Branding; The Next Generation

A great article from Branding Strategy Insider last week cites a trend in branding toward the Holistic Brand Proposition:

“There’s every indication that branding will move … into an even more sophisticated realm — reflecting a brave new world where the consumer desperately needs something to believe in — and where brands very well might provide the answer. I call this realm the HSP — the Holistic Selling Proposition. HSP brands are those that not only anchor themselves in tradition but also adopt religious characteristics at the same time they leverage the concept of sensory branding as a holistic way of spreading the news. Each holistic brand has its own identity, one that is expressed in its every message, shape, symbol, ritual, and tradition — just as sports teams and religion do today.”

When I read this, the first brand that springs to mind in Guinness. Guinness has most definitely moved beyond the space occupied by “normal” brands and has taken up residence in the realm of holistic brands. With its iconic advertising, its association of black and beige and the fact that it pretty much owns St Patrick’s day all over the world. It has it all; the rituals, the symbols, the tradition, the legacy…

But, my question is this. If branding is to move into this new territory called holistic branding, on what basis?

Should all brands now be considering what their holistic brand assets might be? And what about new brands, are they really in a position to be citing rituals and tradition when they weren’t even around the year before?

And what if all brands got on this bandwagon? Would we be surrounded by big brand wannabes all punching above their weight?

Or, is this where branding comes full circle and where the authentic heart of the brand finds its true place, and the brand finds its purpose. After all, each brand needs to have a reason for being, as we do. And so, the beauty of this approach is that each and every brand will fill the space that’s right for it and express itself in the ways that are most appropriate. It is for everyone, and it is not dependent on how big you are but how authentic you are.

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Another secret formula to a great brand

In an article today, it was announced that the chairman of Irn Bru, Robin Barr, will be stepping down after 48 years at the helm. And, why should this story be so interesting? Well, 3 things come to mind….

1. Great brand story
First of all is the great brand story that I learnt upon reading the article. Not being a consumer of fizzy drinks, I’m a bit behind on these things. So to keep you updated on what I have learnt:

“Mr Barr is one of only two people in the world who knows the secret recipe for the best-selling Irn Bru drink and the two never travel on the same plane.

Once a month the essences for the drink are personally mixed by Robin Barr in a sealed room at the company’s headquarters in Cumbernauld.

The 32 different ingredients are combined in a huge vat, which mixes 8,000 litres at a time.

The recipe was discovered by Robin Barr’s great grandfather in 1901 and has not changed in 108 years.

Only one other unnamed person shares the secret but the formula has been written down and is stored in a bank vault somewhere in Scotland.”

Wow! What heritage! The idea that someone is preparing the mixture personally for a fizzy drink really sounds quite heart-warming. And not only that, but it’s the grandson of the inventor of the recipe. In my head, these sugary drinks are all prepared in huge vats and mixed by a computer, watched over by a food chemist. But to have the chairman personally stirring up the essences sounds lovely! I’m sure he uses a very large wooden spoon. The drink almost sounds like it’s home made.

You couldn’t buy this sort of branding. It’s priceless. A cynic somewhere might be wondering if it’s all true, but we’ll ignore them for now.

And this sort of takes me onto my next point.

2. Bang on brand message
For branding to succeed, the brand message has to be applied consistently across all touch points. And, this is what these guys have clearly been doing. So, at this juncture I would like to applaud their PR team. The article above mentions all the key points of the brand story as shared on the brand website. There is only one discrepancy. Can you spot it? (answer at the end):

“How would you describe the essence of a flavour that only two people in the world know? One that is such a closely guarded secret that it is held under lock and key in a vault in Switzerland? A taste so precious, so unique that it is our chairman Robin Barr, and he alone, who blends the unique combination of 32 flavours that can be savoured in every sip? There is only one word to describe it.


And if you didn’t get that right you’ve clearly been drinking something else. So go and de-tox your mouth with a can of IRN-BRU immediately.”

When using PR as part of your brand building strategy, the trick is to ensure that the brand message is understood clearly by the media and repeated word for word. Of course, in the real world, this can be tricky. Journalists and editors like to trim down press releases, or they may pick a more newsworthy angle that in not entirely appropriate for the brand. And, as a brand, you only find out once you get to read the finished piece.

But here, the PR team have clearly done a good job. They probably have great relationships with the media they’re dealing with and have no doubt furnished them with incredulous amounts of Irn Bru.

My final point doesn’t quite link on so smoothly I’m afraid. But it is an important one.

