Ever found it hard to explain what a brand is or why it is important? You’re not alone.

Many people find it difficult to define. Historically, brands were created to differentiate products and services from one another, but the relationship we have with brands has evolved over time, making brands harder to define.

My personal favourite definition (and there are many) is that a brand refers to the perception that people have about that product or service. What people think and feel about a brand is unique to them and this brand perception is built over many years and sometimes even a lifetime. As Brand Managers, we try our best to shape the way that people feel about their brand. But why does this matter?

The power of brands

Strong brands don’t just dominate their categories they shape the world that we live in and are incredibly valuable.

Take Apple as an example of one such brand. Forbes’ 2020 annual list of the World’s Most Valuable Brands valued Apple’s brand at $241.2B. In the 80’s nobody had heard of Apple, but clever brand positioning and marketing strategies meant that it developed a cult-like religious status.

The BBC documentary Secrets Of The Superbrands found that when images of Apple-branded products were shown to an Apple fanatic, the brain responded in the same way as a religious person does when they ere shown religious imagery.

Why are brands important?

While there is an art to creating a brand, there is also a science behind it. Thanks to behavioural economists like Daniel Kahneman, we have a much better understanding of what influences how people think and feel. In his book, Thinking Fast and Slow, Kahneman analysed our brains’ inner workings and explained that we don’t think as much as we think we think. He suggests that 98% of all our thinking is unconscious, automatic, effortless, and only 2% of our thinking is deliberate, conscious and rational thinking.

When studies show that weak brands trigger a negative emotional response and the mind processes strong brands with less effort, is it any wonder that we tend to prefer well-known brands?

Brands help us to make decisions.

We live in a busy world. People on average consume 100,000 words, or about 34 gigabytes of information every day. If that wasn’t enough, it is estimated that we make around 35,000 decisions every day. Makes you tired just thinking about it, which is why we don’t, and most of the time we let our unconscious mind run the show.

“Thinking is to humans as swimming is to cats; they can do it, but they’d prefer not to.” – Daniel Kahenman.

Our mind automatically sifts through information and ideas and will prioritise what it believes to be necessary. Kahneman explains that we use filters and shortcuts called heuristics to help us make decisions.

Peoples perception of a brand is used to inform these heuristics. For example, I bought a Toyota Yarris based on the perception that Toyota was a reliable and safe brand. I didn’t do any research to corroborate this perception. I just went with my gut. Turns out my Yarris was made in France. Should have done my homework.

The relationships we have with brands are important.

Because brand perception is built over time through everything that it does, the relationships we have with brands are very important. Coca-Cola is an example of a brand whose success is mainly due to capitalising on this fact. Coke’s marketing strategies ensure that its brand is available and prominent in social situations where you’ll likely be having a good time, think restaurants, bars, sport venues etc. They do this so over time you’ll associate fond memories of drinking Coke. Its brand campaigns will also often run during significant occasions like Christmas, which has led to people believing that Coke created the iconic image of farther Christmas that we know today.

A senior Coca-Cola executive once said “if Coca-Cola were to lose all of its production-related assets in a disaster, the company would survive. By contrast, if all consumers were to have a sudden lapse of memory and forget everything related to Coca-Cola, the company would go out of business.”

Why consistency is important.

Behaviour
Like any regular relationship with a person, people come to expect certain behaviour from brands based on their perception of them. Oatly is an example of a brand that recently came under fire from its customers after selling 10% of equity (£150m) to Blackstone, a private equity firm whose owners invest funds in activities that don’t align with Oatly’s brand values.

Visual identity
Some organisations can become bored with how a brand’s logo, packaging and marketing material looks. This is understandable considering that they are surrounded by their brand assets all the time. But before you think about updating any part of a brand visual identity be cautious. Marketing Professor Mark Ritson explains that what you think internally is overkill is noticed by only 12% of your customers, once.

Phil Barden’s book Decoded explains that most of our 120° of vision is peripheral and blurry. He believes that this insight can partly explain why Tropicana lost $20m in sales in 2009 when they redesigned their packaging. Customers simply didn’t recognise the new packaging as Tropicana, so defaulted to buying another brand of orange juice that they did recognise.

Trust
Being consistent builds up a bank of associations in people’s minds, builds up familiarity, which builds trust and people trust what they know.

Javier Sanchez Lamelas, former VP Marketing for Coca Cola believes that lack of consistency is probably one of the most important reasons why brand love suffers irreversible damage.

“As in any relationship, your brand can have a complex and rich personality. ​ That’s fine. However, as soon as you exhibit signs of random behaviour, the relationship starts to break up. ​Consistency does not mean being boring or repetitive – consistency means being true to the values you’ve chosen for the brand.” – Javier Sanchez Lamelas, former VP Marketing for Coca Cola

Conclusion

Even though strong brands consistently outperform the market, some people still need convincing of their value. Try to explain that brands are about reputation, trust, and perception and we use them to make decisions in every aspect of our lives.

In May, McKinsey and Company summarised this perfectly when they published a brilliant article titled The future of brand strategy: It’s time to ‘go electric’ where they describe brands as beacons of trust and explain that when consumers have unlimited choice, these beacons become more important than ever.

Photo by Laurenz Heymann on Unsplash

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