving home. Most consumers now enjoy perceiving a mixture of local and international offerings to be at their front doors. Appeals to our local senses remind us of our roots, offers of cosmopolitan experiences broaden our horizons. Indeed, John Naisbitt advises that one of the megatrends for our third millennium involves "the blending of global lifestyles and cultural nationalism"

·Unsurprisingly, identity themes which dominate branding's universal design either resonate with appeals to human fantasies or are stereotypical of human needs. Much of this canvass of branding concentrates on the themes shown in Table 7. To be effective communicators, most identifiers refer to some extent to the interpretive conventions which other brands or widely known entities have already established. It is unwise to identify yourself in a competitive vacuum since it is necessary to relate to codes which consumers already know how to read.

Table 7 : Predominant themes referenced by branding's universal design codes

· Countries

· Clubs and other affiliative institutions confirming belonging or belief systems

· Male/Female roles (more specifically: Male for impressing Females, Male for Males, Female for Males, Female for Females)

· Friendships, smiles, humour

· Fun/appeal to children's imagination, family rewards

· Mothering/growing/Environmental concerns/home-from-home comforts

· Rebels, youth, adolescence, artistic freedom, power to the people

· Sun, seasons, nature

· Purity/good health

· State-of-art/science/modernity

· Self-indulgence/treat/pleasure/fantasy

· Status/self-achievement

· Biggest/World's number 1/ Leader's guarantee

· Celebration occasions:anniversaries/rewards

· Symbol of good fortune/tradition

· Safety/simplicity/stability

· Power/strength/confidence

The inclusion of local identifiers gives a global brand identity system much needed flexibility. It can also allow local consumers the pleasure of feeling that they are improving a global institution.

 

Identity for brand architecture and high level brands

As we have seen, the McDonald's brand language demonstrates one way of establishing a multi-dimensional communications format facilitating all the linkages that high level corporate and banner brands need to exploit. Its multiple communication territories include:

·the geographical : global and local

·consumer segment : from children to adults

·usage occasions : from Breakfast to Drive-away snack

·menu of products : from burgers to nuggets to pizzas

When constructing the constellation of identifying effects that a coherent brand architecture needs, remember:

·Each brand or sub-brand has its own essence, but there should also be transfusion synergies between these essences

·Each identifier should make at least one specific "how to use" contribution: either to a particular brand or as the linkage between two or more brands

·The constellation of effects of all the identity systems in the brand architecture should be more than the sum of the parts.

It is because of McDonald's constellation of consumer codes that it is difficult ( almost impossible?) for any business to attack McDonald's directly - Is McDonald's fast food? Family entertainment centre? Cosmopolitan meeting place and break from city pressures?...It is all of these at one and the same time.

Identity as an essential advantage

Hershey's is America's favourite chocolate company. The company has never seemed to share the passion for global marketing of its major indigenous rival the Mars company. Because of this, Hershey's has had to try that much harder to stay closer to American hearts and minds in a business environment where in Sir Adrian Cadbury's words "you cannot afford to be in the second division" because recognition as an industry leader, economy of scale and world class production competences are critical success factors. Hershey's achieves its special rapport with American families to a large extent through the means of its "Hugs" and "Kisses" brands which are notable identities for the following reasons:

·In the English language, these are cosy brand names for playing confectionery's role in family bonding

·"Hugs" and "Kisses" are bite size chocolate morsels that are probably the smartest individually packaged brand units that a few cents can buy

·The brands' shape, wrappings and product patterns - Kisses are a mosaic of dark and white chocolate - involve a production complexity that required a large upfront investment. Hershey's therefore feels confident that neither manufacturer nor retailer could affordably imitate Hugs and Kisses. Regarded as a marketing platform

- over the long lifetime of the Hugs and Kisses brands - the high cost of investment in production technology is in reality a low cost branding delivery system.

·Moreover, as flagship brands in Hershey's brand architecture, Hershey's Hugs and Kisses are affordable entry tickets for each new American generation to the chocolate world of Hershey's. Arguably, the success of every Hershey brand depends on their familial connections to Hugs and Kisses. While these identities may be largely America's own, they are the foundations of a world class branding process judged on the criteria of the unique values they deliver to their consumers and to their corporate owner.

Seeding, ie identifying a brand's cachet prior to mass marketing

From Lacoste to Haagen-Dazs, a remarkable number of famous brands seeded their reputations, in some cases up to haute couture levels, by winning stylistic acclaim or becoming word of mouth cult fashions among opinion leaders - before they spent money on mass marketing media. As Table 8 shows Lacoste was one of the first brands to cultivate its image from an individual sportsman's prowess.

Table 8 - Looking into the Legend of Lacoste

The brander should never forget that the typical consumer test of a symbol is : how pleasing is it the hundredth time your eyes meet up with it? This helps to explain why the most productive symbols have a certain cleanness of style, a hidden simplicity rather than a showy complexity.

