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Brands in Pink

It’s not just a colour. It’s a state of mind.

The colour pink is a unique and somewhat controversial colour that is loaded with meaning and emotions. Dr. Veronika Koller, a professor and researcher at Lancaster University who studied how people interpret the colour pink, says that pink contains more meanings than any other colour. This is a respectful summation of this revolutionary colour. If history has anything to tell us, the colour pink has a lot of opportunity left in it in the world of branding.

 

The Colour Pink

Christina Olsen, director of the University of Michigan, Museum of Art, says the colour pink isn’t part of the electromagnetic spectrum so we aren’t seeing actual wavelengths of pink light but “an extra –spectral color, which means other colors must be mixed to generate it.” The primary two colours to make pink is red and white but it is yellow and blue tones that form a wide spectrum of pink colours. Wikipedia has identified over 46 notable shades of the colour pink (where as blue has over 73). In the ranking of popular colours pink is listed as number four behind blue, black and grey.

Alice Bucknell in her article A Brief History of the Color Pink explains pink has been a spectacular contradiction for masculinity and femininity. In Japan, the colour pick is associated with masculinity honouring slain Samurais whereas western cultures popularized pink in the eighteen-century fashion scene within the pastel-loving bourgeoisie. The art world brought pink to the forefront starting with the French Impressionists and Neo-Impressionist movements (such as Claude Monet’s lilies and Edgar Degas’s dancers). In the 1960’s pop art took pink to the next level with artists like Andy Warhol (with his famous Marilyn Monroe). From there we saw pink move towards a vibrant neon-soaked 90s, to finally to a subdued Millennial pink that speaks to a more emotionally connected and tolerant society.

 

Tickled Pink

Pink is known as the happy colour. Think about cotton candy and bubble-gum— pure delights.

The psychology of the colour pink is firmly rooted in the perception that pink is a feminine colour that connotes nurture, care, calmness, romance and hope. Marketing has definitely played a role in portraying pink as a “girly” colour.

Intensify the colour to a hot vibrant pink and the psychological properties shift the tonality to youthful, energetic, sexy and fun. The range of moods and feeling pink can portray are vast and can quickly define gender and/or personality.

T-Mobile uses hot pink (magenta) to help differentiate their brand from the big competitors (AT&T and Verizon) and set an irreverent brand tone. In 2012, John Legere joined T-Mobile as CEO, who created a new brand around the colour of pink transforming the company to be more energetic, youthful and cooler. He must have done more than introduce hot pink to successful motivate his employees to proudly wear their shocking magenta uniforms every-day.  This brand transformation has been a large part of T-Mobile’s successful turnaround from a $29 billion in sales and negative $6 billion revenue loss to, today, a $51 billion in sales and positive revenue over $4 billion. In 2014 T-Mobile was successful in shutting out AT&T subsidiary from trying to use a similar magenta colour by trademarking theirs— feisty true colours.

 

Pretty in Pink

Associating baby boys with blue and baby girls with pink is a relatively new trend says Jo B. Paoletti, author of Pink and Blue: Telling the Girls From the Boys in America. She said the gender-code between pink and blue was firmly drawn in western societies in the early 1980s thanks to branding and marketers such as Care Bear, Barbie, Hello Kitty, and many Disney princesses. Pink became the leading colour to define pretty little girl’s materialistic world of glitter and fairy tales.

In 2011, Forbes reported that Disney Princess franchise made $1.6 billion (US) in North American retail sales and $3 billion globally. Making it the best-seller beating Star Wars, Sesame Street and superheroes. Pink power prevails.

The colour pink doesn’t stop with infants and young girls. Victoria Secret has successfully used the colour pink for over 40 years to build a lingerie empire of over $8 billion US (2015) in world-wide sales. In 2002, Victoria Secret introduced the PINK brand to attract high school and college-age girls to purchase causal loungewear a step down from the sexy lingerie.

 

Despite this pink persuasion, I have found no conclusive scientific evidence that gender-coded pink influences women more than men nor does it have any effect on human behavior. JR Thorpe stated in her article, Why Are We So Obsessed With Millennial Pink? There’s A Scientific Explanation For Everything, that there is sufficient “evidence that we do seem to view pinks in a positive light in some situations, likely as a result of cultural programming.”

Post World War II every home had some sort of pink household products based on targeting women who were entering into the work-force and started drawing a paycheque (thanks to the war). Remember grandma’s pink bathroom complete with pink doilies? As Jennifer Wright says in her article How Pink Became a Color for Girls, if a lady “tells you that her favorite color is “pink!” she might be telling you that she wants to be dainty and demure and stay at home. Or she might just be a badass who’s trying not to scare you too much.”  Does this mean that intrinsically women are influenced by pink to some degree, due to generational exposure or a desire to be part of something bigger?

