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Brand experiences

As a brand strategist, three separate things this week have made me think about brand experiences – an event that we, as consumers experience through our interaction with a brand in some way.

The first was a conversation with a client about the growth in urban brands and how more and more are emerging in the food sector which have dis-associated themselves from the origins of their ingredients and focused on the environment in which they’re prepared or going to be consumed.

A notable example is City Kitchen, a range of chilled ready meals. 

City Kitchen has been very successful I understand but as a brand strategist, I’m intrigued by the approach taken by their brand owners in creating a brand that deliberately distances itself from its heritage –  in this case it is Tesco. 

Tesco calls City Kitchen a venture brand and they have others with more planned over the coming months. An interesting brand strategy. 

In essence these brands are presented as stand alone brands with their own communication style, own website and social media sites and it takes a lot of digging to find who they’re owned by.  

On shelf they have their own brand style and compete head to head with conventional own label products and other brands. Now that’s the
interesting bit.

The chilled food category has always been dominated by retailer own-label except, for example, within the vegetarian meals and pizza sub-categories. 

With own-label value propositions long established through a three tier pricing strategy of good value, special and extra-special, if retailers want to increase prices this is extraordinarily difficult for them to do – unless there are higher-priced brands to compare with of course. 

City Kitchen has been introduced to perform that role.  It looks like a brand and behaves like a brand with high quality ingredients, interesting recipes and excellent  visual presentation combined with a premium price positioning. 

As such it performs two roles: it attracts consumers looking for something new and different and it creates the perception that own-label products are better value. 

In the current climate we’re all being careful about how and where we spend our money and good value for money has never been more important. 

As we cut down on eating out and with many restaurant offers mediocre, there has been a resurgence in dining at home and M&S, Sainsbury’s and Waitrose continue to tempt us with their Two dine for £10 offers and others.

Tesco brand strategists have, as it seems decided to take a different approach.  Appealing to time-pressed individuals with above average disposable income to treat themselves to dishes they might buy for lunch or dinner from an eatery in the city. 

In that sense, divorcing the food completely from its origins and focusing on the kitchen is very clever and it’s an alternative to approaches around celebrity chefs and perhaps even restaurants that have previously succeeded in this area. 

The even smarter bit is that the brand is guaranteed distribution across the Tesco estate and there are no royalty fees payable to either a chef or restaurant.

With a nationwide presence in the bag, excellent on shelf positioning and display and no need for marketing spend, Tesco are creating brands that are going to give traditional brand owners & brand strategists across all product sectors a rather difficult time.

Rushing along Regent Street the other day I passed panels and panels of construction hoarding, hiding the building work going on at what is to be one of the streets largest retail sites.  The brand? Hollister. 

Hollister is a very smart brand and they’ve invented a new type of brand experience that they call ‘retail theatre’. 

If you’ve been into a Hollister store you will know that it is unlike any other High Street Experience. 

Ambient lighting is non-existent as is natural daylight with clothing displays minimally lit by the occasional high-powered spot-light. 

I understand that most of the staff are first and foremost models and have been recruited primarily for their looks rather than their sales ability but the strength of the experience is so strong within their core target audience that every store opening causes massive traffic jams and pandemonium inside. 

With its night-club style environment and gorgeous looking staff you’re transported from the British high-street into somewhere far away and quite how you’re going to survive on the small sum of cash you have left for the month after a visit is of no concern – until it’s too late. 

Hollister is currently the place to be seen, which is difficult in itself given the low level of lighting used in their stores.  How clever.  Just as the real theatre intrigues us through mystery and a sense of never knowing quite what’s round the corner, they’re doing the same. 

As a brand strategist, I can’t but help as I am moving through the store one almost has a sense of seeing acts in a play, with new characters emerging into view as you turn a corner. And there is the clothing, barely visible, anonymous. 

But you’ve just got to take some of that experience away with you, aided by a gorgeous male or female who will relieve you of your cash whilst you’re still wondering whether you really want to buy it or not. Brilliant. 

My last experience was a meeting with a client for whom we’d created an on-line brand some 18 months ago. 

He was delighted to tell me how successful the brand and website has been and how rapidly his business is growing which as a brand strategist is great news for me and my team. 

There were various approaches we explored in creating a brand strategy for him but one aspect that has proven very successful has been the use of a Route 1 domain name by which I mean a domain that absolutely describes what his business does.

