When brands are used as verbs, as in ‘to google, to uber, to skype, to xerox or to bubble wrap’, you know they’ve reached the top. And even without being ‘verbified’ this way, some brands are so pervasive across the globe that they stand for the generic product, such as Tupperware for plastic containers, Kleenex for paper tissues, Aspirin for headache pills, Thermos for vacuum flasks, and Coke for any cola drink.
These brands have reached cult status by creating a consumer culture that people want to be part of. ‘A cult brand, unlike regular brands, has customers who feel a sense of ownership or vested interest in the brand’s popularity and success,’ says Investopedia.
But no need to feel awestruck if you’re embarking on branding a new venture, because even the world’s most loved cult brands started out as nothing more than an idea. If you plan strategically (and are in the right place at the right time), this original spark – combined with passion, hard work and an insightful marketing strategy – will build a successful brand with a solid reputation over time.
The branding process
The concept of branding, which originated from farmers marking their livestock with a branding iron, aims to differentiate a product, service or person from its competitors. The process should start upfront, by clearly defining the purpose of a new business or product and choosing the right name, according to brand builder Raymond van Niekerk, who teaches Brand Creation for New Ventures at UCT’s Graduate School of Business. Giving the mobile payments app SnapScan as a great local example, he says: ‘The naming of SnapScan is spot on. The name tells you what it is; the functionality of purpose is so astonishingly clear, and the simplicity of their communication reflects the ease of use of the app.’
The purpose is the higher reason behind your brand, beyond being profitable. US leadership expert Simon Sinek advises defining ‘why’ your brand exists and using this as a foundation for the rest, such as the ‘how’ (brand experience; company culture) and ‘what’ (products or service on offer). In his much-quoted TED Talk ‘How great leaders inspire action’, he said: ‘People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.’
Nike has, for instance, the purpose ‘to bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world’ while Vodacom aims ‘to connect everybody to live a better today and build a better tomorrow’. First National Bank’s repositioned brand purpose (‘FNB is more than a bank. We are defining what help means in today’s culture and in the society we live in’) has yielded tangible results: Its brand value rose by 22% to R19.4 billion over the previous year, and it was voted ‘South Africa’s most valuable banking brand’ in the 2018 Brand Finance Africa survey.
Brands also need a personality with human traits and a voice that appeals to a specific consumer segment. A well-defined, authentic brand personality allows consumers to relate on a personal level and intuitively desire the product or service.
There’s a 1997 framework ‘Five core dimensions and their facets’ that is still widely used to measure brand personalities. These are: sincerity (down-to-earth, honest, wholesome, cheerful); excitement (daring, spirited, up-to-date, imaginative); competence (reliable, intelligent, successful); sophistication (upper class, charming); and ruggedness (outdoorsy, tough).
Take Nando’s, for instance. The chain’s offering is easily replicable, but its unique personality sets it apart. It falls under the dimension ‘excitement’, as it prides itself on being a brave South African brand that unites diverse people and pushes boundaries in its sharp, witty marketing. ‘There is a tonality and cheekiness to Nando’s’ brand. We have the ability to laugh through difficulty,’ the company’s chief marketing officer, Doug Place, told CapeTalk radio.
This seems to be the right recipe. ‘It all boils down to really knowing your customer,’ says Van Niekerk. ‘You need to break down your target group to a granular level to truly understand them.’
‘As a brand, you need to achieve three things: get your customers to trust you; get them to believe in your expertise/product quality; and get them to like you. For this, you need to create interest or excitement for your product,’ he says. ‘You can’t bore anybody into buying something.’
It’s crucial to find appropriate channels to connect with your target group. In Africa, the traditional hard sell of ‘pushing’ advertising via phone marketing, TV and print ads still works, although younger consumers ‘pull’ brand info from social-media influencers and online reviews.
Companies that listen and learn from the new generation of digital natives are directing their spend towards Instagram, Snapchat and YouTube as the new front line in brand engagement.
The key is staying true to your brand. Brand building is an ongoing process that never ends. Or as Sinek puts it, consider it a love affair rather than a one-night stand.