 

The Politics of Pink

While the colour of pink has been associated with passive, innocent and girly. As an advocacy colour pink has been fierce and powerful, loaded with pride and strength.

The pink triangle was associated with the gay liberation movement but its original creation was far more evil as it was used by the Nazi’s to identity homosexual prisoners in concentration camps.

In 1991, the Susan G. Komen Foundation gave pink ribbons to runners in its New York breast cancer survivor race. The following year, the pink ribbon became the official—now ubiquitous—symbol of Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

In both cases, the pink colour is used to communicate active defiance and empowerment. Many feminist groups have adopted the colour pink as a sign of strength and pride in the mission towards equality and opportunity.

The pink ribbon Breast Cancer Awareness Month is an excellent example of using the gender-coded colour pink to their advantage to promote awareness and increase early detection of breast cancer. Some people would argue that the pinkification of breast cancer has turned a horrible disease into a brand that has been commodified by other brands for their own profits. That being said, the BreastCancer.org estimate that “about 40,610 women in the U.S. are expected to die in 2017 from breast cancer, though death rates have been decreasing since 1989. Women under 50 have experienced larger decreases. These decreases are thought to be the result of treatment advances, earlier detection through screening, and increased awareness.” I wasn’t able to find any awareness statistics on the pink ribbon campaign but I would guess it would be highest among the many ribbon campaigns that exist today.

 

For Pink Sake

Then there are those brands that don’t care about the gender-coding or personality traits of the colour pink. They just want a colour that will clearly differentiate them from the competitive pack.

Owens-Corning is one of those companies who introduced their Pink Fiberglas insulation into the market over 50 years ago. In 1980 they introduced the Pink Panther as their mascot in all of their marketing to accentuate their pinkness and likable pink personality. Since introducing the Pink Panther customers prefer pink insulation by a ratio of seven to one over the closet competition, as revealed in a Owens-Corning study done in the late 1990s. They were also one of the first company to successful trademark their colour against competition. Mr. Smith, Head of Marketing says, “We are fortunate. We have a trademark color that is up there with Coke red.” In his dreams!

In 1893, the Financial Times went from a generic white paper newspaper to a shade of salmon-pink which immediately distinguish it from all the competition. Why pink? It was cheaper to dye it pink than dying it white. Today, the opposite is true but as readers’ transition to the online version the colour is more about tradition than attracting attention on a dying newsstand.

 

Millennial Pink

Millennial Pink, also known as the Tumblr Pink or Scandinavian Pink (check out Pinterest), is the politically correct colour that has appeared in shades of beige with a touch of blush to a pleasing peach-salmon. This gender-neutral, androgynous colour is growing in popularity since it first appeared in 2012. You can find it in restaurants interiors, furniture, household products, clothing for both men and women, hair tints, drinks, rose-gold iPhones, and Drake’s album cover Hotline Bling, to name a few.

“Millennials are increasingly redefining what it means to be a grown-up in a seriously troubled world,” explains JR Thorpe. “Sometimes, we all want to be soothed — and what better way to do that than looking at Instagrams of a mid-century modern pink velvet settee.” May I suggest that they use the pinky velvet Pepto-Bismol, a better solution to sooth their tummies.

I predict there will be a few digital gender-neutral brands that will be utilizing this colour soon. Two brands that have embraced this restrained colour so far are Acne Studios clothing retailer and Thinx, a period-proof underwear company.

 

Pinked Out

No question, pink is a strong colour to build a brand, but you must understand the connection you are trying to build with the colour. You can’t ignore the historical gender connection that pink has in defining or promoting femininity (both good and bad). Maybe Millennial Pink will make pink less about gender and more about how it makes you feel.  But until then, as hip-hop rapper Talib Kweli said “women are complex creatures.” I think the colour pink is just as complex.

However, many brands have successfully broken away from the competitive crowd using the colour pink and more new brands will do the same.

 

Check out “Does the Colour of a Brand Really Matter

 

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Brand Overkill – Why Less is More

Everything is a brand today. Brand experts even tell us that we must build our own personal brand. Everywhere we look we are being attacked by brands. We are lucky to get through a day without being bombarded with over 5,000 brand messages (Yankelovich study) of which only about 12 get any brain attention. There is over 4 million new brand names every year added to the brand shopping list. There is a serious problem of brand overload. Is it really important to have over 50 different shampoo brands and hundreds of specialized types to give you the perfect bouncy, curly, wavy, shiny or smooth tresses?

