When it comes down to it, branding is common sense. (Thousands of brand strategists, managers, and creatives just collectively gasped. Bear with me here.) But really, branding is about answering three questions.
The magic questions are:
1. What is the product?
2. What about your product makes it different?
3. Who needs your product?
You can replace ‘your product’ with your company, your service, your solution, even your name–whatever you want to brand.
Most people answer these questions incorrectly. It’s not their fault, they just need some help. Take a look at how 2 companies with a similar product answered.
1. Portable, digital music player
2. Our product is the first of its kind and is an mp3 player that holds 5GBs of data.
3. 16-30 year olds, mostly middle class
1. Portable, digital music player
2. Our product lets you take your music with you, wherever you go.
3. Music lovers
By now you can probably guess Company B’s product; Apple’s iPod. Do you know Company A? Didn’t think so. Company A is Creative Technologies. They came out with a portable, digital music player almost 2 years before the iPod. Then why have we never heard of Creative? Is it because they didn’t do enough marketing, didn’t have a good product, didn’t do expensive focus groups? No, they had all of those things but made one big mistake–they never addressed the problem that the product solved.
About a thousand years ago people who loved music collected records. Records are heavy, impossible things. This doesn’t even take into account the player or the power required to use it. Vinyl was really fragile. A single scratch in the middle of Stairway could ruin your whole night. So then came tapes. (I’m going to leave Beta out of this, the poor thing has been through enough.) So then tapes, and the tape player. Tapes were great because you could throw them across the room and they would play just fine. You could also make your own mixes to give to that girl you crushed. One problem still existed, music wasn’t mobile. Sony solved this with the walkman. Over 50 million Walkmans were sold during the product’s lifetime. Which is an amazing story in itself but we’re here to talk about Apple and branding. Then came the digital revolution and the CD and Walkman’s CD player and then computers and MP3s. The natural succession was a portable mp3 player.
Two Sides of the Story
In 2000 Creative launched their NOMAD Jukebox mp3 player. Their branding focused on what the product was and what the product did. They did not talk about the problem the product solved. Instead, they crafted messaging about how the product was cool, innovative, and groundbreaking. In 2004, Creative scrapped the NOMAD brand and launched their new player under the newly formed Zen brand. Creative has sold 25 million mp3 players.
Over a year after Creative released the Jukebox, Apple launched the iPod. Apple looked back at the history of portable music. Almost everyone had either owned a record, a tape or a CD and understood the difficulty of carrying them around. The portable mp3 player solved this problem. You could load it up with hours of tunes and leave the CDs, the tapes, the records, the power at home. Apple’s first tag line was “1,000 songs in your pocket.” Yes, it was an incredible witty message, but it worked amazingly.
What Apple did was incredibly simple. They addressed the problem that the iPod solved. Prior to the development of the mp3 you couldn’t carry around a lot of music easily. You had to bring a case of records, or CDs, or tapes with you. The digital mp3 did away with all that but there was nothing portable that allowed consumers to play them. Apple took a look at historic problem and projected an outcome using the iPod as a solution. The outcome was ‘1,000 songs in your pocket’. Apple has sold 100 million mp3 players.
Creative Arts did not project an outcome. They simply stated what the product did. They did not allow people to consider the effect that it would have on their lives. CA did not state the end result of buying the product with respect to who the product was being sold to.
Project an Outcome
Brand strategists have long considered differentiation as the most important aspect of any brand and have used supporting messages to talk about that difference. That position has expired. Today, branding is about telling a story and including metaphors that an audience understands. Brands must project themselves as outcomes not just purchases. Brands must demonstrate passion and personality that audiences can relate to beyond witty taglines, cool looking logos, and expensive advertising campaigns. Those things are costs of entry, today’s consumer has come to expect them.
Brands need a central idea that audiences can emotionally connect with. Audiences are more skeptical than ever. They have unlimited options. You need to give them a reason to join your cause. Show them you understand their problem by developing a brand that shows them how you can solve it. The question is not ‘how different a product is’, but ‘how will I be different as a result of buying your product?’.
Beth LaPierre is a Brand + Creative Strategist. When Beth is not helping build brands she’s on her snowboard, spray painting something, or drinking copious amounts of espresso. Follow Beth on Twitter.