Keeping Brands Relevant

I work with brands every single day. It could be at the concept stage of a campaign, a shoot or the final sign off on a new brand design. But on occasion I get the opportunity to step back and consider what I actually do for a living.

Brands get lost all the time. They belong in the wilderness, exploring and breaking new territory. Few have tamed them, but when they do they can be marvellous creatures to watch in action. 

As one of those ‘creative types’, I get to watch them in action...a lot. I love it when a brand delivers something that makes us stop, think and accept a new idea, or uses a distinctly original approach. So since we’ve seen them come so far in so many ways, it’s worth looking back over how brands began and have grown over time.

The original brand was used to distinguish ownership, prevent theft and easily identify cattle herds. The basic principles still apply to brands these days.  

Since then we’ve put brands on almost everything (and I mean...everything). At times the products we brand are:

  • Completely Useless: Epitomised by 1975’s Pet Rock, an actual rock that came in a box with pet-like air slots sitting in a little nest. It still made its creator millions, and was considered a ridiculously successful fad. 
  • Bizarre: Squatty Potty probably needs no introduction other than its own memorable video introduction (but will likely put you off that Mr Whippy cone come summer...).
  • Lost in Translation: Michelin Stars for restaurants, were indeed started by the tyre company Michelin, as part of a guide to get motorists out and travelling. Now the link is more about foot traffic to restaurants, than getting motorists active and has wandered so far from its original intention that the brand link is rather tenuous. 
  • Like Inception: We’re even down to branding smaller versions of the bigger originals now. Little Shop 2, anyone?

Back in the day, we started experimenting with brands as an idea or concept. Apple’s 1984 or Think Different ads are classic examples, the latter being inspired by Nike’s work featuring athletes which had its own humble beginnings in 1982 with its first TV ad. Just Do It was first introduced in 1988, and still looks great for a tagline in its early 30s.

The idea of a brand evolved again, and they started having a voice and taking on a bit of personality. Old Spice found new life and relevance through a fun and cheeky new voice and tone. Dollar Shave Club nailed the voice of their brand at launch to effectively and efficiently cement their position quickly in the market alongside giants Gillette and Schick.  

Brands also discovered they could converse with each other as they ventured further on social media. (The recent stoush between Vegemite and Marmite over The Ashes has been a fave ‘smear campaign’ for me this year which ended in a brilliant burn video.)

We’ve even started branding ourselves, for a sort of agricultural throwback, or maybe it was just ‘herd mentality’ (Sorry). Take Ed Sheeran and Heinz for a recent and quite delicious brand on a brand on a brand interaction. Sidenote: I quite like their new ‘it’s the angle of the dangle’ labeling too. Alternatively there was this all-natural and unscripted story (does that even happen anymore?) of a customer loyalty escalation at a Melbourne cafe, where one of the customers ended up with some skin in the game (Not Sorry)

At the end of the day, all this is about an emotional connection.

As brands have gone through changes, grown hair in new places, and become more and more human, it’s nice to see they’ve picked up some manners along the way. Now there’s a push to have a purpose, support a cause, or stand for something meaningful. It’s all just part of adulting for brands.

The maturing of the idea of brand, what it is, does, becomes or supports, all comes down to two core parts: identity and value. With identity or a strong sense of who you are, comes differentiation, clarity, purpose and direction. This translates to value, both perceived value as well as tangible, like new customers, higher loyalty, stronger sales, engagement, advocacy and more.

And that’s where the money magnates, and the marketing gods come into it play. Maximising the value from identity to make its overlords some serious dosh. (and send a little our way too…)

I’m going to explore brand ID a little more in an upcoming post, and how some brands are finding really incredible impact through listening rather than speaking.

In the meantime, good luck with rounding up your brand and making the impossible possible. 

That’ll do, flying pig, that’ll do.