 

 

The biggest problem facing companies today is the world is running out of pronounceable brand names. We are making it almost impossible for consumer to keep up. The World Intellectual Property Organization report that in absolute terms, trademark demand quadrupled from just under 1 million applications per year in 1985 to 4.2 million trademark applications by 2011. In developing countries such as China, India and Brazil the rise in trademark applications is exploding. In the last four years there has been approximately 16.8 million new trademark applications.

 

Are we reaching a point of saturation where the proliferation of brands are doing more harm than good? Our memory banks just can’t keep up.

 

Barry Schwartz, PhD, a Swarthmore College psychologist and author of The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less explains “there’s a point where all of this choice starts to be not only unproductive, but counterproductive – a source of pain, regret, worry about missed opportunities and unrealistically high expectations.”

 

 

Have we reached a state where a brand is no longer able to differentiate itself from other brands? How many deep brand relationships do we really want or can handle in our busy lives? A Gallup research study (2004) suggests that on average, Americans say they have about nine ‘close friends’ and the older you get the number maxed out to 13 close friends. Can we expect any more from a consumer concerning a meaningful relationships with brands?

 

The Beginning of Brands

 

We can blame Japan for starting some of the world’s first and oldest brands such as Kongo Gumi which was established in the year 578 and Hoshi Ryokan founded in 718 according to William O’Hara book Centuries of Success. Kongo Gumi is a construction company that built Buddhist temples, Shinto shrines and castles. But after surviving 14 centuries (1,428 years!) as a family business it closed its doors in 2006. There wasn’t a huge demand for  building temples anymore which occupied 80% of their business focus. Hoshi Ryokan is a Japanese inn located in Komatsu for over 1300 years. You can book a room today on booking.com. In a study conducted by the Bank of Korea they discovered over 3,146 companies that are over 200 years old in Japan, 837 in Germany, 222 in the Netherlands, and 196 in France.

 

Brands Come & Go

 

But brand age doesn’t guarantee brand success. Jim Collins, a co-author of Built to Last—Successful Habits of Visionary Companies, says brands must follow a set of unchanging and sustainable principles of who they are, yet constantly change in what they do and how they do it. Today, we have many examples of brands who knew who they were but didn’t have the courage to change what they did such as old favourites as Kodak, Blackberry, Blockbuster, Nokia and Hummer. Check out the article Lessons from the Brand Graveyard.

 

If you go back to the Fortune 500 in 1955, 88% of those brands no longer exist on the 2014 Fortune 500 list. Brands continually get destroyed by mergers, acquisitions, bankruptcies or break-ups. There is a healthy churn in brands coming and going. Steven Denning reported in Forbes that fifty years ago, the life expectancy of a firm in the Fortune 500 was around 75 years. Today, it’s less than 15 years and declining all the time.

 

That being said, there are about 250,000 new brands launched globally each year which keeps the world’s advertising agencies very busy. Lynn Dornblaser, an analyst at market research firm Mintel who tracks new products, says the typical failure rate of new product launches can be anywhere for 85% to 95%. That’s a lot of new business cards and advertising wasted. Schneider Associates and research partners SymphonyIRI Group and Sentient Decision Science did a consumer survey (2010) that found 45% of participants couldn’t name a single new product brand.

 

The Virgin of Everything

 

But all of these setbacks in launching a new brand hasn’t stop brand extension and introducing new products.

 

Many brands have tried to extend their brands from the classic offering to capture new markets and target groups – some successfully and others with less clarity. I call it the “Virgin of Everything.” Sir Richard Branson has taken the irreverent and fun Virgin brand and has stretched it across 350 different products from life insurance to lingerie. David Taylor blogger on Brand Gym said in his article Virgin: the worst or best of brand extension? that this was a “brand ego trip, where the brand gets too big for its boots.”

 

Then there are sub brands of brands with unique attributes, quality and value levels. For example, Coca Cola with its line of Classic Coke, Diet Coke, Caffeine Free Coke, Caffeine Free Diet Coke, etc. Nothing is simple today. Too many choices.

 

Brand Apathy

 

Everything in life is moving faster and faster. Nothing is predictable and digital technologies are changing everything except our brains. Humans still have only so much memory power and capacity to retain and process information. Bob Nease, behavioural scientist and author of the book, The Power of Fifty Bits explains that the brain can process 10 billion bits of information each second but when it comes to the “decision-making part of the brain [it] only processes a maximum of 50 bits per second.” This is a major bottleneck in the decision making process that won’t change anytime soon. Just think, we have a bandwidth issue in our brains. The proliferation of brands and branding messages means fewer chances that new brands will find a permanent place in a consumer’s mind. Steve Jobs said on his return to Apple in 1997 that “For me, marketing is about values. This is a very noisy world, and we’re not going to get a chance to get people to remember much about us. So, we have to be very clear what we want them to know about us.” Almost twenty years later Jobs’ comment is even more relevant today. A simple route to the consumer’s head and heart doesn’t exist anymore.

