I have a confession to make – nothing dramatic (in fact those you of expecting drama, prepare to be disappointed), but I struggle to answer the most basic questions about advertising. The killer question itself being the “gentle” interview initiator of “Why advertising?”. The problem being that I overthink, I imagine the perfectly construed “acceptable” answer and then paraphrase that in a meek attempt to look like I know what I am talking about, and then “quel disastre”, my passion gets lost in the process. Resolution number 25 (approx) of this year is to be honest – to think before I speak (I didn’t do this at an interview once and ended up describing the schrizophenic aspects to a Hyundai advert), but not over-rehearse. The difficulty consequently is to convey my interest in the subject with, what is now known as the “x-factor”, that spark of individuality. In the words of millions of high-school movies – “bring it on“.
One of these basic questions is “Define a brand”, which while I have never been asked this, would get me adrenaline-shakey in those awkward first moments, and unfortunately so, as branding seems a bit of deal-breaker. I would have defined a brand as a “product/service + communication”, a communication of values, emotions and points of identity associated with that brand. However, I think that Interbrand has a more refined and interesting alternative. In their Best Global Brands of 2011 edition, they define a brand as “a living business asset”, which I like as it suggests the evolving structure and vitality behind the likes of Coca-Cola, IBM and Microsoft (the top 3 of the list); while also viewing the brand as both human (with the emotional baggage that comes with it) and business-minded – with an eye to increasing sales and long term stability. As such, I think that it is worth identifying what qualities characterise those at the top of Interbrand’s reputable global top 100, and in the process, let loose my OCD for lists –
1) The tough times ain’t over, so according to Interbrand requires brands to be increasingly “quick and nimble — flexing to stay one step ahead of the change happening all around them.” Moreover the challenges stemming from a tough and competitive economic environment do not just mean that brands have to be quick to respond to changes, but also exhibit “consistency and accuracy in response to the social media connected and hyper-aware marketplace”. In other words, time is of the essence and everything needs to be done for a reason.
2) Each employee becomes the brand manager as this “living business asset”, like a baby, needs constant care and attention to keep up with the scary, crazy world transforming around them. This demands that every employee needs to be “able to predict and respond in-line with the customer expectations and desires of the brand”. Demanding much?
3) A thorough understanding of the consumer (or rather sinisterly “their people”) is crucial – from grasping the cuisine habits of Liverpudlians, to maximising on the shopping habits of the Chinese. Furthermore, with “savvier, and more discerning customers demanding greater degrees of engagement from brands… brand owners must become more sensitive to their needs and desires to ultimately evolve the brand experience across the whole organization”. This calls for changes to the decision-making and management structures across large, traditional organisations.
4) Live and work the brand. Interbrand emphasises that successful brands are those which live to their brand values internally. This includes more integration, multi-disciplinary teamwork and a lot more social media and social networking.