3.  The secret recipe
How many brands have secret recipes? I bet if you talked to any big food brand, they would tell you that their recipe is secret. And yet, what steps are being taken to protect these recipes? If these recipes were compromised what would the impact on the brand be?

Imagine this. You’re a big international food brand. Your sales are doing so well that you’re over capacity in your manufacturing plants. The majority of your new sales are coming from the Middle East, but you don’t have a factory there. But you get approached by an Indian manufacturer who says that they have spare capacity and would love to make your product for you. Great! They’re going to need the recipe. Hmmm. Stop!

At this point, the brand owner needs to stop and ask questions. Lot of questions.

  • How will they protect the recipe?
  • Can they demonstrate that they’re protecting it, really?
  • Who’s going to have access to the recipe?
  • Can they be trusted?
  • Who’s job is it to ask the questions? Do they know what questions to ask?

But let us for a moment imagine what could happen…

  • Recipe is not stored safely and is compromised. The product is made using a different recipe and the resulting product lets the brand down. FAIL!
  • The recipe is leaked. Competitors get their hands on it and offer the same product at a discount. FAIL!

Ouch! Either way, the result will cost, if not in sales then in brand reputation or brand value.

Managing and protecting a brand is so much bigger than the marketing department. It should permeate the whole business from finance and HR to legal and operations. Potential brand damage can come from any quarter so everyone needs to be clear as to what their part is in protecting the brand and its value to the business.

Fortunately at Irn Bru, they understand that one. They even have a decoy - we don’t really know whether the original formula is stored in Scotland or Switzerland.

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6 easy steps to Brand Building using Twitter

The thing with Twitter is, you’re either on the bus, or you’re not. Those that aren’t think it’s just a passing fad and don’t really understand it. But, it’s becoming increasingly important as part of any brand building strategy.

In a recent article, out of the 100 most mentioned brands on Twitter, less than half have a Twitter account. And, some of those aren’t really making the most of their presence.

It seems crazy to think that there’s a whole heap of conversations going on about these brands in the twitterverse and these brands aren’t even listening, let alone participating. You can bet your last dollar that if these conversations were happening in print, they’d be watching, reading and taking notes. But here, they choose to ignore.

So, if you are one of those brands that is not taking part in the twitterverse, you’re probably wondering where to start. So here’s my beginner’s guide to brand building with Twitter in 6 easy steps.

1. Clarify your objective!
You must first decide on what basis you are going to participate. Is it to enhance your brand story and add personality, or is it for customer services? Are you going to have just the one twitter account or are you going to encourage employees to tweet. Word of warning with the latter: make sure this is part of a wider social media strategy that permeates the business so that everyone concerned is clear on best practices. Reputations can be destroyed online in seconds, both personal and corporate.

2. Decide on the nature of your tweets
It may be worth having some guidelines in place as to the sorts of things that your brand will tweet about. It’s not about sell, sell, sell, but about listen, engage, listen, and engage. So how are you going to engage? And, when you listen, how will you respond? There are 6 main types of tweet;
a. Brand news
b. Customer support
c. Feedback
d. Special offers
e. Interesting info or resources
f. Random thoughts

You will need to be clear as how you will employ each of these and if you will actually use all of them. Some say, it’s best to reserve using the last one for personal brands. But, if random titbits is part of your brand story then why not?

3. Register your brand name twitter profile
Make sure you pick something that sounds right. You may want to use your name to reinforce your brand message in some way.

4. Create your Twitter page
Use the background to display your brand assets and key brand messages. You might want to use the profile pic to display your logo. Some brands put a pic of the person managing the account. This reinforces the personal nature of twitter and can be a good tactic if twitter is a key strand of your customer services strategy.

5. Allocate resource to maintain your twitter account.
There’s nothing worse for a brand than lack of consistency and the same applies here. The person who’s job it is to manage your twitter account must be very clear on the brand values and proposition. Twitter can enhance your brand if used correctly. It can also destroy.

6. Listen, listen, listen
I know, I’ve mentioned this already, but it’s a biggie. It’s important to track what is being said in the twitterverse, so make sure that your twitterer is using an application that allows you to keep track of your brand mentions. It’s also a good idea to listen to what’s being said about your competitors as well as your product/service category. You could pick up some great ideas for new product development or service improvements.

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Finding your personal brand

There are lot of articles about on personal branding, with the majority talking about how important it is to have a personal brand. The rest of them talk about all the ways that you can increase the visibility of your personal brand in the online environment. But, before any work can be done to raise your profile, you need to be clear as to what your brand is. And working it out is not always straightforward. Well sure, it sounds straightforward when you talk about it

“… a personal brand is a blend of your strengths, personality, passion, values and goals….”