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We can get a new product brand to market faster and more efficient than ever before. We have more channels to get our message out than ever before. But the resulting complexities has created brand apathy. As we continue along this path of madness, brands have less of a chance to be successful. Aldo Cundari, CEO of Cundari agency, explains in his book Customer-Centric Marketing, “The new customer behavior has serious implications for all brands. If organizations don’t commit to meeting their customers’ expectations today, customers will go elsewhere tomorrow.”

What Cundari says isn’t revolutionary thinking but the warning signs are everywhere–consumers are reaching a point of brand overkill. It’s like a stadium full of brands all screaming to persuade potential customers to reach for their brand. The noise is deafening.

Havas Media Group’s annual global Meaningful Brands survey (2015) has been consistent in the last five years in saying “most people would not care if 74% of brands disappeared.”

 

Survival Tips

 

Put our branding feet into the consumer’s shoes for a day. They truly need our support.

Help them manage the daily complexities, simplify the burden of choices and reduce the cognitive load. Be where they want your brand to be and be relevant. Solve their problems even before they become problems. Take away the need for them to have to make another decision or remember another brand name.

Automate to eliminate repeating issues or tasks. Make them feel good even when your brand isn’t about feeling good. Help them navigate a simpler life. Stop yelling and start listening more.

Your brand will be rewarded for its simple solutions and not for more choices. Remember less is more and always be empathetic and relevant.

Just be human.

 

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The Power of a Brand

How to extract value from nothing.

Years ago in my economic classes I learnt that supply and demand determined the price/value of most products especially commodities. If this is true, why is bottled water more expensive than gasoline? This is the power of branding.

 

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Transparency Market Research estimates that the global market for bottled water was worth about $157.3 US billion in 2013. In North America more bottled water is sold compared to milk or beer in terms of volume. Canadean research estimated that the global bottled water volumes would reach 233 billion litres in 2015. With all of Canada’s fresh water, Canada only produces less than one percent of the world’s bottled water of around 2.29 billion litres. However, US remains the fastest growing bottled water market outside Asia mainly due to customers becoming more health conscious shifting away from sugary carbonated soft drinks.

In many emerging markets, the scarcity of clean water makes bottled water a necessary staple rather than a value-added refreshment beverage like juice or soda. In North America the water in your tap is generally the same stuff you buy in the bottle. The big difference is that tap water is constantly tested to ensure they follow the drinking water quality guidelines. Bottle water doesn’t have the same stringent guidelines but does have the overall requirement of not containing “poisonous or harmful substances”. Let’s hope that the big brands follow some type of quality control.

Clean drinkable water is generally available everywhere throughout North America where the bottled water companies’ need to position their brands based on quality (healthy choice) and convenience (portable and handy). From this foundation the category gets complex with pricing strategies, water source and lifestyle attributes.

Magician duo Penn & Teller in their show Bullshit did a spoof on bottled water in a fine dining restaurant in Southern California to prove the general public can’t tell the difference between tap water and $4 a litre bottled water.

 

ABC’s Good Morning America conducted a blind tasting experiment in 2001 where they sampled branded bottle water such as Poland Spring, O-2, Evian and the popular New York City tap water. The results shouldn’t surprise you – NYC tap water beat them all.

 

If the bottled water is general the same thing as in tap water the real difference is the brand. Tap water is a commodity with no brand. It comes from any unmarked tap – hot or cold. You take the same thing, build a formidable brand image and you can extract a premium from consumers – by the litre (or ounce) at a time. Here is the secret on how to create brand value from nothing:

Power of Emotional Connection

Byron Sharp, professor of marketing science at the University of South Australia and author of How Brands Grow, says growing a brand is based on “physical and mental availability” suggesting most brand purchase decisions are made with the emotional brain so keep it simple to help trigger instinctual responses.

Ammar Mian writer at SocialRank says the emotional tipping point for bottle water occurred back in the early 1980’s when Perrier launched its ‘Earth’s First Soft Drink’ campaign. This campaign embraced the belief that their sparkling water comes from the purity of nature, straight from mother-earth. This emotional connection resonated with consumers who were becoming more health-conscious and wanted an alternative to soft drinks. Other premium bottle water brands jumped onto the branding wagon touting the image of purity, youthfulness, healthy and earthliness. Water can’t get any better than this unless you turn it into alcohol. Here’s more on Emotional Branding.

