On Branding

Today, I’m writing about branding. While branding has gotten a bad reputation in some circles, and has been used in ways that may be derogatory to customer experiences, at it’s heart, it’s really just a tool to mark products. And there are many ideas behind the concept of Branding, but it’s function is essentially to create the public face of a product, or corporation. To reduce the complexity of what is a multifaceted product or organization into something identifiable. The basic goal of modern branding is to have a mark, that people, whether employees or customers, recognize easily. The more complex goals of branding revolve around developing what is essentially a personality for the product or corporation, and aiming it towards a specific market.

The end result is usually consistency, and a bit of simplicity. The need of branding as a crucial component really arose in the late 50s, when the post-war boom of consumer products lead to an onslaught of available products. Companies found themselves having to compete in a visually noisy environment. The idea was to simplify the mark on these products, so that these products could be recognized easier by customers.

Psychology plays into the process, and played into the development of brands. One discovery was the concept of ‘consumer inertia’; a phenomenon much like that of an object in orbit, that consumers tend to stick with what they know, and convincing them to switch takes some effort, but once they switch to a different product, that inertial force begins growing strong again. So for companies trying to keep their current customers, the brand could help the customer identify quickly, in a sea of products, the product that they already use, and are looking for.

The opposite side of this phenomenon is in enticing the customer to switch to a new product. And this is where branding draws further upon psychology, and gets more complex. It is here that branding, and the advertisers behind it, try to understand the customers desires, and create a narrative around products that promise to fill that need. And that narrative is designed into it’s branding. It is also here that we get into the area in which deception from the product’s reality becomes an issue. A good example would be the concept of greenwashing, in which the branding of non-environmentally friendly products is adjusted to create a more eco-friendly narrative and appearance. British Petroleum’s (BP) use of their green logo, is the most obvious of these occurrences.

Another phenomenon of complex branding, would be the creation of upscale goods; goods sold at a premium cost above others. And this too can be deceptive. As some goods are sold for higher prices because they cost more, either because of scarcity or higher production costs, while others are made to seem more expensive, and depend on the high end narrative inherent in their branding, to actually convince the market of their worth.

A good example of this latter position would be Swarovski Crystal, as their crystal’s initial production cost is very low, being totally man-made, but the company decided to market them in the same segments as rare jewels. For this to work, the market has to be convinced that their is a value that justifies the higher price, and so companies like Swarovski use a spectrum of branding approaches to convey this appraisal of their crystal to customers, and broadly, the upscale market.

In these processes, one generally observes the use of more emotional advertising, as rational advertising would fall flat on it’s face. The result: Ad campaigns and product displays that are more disassociated from the product itself, and appealing to feelings and desire. That is generally a good rule to avoid needless upscale goods: Is the product presenting itself, or a lifestyle? Most upscale goods that need to convice the market of their value must appeal emotionally to the purchaser.

So it is among these processes, that we must try to shake out what is a good product for our needs. And sometimes, to just remember what our needs are, as some branding depends on creating a feeling for a need within us, a great example being the soda market, a substance that is neither required by us to live, nor sold close it’s market cost. Yet, a narrative is created in that market that makes it seem as a natural part of our lives.

My advice in approaching branding: Remember what your needs are, and remember that the product or company under the branding is the end result of a process, and it’s exterior may or may not reflect the realities of that process. Learning about the processes makes us more informed people, and makes us less susceptible to being sold something we don’t need, or agree with.

Interesting article about the attached image of Zodys a now defunct department store that once enjoyed great branding success.

http://tucson.com/news/local/tucson-time-capsule-no-wonder-debbie-reynolds-fled/article_c73049f2-5038-5f24-b9a5-ccb87a9481ea.html

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