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Who owns your brand?

Who owns your brand?

When John thinks of Cadbury, he thinks of entire slabs of chocolate consumed while watching Netflix. There’s red wine involved. It’s a happy feeling.

When Jane thinks of Cadbury, she gets kind of annoyed, remembering the hypocrisy of their equality campaign while paying zero tax in the UK. Money she felt would go a hell of a lot further to eradicate discrimination than a novelty chocolate slab. (She’ll still eat one though if you’re offering.)

It was only late in my career, after years of relationships with brand managers and countless conversations around market share, USP’s and brand personality, (insert your chosen terminology if it makes you feel more comfortable) that I started to realise how little control a brand manager has on the brand itself.

Or at least, how fragile that control is.

Our brands (and yours) exists ‘out there’, in the wild. A nebulous, fickle, grey cloud of opinion and preconceived notion. This, dear brand manager, is your challenge should you accept it.

Once we acknowledge that the brand is not owned by the founders, or the company, or god-forbid, the marketing team, but is instead owned by the public; once we let go of the notion that we can tell consumers what and who the brand is and what it should mean to them, only then can we start to look at positioning and pull the trigger on tactics, knowing the brand manager’s role is closer to that of a PR spin doctor.

Too cynical? Maybe.

But let’s consider this: Brand is that unfathomable collection of thoughts inside your consumer’s mind when your brand name is mentioned. It’s only really a series of associations that either reduces your brand’s product to less than a commodity, or more than a commodity. It’s in that difference, in that series of flashed memories, that brand equity lies.

So our task is to try and influence those associations. Influence, not control, because control is impossible. (If only!)

Once public perception of a branded product starts to slide into negative brand equity, we can see how difficult it is to control the narrative.

Like turning a slow tanker around, the force (read: money) required to get back to positive brand equity is enormous and much more expensive than just keeping happy thoughts about your brand where they are. 

This money, sorry… force, will be spent on increasing awareness of the brand in the first instance, and brilliant creative in the second. The creative needs to tell a new story, one that is believable and one that will stick among the jumble of images and words in the consumer’s brain, hopefully drowning out previous negative stories.

We can therefore at best, hope to only influence the narrative for the better.

This is, of course, true for us as creative agencies too. How do we compare to the generic equivalent of ourselves? Are we adding anything at all that gives us our brand equity? How are we aiding marketeers in shaping their brands’ perception? What are people out there saying about us?

So here we are, spin doctors. 

Despite the negative connotations of the term, I’m not proposing brand managers ‘bend’ the truth around our products and brands to tell a fictitious story. I’m merely pointing out that our campaigns and activations pull only faintly at strings that in turn create thoughts and memories inside John and Jane’s brain about our brand. All the while, your competition is doing the same, fighting for space in John and Jane’s mind and fighting for the positive ascendancy against yours.

Still picking on John and Jane… they’ve become disillusioned with our campaigns and our slogans and our ‘purpose’ and our meerkats and our ‘we’re-a-bank-but-also-your-friend’ stories.

The solution? 

Let your brand be what it is, nothing more and nothing less, and tell that story. Amplify it. Spin doctor the hell out of it if you must, while knowing you can’t entirely control the Chinese whispers.

If the story isn’t that compelling, find a new story, but one that happens to be true because nothing will aggravate John and Jane more than a made-up story about stuff they buy. Your brand equity will slide into a bucket and it will cost you more money in the long run.

So, a brand manager’s role is to influence John and Jane’s association of their brand and if all goes well, for those two chocolate lovers to agree on what those associations are.

It’s that easy, and it’s that hard.

Anton Vann
Director, Creative Coup

Creative Coup is a branding and design agency, creating show-stopping moments for our clients and their customers. Specialising in the FMCG market, we deliver print and digital design support to brands that want to stay relevant in a fast-changing digital world.

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