Brands have become an intrinsic part of the world of each and everyone of us.
Even tribes living in the depths of the jungles of South America and Papua New Guinea have seen the Coca Cola brand!
Brands are ubiquitous; but arguably they don’t exist, except in the minds of people.
You see, despite the fact that huge brand agencies control most of the big brands in the UK, brands have no physical presence. You can’t pick them up and handle them or send them in the post to a friend. In some senses they are even hard to define. Yet they exist and we all recognise many of them.
So, what is a brand?
Well take brands like the Open University or the University of East Anglia. They are well known in the UK; indeed well known globally if the number of students taking courses with them are a measure.
Both these brands have reputations for quality and much more. But at the end of the day you cannot handle these brands or pick them up and walk away with them. You can experience their quality, but the brand per se, exists in the mind of people and has no physical presence.
I’m getting to know these brands quite well as over the last few weeks I’ve taken part in a branding course run by them under the Future Learn banner … yes, it’s another brand.
I’ve now worked in marketing for over 30 years and some of my clients have been major brands e.g. KPMG, BBC, international conservation charities such as WWT and the lesser known Living Coast, huge construction companies and restaurant chains as well as major European and US based colleges and universities; so why take a course in branding? Especially as I’ve built internationally recognised brands myself.
Simple. The human mind thrives on stimulation and I love to learn.
So what have I learnt?
An incredible amount is the answer. The course has made me think about brands in depth. It has also made me question the reality of brands and what they are about.
I love the idea of brands. I know what they can achieve.
Brands Frequently Fail
I also know that they frequently fail. I also think that most branding agencies have been created, not out of need, but to create need! Strong words and provocative to some maybe. But my personal brand is about helping business people understand and implement marketing and that sometimes means I have to challenge perceptions. Sometimes from a strong personal base and sometimes just to make people think and explore new ideas. It is part of the reason organisations like the BBC ask me to comment on their programmes.
Throughout the course it has become clear that defining brands is difficult. The best answer to “what is a brand” I’ve seen so far is along the lines that a brand is about what people say about you (or your brand) when you leave the room.
That being so then clearly there is an imperative for the brand to be recognised and for people to have an opinion about what it stands for or represents. But sadly many brands fail to be recognised and people therefore have no opinion.
Of course, being on an academic course, I need to evidence these claims.
Take Three Brands
As part of the course we were shown three logos and asked about the brands they represent.
Here they are.
Do you recognise them?
I’ve shown these three logos to a number of people and the only one most of them recognise is ebay. Taking feedback from other people on the course, and there are hundreds from around the world, it seems other people had the same issues with EY and Z.
So why are these brands not recognised? Does non-recognition mean these brands have failed?
I’d love to hear from you with your thoughts on branding? Do you have a brand? Do you think that brands are only for large businesses? Which brands do you admire and why?
Please put you comments or questions below.
PS Over the next few weeks I’ll post some more about brands. I’ll tell you about a major brand I was involved in managing from it’s inception .. and how it’s now recognised as a global leader in its specialised field.
I’ll also tell you about some major branding mistakes that multi national companies have made. And I’ll explain how each and everyone of us has a brand .. even if we’ve not recognised it ourselves.
Don’t forget to tell me what you think below.
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