Wednesday, July 30, 2008

August 08 - Brand promises

Once upon a time, the term brand was something that existed primarily within the confines of advertising agencies and marketing departments. These days it has become part of everyday language.

Sadly this broadening of usage has resulted, I feel, in a dilution of what brands are really about. This was brought home to me quite spectacularly, by a recent speech on brands given by the American designer Brian Collins, which was archived on the Brand Experience blog.

Speaking at the One Show festival, Collins demonstrated the power of brands by launching into a history lesson about pirates. Yes pirates, or to be more specific, their instantly recognisable skull and crossbones flag.

“Back in 1748,” said Collins, “if you had the misfortune of being a single bobbing ship at sea when a tattered vessel with a skull and crossbones crossed your path, you knew instantly what to expect.

You're fu%&@d!!

As you sail closer," he continued, "the brand promise is reinforced by everything you see. A cannon fires, shots go off: the brand promise becomes brand immersion.

In three hours, maybe less, the brand delivers everything it promised: death, pillage, and maybe a not-so-promising hostage situation.

The fulfillment of the skull-and-crossbones brand promise remained so consistent over fifty-plus years that, by the 1800s, pirates didn't even need to waste gunpowder. They had only to raise the black flag to yield the desired results: surrender, animal fear, free doubloons and maybe some teabags.

Pirates (TM!) succeeded because they connected brand promise to performance.”

In the opinion of Brian Collins, a brand is a promise made consistently over time. Using that logic, it follows that if the promise perceived in the advertising is honored by the product or service, the brand flies.

It’s a simplistic viewpoint, no doubt about that, but you have to admit he makes a pretty strong point.

Commenting on Collin’s pirates speech, Erik Roscam Ebbing makes some great points on how the pirates would have faired at the dawning of the 21st century:

“That's a very accurate demonstrator of what happened with branding in the late 90s: like pirates becoming lazy and just raising their flag to achieve the desired result, brands started confusing promise with delivery.

The result was empty promises without the tangible benefits to fulfill them. Rather than the brand being a platform for the delivery of meaningful experiences and innovations, they became a facade behind which marketers could hide from the scrutiny of the consumer.

Until the consumer started finding out of course.

And started demanding authenticity, transparency, fulfillment of promises and true meaning. To me that's where brands rediscovered their true value and meaning.

I wonder how the pirates would have managed in say 2001? Maybe someone would have posted a blog entry on the absence of any real cannons and gun powder on their ships.

Soon enough the skull and crossbones would have faded to an empty promise of a forlorn era. And even pirates would have had to fulfill their brand promise to make a living!”

There are way to many examples of brands failing to deliver on their promises to list them here, but I’d like to wrap up this month’s column with you a classic example of over promise and under delivery that I found recently on Charles Frith’s blog Punk Planning.

Frith had been on a business trip to Dubai and his blog post was accompanied by half a dozen photos of people sleeping on chairs and or floors at the Dubai airport.

The sight of people snoozing in an international airport is, let’s be honest, not that uncommon. Flights are delayed or cancelled all the time. What made Frith’s photos so interesting was that many of the people were sleeping beneath widescreen plasma televisions carrying chest beating brand messages from the airport authority.

“It struck me while departing through the airport,” wrote Frith, “that while it's all fine and good to have a decent monologue with customers beating our brand chests, the whole point about the 21st century marketing and Web 2.0/Digital dialogue is that if brands aren't able to shift into that dialogue mode when circumstances demand, then they end up losing so much of their effort.

If any brand or agency isn't talking about ways to open up a meaningful dialogue with their customers during the inevitable part of life when things don't go according to plan, then they are very simply wasting money and inevitably pissing off people.

I've got 20 ideas in my head for how the Dubai airport authority could win over everyone of the carpet sleepers I saw that night, but you can rest assured that filling those plasma screens with more chest beating 'hub of the world' content is way more important.

Making profits isn't as hard as it made out to be,” says Frith. “Losing customer loyalty and the money that goes with it is even easier.”


Brand Experience

Punk Planning

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Great posting. A lot of food for thought. I think the "Pirate" story about brand experience is fantastic.