 

Power of Convenience

The brand must be easy to buy – when and where you want it – ideally everywhere. Not unlike tap water. Remember the days of drinking fountains? We though they were convenient – if we could find one. But it was like drinking from a water hose – only one quick sip if there was a line-up. Perhaps the biggest development in the bottle water industry growth has been the mass distribution systems that are dominated by the same companies that have covered the world with sugar water like Coca-Cola (who has such popular brands as Dasani and Glacéau smartwater), Nestle (who has all the water champs such as Perrier, Pure Life, S. Pellegrino, Deer Park and Poland Spring) and PepsiCo ( with Aquafina). Where is Evian in the distribution mix you ask? In 2002, Evian signed a distribution agreement with Coca-Cola Co., Inc. which ended in 2014. Then Evian found new wings with distribution partner Red Bull. And Fiji Water? Dr Pepper Snapple Group website states that they distribute Fiji Water in various territories.

Power of Fame and Attention

Getting people to pay for water where its widely available, safe and free is hard work and takes a great deal of money to build a distinctive brand. It doesn’t hurt to have a big bank account to ensure the advertising messages get noticed and the brand stays top-of-mind. Back in 2003 (based on an article in The New York Times) TNS Media Intelligence/CMR estimated Aquafina spent $24.6 million on media and Dasani spent $18.8 million on media, while Evian spent only $800,000. Ten years later, Evian is still spending around a million in measured media annually according to Kantar Media and over the years have lost market share to the more aggressive competitors, sitting in 3rd place behind Fiji Water and Smartwater. Eric O’Toole, president-GM at Danone Waters North America (parent company to Evian), contributes the brand stabilization in recent years, in part, to the launch of the Baby & Me advertising effort. Great creative never hurts if you can’t afford to advertise year-round. See more on Creativity.

 

The soft drink industry is notorious for using celebrity endorsers to help push their sugary drinks (check out a partial list of famous celebrities and soft drink brands). It’s not surprising that the bottle water brands use the same branding tool to build credibility and gain the coolness factor. Evian has used Maria Sharapova, the young and popular tennis champion, while the elite Fiji Water has uses the former James Bond star Pierce Brosnan. Glacéau smartwater has used actress Jennifer Aniston to create a buzz around their relatively new brand.

A Memorable Story

Great brands always come with a great brand story. Many bottle water brands have great stories that would put National Geographic to shame. My favorite is the Fiji story or as some say the Fiji myth. Fiji Water, natural artesian water bottled at the source in Viti Levu (Fiji islands), is a leading premium bottled water in the United States and one of the fastest-growing brands worldwide. Here is their story of the world’s finest water and it should be for the price of $3.50 – 4.00 per litre (3 times the price of gasoline). For more on Storytelling.

 

Stunning Design

Water has no distinct taste, no unique colour, no smell and all water feels wet – physical there is no difference from one glass of water to another, so packaging is king. If nothing else is going to sell you, it must be the memorable packaging, beyond the great stories and celebrities who would never drink it if it didn’t look good.

Packaging can help define a brand experience. Do you remember the first iPhone, iPad or iPod you unwrapped from its packaging? The simplistic and beautifully designed box with everything in its own place – clean and white. A perfect brand fit.

 

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Since 2008 Evian has been working with some of the world’s most prestigious designers to create a limited edition bottle each year. Evian has worked with such creative artists such as Diane von Furstenberg, Paul Smith, Christian Lacroix, Jean-Paul Gaultier, Elie Saab, KENZO and most recently with Alexander Wang (2016 limited edition bottle). Former zone director for the Middle East & Indian Ocean for Evian, Elias Fayad explains the limited edition concept: “Our water is untouched by man and perfected by nature, so we attempt to give the bottle an artistic expression.” In a September 9, 2015 press release from Evian, they explain each collaboration as “a renewed celebration of purity and playfulness and a reinterpretation of evian’s spirit through art and design.” I have to remind myself that we are talking about a simple natural resource that can be found anywhere on the planet (except currently in California) – simple water.

Dreams or Nightmares in a Bottle

Water is living proof that anything can be branded and can be elevated from no value to high value with sufficient investments. It is through the brand investments and the dreams the brand image creates that help achieve the value. In essence, consumers are buying dreams in a bottle. Dreams to be on a pristine tropical island or a youthful energetic baby once again. Stories of spiritual purity, blissful health and a fountain of youth – the water of life. Potentially over $200 US billion worth.

