I was involved in a discussion today about a client of mine that shall remain nameless, but has caused me to think about some of the basic assumptions that we tend to make in the marketing and particularly advertising industries and whether or not they are still (or were ever) true.
I was told today in a fairly categorical way that there are 3 basic things that every brand needs to do
1) It needs to make itself visible
2) It needs to make itself findable
3) It needs to stand for something
The assertion was that if a brand was not delivering on one of these areas then it would be fundamentally failing. This point was particularly being used to push home point 3) i.e. that we needed to do some Brand led advertising to establish the “positioning” of our brand in the category.
Initially it was quite easy just to go along with this as it supports pretty much all of the campaigns I have ever worked on, but then I started to ask the simple question “Why?”
Once I started to do that I realised that there were very successful and growing brands that “failed” on one, two or even all three counts.
I considered the energy category in the UK (I happen to work on one of the leading brands) and realised that the number 2 brand which has come out of nowhere in the past 5 years is Scottish and Southern. Scottish and Southern have virtually no brand advertising, well certainly none that I’ve ever seen, they don’t sponsor anything that I’m aware of either. And they don’t “stand for” anything that is differentiated in any way, their product is identical to everyone elses, Yet by simply focusing on getting their costs down and taking advantage of the online brokers, they have managed to steal a huge amount of market share. So of the 3 “must-do’s” they actually only do one and are very successful in doing so.
I then thought of a brand that actually has managed to be incredibly successful without making any effort to succeed at any of the 3. You all wear it and Bloomberg rated it as one of the top 30 most influential companies in the world a couple of years ago, you’ve even seen it on this page, yet there is a significant chance that you’ve never heard of it – YKK (stands for Yoshida Kōgyō Kabushikigaisha) are the initials that adorn most of the zippers in the world, but as far as I’m aware, they’ve never had a brand advertising campaign, they don’t have a brand positioning and I can’t even see a search strategy when I type zippers into Google, but I believe that they are one of the most prolific brands in the world.
And before you say “they aren’t a brand, they are just a product” then why are they now facing a counterfeiting problem with people making fake YKK zips.
Now you could argue that YKK stands for quality and Scottish and Southern stand for cheapness, but that could be just our marketing heads trying to force these brands into the models that we understand. I’m pretty sure that YKK never sat down and created a brand “onion” or compared themselves to a famous personality, they just got on with making good zips and getting clothing companies to put them on their products (Oh and a bit of illegal price fixing along the way leading to a €150million fine from the European courts!)
Anyway, the point is that we so quickly jump to answers in our industry that we simply don’t stop and ask “Why?” enough. Sometimes it is because we think that the client doesn’t know the answer and sometimes it is because we know that they do and we won’t like it. I don’t think that’s good enough. If we really want to make a difference for our clients and the brands we work on we have to start to challenge the fundamental assumptions sometimes and it just takes one word.