10 February 2012

Brands - Who needs them?

I touched upon this topic in my post Save the High Street, and vowed then to cover this enormous subject.

There are many people that think that having a brand is not important; that it is just a case of spending
a lot of money on something that you don't need for your business. You may even be one of these people, and I kind of hope that you are.

We all know how tough it is when you are starting out with a new business, or when you own a small business and don't have a lot of cash to spare. Budgets are tight, and it feels like everything could be classed as important to do and buy; set-up costs can be especially daunting. But what people fail to realise is just how much power a brand has - you cannot be face to face to sell your product or service
all of the time, and in some cases 90% of the time, so your brand is your main communication tool.
If it doesn't sell you, what will? It is your image and your voice for your passion.

What I hope to highlight in this post, is not just why a brand is important, but how a brand really works.
If you think that you have never been affected by a brand, or you believe that brands are unimportant
to business, then get comfortable; I aim to enlighten you.

Brand Experience

Like a lot of the population of women, I have my fair share of skin complaints, and I love my weekly pamper sessions like nothing else, so this is what I will be using as an example to explain brand experience.

I am using Liz Earle as an example, as her brand is the strongest skin care brand that I, personally, have been influenced by. From the earthy, natural, mineral tones of her colour palette, and the elegant and fresh look of her logo, to the light and airy image style, the down-to-earth tone of voice, and the impeccable customer service, it all sells me one thing; a lifestyle.

I really trust that her products are as natural as she says they are - from the feel of her brand; I build the hope that I too can have better, more healthy looking skin from using her products - from the feel of her brand; and I want to buy into the genuine, healthy, coastal lifestyle that she talks about - from the feel
of her brand. Without actually displaying images of these things, I am seeing a lush, green british island; coastal walks in the freshest of air; picnics in the sun with a growing family; peacefulness; a calm and tranquil home of pastel, neutral shades; fresh fruit and vegetables, and the best food at every meal;
high-end, natural clothing, that is stylish, classic and comfortable; and being at my optimum health
and fitness. So as you can see, it is not just a face cream that I am buying, it is a way of life.

What happens when all I end up with is a beautifully designed bottle on the bathroom shelf, I hear
you say? Well that bottle still represents all of the things that I crave, above. It is like proof of my commitment to the lifestyle that I am aspiring to - a ticket or a free pass almost. It seems ridiculous doesn't it? All of that from a brand - but it just shows you how much affect it has.

Try to think of a way that you have had a similar experience - if you are female, I am positive that
you would've had much the same experience with a skin care range that you have used and loved.

Brand Status

So we have looked at how brands can affect us in a huge number of ways - it is not just the look, but
the language, the personality and the customer service. It is an all round effort that is needed to make
us buy into a brand. Now I want to explore how brands use this experience that they give us, to tap into our self esteem and really control not just how we spend our money, but how much we are willing to spend.

I am currently reading a great book by Rick Poynor, called Obey The Giant, and in the introduction,
he talks about a really interesting experiment. This involved a wealthy family of four, who were subjected to a bit of a brand test. They were trying to live without their (many) designer possessions for three weeks, which the programme makers removed from them. The results were pretty incredible. The family had entered a kind of depressed state, where they felt that they had lost a part of themselves; their self esteem and their identity. The husband - a business man - said he felt 'totally insignificant and worthless'. In order to feel powerful and successful, he wears his Rolex watch when attending business meetings.

Now these are pretty strong reactions indeed, but it just goes to show how much people rely on brands
to communicate their lifestyle - to rely on for self esteem, and most interestingly, to display their class. The way that people are perceived by others; how they want to be perceived, or how they feel that they are perceived. The brand Rolex, has such a big reputation of extreme expense, that just by wearing one of their watches, he was identifying himself as wealthy - both to himself, and to those around him. Now
I couldn't tell you what a Rolex looks like, or how the watches work - what is so great about the product - but I would trust that they are the best watches in the world, if they are the brand Rolex, and I don't think I am alone with this.

