Marketing, we are told, is the second oldest profession and Brands are as old as marketing. In Ancient Egypt Ladies of the one profession that pre-dates us would draw their symbols in the sand so that men seeking their services would know where to find them. In medieval times pictures, colours and symbols would be used to advertise trades and professions when few customers could read. Cattle driven across the plains of the Midwest towards the Chicago slaughterhouses would be literally branded with their owners symbol so that they could be identified at the end of the journey.
But these Brands simply communicated a factual offering. A communication shorthand that says this is who I am or what I am offering. It was in the mid 20th century that marketers started to realise that there was more to a brand than just being a product name. Emotional Resonance began to be an important part of what a brand should communicate to a consumer. A word or two, some colours and a symbol, a communication shortcut for not only what this product is and what it will do, but also for a whole set of brand values, what this product means and how it will make you feel.
We are now so familiar with the fact that a brand communicates emotional values as well as product descriptions that it seems to me many brand owners forget that while the product description part of the brand is a verifiable fact (or at least it should be) the emotional part is an act of faith on the part of the consumer. They know that Coca-Cola is a caramel flavoured fizzy drink and they trust in the Brand that it will be refreshing, fun and deliver a sense of freedom.
Our consumers believe in our brands, it is because of this faith that they keep coming back. As marketers we know this and we build their belief in our brands through communication and often through sponsorships, charitable donations and apparently altruistic actions and statements.
How many times, however, have I worked on a brand where the consumers’ product experience does nothing – or very little – to confirm this belief. Where there is little or nothing in the consumers’ emotional journey during product use that underlines, confirms or builds upon the emotional brand values.
In our modern cynical world faith in our brands is a tenuous thing. Consumers see through virtuous communication or over-hyped product claims. They need to feel the benefit in the product use themselves. If you claim to be greener than your competitor then something in the product experience needs to prompt the consumer to believe you, if you claim to be a healthier alternative there should be a prompt in the consumer experience to support that claim, if you have a medical benefit the consumer needs to be prompted to believe in that benefit – probably before the actual benefit has had time to kick in.
A sugar free product does not have to taste less sweet, but there should be something in the consumption experience – even something that has no scientific relevance to the fact that it is sugar free – that prompts a belief in the consumer that this product is better for me. When we drink coffee – or even just when we smell it – it immediately wakes us up, makes us feel sharper. It takes twenty minutes for the caffeine to reach our blood stream, anything before that is a placebo. It is an emotional response prompted by a paired association with the aroma and the bitterness in the coffee. But every time we experience it it confirms our belief that it is the coffee that gets us going in the morning.
Modern brands rely upon the faith that consumers have in them. If we as marketers really want our brands to survive and thrive we need to ensure that our product experiences are underpinning that faith. We need to understand which elements of our product experience drive belief in our brand and we need to ensure that we continue to deliver this belief in a way that is distinct from, and better than, our competitors.