UNDERSTANDING THE NEW WORLD : The power of your brand

This year’s Deloitte/Management Top 200 Companies campaign, ‘Understanding the New World’, examines six major contemporary issues and opportunities for business. This month, an analysis of brands.

What does your brand stand for? What do you stand for? These questions are two of the most important that you will ask in your business career, says Michael Crampin, of branding experience company Designworks.
“Brand has always been understood as way of powerfully communicating what company or product stands for – its difference, its attitude and its way of doing business,” says Crampin.
Crampin is director of Designworks, one of new breed of companies that has sprung up to help businesses set up, manage or reinvent their brands and reputation using corporate identity and design.
He believes brands can help you to define not just your business identity, but also who you are as person. “You can define how you want to be perceived: as rebel, athlete, greenie, or cutting-edge creative.” Or as hot-shot senior manager.
“Ultimately brand is space in its audience’s mind, offering them something to fulfil desire or answer need, be it functional or emotional.”
And there can be serious repercussions if you get it wrong. Just look at BP’s woeful response to the Gulf oil leak, or how Apple recovered from controversy over the functionality of its new iPhone. In personal branding, look at Tiger Woods and at how David Beckham survived both sporting and sexual controversy to build brand as strong as ever.
“Today brand has more clout than ever before, but this power has to be used far more wisely than ever before too,” says Crampin. “If it stands for something, it has to deliver on that promise, not just through its communications – but its deeds.”
Today’s consumers are far more savvy about and less accepting of brand experiences that don’t live up to their promises. “The consequence is that the next advertising campaign will not wash away the issues of accountability,” says Crampin.
The most important thing to remember today is “a brand is what brand does”, he says, not what it promotes. “In times of recession it is important to see action over words. When an experience moves from product parity to product innovation there is an understood advantage – the consumer is being given more and as result will give more back.
“A brand in the current environment must do good things and have function that is useful. Provide both and you are being genuinely useful.”

Managing brand reputation
In this issue of NZ Management, senior managers have rated other organisations on reputation, something that Crampin says can be managed as brand exercise. “Brands have to deliver on what they say on the tin, no surprises there – but they actually have to perform, not just as product or service, but culturally, socially and ethically.”
Dishonesty can be fatal. With the lightning-fast messages of social media and the power of the internet and the press today, brand will be exposed (and quickly) if it promises more than it can deliver, or says it stands for something that is later proven false by its behaviour or performance.
So, what happens when brand gets mired in very public embarrassment? Recent events show the issue needs to be tackled head-on with transparency and honesty.
What seems to work best is when the leader or icon behind that brand fronts up and responds with grace, by being straight-up and by taking responsibility. Explaining why it happened and what will be done to fix things most often works.
A crisis doesn’t have to be the death-knell of brand, Crampin says. Look at how Dell reinvented itself after barrage of bad press.
“Brands that were previously seen as arrogant, out of touch and inhuman can use crisis as catalyst to reinvent themselves. The best examples go beyond image, and choose to change their own culture, their focus and ultimately their business.”
The best brands have an innate understanding of their purpose and reason for being, Crampin says. “The great brands, such as Disney, Apple, the Olympics, Google and locally Trade Me are clear on why they were put on this earth in the first place – more often than not, it is all about the role they play in enhancing life and humanity. This drives their actions, creates the ‘plot’ and becomes the rallying cry.”
Crampin says today’s consumers also want say in their brand, rather than just transaction. “They expect to get involved, influence the product and have some fun with it. The best brands (like the best websites) create two-way conversations that are involving and immersive. However, brand totally designed by its consumer will lack star quality that consumers ultimately want.”
The rise of companies specialising in ‘design’ thinking, such as that done by Designworks, is no accident, says Crampin. “It’s about the ability not only to define what brand’s position and story is, but to design that experience – products and touch-points. Every interaction has to be designed and stack up. One weak link and the credibility is out the window.”

The generational challenge
As new generation becomes target for marketers, branding will have to change, says Crampin. “Today’s uber-connected, totally networked, brand-savvy kids see through the fakes and the try-hards and show no mercy towards brands that are not up-front about their intentions. It is not so much anti-brand – it is more pro-honesty.
“They will endure obvious ‘marketing’ if it’s cool and its intentions are clear. This new brand-savvy consumer is driving significant change.”
Managers have to be aware of the shifts that are occurring between the different generations, he says. “The tension between Baby Boomers, Generation X and Generation Y is what creates our current society and you have to analyse what this means for making organisations and customers tick.” There will be rewards for those who crack the code – in fresh business models that will translate into hard cash.
The only constant in the new business world is change and consumers become impatient and bored with brands lacking in empathy or freshness, says Crampin.
“Increasingly brands are like fashion, needing to change with the season to keep up with changing tastes and trends. The age of corporate standards manual and locked-down brand story are on the way out.”
Pioneering brands like Diesel think nothing of continual reinvention, multiple logos and changing face, he says. He sees it is happening across all industries, not just in fashion, which has always been seasonal.
“The smart ones are continually shape-shifting in the spirit of their brand to create new conversations and fresh interest – from airlines and energy drinks, to retail and breakfast cereals.”
He cites Designwork’s concepts for B_E_E when it launched new breed of ‘eco luxury’ cleaning brand. “It was an early incarnation of brand that literally chatted you up with different pick-up lines.”
In essence, brands need to stand for something bigger than their product, says Crampin. “They need to stand by – and up for – their beliefs and be genuinely useful in what they offer. They need to deliver tangible advantage (it works better, it does it differently, it is cheaper or easier) and be imaginative and ever-changing in their pursuit of their ideal.
“Brands are living things that need now more than ever to adapt to the changing attitude and preferences of their consumers – whoever they are.”

The ‘You’ brand
Social networking environments provide means for ‘you’ to broadcast your life and share it with others. This is ‘you’ branding in its purest form. This phenomenon has altered brand behaviour in number of ways, says Mike Crampin. You branding is the ability for the consumer to ‘be in the brand picture’, where the brand allows the consumer to become part of the brand by being or defining the content.
YouTube is the classic example where the brand exists as means to channel

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