Brand Multiple Personality Disorder?

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By Tomi Ogunlesi

Brand
Tomi Ogunlesi,Corporate Brand Manager, Interswitch Group

Personality is very fundamental element of the human make-up, and each one of us, as individual constituents of a mass population, is clearly distinguished by our unique identities. When a person loses grip on his identity, psychological issues definitely set in, which equally have attendant adverse impact on their perception of life as well as their behaviour and societal interactions.

There’s no doubt that a good number of our product/service offerings are struggling with the problem of identity as far as their brands are concerned in these climes. More often than not, it appears we endeavour to say too much – about ourselves, about what we stand for, about our offering etc. in grossly limited communication space and within ridiculously short time frames – A case of aspiring to be “all things to all men”, one might say.

Again, as marketers/marketing communicators, we encounter this conflict of whether to focus on product sales in the short term or to devote precious resources towards a pain-staking, apparently not-immediately-rewarding brand positioning and building process over the longer term – Of course, the realization that bills have got to be paid is paramount on the entrepreneur’s (or business driver’s) objectives; a factor which necessitates that the marketer’s carefully conceived marketing campaign must have the propensity to set the cash register ringing sooner than later. We however need to take some crucial considerations into cognizance. This leads us again, at this point, to underscore the holistic definition of what a brand is. It encapsulates the roles that particular offering plays in its stakeholders lives, the values it represents and stands for, the emotions it evokes and the promises it makes and fulfills.

Brand image refers to the comprehensive verbal, visual and digital display of the brand (which, of course comprises vital elements such as the logo, colours, type-faces and other iconography) and of course the associations it evokes in the minds of its publics. Now, the challenge all brands have to constantly surmount is that these must necessarily provide a consistent appearance that resonates with the target community and they can identify and connect with these elements. The Value proposition (or Unique Selling Proposition – USP) is a foundational element that is constantly subjected to testing and evaluation and must be periodically measured and refined.

Brand Presence is also another very integral factor; Questions such as “Where does your brand meet its target consumer?”. It is essentially imperative that the brand be represented in advertising/communication media that reflect the essence of its personality, whether in consumer or Business-to-Business contexts.

A brand’s identity is the primary framework on which all other variables rest. The identity informs the outlook of the entire brand construct. It guides the brand iconography, copy and communication tone, ad layouts, campaign look/feel and so on.

The possession of a strong identity is without doubt an important asset for a brand and will become increasingly important in the future. it is however ironic that the need to have a strong identity and the attendant nurturing of same is ignored in almost every discussion on branding.
Moreover, I’ve noticed that in practice a relatively large number of brands change their identity in order to “reconnect” with the consumer, howbeit often without success. What then usually happens as a consequence is that the consumers do not recognize their brand anymore, simply because the brand has embarked on a volte-face and changed its identity! The brand’s consumer simply does not know what the brand stands for and as a consequence of this, there are critical inhibitions to brand resonance and a possible erosion of previously acquired equity, which ultimately serves as a disservice to the brand’s heritage.

Truth is, once a brand is struggling with identity issues, all other elements are no doubt resting on a shaky foundation. That archetypes play pivotal roles in cultural identity is not contestable. It is therefore rather unfortunate to realize that very few brand/marketing strategists have made the integral connection between brands and (brand) archetypes – or at least worked to incorporate the notion of archetypes in their operational brand-building methodology.

One realization I do not take lightly is that brands could be somewhat complex, abstract and difficult to pin down. However, in endeavouring to define them, it appears we oftentimes forget this. With techniques such as brand pyramids and a thousand and one other varied, complex ‘proprietary tools’ of different orientation, we attempt to constrain and control them. Rather than trying to understand brands in their ‘natural habitats’, we box them in enclosures-turning them into guinea pigs of sorts.

