It started out with a red hot branding iron sizzling on bare flesh. A name and marque was added. A tagline followed. Then the embellishments of colour, fonts and language.
What emerged was a brand prototype. A tool used to shape market leadership and create competitor envy – Apple et al. Or a club to try and beat competitors into submission – Nike and Reebok battling to near death and the Cola Wars of the 80s.
One of the positive things to come out of this era was recognition that brands had intangible value and they started to show up on balance sheets. This represented a step change and added a new dimension to branding.
And, surprise, surprise, an even newer dimension is in the process of being added, courtesy of the internet.
This damn internet has so much to answer for. It bombards us with messages, blinds us with imagery and spews information at us – so much so that consumers have become desensitised. They want the products and services they purchase to have the same values as them. They value fantastic service, and in an increasingly hectic world they want to be transported away from their daily concerns – damn it, they want to be surprised and delighted.
Branding in the third dimension
All of this means brands have to reach out further, be seen in places they’ve avoided in the past, take on new causes and ditch perceived wisdom.
The following are some of the activities undertaken by brands that move in the third dimension.
The Block NZ is the first of its kind in New Zealand where the show has been fully funded by sponsors.
It differs from traditional sponsorship because the content (in this case a DIY show) offers specific benefits to the audience, which makes the brand, from the viewer’s perspective, more meaningful and acceptable.
It also mitigates against time-delayed viewing when viewers are likely to fast-forward through advertisements. (Hands up who doesn’t fast forward through the ads? Harvey Norman die die die!)
I asked Nicole Williams, marketing manager for Mitsubishi Electric, why they moved from traditional advertising to a shared branding model.
“We saw The Block NZ as a unique opportunity to showcase how Mitsubishi Electric products can improve a home," she says.
“Heating and ventilation are key considerations in any new home build or renovation project as they offer high comfort levels and tangible resell value.
“The options available within our products allowed them to be integrated into the couples’ designs and our prizes contributed tangible value to Libby and Ben’s winning house (which was fitted with an additional $15,000 of Mitsubishi Electric products through winning both the home automation and solar panel packages).
Corporate social responsibility
Consumers are making it known that sustainability plays an important part in their decision making process. And CEOs are listening - 93 percent of them see sustainability as important to the success of their companies, while 72 percent cite 'brand, trust and reputation' as one of the top three factors driving them to take action on sustainability issues.
American aluminium manufacturer Alcoa developed a smog-eating material that cleans itself and the air around it, by decomposing the pollutants that coat the surfaces of buildings.
In 2009 Coca Cola developed the PlantBottle as part of a wider plan to become more environmentally sustainable. By 2020 the company plans to use it in 100 percent of its markets and in doing so eliminating the reliance on petrochemicals.
“If we want our employees to provide superior service, we need to provide them with a superior space.” - HermanMiller.
As we all know, Steve Jobs’ design ethos was based on achieving a balance between functionality and the aesthetic.
It should come as no surprise to many of you that one of his last projects was the design of Apple’s new headquarters. The design is clean and highly functional, creating a space that inspires creativity.
It is an environment that produces a seamless brand connection between designing the product and its use.
Full disclosure: the agency I work for is currently working on creating branded environments for a number of offices for McConnell Dowell and Electrix, with the objective of creating more enjoyable work spaces and more engaged employees. You can check out some of the work here.
Moments of happiness:
Cadbury’s Snow Globe, Coke’s Happiness Truck and The Smirnoff Night Project are brands that have something in common. These brands have demonstrated an ability to act on insights that give people (customers or not) a ‘moments of sheer delight not normally experienced with traditional interactions with a brand.
The Smirnoff Night Project asked fans to submit their best ideas for one extraordinary night out. The winners had their ideas ‘brought to life’ with the help of Smirnoff. Smirnoff brand manager Pip Larsen explains:
“We chose to go down this route for many reasons, first and foremost, it suited our target market and the insights we have about them. Our fans crave a ‘life less ordinary’ and experiential is certainly full of opportunities to deliver on that. We saw an opportunity to create value outside of price, to cut through the clutter of trade ads and reach a relatively cynical market.
"The idea created really passionate brand advocates while activating the ones we have – it gave people a reason to talk about the brand in a unique way.”
Branding in the third dimension responds to new social and economic conditions. But more importantly, it is a response to changing consumer expectations of the brand experience. Consumers want a deeper interaction with their brands – one that harmonises with their values and world view.
And they’re asking hard questions such as How ethical is this brand? Or, How does it contribute to the ‘greater good’?
The likes of Alcoa and Coca Cola are challenging themselves by broadening their CSR activities. Environmental branding is acknowledging, amongst other things, that brands are built from the inside out. While Mitsubishi Electric, Kiwibank, Bunnings and Wild Bean Cafe added value, traditional advertising adds very little.
Smart brands are adding new brand touch points and giving increasing importance to creating a more rewarding brand experience.
We are living in unstable times, financially and socially, and no doubt will be for some time yet. Stumbling from one maelstrom to another, the moments of happiness that we do experience are cherished and passed on to our friends and family. For brands, staying ahead of the pack has never been more competitive, and it isn’t all about speed and consistency and it isn’t about selling a product or a service, it’s about selling an experience that convinces people that there is no substitute for your brand.
Kaleb Francis is digital brand strategist at Marque - Brand Partners