Consider Lacoste's alligator. This is one of the world's most successful brand trademarks and has come to be pitched on probably the most impactful advertising hoarding - namely, people's breasts. It works both subliminally and supraliminally to confirm the brand's stylistic essence of "being abreast of an adult sense of humour".

How was this brand conceived? Rene Lacoste was a French tennis player and a hero in Davies Cup competitions of the twenties. Lacoste acquired the nickname of the alligator and a girlfriend embroidered an alligator on a blazer he wore on the courts. And that's where the brand's star was born.

World Class Brands (1991), Chris Macrae

In the Benchmarking of Haagen-Dazs (see ThinkPiece 1), you can note that the brand's exotic, Scandinavian-sounding origins down to its diphthong were the invention of a New York ice cream manufacturer. And the brand's global expansion through seeding methods of communications has pioneered new standards of creative efficiency. Do not be critical of this inventive process. All global brands have a duty to consider exploiting almost free mythological transfer to the utmost as this provides a brand's stakeholders with a better deal than the multi-billion dollar scoops of advertising that may otherwise be required for a brand to gain global share of mind.

Identity as a brand's own PR platform

Beaujolais' global birthday party as a branded PR event is world class. The "new Beaujolais" arrives. Can you think of any brand which has established its own PR day on the world's calendar with greater economy of resources?

Identities for transitioning a brand

Through investment in a system of interconnecting identities, brands can be transitioned through major evolutionary stages by phasing identifiers in and out while maintaining sufficient identities at any moment to ensure perceptual continuity. This process needs to be thought about very carefully, particularly where a brand derives a great deal of impact from action replays from the past. Sometimes these replays take place metaphorically in consumer's memory traces; sometimes literally, eg because a brand was a prominent sponsor of an event at which a world record was established. Three examples of transitioning a brand's identities illustrate the diversity of this process.

·McDonald's.

Ronald was proceeded by a completely different human icon Mr Speedy. Speedy was caricatured as a hamburger headed man and helped to popularise the notion of fast food while this consumer category was in its infancy. Mr Speedy was retired from the McDonald's identity system back in 1962 once two hundred McDonald's franchises were up and running

·From Marathon to Snickers

During the 1980s, the Mars company tidied up several local brand names. For example, in the UK the Marathon chocolate bar was rechristened with the product's international name Snickers, so that UK consumers could in future relate to the global sporting stages where this brand was increasingly billed to appear. It is claimed that Marathon's consumers had little difficulty in adapting to this name change. The bar's traditional brown, blue and white packaging was so clearly differentiated on shopping shelves that visual identification with the brand took over while the brand's name was changing.

·From Darkie to Darlie

"Pandemonium in a toothpaste" was the way that the Herald Tribune headlined the controversy over Darkie during the late 80s. The brand was a sufficiently strong market leader in various Asian countries that Colgate decided to acquire an interest in the Hong Kong company which owned the brand. Unfortunately, the Darkie trademark, which gave the brand's packaging a prominent identity, was a black man with shining white teeth. While not distasteful to Asians, sections of American society, including some of Colgate's shareholders, found this racist. Colgate's solution in transitioning this brand's identity system is shown in Figure 3.

Identity as a corporate tone of voice, service lifestyle and cultural state of being

As illustrated earlier in this chapter by American Express and McDonald's, and as investigations into most meaningful banner brands will show, top level opportunities of branding are derived by unifying investments in a company's communication processes as much as possible. Can branding, corporate identity, PR, cultural mission, service training etc be directed as an integrated communications process instead of being managed as separate activities? All communications should be organised to confirm a business's leadership purpose and to serve the various stakeholders of the company in an equitable way. Increasingly, corporate goodwill is cultivated in the most consistent manner by recognising that many stakeholders interact with each other and people of the topmost importance to your company will often play a variety of stakeholding roles through the lifetime relationships that really valuable branding offers.

 

Summary

Branding (or whatever word you use for an organisation's added value communications process) invests identities in the minds of consumers (and all stakeholders of the company). Identifiers go beyond a brand's name creating a design language which includes symbols, colours, sub-brands, flagship products, service promises, slogans and other perceptual prompters. This investment needs continuous and integrated cultivation if it is to be properly harvested tactically and strategically.

An organised branding process depends on:

·business teams sharing up-to-date knowledge on what consumer codes are owned by the company

·being committed to serve the values and differentiated meanings that stakeholders may globally and locally interpret to reside in the codes which identifiers represent

·coherently foreseeing connections between investments in branding's identity systems and other process parameters which contribute to organisational form and successful evolution of core businesses.

Every widely recognised identifier owned by a company is a communications property right which should be making a purposeful contribution to added value or competitive advantage. This chapter illustrates the spectrum of capabilities that identity systems can be used to evolve and the values they (re)create.

Throughout a company's brand architecture, identifiers contribute to a constellation of essentially differentiated sources of power (ie brands) and the ways in which goodwill connections can be interweaved to be more than the sum of their parts (ie linkages between different levels of branding from corporate/banner brand to product sub-brand).

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