In the hope that they will one day evolve into something of substance, I have recently been scribbling down notes on some of the ideas I have around marketing, advertising and communication in general. Bear in mind I share these thoughts purely in my capacity as a consumer – I am no marketing, branding or advertising guru. I only hope to introduce a little perspective into an interesting conversation.

These are the unedited, unrefined thoughts I penned around “branding”. I’d love your comments and contributions, whether you agree or not!

What have brands got to do with it?

We’re precious about our brands, aren’t we? We spend the GDP of a small African state on creative agencies so that they can come up with a funky logo bundled with a 42-page Corporate Identity document – “something that reflects the personality of the brand.”

Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with a funky logo. But do not be fooled – many a business with a crappy logo has done fine on the back of great internal culture, quality products and solid customer service. Seldom will you find the reverse – companies with beautifully designed corporate identities but diabolically bad products and customer service, who thrive.

What we need to realise is that ‘brand’ and ‘logo’ are not synonymous.

Picture a stream of shoppers coursing through the passageway of a popular local mall. Some are coming, some are going. Some are heavily laden with a day’s purchases and others skip from store to store. Every single one of them passes a bank which rents space on that floor – let’s call it National Unified, or better yet, substitute in your mind’s eye your bank of choice.

Now thanks to the central marketing and branding team at National Unified every shopper notices the backlit logo mounted on the wall above and next to the revolving door leading into the branch. Much time, energy and money has been put into ensuring that the ‘brand experience’ is consistent regardless of which branch of National Unified you find yourself in.

The thing is, that’s only half helpful. Regardless of how slick and current National Unified’s shiny logo is, and no matter how well appointed the branch layout and décor is, no two people passing or entering the store will feel exactly the same way about the bank.

Surely this is not news to you?

Joe walks past, notices National Unified, but it’s not his bank – he’s with RFB (a National Unified competitor) – and as such doesn’t really care.

Sally walks past, thinks of the cash she nearly forgot to draw for her son’s sports day, and quickly darts inside, heading toward the ATM. “Thanks goodness there was a branch right here to remind me”, she thinks.

Jennifer walks into the bank behind Sally, nervous as she needs to file an application for a homeloan and has been turned down twice already at National Unified competitors. National Unified has the power the to make her dreams come true, or break her heart.

Fred walks past the bank in the opposite direction to Joe. Fred recently resigned from his job as an advisor at National Unified, and can only cast his eyes heavenward in gratitude that he took the plunge. Thanks to a particularly narcissistic boss, he absolutely hated working there.

Every one of these stories, emotions, associations and relationships contributes to the ‘brand’. A brand then is so much more than a logo; it is the collection of emotions and associations each individual person who comes into contact with that logo has. We can draw two very scary conclusions from this:

  1. There are as many different ‘definitions’, or ‘realities’, for your brand as there are human souls who connect with it.
  2. It is absolutely impossible to assume that we can control how people feel about our brand, at least directly.

Let me explain that second point with an example: A popular motor vehicle manufacturer is in the throes of a PR crisis centered around a recall of faulty vehicles. In order to ‘change perceptions’ in the market, their agency puts together a wonderful feel good campaign with smiling faces and picnic baskets and Labradors to convince us that their vehicles are in fact not coffins on wheels.

The company spends millions on making sure everybody sees this campaign. Billboards, double-page spreads in industry magazines and weekend papers, TV, radio and cinema. It’s a big one.

Meanwhile, you are in the market for a reliable family sedan. You’ve done your homework. Part of your homework was watching a video a friend of a friend posted to his Facebook profile demonstrating how his faulty recall vehicle spontaneously combusted because of an electrical short. That image – the story of a trusted contact in your personal network – is burned in your mind.

What measure of exposure to the aforementioned campaign – the picnics and smiles and Labradors – will it take to trump that image in your mind? I’m guessing it’s going to take some doing. Your perception of the brand has been forged by the most powerful form of advertising there is – a referral from a friend. And unfortunately for the company in question, it’s a bad referral.

So how then do you ensure the collective perception of your brand, in the mind of both your customers and your employers, is as congruent as possible with the brand you idealise?

Do a good job.

That’s common sense.