It is interesting how sometimes the brand can be bigger than the product itself - it can have a quality
that may not necessarily be present in the product itself. Take iPod for example. It is the pinnacle of 'cool' in our society, and a massive amount of the population has bought into the high end, edgy, and very desirable brand - yet there are other MP3 players out there that may be better made, and with more features. So why aren't they as popular? They really should be considering the product is so good, but you see without the right brand, the product doesn't matter at all. In this way - and just like with the Rolex - it is about emotional buying for consumers, rather than rational.

You might be a sandwich shop, and have the most amazing product, but if your brand is not appealing
to your target market, then the product wont be as successful. There may be another sandwich shop
that opens up across the street with a great brand, which appeals to all the right people, and they will
be far more successful because of it - regardless of whether their product is better than yours.

People don't just buy a product, they buy a lifestyle - an image; they want more. They want to be seen with and to experience a brand that communicates with them on a deep emotional level - to feel that it
is about them and their aspirations - that it is for them even; they want to connect with it. They want to feel like they are being offered something better than average, and they will willingly buy into it.

Brand Responsibility

High prices for high quality is fine - it sets a benchmark to help people to know what to expect from
a product or service; you pay for quality. But interestingly, in some cases, you end up paying for the experience of the brand, when the standard of the actual product or service itself fails. In this way,
some brands take advantage of this emotional response to buying that consumers have, and do not provide the quality they deserve.

Using my husband as an example, he was looking for a really good quality jumper, a number of years ago now, and so we immediately looked to a particular big brand of organic clothing. Their attractive, successful brand and big price reassured us that we were paying for quality - investing if you like - and that it would last him years…It didn't. In this way, that big, trustworthy brand actually failed us, and we have not purchased from there since.

There really is nothing worse than being failed by a brand. You feel deceived, tricked, and oddly sad
that you have lost your chance with whatever lifestyle they were offering you; that was appealing to you. So the last point I am making here, is that customer satisfaction has to be a part of the brand too. Look at my feelings about Liz Earle - her brand is whole. She offers you a lifestyle that you want to buy into, and once you receive your purchases, you really feel fulfilled. It is the prompt, efficient service, the luxurious packaging, and the little touches to make you feel really special and valued, that completes
the brand experience. You must stand by your brand in every sense - actually practice what you preach, or you will fail.

From this, I hope that you can see that a brand is far more than just a visual image; it communicates
you and your ethics, and that is why the most important thing about your brand is that it reflects you in this way. You will have to live the brand, through and through, and so if it is not true to you, it will not come naturally and you will screw up. This leads me nicely into next week's post, where I will be looking more at brand responsibility, and the role of the designer...something very close to home!


  1. This is great Kaitie and has helped me with some of the stuff I am doing in the Branding course. Just different words for the same ideas I think can really help.

    I agree 100% with everything you say about buying a lifestyle, a set of values.

    My skincare brand is Dr Hauschka - every time I walk out of a shop with one of their little bags I am fizzing with excitement at how my skin may be going to feel and look... I love the ethics of the brand, and the efficacy - because like you say, it has to live up to its promise.

    I am sure I take a lot of the promise to the brand myself - realistically, I would probably feel nice using *anything* if I take the time to soak muslin in warm water etc etc etc, it's more about self care than the product I think. But there's a definite magic to the brand for me. It's a *feelings* thing.


  2. I am so pleased that you gained from this Charlotte - that is really great. I think I have heard of Dr Hauschka actually - from an organic company that promotes his range - but I have never tried it.

    Your ideas about bringing something to the brand personally is really interesting, and you are right, it is about taking the time to care for yourself - and it is a 'feelings' thing; 'emotional response'. The brands know all about these little desires of ours and how good they make us feel, and they encourage us with their own products. There is quite a lot of psychology involved really isn't there!

    Thank you for taking the time to leave your feedback - it is always appreciated so much x

  3. FYI Dr Hauschka is a German brand and is distributed in the UK by a company called Elysia - who are based just outside Worcester on a farm!!

  4. Thanks for that Charlotte - I shall investigate! x


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