Shireen Smith - Creating Passion Brands

brand management brand strategy branding podcast Apr 03, 2022

Shireen Smith: Consistency when it comes to brand essence, is a defining characteristic of powerful brands. Being consumer led carries the danger that the brand chases a market trend that is not right for it to pursue. 

Hello, and welcome to the Brand Tuned podcast, which discusses all things brand related, including the essential trademark and IP dimension. I'm your host, Shireen Smith, IP lawyer, Brand Manager, and author of brand new, the new rules of branding strategy and intellectual property. Before the episode begins, I just want to mention the brand tuned accreditation course, which is in the pipeline, it will cover how to create a brand strategy, taking account of intellectual property as it arises during the process. brand protection considerations impact the choice of names or other brand identifiers. So to make better branding decisions, register your interest brandtuned.com. The link is in the show notes. 

Hello to all do you find that when you make notes, as you read a book you absorb more information than if you just read it without taking notes? I do. The way I tend to read books is that I usually have several on the go. I might read a chapter from one book, another chapter from another book. And some books are not read further. Or if I do, I probably won't read all the way through books that I do read from beginning to end, I might forget not because it wasn't a good book. But because whatever drew me to buy the book isn't that important anymore because my knowledge has moved on, possibly away from the content of a given book. I buy so many books. Sometimes I'm listening to a podcast on something sparks my interest in a book. So I'll buy it straight away. And then I don't get round to reading it. So it happens that sometimes I go to buy a book and Amazon tells me I already own it. So then I'll search my bookshelves or Kindle library and start reading a book that's been sitting in my possession for some time. 

There are some books that I want to study fully and understand like Byron Sharp’s How Brands Grow and Jenni Romaniuk’s Distinctive Brand Assets. Those books I've read a few times, and I intend to read again and take notes, so I really get to grips with their content. In fact, I've decided that once a quarter, I'll do a podcast episode featuring a book I've thoroughly studied. This quarter it’s a book called Creating Passion Brands – how to build emotional brand connection with customers by Helen Edwards, who is a columnist for Marketing Week. I bought her book because Mark Ritson recommended her as someone to follow. Although the book was published in 2007, it's as relevant today as when it was first published. 

So I want to highlight it today for listeners. It convincingly argues but some companies misunderstand what being consumer focus means, because they're mistaking it for seeking consumer approval for their every action, even to the extent of asking consumers what their brand essence should be.

Once brand essence or brand purpose or brand belief or whatever other name you want to call it is our point of view about our category. It should run through everything we do. 

More established brands wanting to revisit their brand essence should be looking to their heritage, not asking their consumers, what their brand essence should be the tendency to ask consumers inappropriate questions, such as what the brand's core values should be, or what type of product or service to create is misguided. Being consumer focused should be about getting a deeper understanding of people to fully appreciate their needs. Getting insight into the role of brands in people's everyday lives is a good thing to do. However, a company needs to have a strong sense of itself, and its own point of view. So it uses research to understand the customer's wants or needs, instead of using it, to ask them to tell the company how to make itself and its values more attractive. 

Research can be used for illumination, or for direction.

Adopting a consumer led approach is to opt for blandness. Ultimately, while it's true that the brand will be appealing, it won't shock or surprise consumers. The danger is that such a brand will be too similar to competitors, who are also being consumer led in their approach to constructing their brand. The consumers voice is there for any brand to listen to and implement. 

After all, The book highlights how FMCG brands that are consumer-led risk converging around points of parity so that they become much more vulnerable to copying by retailers introducing own label products. 

An interesting case the book cites is that of suncare brand Uvistat which until 1990 occupied a small profitable niche in the protection end of the business. Its entire heritage and expertise lay in skincare for people with sensitive skin or for those who wanted to avoid too much sun. In the 80s and 90s the suncare market was characterised by tanning values and was dominated by tanning brands. Most people didn’t care about protection. They just wanted a sexy tan. 90% of volume was in SPF factors lower than 6, the point where Uvistat’s range got going. In those pre health days, mainstream consumer attitudes to brands like Uvistat were like, ‘Don’t spoil my holiday fun’. At first Uvistat’s communications activity was sensitive to people’s attitudes while alerting them to the dangers of too much sun. 