As a brand strategist I believe passionately in brands and the value and wealth they can create for their owners, and traditional branding focuses on being differentiated and an entity which as well as being fit for purpose can also be trademark registered. 

But in the digital space, it is increasingly the domain that is most important, and indeed in all our brand creation tasks one of the very first things we do is check whether domains are available to match our proposed brand names. 

And here is the rub. Trademark rules state that you cannot register a name that is descriptive of the service or goods that you’re providing.

So it might be fantastic to have a domain name for a dental practice for example such as but it would not be possible to register that name as a brand for the business. 

I’m intrigued by how this parallel brand equity space is developing.  

With Google in particular getting increasingly smart about how they generate pay per click revenue I expect that direct domains are going to become more sought after and as the digital space continues to grow it may be that domains become more valuable than registered trademarks.

Only time will tell – watch that digital space.

What is a brand and why do I need one for my business?

A brand is a ‘visual shorthand’ for all that a business or product stands for – a symbol of differentiation.It encapsulates and conveys every aspect of the business or product it represents and the beliefs of its owners.

It is a complex value system in which both customers and consumers place great faith and trust with its values extending way beyond the intrinsic value of a product and therefore a brand must be in harmony with the equities of the product it represents.

Today every product sector is crowded and highly competitive. This is where brands come to the fore, acting as a visual semaphore wherever they are seen or heard.

Shape, colour, form, tone of voice all aid instant recognition and great brands achieve this recognition and memorability more easily than their competitors, but how?

In my daily life as a brand strategist I spend most of my timethinking about people, cultures, trends and storytelling.

Storytelling is one of the most amazing achievements of mankind – the ability to hand down history, events, both factual and fiction from generation to generation and to excite and amaze those who share it.

Long before we could read and write, stories were told through symbols and our ability to recognise symbols quickly and easily is deep in our psyche.

A successful brand works very much in the same way, taking a complicated story and translating it into a succinct, powerful and engaging string of symbols, shapes and colours which equally excites and amazes those who share it and which ultimately creates a change in behaviour.

This change can be relational or commercial but it’s important to understand that a brand exists in our minds or it doesn’t exist at all. Hence brands are created to satisfy our needs, thinking and desires.

Just as a great book, play, film, or piece of music excites us in a way that is hard to define and describe, great brands work in the same way, creating a strong emotional link with its audience.

A brand may be an icon, a symbol, a collection of symbols or words, but all great brands have four things in common: they behave differently, they’re memorable, consumers value them and they will choose them over and above their competitors.

Because brands work on an emotional level we focus on their intangible attributes – not the physical equities of the business or product but how people feel about their relationship with them, it is these connections that are at the very heart of great brands.

Because brands promise consistency of experience and guarantee satisfaction they are a vital part of any modern-day business. They shape what a business produces and sells and how their people think and work each and every day.

Every brand has two facets – those viewed by its owners and those viewed by its consumers.

Great brands seamlessly mould these two facets so that each reinforces the other – hence do great businesses have great brands or is it that great brands have great businesses?

The two of course are indistinguishable but the power of great brands is undisputed.

Creating a new brand may seem a significant investment but if it results in a 10% increase in productivity or a 12% increase in sales that investment can be rapidly repaid.

I am lucky to see the impact my work has had on many businesses, how it has enabled them to attract the best people in their sector or to gain market share or to increase the price of their goods whilst others are decreasing theirs.

All of these are the outcomes for real clients who have seen first-hand the value of a great brand and how their story continues to be told and enjoyed by all who share it

A brand strategy is not an entity in its own right.

It is the analysis and shaping of the output from a number of disciplines which collectively define the most appropriate approach for the development of a brand.

As such, the process of creating a brand strategy will vary considerably depending on whether the task is related to the creation of a new brand, a brand refresh or a new direction and focus for a brand. Additionally creating brands for an international or global market are more complex than creating brands for the UK market only.

Typically work starts with a fact-finding mission – understanding the catalyst for change 
and the who, the what, the where and the why from which we can then define and shape the how.

A client workshop is a really effective way of doing this. These can vary considerably in their style, format and length varying from a few hours to a number of days dependent on the task and the needs of the client.

A range of bespoke group exercises and solus activities are devised and incorporated into the programme, designed to help businesses look at both themselves and their sector and competitors in a different and stimulating way.

Undertaking these activities off site proves highly valuable as it helps everyone involved to fully focus on the importance of contributing to the workshop.

