The scene was reminiscent of a GCSE physics class. “This side of the glass tile is treated with the AllClear coating, which actively repels water. The other side is untreated standard shower screen glass.”
Robin Craddock, the then sales director of Provex Products, and now managing director of Lakes Bathrooms, then proceeded to pour murky coloured water over the entire glass he was holding. The effect was dramatic and instantaneous. The treated side was practically devoid of any water droplets, while the other side retained the rivulets of the liquid that had been poured over it. “Trouble is,” continued Robin, “you can’t see it, you can’t touch it nor can you smell it, so we’re not sure how we’re going to get our customers to appreciate what it can do for them.”
This was marketing gold and I thought to myself. “Just leave it to us, Robin. Just leave it to us.”
Fast forward from that industrial estate in Tewkesbury on a wet December afternoon in 2007 to today and Lakes Bathrooms is enjoying unprecedented success. Why? Because it wasn’t just a physics lesson we were attending, rather we were witnessing the initial stages of a brand being born.
The analogy is apposite as brands themselves should be regarded as ‘people’. They need nurturing and so gradually develop a personality that gives them a distinct and positive appeal as they grow.
Unfortunately, the term ‘brand’ is such abused and confused. ‘A leading brand’ is distinctly different from ‘a well known company’ and ‘creating a new brand feel’ is downright misleading when in fact the company logo and typeface is all that is being changed.
Building a brand
So just what is a brand? Why are they important to you and how do you go about creating your very own brand?
There are many definitions of a brand: a brand is what people associate with you when they think about your company, service or product. Slightly less worthy but still not quite there is: a brand is what makes people run after it. The definition I’d commend to you is: a brand is a promise consistently delivered.
In other words, in any dealings with your organisation, your public’s experience should be predictable and positive on an emotional and practical level. Whether you like it or not, your company is already a brand. It may not be exactly what you want, it possibly isn’t formed, but each and every day in all your commercial dealings you affirm what your brand stands for.
So why is a strong brand so important? In essence, people buy brands, not products. It’s a well told marketing truth that explains why even such uncomplicated and commodity products and services such as utility suppliers, bottled water manufacturers and telephone directory enquiry services have all spent a great deal of time – and not a little money – in positioning themselves as distinct and appealing brands in a very cluttered market place.
It wasn’t that long ago that buying a bottle of drinking water – let alone a specific brand – was an anathema. It wouldn’t have made sense and any rational person would have baulked at the prospect. And there’s the rub – we aren’t exclusively rational in our behaviour.
And thank goodness for that. What a frightening and predictable world it would be if we applied vulcan-like logic to the decisions we face in life. Luckily we all possess a healthy quotient of irrationality that affects our behaviour, which makes life more interesting and marketing more challenging.
Brands, or more accurately brand strategies, are geared to plug in to human frailties and idiosyncrasies. In truth, the most successful brands are specifically created to help consumers choose a product or service on other than rational criteria.
The logo that adorns your shirt’s breast pocket, the fridge door or that little leather handbag – it’s all about reaffirming your personality.
Never underestimate the power of a brand. Back around 2000, Skoda has image issues. In the showrooms, children were reported to have burst in to tears when realising Dad was serious about buying one of their models. The fortunes of Skoda have dramatically improved, though, thanks in large part to a brand re-launch campaign (It’s Skoda. Honest!) That embraced but challenged the public’s perceptions. Conversely, some years back, premium clothing brand Lacoste suffered from oversupply with its products too readily available in discount retailers nationwide. The brand was being cheapened and so, bravely, distribution was then restricted to premium retailers and Lacoste’s own outlets, which helped in regain the kudos it now enjoys.
There is a wealth of empirical evidence that demonstrates the value of a strong brand to a company. One the one hand, it will facilitate better distribution and help maintain price differentials. In pure accountancy terms, the brand value is classed as an intangible asset but one that in some cases is worth more than the bricks and mortar that constitute the company that built the brand in the first place. The Coca-Cola brand alone is worth in excess of $70 billion.
So how do we create a brand? Your company will have created brand associations purely by existing. No doubt through experience or research or both, you’ll have covered a niche that ‘s right for you. Now the main, and sometimes painful task is to be honest about your company and your aspirations for it.
Most brand strategies reflect inherent truths. Find out what your customers, suppliers and distributors all really think of you. Build on the positive and rectify the negative. It’s then time to define your brand positioning – where, in the competitive market place, will your company sit? What are the marketing gaps and opportunities and will you feel comfortable occupying them? Time for another maxim: never underestimate the consumer. In essence, if you pretend to be something you’re not, then you will be found out. Working to your strengths backed up by the acknowledged reality is the way to go. As a guide, there is a five point check list for ensuring the ultimate brand proposition is likely to thrive:
Credible: is what you say about yourselves believable?
Sustainable: can you then maintain the values you’re promoting?
Relevant: does what you’re claiming strike a chord with your audiences?
Motivating: will your brand proposition be sufficiently potent to generate action?
Differentiating: does what you say set you apart from your competitors?
A word of caution. It is always tempting to start building a brand on what is actually an operating strength. Unless these strengths can be translated into meaningful consumer benefits, they should be discarded. For example, characteristics and attributes like quality, tradition, service or, saints preserve us, craftsmanship, carry the faintest whiff of staleness. Agreed, they’re fine and necessary means to an end, but consumers are a canny and unforgiving lot who want to know what’s in it for them.
Let’s take a hypothetical example where an independent kitchen manufacturer YXZ Ltd, produces a range of cutting-edge, contemporary and state of the art products. Its brand positioning might be around, say, ‘exclusivity’. As a brand proposition, we need to be more engaging, so perhaps ‘be adventurous with design’ is where there’s scope. Straight away there are connotations of a prestigious, premium and, of course, exclusive brand.
Finally, the headline in the advertisement features an examples of YXZ’s products could read “Just how daring are you in the kitchen?” You will polarise views, but you will also win staunch advocates who share XYZ’s sense of edginess. Your audience will at least know what you stand for.
Back in the real world, and from what I’ve seen of Steel Cuisine, it strikes me as a good example of a brand that isn’t compromising itself. While it boasts modern and traditional designs available only through selected retailers, it can also accommodate most size and colour options. “As unique as our customers” is the proposition I’d suggest that marries its flexibility in manufacturing design with its premium positioning.
There is also empirical evidence that a healthy brand is better placed to weather harsh trading conditions. Lakes Bathrooms enjoyed a 133% increase in pre-tax profits last year. Its business model and commitment to product innovation are fundamentally responsible. But, as Clive Organ, its sales and marketing director, commented: “It’s difficult to attach precise value to creating the Lakes brand. But it did give focus, impetus and a clear direction in our marketing effort. There’s no doubt the business has moved up a gear as a result”.