By the early 90s, “branding,” was lying bloody and barely alive in a ditch somewhere.
Aaaaand we’re back. Happy New Year! Herewith begins the liveblogging of Chapter 1!
Chapter 1 begins to lay out Bedbury’s views on the definition of branding, and the components of a successful brand. He looks at Marlboro’s early 90s crash, Nike’s rise, Harley Davidson’s success at innovention, and the beginnings of Starbucks’ caffeine-fueled hegemony.
Whatever Happened to the Marlboro Man?
Some older ad guys remember when Marlboro had to drastically cut its prices with a sort of apocalyptic dread. One of the oldest, most solid brands in history had just cratered, in spite of years of building a strong emotional bond with smokers. Business analysts declared the very idea of branding dead. Wall Street thought that from then on, price rather than brand loyalty would drive sales; that branding was no longer adequate to the task.
Bedbury theorizes on the other hand that Marlboro crashed because they stopped innovating and failed to create great products, thus allowing other cigarettes to achieve product parity and destroy Marlboro’s differentiation. Marlboro became a commodity rather than a premium product.
Marlboro in its prime = Nike in its prime
Bedbury compares Marlboro in its prime to Nike in its realization that some of the most powerful benefits of of their product were emotional, not physical. Marlboro eventually failed because it stopped prioritizing the maintenance of that relationship. Their marketing became predictable and they stopped innovating in their products, which destroyed that emotional bond. Nike OTOH continually reinvented its products, taking dozens of angles on the same core brand positioning.
He pinpoints “mass customization,” of products around a central brand position as a powerful way to build relationships between a brand and its customers. Another example Bedbury awards prominence to is Harley-Davidson which offers “myriad ways to customize its core products,” while never compromising on its core positioning of personal freedom, rebellion, and the open road. Nike’s strategy was similar, with its “collections,” of products (and ads) specifically designed for and marketed to specific sports.
Transmogrifying a commodity into a premium
Bedford further explores the nature of the commodity vs premium argument (an argument that’s been crucial to my own ideas about branding) by turning his attention to Starbucks and Morton Salt, two companies that transformed commodities into premiums.
Starbucks accomplished this by focusing on differentiating itself from competitors who, at the time, were producing crappy cans of cheap coffee for the grocery store channel. Starbucks focused instead on creating a delicious, hand-crafted, custom product in a warm, welcoming environment, created by happy, friendly, well-taken-care-of employees. No big, expensive marketing investments, just grassroots word of mouth marketing. Over time, this focus on making a great product, and building a great customer experience around it, helped Starbucks grow into one of the most recognized and powerful brands in the world.
Brand karma and Maslow’s hierarchy of needs
Budbury attributes the success of brands like Starbucks, Harley-Davidson, Nike and even Marlboro in its prime to two factors:
- Great products
- Appealing to customers’ more sophisticated desires regarding those products
According to Bedbury, great brands appeal to the higher levels of Maslow’s hierarchy, of needs – esteem, belonging, connection and joy. They build what he calls brand karma by doing good for their customers. Brand karma is everything a brand does or doesn’t do (ignoring a bad customer experience is bad for brand karma).
All of these concepts have become important to me in my own work. Allow me to summarize my Chapter 1 takeaway, using these handy bullet points:
- Don’t compete on price if you don’t want to fall victim to product parity.
- As long as your product lines don’t contradict your core brand position or promise, you’re seen as creative, whereas if you stop innovating you’re seen as irrelevant.
- Focus on building a great product and an organization that can sustain it.
- The platonic ideal of the brand is that it’s an impression in the mind of your target.
- Consistently evoke pleasant feelings over time. Your product will come and go, but your brand should remain constant.
Jumping the Snark:
Bedbury spends a whole section of Chapter 1 praising quack/fraud Deepak Chopra, and raving about a Chopra workshop he admits to attending.