Understanding brand meaning
Right now, ‘brand’ means many things. For some it is a drain when business needs to spend on other things to survive. For others it is a desperately needed growth engine. For beleaguered marketeers and brand consultants, brand strategy models are being refreshed.
And their world is full of various brand marketing development models spanning all meanings - triangles, onions, ladders, boxes and matrices – but, at its heart, surely the main purpose of a brand is to simplify and reassure.
Oh, I know there will be those who say it’s to create pre-disposition to buy, create choice, or create a point of difference in generic, mature or parity markets, or, especially in a luxury brand, justify a premium. Of course, all have a point.
But is it not more simple: brands make it easier for people to buy things.
And the world needs some trust and certainty now.
Given the virus, the limitations on freedom, the loss of ‘normality, the forecast of economic Armageddon, the geo-politics… we all crave simplicity of message.
Brands are understandably anxious about their meaning, role, relevance and purpose. The virus is having a massive impact on behaviours and attitudes, but these impacts may not alter the fundamentals for a brand.
Those brand fundamentals are built on understanding on our complex, sometimes conflicting, needs, wants and desires of human nature.
Understanding human nature
David Ogilvy said this about the fundamentals and their enduring nature:
“Human nature hasn’t changed for a billion years. It won’t even vary in the next billion years. Only the superficial things have changed. It is fashionable to talk about changing man. A communicator must be concerned with unchanging man – what compulsions drive him, what instincts dominate his every action, even though his language too often camouflages what really motivates him.
For if you know these things about a man, you can touch him at the core of his being. One thing is unchangingly sure.
The creative man with an insight into human nature, with the artistry to touch and move people, will succeed. Without them he will fail.”
Psychologists, philosophers, prophets and writers aside, two people who also tried to understand desire were Konstantin Stanislavski, founder of method acting – Brando, De Niro, Pacino, Day-Lewis, Jolie, Bale, Theron.. and theatre director Peter Brook
Stanislavski understood that a fictional character's desires and wants were the key to great acting - and great stories.
He recognised the central role of desire in our depiction of the human condition.
The fundamental truth to characterisation, he said, is that characters want something, and the deeper the want, the more compelling the drama.
Brand marketers express this tension more lightly in conflict/resolution terms but his version is deeper, inevitably, but instructive:
"Desire is the crucible that forges character because it intrinsically creates conflict. If we want nothing, then nothing stands in our way. This may lead to a life of monastic enlightenment but it's thin gruel for drama. By giving the character a deep-seated need or want, you automatically put her at odds with something or someone, for the world is not designed to gratify our desires.
And a profound, unquenchable longing almost always forces us to do things we normally would never imagine ourselves doing -- even things seemingly contradictory to our natures. When confronted with overwhelming obstacles of a kind we've never faced before in pursuit of something we cannot live without, we are forced to change, to adapt, to dig deeper into ourselves for some insight, passion, or strength that will give us the power we need to keep going"
Peter Brooks put it somewhat differently in ‘Reading for Plot’. In the absence of desires, stories remain stillborn. This reflects a simple truth:
Desire puts a character in motion.
In commercial terms, desire puts a brand in motion.
Brands going forward
Our job now – copywriters, branding strategy consultants, luxury brand agencies, digital, design, visual identity experts all - is to bring it out the truthful character of the brand.
Not add it on but to reduce and intensify – as we do in cooking.
This is not a time for trivial gestures. This is a time for brands to dig deep and connect to what they do best. They need to be the best version of themselves, channelling their original wellsprings….
With thanks to C.Vallance and The Art of Character by D.Corbett.
Anew are brand development and marketing specialists for ambitious businesses of excellence. We help companies increase brand profitability through sharper insights, distinctive propositions, creative ideas and faultless execution. We are particularly adept at working directly with luxury brands, business owners, start-ups and entrepreneurs who are committed to sustainability, outstanding quality and craft.
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