At the beginning of the film Collateral Beauty, advertising executive Howard Inlet of the Yardsham Inlet Agency, (masterfully played by Will Smith) astutely tells his employees in a celebratory gathering, “We’re here to connect. Love, time, death. Now these three things connect every single human being on earth. We long for love, we wish we had more time, and we fear death.”
His discussion is in the context of how promotion of products, services, brands, serves to illuminate the corners of our lives. It rationalizes motivations, it explains behavior.
I’d say that pretty well sums up the “Why.” We don’t need a simple Simon to tell us to start with Why. We know why. I would argue, rather, it’s the WTF moments that define our lives.
Creases and Chrome
I took it in. I saw the liquid lines and fluid metallic reflections, and chrome glints of the 1962 Cadillac parked outside a hotel, and there they were, a pair of them.
Crisp and angular, evoking the imagery of the rear of the Grumman F-14, were the tailfins.
Those creases and fins stirred my soul, made me feel good. It evoked feelings. I couldn’t explain it. But it was there. Across time and space, and 59 years later, that 1962 automobile, a dinosaur by today’s standards, was cool. It was stylish. It had soul. I thought of all of the owners it had probably had and how they felt behind the wheel or every time they put the small key inside the trunk lock to open it, they couldn’t help but admire the fins and think one word, bold.
Having been a car enthusiast for as long as I can remember, I always had a fondness for the passion and feeling that the right creases and designs can evoke on an automobile. My guess is that somewhere in a garage there is a “mid year” C2 Corvette (1963–1967) parked between a 1966 Buick Riviera and a 1962 Cadillac. And the owner knows exactly why he chose those three vehicles.
Is it the look? Is it the brand? Was there common Bill Mitchell and/Harley Earl DNA that tied the logic and feeling of the body contours and creases together in the mind?
There have been hundreds, if not thousands, of articles about branding and the dimensions and elements of a brand.
Amazon’s Jeff Bezos is often quoted as saying, “Your brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room.” Apple’s logo is infinitely recognizable and ubiquitous, even if you’re the PC person with a Microsoft Surface and a Android phone, well, you know it when you see it.
When a company is starting up, growing, or in need of rehabilitative objective perspective, the brand is a crucial element for success; it doesn’t matter if the brand is a consumer-facing one (B2C) or a business-to-business one (B2B).
If you were to park a 1986 Hyundai next to a 2021 Hyundai or, better yet, 2021 Genesis G90, you would clearly understand that brands matter and have fluidity, dimension, and the capacity to evolve.
If you were to pick a year, say, 1967, and pull a Mercedes S-Class, Chevrolet Corvette, Ferrari, Lamborghini, and even a Cadillac and Lincoln, and park one example of each next to it’s current counterpart, you would understand that brands evolve and grow, but maintain threads of DNA and continuity, even five decades later.
If you watch a 1960’s or 1970’s James Bond movie, and then watch Skyfall, some of Bond’s hardware, such as the Rolex Submariner or Omega Seamaster (Craig pronounces it “Oh-Mee-Gah” but some say — “Oh-May-Gah”) stainless diver watch, and the Walther PPK or PPK/S pistol, and of course the black and white tuxedo, remains constant over time.
Just recently I read about the combination of luxury branding powerhouses Grand Metropolitan and Hadid. I’ve never met the man, but have read about GM’s CEO Vin Lee and what an amazing company he has built, meticulously assembling a portfolio of luxury brands, ranging from jewelry to fine furniture.
Grand Metropolitan is an exceptional organization and a true testament to the notion that there is always a market for the best of everything. And, the best products and services in their respective categories have infinitely appealing and valuable branding.
On LinkedIN I also follow the posts of Luxury Goods experts Lorre White and Von Striker, who have fascinating perspectives on branding and the uniqueness of not only Veblen Goods, but lifestyles and unique offerings for passionate consumers and collectors in a stratospheric buyer segment.
But generally, where do those brands live and breathe?
Do brands exist in the mind, or do they exist over time? Is it both?
We know that brands have at least, two, but more like 3 or 4 or 5 dimensions in positioning — what is the marketspace-mindspace? What is the marketspace-mindspace of WholeFoods as a unit of Amazon? As Amazon colonizes more brand space, what post-acquisition tenets of their strategy and brand will continue?
What is my brand? What is your brand? What are the brands which define us? What does my brand think, do, say, feel, and stand for? Which brands do you or I identify with? Who does the brand tell the story for? And what story does the brand tell?
