Use sociology to boost your brand

Gästinlägg av Richard Seger Johansson

I talked about brand drivers and statements of relevant differentiation in school last week. And yes there are a lot of good, smart, creative brands out there taking a relevant and different approach, finding themselves a proper position on the market.

But what is the leap to become a great super brand, something more than just a shelf share competitor?

First I think we have to leave the general thinking of just products and specific categories. As Colin Drummond, Head of Planning at Ogilvy West, claims:

Instead of just thinking about how our brands can differentiate on the basis of product or service attribute, we must think about how our brands can differentiate within culture.

Traditionally, marketers place brands in different categories and divide them into segments. But this limits the product’s meaning as whole, because great brands are never only in the product category. I think they also contribute to culture at large.

Great brands have strong beliefs. Great brands don’t have to give any reasons for why consumers actually should buy them. Great brands can exclude any product benefits from their adverts. In fact, at the risk of sounding nonchalant, I would say that your products oftentimes actually don’t need any technical innovations or even benefits at all.

There are no rational reasons (beside the free SMS/text service) or extra benefits that motivates youths to choose the Swedish mobile operator Halebop. Interesting reactions nonetheless.

Apple may not have the best of all smart-phones, the most technical nor the most innovative phones. Yet, the iPhone’s 4% market share volume-wise ends up to 50% of the total industry profit. Talk about a high margin product! And well-executed branding.

Starbucks may not have the very best macchiato. But who cares? A lot of us go to Starbucks to get our macchiato anyway, if not for the coffee so for the place to meet. However, Starbucks nowadays seems to have forgotten the main reason it was founded, which leads it to fail because too much focus is on its own product and category. (Read more about the danger of being blinded by your own product.)

The list continues: Domino’s pizza is probably far from being the best pizza you can get and ABSOLUT is definitely not the very best vodka.

Well, I think you get the picture: A great brand makes it easier to sell your product with higher margins without actually having the best product within its category.

The simple reason for this is that great brands are almost always much more than just a product or a category. Consequently, the recipe for success in many industries is to change your brand thinking from merely products and categories to include thinking in terms of culture. But also about to not become hung up about what kind of needs consumers might have or not have. One year ago I didn’t need an iPhone and, at this very moment, I don’t need an iPad. I do have an iPhone now, and I probably will have an iPad within a year or two

In short, it’s all about creating demand through understanding your consumers’ lifestyles and the context of the brand’s sociological role. And when you have a brand that people want to interact with, that people want to buy because the brand tells a story about them, then you are getting closer to creating a great super brand.

The Problem: I have not been in the business for long, but I have already come across brand managers rigorously protecting their brands instead of creating what could be part of something more than just another product category. But it shouldn’t be the brand managers who act as brand advocates – it should be the consumers.

The Solution: Extending the brand’s philosophical attributes instead of the physical ones.

What is it then with culture as a brand driver versus benefits on a product level? Here are some brands that, instead of dramatizing product features, focus on culture as well as on a more philosophical differentiation.

ABSOLUT
So much more than just a spirituous beverage – “Doing things differently leads to something exceptional”:

Puma
Celebrating the real supporter and football culture. No shoes, no products – just a wider perspective of the meaning and life of the brand. This is a masterstroke as Adidas, the number one competitor, is synonymous with this football culture:

Apple
No one humanizes technical products as Apple does. In everything they execute they try to have human and emotional touch-points, starting with the very simple logo in the form of an apple with no direct link to what they actually produce. Below is one of the classic Apple ads; there are no products exposed (as is often the case in Apple ads these days), and it’s not needed ether. Apple is a brand that customers immediately understand:

Burger King
Finally a really funny one from Burger King – “What if”. What would happen if there were no whoppers at Burger King anymore? Bear in mind that whopper is a part of the American culture:

Things to do (or at least try to):

  • Think: Which culture – or perhaps movement – could be relevant for your brand, instead of which category to expand into.
  • Invest: Put your money in brand (relationship) building advertising instead of product promotion.
  • Make: Always strive to make advertising based on the preferences of the consumer and her lifestyle, not your client’s.
  • Stop: Don’t measure gross rating point in the classic manner. Instead, try to measure how many who actually choose to look at your ad or really want/wanted to do so. (Read more here.)

