“You don't run with the crowd. You go your own way…
Got your own kind of style, that sets you apart…
What's there inside you, shines through to me…
You got something so real. You touched me so deep…
What makes you different, makes you beautiful to me.”
When the Backstreet Boys sang these lines way back in 2000, I am not sure they had any idea how these words would be so relevant for brands, more so in today’s world than ever in the past. This is a world where marketers and their competitors are largely selling products with similar benefits and features. This is a world where brand owners find their trade customers are not only their access to consumers – but increasingly their biggest competitors too! This is a world where fragmentation of media and emergence of new media makes it so tough to get your message to your consumers that it has been famously referred to as the ‘attention economy’. This is a world where building a long-term competitive advantage based on a unique product feature or benefit is becoming virtually impossible.
How then does a brand create long-term value and sustainable competitive advantage? To borrow from the Backstreet boys, how does it create its own style that doesn’t just set it apart, but touches its consumers deep? How can it make itself beautiful to its consumers?
Nothing brings people together like a philosophy can. It has been demonstrated again and again, most recently by Anna Hazare and his movement, that nothing can move large numbers of people like a purpose can. Nothing can create followers like a belief can.
And why should it be any different with brands?
It isn’t really. Brand belief is emerging as the most sustainable competitive advantage that a brand can create for itself. If I like ‘where you are coming from’ as a brand, if I like your purpose, if I like your point of view on my world, I will relate with you. I will ‘like’ you (and Facebook has converted what was a simple feeling into one of the most oft used actions!). I will ‘follow’ you. I will buy you. And most importantly, I will endorse you to all my likeminded friends. And a brand that exemplifies that for me more than any other is Brand Apple. A brand that has followers, sorry devotees who queue up outside Apple stores for 48 hours before a product launch, just to be amongst the first few to see it, embrace it, own it.
The day Apple decided it wouldn’t be another computer brand, however differentiated, and chose instead to be a ‘tool for creative minds’ it carved out for itself a consumer territory. And when they articulated their belief in the famous ‘Think Different’ campaign in the following words, they created believers, followers, fans -
“Here’s to the crazy ones. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.”
An inspiring Brand belief gives the brand great power in the fight for consumer mindspace. But, as Stan Lee got Spiderman to say many years back, with great power comes great responsibility. The responsibility in this case being to live that brand belief in everything the brand does. Everything.
The science of designing ‘everything a brand does’ is Brand behavior. And it is easy to see why a belief is meaningless unless it gets reflected in behavior. For that is what consumers see, hear or experience.
When the dog food brand Pedigree said – ‘Everything we do is for the love of dogs’, they meant everything. They moved out of offices that were not dog-friendly, their hiring policy changed, their employee benefits included health benefits for their dogs, they embraced dog adoption as their worldwide CSR activity, they created dog parks and dog cafes - And in doing so, created an indelible space in every dog lover’s mind.
But, where do you start?
Lee Clow, advertising Guru and TBWA\’s Chief Creative Officer and the Worldwide head of Media Arts offers a clear point of view – “First, we have to re-think what we call media. Media used to be simply a way for brands to target consumers, but today, media is the way that people are engaging with the world around them. Really, media is just any space between a brand and the audience. And in fact, I believe the best brands will become media themselves: the places, spaces, experiences people choose to spend time with. I often tell people that the best ad we ever did was the Apple Store. We do great TV commercials, we do wonderful billboards, but you walk into an Apple store and you’re now immersed in a brand that’s going to change your life. Apple stores are a media experience, and iTunes is serving millions of songs, podcasts and playlists – all media of the brand. And others like Nike, adidas and Virgin are shaping their brands to make themselves a medium through which people experience their lives.”
It used to be very simple. Brands did advertising: they talked at people; they bought television commercials and held you captive. Now they must interact with their audience in a multifaceted but coherent way. Now, brands and everything they do are media. The design of the product, the packaging, the label on the pack, the buying experience, the promotions, the communication, the post sales experience and every other ‘behavior’ of the brand is media. As Lee puts it – “If you buy a product, even the process of opening it becomes a brand experience”. And it is my belief that there is no media more powerful than that.
Some ads we like, some we ignore, some we dislike, but most we forget. And thus, the need to hit us with yet another ad, yet another campaign ever so often. And many brands go through life armed with that formula. But there are few that recognize that “People will forget what you said. People will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” When poet, author and autobiographer, Maya Angelou said this, I doubt she was talking about the power of brand behavior carefully designed to bring alive an inspiring brand belief, but she might well have been.
(Nirmalya Sen is Managing Director, TBWA\India.)