I had an interesting conversation with Toby Roberts, Head of Strategy and all round clever bloke over at OMD UK, on the subject of influential brands this week. Now we all know that some brands are more influential than others. For example, if you think about the iPlayer, Nike, Apple and Tesco, their actions will often dictate the marketing, products, retail and service of competitor brands, along with the opinions of the public. The question discussed was what these influential brands had in common. This was the list we (I say 'we' in the loosest sense of the word) got to:
1. They make stuff, then make people want it. Now this sounds obvious, but is in actual fact opposite to the current fashion of thinking (ie: that companies research what the customer wants, then make something). To rework a quote from Bill Bernbach, it seems that influential brands sell what they believe in, rather than simply believe in what they sell.
2. They start rather than join in conversations- the thought here was that brands need to beware of 'conversations' and 'relationships'. Like the above, the current trend is for marketers to get excited by the words 'social networking' or 'dialogue'. While holding a dialogue with your consumer may well be valuable, we need to remember that our relationship with brands are largely transactional. Brands are not our friends, they are what we open our wallets to buy. As Toby put it; 'the relationship we have with brands is like the one we have with a good waiter. we're interested in what he'd recommend on the menu, but don't give a toss about his view on the Middle East'. This trait builds on the aphorism stated by Richard Huntington during the 'Battle of Big Thinking' that 'every great dialogue starts with a great monologue'.
3. Influential brands are by-products of getting everything else right - building on the 'keeping down with the Joneses' post on the our blog recently, naturally you can drive demand for a poor product in the short term, but in the long term a quality product and/or servise is what counts.
4. Influential brands are backed by a strong organisational vision - A great example discussed was Apple. Both Sony and Apple are 'experts' in technology, but what sets Apple apart is their vision of technology; that it should be simple an beautiful. It is this vision that leads or their marketing, retail, product design and more.
5. They are genuine to their corporate beliefs -this builds on the last trait and a conversation I had with Alex Ebdon, another smart bloke, who writes dazzle ships with Toby, about brands that transcend their category to stand for something bigger. In essence, influential brands don't just latch on to the latest trends or charity to make themselves look good, they stick to something that is core to them. For example, you might say that Dove stands for self esteem through it's 'Campaign for real beauty', but Unilever were caught out when people started picking up on the fact that while they were championing 'real women' with Dove, their other brand Lynx was objectifying them.
6. Influential brands 'employ' the consumer - This builds on point 2. About three years ago I wrote a dissertation published in Campaign called 'Learning from Monkeys' that i will put a link to below. Essentially it argued my belief that successful brands will be those that get the consumer to 'work' for them. There is an army of examples of this in practice; be it viral campaigns where people send things on for you or people actively giving you feedback and ideas on your website. I believe that the sign of an influential brand is one that has the public, metaphoricall speaking, willing to work for them, be it in marketing, sales, research, administration etc etc.
It's been a while since it was written, so if you read it, it would be great to hear how relevant or accurate you feel it is a few years on!