Monday, July 13, 2009
Marcia, Marcia, Marcia! So here’s the latest in an unofficial series about stuff bugging me: The term branding. After reading yet another story about yet another brand “rebranding” itself (and likely dropping a ton of money to do so), I had to offer a different perspective as the voice of reason... in times like these.
So much of what makes up branding is how people perceive a brand based on their own experiences with it, as well as how the brand acts—not just the brand’s shiny new logo.
See. Above. Logos.
But branding’s one of those words that’s grown into something bigger than it what it originally started out as. It just used to be known as corporate identity. Or at least that’s what they called the design of a new logo as applied to the brand’s various communications materials like letterheads or websites. (When, um, websites were all the rage, youngins!)
Logos had certain attributes or descriptions assigned to them by the designer which told you how they expected you to feel about the brand. The description of the IBM logo is one example. Over 40 years old and still in use today, it was originally designed with horizontal stripes suggesting “speed and dynamism.” (Based on how people feel about the company now, I’m not sure that description fits any longer. Intel in that initial story link sure seems to own* speed now.)
Taking brand zeitgeist to extremes however, you have the new Pepsi logo that was developed using an almost biblical set of guidelines for the manual of the background behind the rational that describes the thinking. *gasps for air*
The term is also synonymous with standards manuals that most brands have to show how and where to use the logo, what the corporate colors are, how store signage should look, etc. And depending on how corporate a brand is, agencies often have to follow these guidelines closely when designing things like print ads, collateral, websites and the like.
It’s here where I think the nightmare first began. As more and more brands redid their look, the makeover in effect became rebranding, all because a company or product reinvented, reimagined and rediscovered itself. Branding hat-trick FTW!
Personally, I could care less what people refer to a brand’s “new look” as. Rebranding’s simply an extension of the identity creation process outlined above, maybe with more bells and whistles. (For another good perspective, check out the Ad Contrarian’s free book on advertising and branding.)
Call it what you want, but the main problem I have is when people think the word branding somehow adds this mystical vibe to a brand that creates an unbreakable connection with consumers.
It’s a one-direction, push mindset though: The brand blows out a new look across all media channels, then sits back waiting for kudos to roll in. This is where things get ugly with the notion of branding because it doesn’t take into account the other key element of the entire process:
I can tell you that a new logo won’t change the negative perceptions people have of your brand if: You always provide lousy customer service and/or expensive products that don’t live up to the hype. If you don’t believe it, how about a rebranding of one of America’s favorite brands that we saw up top:
So how’s that rebranding thing working out for you now?
No new slick look or color scheme could erase the baggage associated with the brand name in Enron’s case. Branding as damage control is an obviously fail because of everything that went down with the company and its leadership.
Or flail, depending on your brand.
The GOP is obviously trying the same approach in its effort to rebrand. Problem is, copying tactics such as your opponent’s colorful website is not the same as having a sound strategy. But you only had to see this in action during the last presidential election. You saw how similar both candidates’s websites and outreach efforts were, yet both were fundamentally different when it came to the issues.
This is why any brand that has a superior product or customer service doesn’t need rebranding. Examples of that little theory? Apple and Zappos. 50 free updates on Twitter if you can tell me without looking what Zappos’ tagline is. The core of what they’re about is right there in their logo, yet the majority of people I ask miss it. (It’s “Powered by Service.”) Their customer service is insanely good. People love working there.
How could a new logo ever hope to improve on that?
Take Apple. When’s the last time you heard about them rebranding. New logo? Haven’t heard about one. They evolve their look quietly on the site from time to time maybe or add a little something to their color scheme, but still leave it up to the fans to spread the word.
The logos below certainly represent a huge span in the evolution of their “look,” but I’m having trouble recalling press releases along the way shouting about their “new direction.” You?
There’s no major announcement that “Apple intends to rebrand to be more in touch with today’s consumers.” They don’t have to because they already do. In addition to their great customer service, their products are also insanely good. (Which also allows to them run insanely great advertising. Another by-product of getting the product right.)
People don’t care about your logo or your look if the brand is rocking in every other area. It’s just icing on the cake at that point. But when sales are down, or some time has elapsed between updates, the first thing most brands do is go “We need a new look!”
Fine. Whatever. Talk about rebranding all you want. Focus on a new logo with catchy tagline and awesome new site, but it doesn’t mean anything if you don’t start with improving the actual brand and customer experience first.
*Own being another word I will go off on in a future post.