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But there is a dark side to this story. While dreams are created and value generated from the replenishing resource, there is a social cost. Today Wikipedia lists over 144 bottled water brands, and from the statistics, the market continues to grow. The Pacific Institute, which conducts research on water use and conservation, has estimated that bottled water is up to 2,000 times more energy-intensive than tap water. It is estimated that in 2006, U.S. bottle water consumption used the energy equivalent of 17 million barrels of oil and produced over 2.5 million tons of carbon dioxide – in one year. There’s also the worry that we are shifting water consumption from one region to another, creating an imbalance with consequences to our planet and to our future consumers.

Just because we can create formidable brands to extract more value, it doesn’t mean we should. As marketing and brand experts, it’s important we use our craft wisely. We have the ability to create formidable brands and extract value to support business growth. But if we aren’t able to balance the benefit for the consumer, society and environment, we need to consider how we’re using our power of branding.

 

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Brand Voice… it’s not what you say, it’s how you say it that matters

Everyone in brand marketing understands the importance of clearly defining and living your brand tone-of-voice but I am not sure many brands stay true to their personality. In some cases, let the creative teams win and run a muck. As blogger Harriet Cummings says “A tone of voice is not what you say, but how you say it. This encompasses not only the words you choose, but their order, rhythm and pace.” Some brands tone-of-voice are just down-right boring or nonexistent, and others change their voice daily depending on who is controlling it or where it’s being used. It’s so easy to fall for fun and humorous creative, but by not matching your brand’s tone and voice, you could be diluting your brand’s hard-earned equity.

 

Rob Marsh, copywriter and author of the blog Brandstory says “very little attention is paid to brand voice—the words, phrases, and characteristics that set a brand apart take a back seat to the more “important” visual aspects of the brand.” The reason why is because defining and living a brand tone-of-voice is damn hard. It is especially hard when many people are involved in producing various communications, each having a different point-of-views of what the brand voice should be. If done right, the brand tone-of-voice can be distinctive, recognisable and unique. In life, sometime it’s more important on how you say something than what you say. As American author Maya Angelou once said, “People don’t always remember what you say or even what you do, but they always remember how you made them feel.”

 

A brands tone-of-voice, when consistent, can tell consumers a great deal about the brand, especially its attitude and overall personality. To be successful whatever the brands tone-of-voice is, it must be consistently delivered everywhere. Comedian Jerry Seinfeld says that most people aren’t aware of the many different tones they project. But with a brand you can build a brand image from a consistent tone that accentuates its brand values and personality. Nigel Edginton-Vigus, Creative director at Blue Hive advertising agency says many large brands are schizophrenia with their tone-of-voice. You can go from a friendly and chatty physical brand experience a cold and cluttered online experience. “It’s like finishing this amazing love-making session and you lie back content with bliss and your partner turns to you and says ‘affirmative you now have been logged out. Thank you.’”

 

To illustrate the importance of a brands tone-of-voice, I have selected three brands in the men’s shaving industry who demonstrate three different voices.

 

The Designer Shave

 

The first one is Harry’s, an online low-cost provider of high quality men’s shaving products. Harry’s was founded by Andy Katz-Mayfield and Jeffrey Raider, two bright millennials who shared a passion “for simple design, appreciation of well-made things, and a belief that companies should try to make the world a better place.” Not surprising, Jeff went on to become co-founder of the trendy online eye-wear retailer Warby Parker. Harry’s website states “Harry’s was built out of respect for quality craftsmanship. Simple design, modern convenience and most importantly for guys who think they shouldn’t have to overpay for a great shave.”

 

Viewing Harry’s website or their lifestyle blog-a-zine Five O’clock gives you an immediate feel of a New Yorker Magazine layout. Their tone is calm with subtle, dry, sophisticated humour, yet very easy going and approachable. It’s confident and smart without the hassle or aggression. You feel clean and positive about the experience.

 

 

The High Performance Shave

 

The next example is the mammoth Gillette brand worth $20.4 billion and part of Procter & Gamble that controls 70% of the global blades and razor market. When you think of Gillette, you think of technologically advanced superiority shaving – so how complex can “the Best a Man Can Get.” Their tone-of-voice reeks of masculinity, confidence, precision and calculated. Every time I shave with my Fusion Proglide razor with the new Flexball technology, I think I am driving an Audi RS 7 Quattro with a V-8 engine, adaptive suspension, and all-wheel drive system. Foot to the floor, the best I can get. Plus the maintenance cost to boot.

 

 

In 2014, the Gillette brand shifted into a new gear with a tone-of-voice that didn’t fit the brand. Maybe they are trying to be more human, like their competitors. The problem is, it doesn’t feel like the Gillette brand I grew up with. When did the Gillette brand start becoming funny?