Working all that out takes quite a bit of time and effort. Let me just look at each one of these in turn.

How many of us know our strengths? If you’ve been through corporate training, it’s likely that you’ve been subjected to a Myers Briggs profiling or similar. So, for you guys, it’s a bit easier. But for the rest of you, identifying your strengths can be difficult. Why?

  • We don’t always realise that we’re good at something, because for us, it’s natural. We don’t know what we know. Often, it takes someone else to spot our talent.
  • We’re usually much better at identifying our weaknesses.

It’s always worth starting a list on your own, but ask your friends, family and colleagues for their comments. You’ll probably have a few surprises: things that weren’t on your list, and those that were that are questioned. Be prepared for this

This is an interesting one. I bet that if we were to do a straw poll, we’d find that our ideas about our personality are not that close to the reality. Do whining negative people consider themselves to be so? You might think you’re confident, but others think of you as arrogant. You get the picture. This is one aspect of personal branding that is crucial to get some outside help with. After all, your personal brand is how others perceive you, and your personality is the crux of this. So, again, ask friends, family and colleagues for some hints.

What are you passionate about? Do you know? Understanding your passion is mega mega important! It could even be the key to your personal brand. If you spend more time than is healthy taking photographs of roundabouts, then you might have hit upon a niche. A niche whereby you could become an expert. Think of Gavin Pretor-Pinney who just loved looking at and taking pictures of clouds. He went on to form The Cloud Appreciation Society and is now a recognised expert in the cloud world. His book, The Cloud Spotter’s Guide, was a best seller.

Your values are those things that are really important to you in life. Things like recognition, honesty, health, love and achievement. You probably have a clear idea of your values. If not, just ask yourself “what has been really important to me in my life?”. Some people find they have around 5 values, while others have five times that. If you have that many, you need to be clear about what the top ones are though, as these are the invisible drivers in your life. The things that control your behaviour, whether you like it or not. So you may as well be aware of them.

If you were to ask around, you’ll probably find that most people have dreams not goals. The difference? Goals have actions and timelines against them. The other thing about goals is that they are reviewed regularly so you can track your progress. The level at which you decide to clarify your goals is up to you. Some people give themselves a couple of goals to achieve over a few years, while others have 1, 5 and 10-year plans with goals for each sector of their life (financial, relationship, career etc). So, wherever you want to be on this scale, just make sure you’re on it. Because if you’re not, your personal brand is a going to have a great big hole in it.

Having said all this, the key thing to understand is that your personal brand isn’t what you want to project; it’s what others perceive. So a high level of self -awareness is important because no matter what, you will need to be consistent in the application of your personal brand. As with great consumer brands, consistency is key. Your brand represents the promise that you’re making to help others to understand what to expect from you. You keep changing and people won’t know what to expect, and they’ll go elsewhere.

So, have you figured out your personal brand?

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Personal Branding: Should the brand be my business or me?

Last weekend I ran a session on Personal Branding at MediaCamp Nottingham. This question came up and prompted a bit of debate. Even into the pub at lunch! Should our brand be our business or ourselves? Or both? And how do they fit together?

One point that I am very fussy about in this debate is the need to understand what your goals and objectives are before embarking on finding the solution. If you don’t know what you’re trying to achieve you can’t possibly make a judgement as to what the most appropriate route may be. Think of Alice in Wonderland asking the Cheshire Cat for directions. If you don’t know where you’re heading, you can take any route you want.

What do you want?
So, how does your business fit in with your overall goals and objectives? Is your business a vehicle for you to achieve your own goals? (i.e. sell up and sit on a beach) Or is it just a way for you to carry on doing what you love? Depending on the answer, these two businesses could be very different. The first could be a unique service that you’ve identified that fulfils a gap and you think could be incredibly viable. The second could be an extension of you and your expertise. So, how we approach branding the two will be very different depending on your own goals and ambitions.

How do businesses do it?snf1203ma_370813a
In any business where a parent brand exists over a number of other brands, the parent brand, like human parents, have things in common with their offspring. They don’t have everything in common, but there are key themes. For example, parent brands such as Mars, Audi have key values that set them apart. And, these values are present in their offspring, but new ones may be brought in depending on the product or category. For Audi, it’s sportiness and performance. We could think of these as settings on your sound system. So, within the Audi family, the TT’s branding has turned the sportiness setting up to max even though performance is still important. For the A4 it’s the performance that’s been turned up.

I don’t want to get too trapped into business thinking though because we’re humans and we’re very different from businesses. But there’s a lot for us to borrow and learn from business.