Nike. Just Do It. What are we really saying here? The famous Phil Knight start up lore of waffle irons and rubber soles and the $35 “swoosh” logo has become a brand which casts an enormous shadow and says, whether it’s basketball, soccer, or golf, whether it’s a shirt to make you look less sweaty at the gym, or shoes to make you run faster or cushion your feet, whether you’re Michael Jordan or John Q. Public, you can, yes, can, and will, get off your couch and do something. And we will help you do it better than you otherwise would without us.
Just Do It sounds a heck of a lot better than “Get Off Your Ass, Ralph.”
The brand has to promise something and not break the promise. Damn, that’s powerful stuff.
To quote George Clooney in Up In The Air, “Why do we love athletes? Because they follow their dreams.”
Brand identification begins in a dream state.
The brand has to have a unique personality that doesn’t apologize, and is bold, courageous, firm, tenacious, and if need be, stoic, hot or cold, or whatever it needs to be, because that’s what it is.
The brand’s name, colors, or absence of colors, it’s font, it’s sound, needs to own the market. Self made billionaire Sara Blakely’s brilliant launch of Spanx had the roots of it’s name tied to the notion that comedians use words with a “k” sound for maximum impact and feeling. Spanx was originally Spanks but the sound is the same. It’s the category killer, first-mover and owns the market for what it produces.
I really don’t care for the term brand equity because it’s so 1980’s; but, it’s a term of truth. Brands do have equity, value, goodwill.
I much prefer the terms brand experience, brand trust, brand strategy, brand identity, brand values, because they all round out the elements of a successful brand in the space that the product or service occupies in the marketplace, but more importantly, in the mindspace.
Dimensions of Involvement
A true brand has mastery of the marketing concept of involvement. What are high involvement versus low involvement products? As consumers do we feverishly run through the steps of awareness, interest, desire, action, or awareness, interest, evaluation, trial, and acceptance/adoption? Or, is that just Chapter 2 of Marketing 301?
Ok, i’ll say it, sometimes price really doesn’t matter. If we need water in the middle of the desert, price is irrelevant. And that water doesn’t have to be SmartWater, AquaFina or Evian. Traveling parents in an SUV don’t care about price when the nearest convenience store is the one which sells the diapers they forgot. Most of the time, though, branding does matter.
A consumer is a navigator of his or her personal vessel in the fog of choices and the noise of messages and social media.
True brands, particularly luxury brands, transcend time and space, and market cycles, and they evoke feelings and responses.
Political campaigns, shoes, cups of coffee (Starbucks is the “third place to go besides home and work”) cars, furniture, luggage, e.g. — they all have brand dimensions.
What is most meaningful in the growth and evolution of those brands is the brand gap, because that is where the delta lies between the experience and satisfaction which is promised, versus that which is delivered. For the people who buy them, the $15,000 Vertu cell phone must make calls, yes, but it must do more, it must be more.
For luxury products and services, price, value and opportunity cost are intertwined.
The luxury brand is equal parts art and science, design and psychology, want and need, strength and tension. It must communicate without saying a word. It must stand for something while being silent. After all, isn’t branding a subset of marketing? Isn’t marketing a subset of social psychology?
Regardless whether you have one, or what it is, can’t you agree that religion and political affiliations are highly efficient and evolved forms of marketing?
As a business practitioner, of course I always want to know the WHY. I also want to know what gives the consumer the feeling of “WTF, this is amazing.”
In the context of a brand, there are many dimensions. Is the most important question to answer about a brand really WHY? Why does the brand exist? For the consumer, in their homes, garages, desk drawers, closets and most importantly, their minds, why do those brands exist in their lives.
The moment of truth is when a consumer gets behind the wheel, or puts on a shirt or pair of shoes, or grasps for the handles of his or her briefcase. That consumer experience may be defined by the economy of a Prius, the “I can drive whatever I want and choose to drive a Fisker because it’s rarer and just cooler than a Tesla,” or the conspicuous consumption of a Range Rover or M/B AMG G-Wagon with a LV trunk on the roof. However, when Louis Chevrolet “borrowed” the bowtie logo shape from the wallpaper in a hotel, did he not intend to having a rock solid brand which would outlast GM stablemates Pontiac and Oldsmobile?
Brands may in fact be like numbers in “absolute value” from grade school math, existing within the lines and white space with their own absence of positivity or negativity, and comfortably floating in as much of what isn’t as what is. “It is what it is” sometimes, in branding, means “It isn’t what it’s not.”
How do brands make those consumers feel, and why do they need to feel that way?
I love this Steve Martin quote: “Be so good, they can’t ignore you.”
That’s some great advice for a brand.
Copyright, 2021, Paul Fioravanti, MBA, MPA, CTP, CEO & Senior Managing Partner, Qorval Partners, LLC. All rights reserved. www.qorval.com