We do recognize, of course that pyramids, onions, mappings, brand wheels, master brand keys and other myriad techniques indeed can prove to be useful tools/disciplines that help in the distillation process – But a key and objective question remains that ‘do they really help define the unchanging core values of a brand?’ We spend ages debating and rationalizing the nuances of synonyms, performing semantic gymnastics to prove that Brand X is different from Brand Y, and ceaselessly agonizing over whether something is an Emotional Benefit or a Brand Value or in fact the selling proposition – a distinction we struggle to understand in the first place. At the end of the day, where does all of this get us in real terms? Usually a pile of disjointed words that look like little less than explosions in a bombed-out thesaurus factory. Unfortunately, when we eventually succeed in building our pyramids and agreeing that our brand is contemporary, stylish, relevant, inclusive and other usual suspects, we fall into the trap of thinking our job is finished.

In reality, though, we are no closer to articulating ‘core essence’ than when we began – even if that particular box has been filled in. What should be rich, complex and pain-staking to articulate only ends up more confusing and sadly subjected to assisted suicide by a thousand adjectives and buzzwords., by no means helped in the least by the phenomenon called Microsoft Power-Point (As if we strong brands had not been successfully built before its advent!) Frankly, pondering all of this, I reckon that it wasn’t intended to be this complicated! (Little wonder the marketing honchos at Diageo global famously attempted to ban ‘Powerpoint’ a couple of years ago (precisely in 2015) in a bid to improve the company’s internal culture as it related to marketing and brand development! (http://adage.com/article/cmo-strategy/powerpoint-ban-diageo-changed-culture/306739/)

Permit me to quote Scott Bedbury, who, at different points in time was head of marketing at Nike and Starbucks respectively, He opines that: “a brand is a metaphorical story that … connects with something very deep — a fundamental human appreciation of mythology … Companies that manifest this sensibility … invoke something very powerful’. Talking about deep metaphors”…….Very insightful and thought-provoking, in my perspective.

Now, those very factors that appear like the seemingly “intangible” elements of a brand are really very precise sets of contextual values, emotions, aspirations and projections that can quite easily be not only identified but plotted, graphed, and inserted into a brand’s identity. It’s been said that the key lies in the actual archetypes of the brand(s) in question, and relatedly, a very clear understanding of the pivotal role they play in the psyches and expectations of those folks whose culture you are trying to intertwine your brand with.

The above underscores the imperativeness of extensive and incisive research targeted at obtaining deep consumer insight….the knowledge of what motivates your target and makes them tick.Some brands are even able to achieve this without actually realizing it. They instinctively tap into something primal and culturally relevant without really knowing or understanding why or how they did it. BRAND STRATEGY intrinsically involves employing archetypes to build stronger brands

A classic example in this case is the Nike Brand: The brand appeals to the “champion/hero” and uses sports as the medium for its allegorical language. The very choice of names – “Nike” the Greek Goddess of victory – has immediate Archetypal implications and goes a long way in moulding consumer perception of the brand. The Virgin brand, which has become a huge success globally is archetypally a ‘jester’ brand…irreverent , light-heartedand exciting. This has gone on to inform the positioning as well as tonality of the entire brand communication.

A strong identity rooted in a well-fitting archetypal forte is very integral to the brand-building effort. This is the key reason why brands with a strong identity, like Apple, Nike, Guinness, IKEA and BMW, among others have a relatively large group of loyal consumers, employees and ambassadors. These represent brands with strong beliefs and a set of consistent values with which not only their consumers, but also employees, investors and other stakeholders feel connected and are willing to identify with.

It’s about time we, particularly in Nigeria, and Africa, by extension began to have a serious look at the way in which strong and meaningful brand identity can be developed and nurtured, starting from the point of asking these fundamental questions. And, just before I toss my pen away for now, my admonition to adherents of the marketing and brand communication creed is to hearken to gospel truth …“Seek ye first a clear and resonant brand identity, and all other returns (including brand equity and growth) shall be added unto you!”

Tomi Ogunlesi is a professional member of the Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM – UK) and holds an MBA from the Lagos Business School of the Pan-African University, having also completed executive education programmes in Marketing and Strategy from the Wits Business School, Johannesburg, and the Judge Business School at the University of Cambridge, England. He teaches Integrated Brand Experience at The Orange Academy and is presently Corporate Brand Manager at Interswitch Group.

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