As people, we have many interests and experiences. As time goes on, our experiences increase and our interests may change. But the constant is our essence. The bit about us that is us. And this bit, our essence, undoubtedly encapsulates our values and beliefs. So when trying to work out your personal brand, you will need to make a decision about which bits about you you’re going to use to enhance your personal brand. The stuff that adds the fizz. Developing your personal brand is an exciting process. One where you need to think about all your past experiences, skills, competencies, talents and interests and work out what it is about you that can be packaged together to add value to the world.

Any business you start is an extension of you and so you need to be clear about your own values and beliefs and how they fit with your business because ultimately, if there is a gap, the brand YOU will be threatened. Think of some well-known personal brands in business and how they managed the dynamic.

anitaroddickpa_228x182 richard-branson-virgin

What was the relationship between their personal branding and their business branding?

So, how does this help us with our question? You are the parent brand, and any offspring you have in terms of brands or projects will reflect or emphasise certain relevant aspects you, the parent brand. You may choose create a public link between the two brands, in the way the Richard Branson and Anita Roddick did. In these cases, there was synergy and a win-win situation was created. Or there was until Body Shop was sold to L’Oreal.

But back to the question about how you decide…

Let’s say for a minute that you are a business owner, but your business is essentially you. You sell your time and your expertise to other businesses, and you love what you do. You don’t want to grow it because that might mean that you have to manage people, which would get in the way of the DOING. In this situation, it is worth noting that your business is currently fulfilling a role for you that fits with your current circumstances. But should your circumstances change (or the world around you), then your business might need to change. And, it follows that what you want from your business might change. So how do you brand?

The brand as servant
In this situation, it is worth thinking about how branding can serve you. If you choose to develop separate brands for you and the business, then brand YOU can act as the pull to your business. Brand YOU is engaged with the people that you deal with directly among your clients. But, for these people to work with you, they may need to get the project signed off at a senior level. So, unless brand YOU is significant and you are well known, your business branding is going to be key. For some reason a lot of senior business execs prefer to do business with businesses rather than individuals. So, if you’re clever, you can play tag team with your branding. So that your personal brand acts as a pull, and your business branding gets you over the line. Or vice versa.

So, what is it that you want from your business? After all, that is where the answer is probably hidden.


What’s the secret to a great brand?


Apple has attained what a lot of brands can only dream of: avid loyal fan-atics who act as brand-ambassadors without prompt. How do they do this?Here’s one way, the Apple Brand Experience.

As a relatively recent Apple convert, I am still at that early stage of wonder and curiosity as I walk the path otherwise known as the Apple Brand Experience. So far, I have collected a number of really positive experiences since acquiring my beautiful little macbook. The most notable one so far is the fact that my macbook works. Yes! Simple things. And, it works when I want it to work. This makes a refreshing change from my PC days. Each day, I continue to be in awe at how smoothly it runs. Surely, this was too good to be true… Was it all about to horribly wrong? In a word, yes.

A few weeks ago, during Easter bank holiday weekend, a horrid cold forced me to spend the weekend in bed watching back-to-back episodes of Lost. I enjoyed it actually. Amazed at how long my battery was lasting, I just kept moving onto the next episode. But, the inevitable happened, so, before starting the next episode I crawled out of bed to get my lead. I plugged it in. Nothing. Nada. No little green or red LED. Nothing. Zip. Diddlysquat! No matter how much I wriggled the lead, the little LED’s just weren’t showing up. And I only had 20 minutes of juice left! AND…. It was bank holiday weekend! Aaargh! Suddenly, the sweat on my forehead had an entirely different composition.

The next 20 minutes were spent frantically searching the interweb for anything on the Magsafe power lead. Lost was soon a distant memory. A few forums later and I’m now a little wiser on the subject of the Magsafe power lead. They’re not all that great apparently. Some say a little bit delicate, too delicate. Others think that it’s not that well designed, especially when you compare it to other Mac stuff. And others still complain of theirs dying just after the warranty expires. Typical! But, time was running out. I needed to focus. First, I checked my warranty. Phew, another 2 weeks left! Second. I found the list of local resellers where I could get it fixed. Third. Emailed friends with Macs to see if I could borrow their lead. And relax.


After two painful days with minimal mac usage (damn bank holidays!) the day came for me to take my little macbook to be fixed. To avoid potential embarrassment, I checked both my lead and my friend’s lead. After all, I would not look very cool bringing in the lead that worked. But, both leads worked! What?! Now I’m not sure what’s worse. A lead that is faulty, or a lead that was faulty once and now isn’t… but might be faulty any minute now. How could I take the lead back - it worked! But, now I didn’t trust it. Weird concept, not trusting a lead.

