Brand image should be grounded in brand origin.
By that I mean, the foundation or “genealogy” from which a brand draws its image and differentiation.
This thought came to mind as a colleague and I sketched on a white board possible solutions to a client’s marketing challenge. Marketers at this company believe their brand owns a premium position in a crowded category. Their advertising is all about clothing their products in that premium image.
But when we talk with people who know the category well, they tell us buyers and specifiers regard the brand’s products as “pretty good.” Better than average, but by no means best in class.
If that’s true, then one of the brand’s challenges, it seemed to us, is that its image is not converting into audience influence. And we think we figured out why:
The brand has neglected to articulate its origin.
Brand Origin: Underpinnings to an Image
We tested the half-baked thought with a few examples.
Pick a German auto brand. Say Audi, or Mercedes-Benz. In the minds of consumers, it might seek to own “precision” as a brand image. The origin of that image? It wouldn’t be shocking if the brand’s marketers pointed to “German engineering.”
Now, I don’t know if German engineering qualifies as legendary. But based on bits and pieces from history and present-day global business, I have a general perception (accurate or not, I’ll confess) that Germans as a society and economy do a pretty solid job manufacturing, running government, and building and driving the Autobahn. So, to some degree, there’s a “back-story” on which the auto brand’s image is based.
How about IBM? Computers and consulting services. IBM is telling me with its marketing that it’s about empowering a “smarter planet.” Behind that, at a more fundamental level, I have this sense that IBM has spent, and continues to spend, a fair amount of time and energy pondering the intersections of human and machine intelligence. Let’s consider that the origin of its “smarter” positioning. So I might be inclined to go along with the idea that if IBM is making it and selling it, it’s probably a fairly smart solution.
One more: Apple. Personal computing, communication and media devices. In our white board exercise we had to choose a word that Apple wants to own as its brand image. We chose “usability.” Apple products are renowned for being so easy to use, a user manual is superfluous. We’ve all heard stories of precocious toddlers quickly learning to operate an iPhone or iPad.
The origin of all that usability? Steve Jobs.
For all the great achievements of Jobs and Apple, were they ever able to establish that the origin of their brand’s image and products was something other than Jobs’ brilliant vision?
We’re not sure they did. And with that, we had two takeaways from our little white board exercise around branding and positioning.
One: If you want to own a brand image in the minds of your target audience, it has to be based on something other than: “Believe it because our advertising shows and tells you it’s so.” Your position and image must be grounded in something more fundamental. Something original.
Two: If the origin of your brand resides in a single human being, even a brilliant founder, that might not be enough to sustain your brand image when those underpinnings pass away. ___
Does this simple “origin” thought model resonate for your brand? Have you pondered your brand’s origin? Is your content marketing strategy informed by that origin? Comments and discussion welcome.
This post, originally published on Hanley Wood Marketing’s Content Is Marketing blog, is cross-posted here for subscribers to Touch Point City. For more marketing ideas and insights from my colleagues at HWM, subscribe to Content Is Marketing