Depending on the specific task, staff interviews, store visits or group tasks may play a role in information gathering for example.

Sessions often commence by looking at the very core of what a business provides or produces and then developing a way of talking about this and finally defining the most appropriate and effective way of visually expressing the business or product through visual planning exercises.

This often means that businesses need to take a long, clinical look at themselves and challenge their thinking and approach.

This is the real value of a brand strategy, the creation of a foundation for growth and a clear roadmap for a brand development programme based on real tangible equities defined through a robust understanding of the business, the task, the objectives and opportunities.

At the end of this process a clearly defined brief will be created, from which a programme of work will be structured to facilitate the creation of the most appropriate brand strategy through a process of validation and challenge.

Typically this will include research, customer insights, usage and attitudes studies, market sector reviews, ethnography, semiotics and a forensic dissection of competitor brands.

With this activity complete,key opportunities for the development of aunique and differentiated brand will have been identified and the process of creating a brand equity can commence with the knowledge that it is based on sound knowledge. 

Without this key work taking place it is likely that any brand creation activity will fail resulting in a wasted investment of both time and money.

Brand Strategy

Every company needs to have a brand strategy just like the multi-national companies like Virgin, Coca-cola, Dyson, Land Rover, Visa, Shell, Bt and Guinness came up with their names? Just think, if these companies did not have brand strategists creating long term brand strategies would they have some lame or forgettable brand name, would they be as big as they are now? Every company starts out by thinking of a name. A new accountancy practice, for example, commonly uses the names of its associates, like Anderson, Baines and Barlow Accountants. The name of a woman’s specialty shop should be something sensual and exciting, like Victoria’s Secret or Bare Essentials. A clothing line should boast the popular designer’s name. Corporate branding does not just involve the company name. It also includes the corporate logo design and the overall company image. More importantly, it conveys your corporate identity. When you think of computers, Dell comes to mind. Instead of vacuum cleaner, you think of Hoover or Dyson. A 4×4 equals Range Rover. Coming up with the perfect strategy for a brand name that will stick to the consumer’s mind is as important as coming up with the finances to start a company – be it big or small.

Do First Impressions Last?

When you distribute a business card, see what dominates that small piece of paper. Brand, names and logos. Bland brand names never work. When you think of a name, follow these rules:

Being original

– Do not be overly creative – business cards must be functional. Sure a uniquely sized/shaped card might generate interest but it’s very hard for a secretary to file in a business card rack.

– From your options, choose one that has a global appeal.

Branding Strategy

In today’s global marketplace, a brand is considered as a valuable corporate asset and a marketing tool for success. Thus, you should always give careful consideration to different cultures if you plan to conquer a worldwide market, so create a brand strategy for each country.

Keep It Simple

When creating the company logo, it is much more advisable to be creative and distinctive. The more conservative designs apply to a target market of the same kind. If you apply the same concept to a company whose customers are supposed to be young and hip, they will fall asleep as soon as they hear your brand name and see your logo. With a younger clientele, it is best to be energetic and creative when thinking of corporate naming and branding.

Brand Name Equals Image

With the Internet being considered as the most powerful marketing tool, it is very important that your customers remember something distinctive about your company. Give out a clear picture of the message that you want to impart and the image that you want to project. Strong graphic design is the ace up your sleeve to leave a lasting impact of your company.

Be Consistent

Corporate branding takes time. It includes your company name, your logo, your customer service, the staff, the building location, the Country & City of the offices, even your maintenance staff and the company vehicles. As years pass, your company develops a certain reputation. It is a good thing if, upon hearing the name of your company, people would immediately associate it with the service or product that you represent. Make sure that you stick to the corporate image that you want to project.

Your Website Is Your Gateway To The World

Marketing though the Internet is yet another aspect of corporate branding. You should develop a distinctive, informative and complete web site. This is so that customers would have a clear understanding of your company profile.  Remember your brand strategy for long term not short term.

Research, Manage, Dominate!

Try visiting websites which offer corporate branding and advertising services. Better yet, look for the people behind the big companies and ask or research on how these establishments have gotten to where they are now. Check on their corporate structure and how they began. Make sure that the people who make up the corporate ladder have enough enthusiasm and confidence about the company which should rub off on the rest of the staff. It would never hurt your company if you have a good personnel attitude and an intense pride of work. Brand strategies are very important for any business with long term goals.