 

The Cheap and Cheery Shave

 

I am sure everyone has seen the youtube video of Michael Dubin co-founder of Dollar Shave Club ranting about how F**KING GREAT their one dollar blades are. The Dollar Shave Club, a subscription based razor company’s tone-of-voice is funny, cheeky and makes fun of Gillette. They quickly tap into every man’s feeling of getting ripped-off with the high cost of razor blades. Their underdog brand has no flashy models or famous sports stars. They’re just down-to-earth, humble, witty and supported by an unbelievable price. Today, buying a pack of razors isn’t cheap. A pack of eight blades can set you back $35 to $40 dollars. The Dollar Shave Club taps into consumer frustration. “Dollar Shave Club wants to speak to you in an everyday voice,” Dubin said in an Adweek article by Tim Nudd. “Using a celebrity is not who we are. Tonally, it’s important to remind people, here’s a guy who’s just like you, finding a solution to a real problem.”

 

 

Final Voice

 

Who would have thought a simple product like a razor blade could be as complex as it concerns their tone-of-voice? But like a human, a brand’s attitude and personality is complex. Many brands leave the tone-of-voice to be driven and cultivated by the creative folks and designers, but in actual fact, it’s everyone’s responsibility working for a brand to emulate the brand’s attitude, personality and with its customers. It even becomes more important when more employees are communicating with customers through social channels. Every brand needs a voice and tone guide to ensure employees are consistently projecting it. The guide forces the brand to clearly define what is its tone-of-voice and gives the brand a benchmark to judge future content. Maybe this would have helped Gillette from making the “first real suit” commercial. I don’t think so.

 

If you can’t describe your brands tone-of-voice and don’t see it in any of your communications, it might be time to start building your brand’s voice and tone guide. Click here to view some examples and tips to help inspire you.

 

Remember it’s not only what you say, it’s how you say it that matters.

 

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Why Care About Brand Architecture

In any significant construction project like a hospital, office building or condominium the starting point is generally its architecture which is the art and science of how the building will be designed, the method and materials used to build and other specific physical attributes. In building a brand the last thing most company’s think about is its brand architecture beyond the single product or service they are positioning into the marketplace. Brand architecture only becomes important when the corporation (master brand) branches out into new products or services or acquires existing brands. Why design architecture with 10 rooms when at the beginning all you need is one room to fit one brand.

Brand architecture is the least exciting part of building a formidable brand. First, you need more than one brand to start thinking about brand architecture. But if you plan to build a business beyond one brand the brand architecture can be a game changer. Don’t end-up scrambling like Apple did when they moved from the Mac  brand to all the “i” branded products to finally the Apple TV and Apple Watch.

brand-architectureIn 1996, David Aaker, a prolific writer on the subject of brand strategy, developed the well-known three types of brand architecture approaches:  branded house, house of brands, and endorsed brands. While there are other terminologies such as umbrella brand, monolithic, master brand, free standing brands, and hybrid brands, the overall concepts are the same. In reality, most corporations don’t have a clearly defined brand architecture strategy in place until it’s too late or they did the brand strategy after the fact. There are many reasons why many brand houses aren’t perfect such as business consolidations of acquisitions, mergers and reorganizations, brand extensions and new business and market opportunities, spin–offs and new customer acquisitions. In most cases, the decisions are based on the business opportunities and not on the customer needs.  From the customer’s point of view most of these decisions make no sense, if not very confusing.

Branded House – All in One

A good example of a branded house approached would be Virgin and BMW. The BMW brand is focused on the monolithic brand – “ultimate driving machine,” regardless of model. Having a master brand is good and bad. Good because a brand has a unified image based on the brand essences that is consistent and can be effectively amplified to all customers. Bad because the brand message must be so high-level that it doesn’t reflect the personnel experience that the consumer is having with a unique sub brand. A Virgin Mobile experience isn’t the same experience as the Virgin Airlines experience or Virgin Money banking experience.   Renée Richardson Gosline, an assistant professor of marketing at MIT Sloan School of Management, cautions that “…consumers seek distinction, even within the brand. So, along with the egalitarian message that all BMWs are ‘ultimate driving machines,’ BMW has to make owners of different models each feel special as well, by building relationships with the owners of each model.”

Master brands that have a strong brand image in a specific  product category like personal care products can leverage the overall brand essences into additional related categories, where the variant/functionality itself becomes a sub-brand. L’Oréal Group is the world’s largest cosmetics company that started with a hair dye formula called Auréale in 1909. Today, L’Oréal has over 500 brands covering many categories from hair color, hair styling, body and skin care, cleansers, makeup and fragrances.