And finally, challenge the status quo – all that seems to be “normal”. The most disliked and sometimes hated stars are at the same time quite often the most loved by their supporters. Why wouldn’t the same apply to company and product brands?

Think for instance about why Diego Maradona actually is that adored? He is also one of the most disliked football players ever. He as a brand stands for something beyond football itself, on very controversial standpoints sometimes, and for both good and bad, but this gives you a hint of what I’m aiming at.

If your brand has a philosophical vision beyond the product, and if it strives to claim a place in the culture instead of only on the shelves, then people who like it are going to do that even more and in a deeper sense than if your brand is the average “trying-to-be-liked-by-everyone brand”. People will talk about your brand, and instead of the conventional thinking of product and categories it will become an active part of the culture.

After all, that is the best statement of relevant differentiation your brand can ever get.

Here’s a recipe that will help you start. And here’s another.

Go for it!

Richard Seger Johansson studerar Brand Management vid School of Communication IED i Milano. Han har en examen i marknadsföring och har även studerat sociologi vid Stockholms universitet. Richard har ett stort intresse för det mesta, men framförallt för samhällen och kulturer kopplat till konsumtion, köpbeteenden, varumärken, marknadsföring och reklam. Så snart han är klar med allt vad han har för sig för tillfället, hoppas han ta steget in i en roll som junior account planner på byrå.

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Relaterat:

Micco på Twitter_____ The Brand-Man på Facebook

The picture at the top is Grayson Perry’s The Walthamstow Tapestry. The textile can be read left to right, starting with a bloody scene of childbirth then continuing with depictions of the seven ages of man, through childhood, adulthood and eventually to death. Around these large human figures teem hundreds of smaller images and words. The words are brand names, detached from their products but leaving behind them, Grayson Perry says, the aroma of the particular values they convey.

4 thoughts on “Use sociology to boost your brand”

  1. Totally agree with the general message written here. I have a simple mantra in the same context that I call “How does it make you feel?”. I use this to simplify understanding of what I would like to believe makes a brand strong, impacts our perception of a brands image.

    Basically, it is all about how I want to perceive myself now, how I want others to perceive me now, how I want to develop as a person – which results in the way a brand makes me feel. I would feel bad and stupid owning an iPhone, even though it is the best phone out there right now. Why? Because the story it´s telling me is not matching the story I am telling myself and others. Android phone like HTC Desire HD on the other hand is a match with my personal brand.

    I discuss it some more here:
    http://darko.plaggs.com/how-does-it-make-you-feel-a-story-about-stori

    and here:
    http://mashable.com/2010/11/06/value-of-brand-names/#comment-94492941

  2. Bra inlägg Richard!

    Lite off topic kanske men, idag blev jag glad när jag satte mig in i Dahléns grundbok i marknadsföring (Marketing Communications. A Brand Narrative Approach.) och såg hur mycket kommunikationsvetenskap, antropologi, semiotik, sociologi, kulturstudier, etc han refererade till. Mina grundböcker i marknadsföring bestod till typ 90% av psykologiformler. Och det var bara några år sedan. Det finns hopp!

  3. Thanks guys!

    My classmate recommended me something that I’m probably going to read ASAP – that sounds very interesting if one wants to dig deeper in the subject of relevant roles for brands.
    Thanks Pedro!
    ———-
    “Take a look at Paul Bloom. I think it’s more a psychological approach… But it helps to understand human behaviour towards pleasure (consumption!?. ). I think this can help a brand in the search for a relevant role in society as well as with the philosophical and sociological aspects”.

    http://www.amazon.com/How-Pleasure-Works-Science-Like/dp/0393066320/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1289841652&sr=8-1

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