What is a brand? Ask a sample of the average-Joes and most will reach for one of today’s star brand icons. They’ll probably google a Coca Cola logo. Or point to a Nike trainer flash. Or show you the shiny Apple adorning their i-phone. Of course, these are all correct answers, but only partly right. As any brand marketer will tell you, brands are really a subtle mix of ‘10% logo and 90% mojo’. The lion’s share of any brand sits not in its physical identity, but in the much fluffier and less tangible attributes that surround it. Its real value lies not in its appearance, but the associations and behaviours it excites in people.
That’s why branding agencies invest so much time (and charge so much money) to understand the ‘mojo’ of a brand before crafting its brand bible. Without knowing the essential back-story it’s impossible to engineer an identity that fits the bill.
So why is this 90% so important? A quick look at the history books shows us that long ago symbols carried an armful of associative baggage. For instance, the heraldry of the Middle Ages was a widely understood visual code: coats of arms included pictorial representation of status and family background. They also carried vital associative info on allegiances and political influence. Most importantly, you didn’t need to be literate to distinguish a friendly knight from a hostile foe hell-bent on cutting your head off.
Centuries later enterprising traders found symbols useful in making their businesses more memorable and recognisable to their customers. Brands started to evolve from simple marks of property to more sophisticated graphic identities that communicated the qualities of the businesses they represented. As most trading interactions were face to face, brands became (in buyers’ minds) synonymous with the experience of buying, and the people they were buying from. Brands became meaningful and commercially valuable in their own right.
Today brand equity is big business. Many companies invest a hearty chunk of their budget in marketing their brand, as well as the products and services they sell. Businesses do less interpersonal trading and rely on the latest technologies and intermediate channels to attract customers. In our unpeopled virtual world it’s easy for brands to become more remote, less personal and lose touch with their real-world positive values. This means brands need to work much harder as business ambassadors. They need to be vehicles of influence, constantly reinforcing the strengths of their mothership businesses in the minds of customers. And with social media giving buyers the collective power to bite back at brands that don’t deliver, businesses need their brands to work their ‘mojo’ or risk losing ground to more sensitive competitors.
So don’t knock the fluffier side of branding. It could save you your business.