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The world isn’t as big and confusing as it once was. Digital technology has eliminated geography and cultural differences, and expanded choices based on: quality, accessibility and price. Customers are becoming more enlightened; more demanding and more concerned with whom they do business with. As a result, corporations need to become more transparent and focus on the customer’s journey with their brands. Privacy legislation, antispam legislation and big data is forcing corporations (master brands) to rethink their brand architecture to leverage their customer base by including more differentiations and tailored relationships. There is also the consideration of terms of management and administration costs of multiple logos, websites, brochures and brand stories to communicate. There is a fine balance between efficiency and customer-centricity.

House of Brands – Each Brand is Unique

Procter & Gamble is an excellent example of a house of brands, which has over 180 product brands independent of each other, targeting different customers across multiple product categories from detergent to toothpaste. P&G as an identity brings little to the table as it concerns branding. Nobody understanding the P&G brand and really doesn’t care.  This is the most accommodating framework with no brand reliant on each another or any synergy between brands. If a brand fails or succeeds the other brands aren’t affected. The cost of managing a complex portfolio of brands must be overwhelming and each brand must struggle to get any attention from the parent company. A.G. Lafley, president and CEO of P&G, said the future would be “a much simpler, much less complex company of leading brands that’s easier to manage and operate.” I have trouble keeping track of my three kids; I can’t imagine keeping track of 180 brands!

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Endorsed Brands – In the Middle

In the middle of the brand architecture is the endorsed brand model where the parent brand has a halo effect by endorsing the sub brands. There are numerous examples of this strategy:  Think Courtyard By Marriott, Polo by Ralph Lauren, Microsoft Windows, Honda Motor Company, Sony and the list goes on. This framework allows the parent brand to have a vision that can evolve over time and take advantage of new trends or technology.

 

Brand Baggage

It is fair to say that brand architecture strategy has been driven by past management decisions of the brand portfolio and specific brand assets. It is also based on the nature of relationships between the brands as it concerns resources, investments and marketing positioning. Rajagopal and Romula Sanchez in their white paper suggest that “Brand architecture is not a static framework.” As marketplaces and competitive environments change, brand dynamics transforms and brand life cycles evolve. Master brands must continually revaluate the brand portfolios and the architecture requirements. As master brands respond and react to the many challenges and opportunities they create “brand baggage” where shifts of resources move from one brand to another creating strong and weak brands. An inflexible architectural structure can also create a barrier to innovate and limit the ability to move into new products or services.

It is fair to say that a great deal of brands reside in a mixture of all of the above.  Coca-Cola Company is best known for its beverage with the same name that has a line of other variant Coca-Cola brands. But it also has unrelated brands such as Sprite, Fanta and Minute Maid each with a unique look and feel. The Gap Company, which is made up of Gap, Old Navy, Banana Republic, Athleta and INTERMIX , takes a different approach to being a parent company. Gap leverages their multiple brands to offer customers many choices under one umbrella to reach a variety of customers.  Their online strategy is to make sure customers goes to a sister brand before they go to any competitor’s websites.

CocaColaProducts

The ultimate master brand goal is to satisfy shareholders by continually growing customers and generating more sales and profits. That is a very self-servicing and inward approach to brand architecture.

The perfect world would be to build a brand architecture starting from a customer-oriented brand vision where one-size-fits-all doesn’t work. Companies need to carefully understand their customer’s journey and provide products and services along the way, may it be going down the food isle shopping for breakfast, lunch and dinner or starting a journey from a wedding, to a new home, to the first child, to acquiring a university degree.

 

Brand Architecture is a Balancing Act

A single brand model into today’s fast paced and changing world can be a liability. The ability for a brand to speak to and service a multitude of customers is becoming almost impossible. A master brand positioning must be so basic it would mean nothing to most target groups.  Therefore, many brands are tweaking their strategy and brand architecture to allow products and services within the brand structure the flexibility to speak directly to its customers in a meaningful way. But it is a balancing act. Too many brands will create confusion and loss of meaning.

The future is about utilizing big data and building relationships between brands and customers throughout their life cycle. Helping them navigate the human journey with solutions from one phase to the next, and from one brand to the next. P&G showcased a number of brands in its “Thank you Mom” Olympic campaign either to save money or to start bringing their brands together. Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) reward program (of which I am a happy member) brings together all of their nine hotel properties under one umbrella. From a customer’s point of view this provides me with more options and choices. And the confidence that my experience will be similar from hotel chain to hotel chain.

SPG Hotels

Brand architecture can be complex and driven by business needs but if you can focus on the customer’s journey and provide them solutions along the way you can be a formidable master brand and sub brands, all together.