Well now Apple. What are you going to do now? My brand experience has been shattered. I’ve lost trust in you. How can you possibly recover from this one? This question interested me, as both a marketer and a consumer. A week went by and the rawness of the experience started to fade. Time is a healer, right?

And, then I find myself with a spare 15 minutes in between meetings and I’m near the Regent Street Apple store. Well, it would have been rude not to go in. I had never been in an Apple store before, so this was potentially quite exciting. Maybe, I could talk to a real person about my problem. The power-lead one.


I was a little apprehensive about walking in. Everyone inside the store looked far too cool. Would they let me in? I might get rumbled as an Apple newbie and get sent out again. I put my Ipod on to make myself feel better.

Once inside, I was in awe. As a retail space, it was quite incredible. It didn’t feel like a store at all, more like Apple World. There were zones, workshops, one-to-one training sessions, and people using products, everywhere. I made an enquiry about my problem and was advised that it would be best to bring my little macbook in so they could have a look at it. On my way out, I picked up a program of events for the month. After all, as a newbie, I could probably do with attending the “Going from a PC to a Mac” workshop at some point.

My next Apple retail experience was in their shiny new store in the Westfield centre, where, armed with my little macbook, I turned up as the doors opened. A very helpful, very cool guy welcomed me into the store and listened as I explained the problem. We walked together to the counter at the back. I was thankful for this, as I’m sure I would have got ejected for not looking cool enough if I was on my own. As he opened my Mac, he noticed a crack that had appeared near my mouse pad. I tried to hide it, as I was sure he would be thinking that I didn’t treat my mac with enough respect. He suggested that my lead connector might be loose, but that if I get my casing replaced under warranty, the connector could be done at the same time. And, while he was tinkering under my Apple bonnet, he also noted how slow my machine was. So he prodded and poked for a bit. Then he let me know that my machine should run a lot quicker from now on. Fantastic! I skipped out of the store with my new slicker, faster machine and the AppleCare phone number. All ready for stage 2. Result!

In an effort to test Apple, I decided to call AppleCare, on the last day of my warranty. Well, no. Actually I forgot. But, these things don’t matter in Apple World. I called and spoke to a very cool guy. Well, his voice sounded cool. I imagined him sitting at work in his jeans, scruffy white designer T-shirt, and trainers. Hair ruffled, but in a styled way. Like I said, cool. He created an Apple file just for me for me, which detailed my problem, and then he gave me a unique Apple number. I felt very important. But, I needed to be put on hold for a bit while he raised the paperwork. As my sense of importance diminished somewhat, I listened to some cool music. Then he came back, assured me that everything would get fixed free of charge under warranty and reminded me to have a great day. I did.

Now for the Big Fix. This was where it could go horribly wrong again. As I don’t have a local Apple store, I have to use a reseller to fix my little macbook. The marketer in me was once more very interested in how this next stage was going to play out. We marketers know that the challenge for brand owners when they outsource is ensuring that the brand experience is maintained. Outsourcing customer-facing aspects of your business can be risky, as it is here on the front line, that brand loyalty can be won or lost.

But I needn’t worry. Apple has clearly picked a very good organisation in my area. Once again, I was faced with super-cool staff and excellent customer service. I was so impressed with how it was all going that I forgot about my untrustworthy lead and got way too excited at the prospect of having new casing. I know. I should get out more. Well I am planning to go to the Apple workshop next time I’m in London.

So here I am now with my new shiny white casing, and I still have a lead that might stop working at any time. But, do I care? NO! In fact, I’m delighted. I have a new set of keys to tap away on that I can see (my E had disappeared), my mouse pad feels slick and fast, and I have no crack in sight.

2304078792Great brands know that if they have a customer in distress, it is a ripe opportunity to turn that customer into a loyal brand advocate. After all, the real test of a brand’s strength is how well the situation is managed. We are all human, and as customers we accept that mistakes can happen. It’s how we are treated in that situation that will colour our opinion. In my situation, Apple could have sorted the lead situation out no problem. But as a customer, what difference would I have noticed in my brand experience? However, now I have shiny new casing with new keys that I can now read again, and a mouse pad that seems even more efficient than it was before. So even though my brand experience wasn’t really in question (bar the lead), I am now even more in love with my little macbook. So, I’m more than happy.

And you know what? If the lead dies, well, c’est la vie! We can’t all be perfect.

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