Monday, June 13, 2016
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“MAKE YOUR BRAND FAMOUS”
As is our habit when beginning one of our workshops, we ask our clients to introduce themselves. We often ask them to include what they hope to gain from participating in the workshop. But, sometimes—especially when working with companies that may not always make the most of their marketing departments—we ask a different question: What do you believe is the role of marketing? And we almost always hear surprisingly consistent kinds of responses to this question…for example:
- “To drive a distinctive positioning/benefit into the customer’s mind;”
- “To understand customer needs and communicate a strong value proposition;”
- “To change customer behaviors—in ways that favor our brands;”
- “To understand the marketplace and set the direction to win in it.”
But very recently we heard something we had not heard before, and from one of our client participants who is not in marketing at all: “The role of marketing is to make the product (the Brand) famous.” This response struck us instantly, not merely for its novelty of expression, but for the implications fulfilling such a role might have. What, really, does it mean or would it mean for a brand to become “famous”?
To put some thought against that question we started at a logical place—checking the dictionary for both denotations and connotations of the word famous. Webster’s has this to say: “Famous. Being known (above others) for something…meaningful and worthwhile; someone or something to aspire to, to want to be part of.” And there was this from the granddaddy of English dictionaries, The Oxford English Dictionary: “Famous. The condition of being much talked about. Chiefly in a good sense: Reputation derived from great achievements.” No real surprises in these meanings, but you have to be struck with the degree of “achievement” that fame requires: it’s a high bar, for sure.
And yet, clearly, there are brands that have achieved fame, that remain famous after many, many years. For so many people, Coca-Cola tops the list of famous brands…and not just because of its ubiquitous awareness or of its longevity, but no doubt also because of the place it has held in so many lives. How many Americans, for example, have saluted Brand Coca-Cola for “helping to get them through” the homesickness of being overseas during WWII? And what about Mercedes? Surely Mercedes is, if not the most famous automobile brand in the world, one of the top two or three…thanks to its decades-long reputation for near-flawless performance and timeless style (but, even more, for what owning a Mercedes means to so many Mercedes drivers: “I’ve made it!”)
What can we learn from looking at brands like these, ones that most people would readily agree are famous? More to the point, going beyond such obvious requirements as establishing near-global awareness or even marketplace longevity, if “making the brand famous” is marketing’s role, how does one fulfill that role? While acknowledging that fame always comes with a certain amount of good fortune (or of being in the right place at the right time), we think there are some things that longstanding famous brands seem to have done consistently…things that very likely have contributed to their “legend.”
- Famous brands have Big, Emotive Brand Ideas within them. As we have written in earlier DISPATCHES, we regard a Brand Idea as its core concept, the one that embodies what the brand ultimately means to the intended target customer or consumer. So, when we think about Mercedes, while we know the brand stands for impeccable driving performance and style, owning and driving a Mercedes means something bigger and more emotive than this to the one driving it: it means “I am successful. I’ve arrived.” Without any deeper, ultimate meaning than literally what the product within the brand does, achieving fame seems much more of a longshot.
- Famous brands “stand” for something. What most attracts us to those people whose fame never wanes is typically that they stood for something—something meaningful, perhaps even courageous for their time. We just spent this past week remembering and saying farewell to one of the most famous athletes of all time, Muhammad Ali. If you watched or heard any of the many tributes, you know that he was much more admired for his stand as an independent, courageous man than for his boxing prowess. There may not be many brands that we would label as courageous. But there are brands that take a stand and become famous for it: Nordstrom’s has stood for the epitome in customer service; Ritz-Carlton has stood for something similar in their industry; and Volvo has stood for, well, you know…as they say on their website, “Volvo doesn’t sell a car, it sells safety.”
- As a corollary, famous brands relentlessly guard what they mean, what they stand for. If making a brand famous requires both a big, emotive Brand Idea and standing for something, it also requires not letting go of either…not shifting with the passing winds of the marketplace. One of the biggest barriers to brand fame has to be that its core idea and what its known for keeps changing. Reputation demands memory. Take, for example, a product as mundane as a toothbrush. There was a time when only one brush in the world was “designed like a dental instrument”—for the ultimate in at-home dentist-like cleaning. Do you remember the brand? Probably not, because it never really achieved worldwide fame, nor is it in market any longer. It was the Reach Toothbrush, and it had a compelling Brand Idea for its time: “The kind of cleaning you know your dentist would want you to have—between regular visits.” But the brand failed to stick with its professional, ethical stance. It chased after Disney characters for the brush and various cosmetic improvements.
Is “making the brand famous” actually a role marketing must fulfill? Well, it may not be the only role marketing must fulfill, but it sure seems to be one worth trying to fulfill—if for no other reason than the perceived advantage fame or reputation offers. Back to Volvo, honestly now, is it technically the absolute safest car on the road? Or, more likely, is it just “famous” for being known as the safest car on the road?
Richard Czerniawski & Mike Maloney
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