However, the owners of the brand felt the protection niche was too constrained. So they reacted to prevailing consumer attitudes. By changing their strategy. They opted from mainstream positioning as a tanning brand moving into lower SPF, and talking the language of tanning in their new ad campaigns. 

Unluckily for them, consumer attitudes proved fickle as the skin cancer publicity took hold, and consumers soon started to place their desire for a tan as a lower priority than their desire not to die. Almost overnight, the market shifted away from tanning towards protection. 

When Uvistat tried to scramble away from tanning back to its old positioning, much of its credibility, and all of the built-in impetus it should have enjoyed had gone. Its share of the market at the time of publication of the book stood at 2.2 per cent. 

This example highlights how abandoning their heritage and long term strategy meant that accompany stopped being true to themselves. They were too much guided by the voice of the consumer that favored tanning over health.

Being consumer led in a brand strategic approach in a To bleed blurs the brands clearly defined brand image. consistency when it comes to brand essence, is a defining characteristic of powerful brands. Being consumer led carries the danger that the brand chases a market trend that is not right for him to pursue. 

To quote from the book “Brands are meant to be consistent within themselves and different from their competitors. Consumer-led brands gradually become inconsistent within themselves and similar to their competitors”. 

The takeaway is to stop looking for a formula that pleases consumers because consumer-led brands produce average products. Identifying with the consumer is to lose sight of oneelf, of what one stands for, of what one’s good at and what one believes in. Doing so is to join the ranks of other characterless consumer-led brands vying for attention. 

Brands need to lead not follow. They need to have a point of view on how to improve on what exists, they need conviction, a belief.

The book defines a brand as a product, plus values and associations to mark the fact that values are the enduring element that underpin our brand. If we compare a brand to a person, we expect a person to grow and evolve from student to doctor to parent to pensioner, in the same way, we expect the product to change with the passage of time to stay current. 

Just as the association's we have about a person will be updated as they pass through different phases of their life, for example, because their taste in music and clothes will change over time. What must be unchanging about a person or a brand is their deep beliefs and values. We wouldn't expect someone to be an autocrat one year, and a Democrat the next or to be racist one minute and a radical the next. What makes someone recognizable over their lifetime is their worldview, their deep beliefs and values, they must remain consistent and cohesive over time for the person to be recognizably themselves. 

The challenge for brands is to achieve this over time, through their team members, and the people they put in charge of the brand. It's the brand's beliefs about the product that matter, not beliefs in a vacuum.

Brand belief isn't just mission or vision. It is more permanent and profound. It isn't just corporate social responsibility, either. The brand belief needs to infuse everything the brand does, I guess it's what many people might call a brand's purpose. 

Innocent and Google are examples of modern-day brands that are infused with a belief that shines through everything they do, according to the book.

The notion that the brands we buy reflect on who we are as people is gaining currency, so that the brands we buy, even everyday products, play a part in our sense of identity. Consumers will orient towards brands with beliefs that project and affirm their sense of themselves or steer away from them. 

Strong brand belief fosters consistency and integrity, so are desirable for companies that want to add value and build communities around them. As such brands have increasing cultural significance in our lives. Brand belief is what makes a brand less easy to copy. It makes you inimitable, and makes it more possible that the brand will become famous. 

Belief is not just something you have. It's something you do to make a change in the world. It's like a cause Brand belief that is communicated in the actions of the brand, specifically in its products offer is what works. 

Brands need to stand for something that is related to their category, but much bigger. The active beliefs of the brand, create a virtuous circle fostering creativity inside the organization, with employees being more engaged and inspired to give more of themselves in their roles. Externally, such brands create more buzz and engagement too. Another hallmark of a passion brand is its inner confidence. Such brands are in touch with the cultural mood of their times, while at the same time being rooted in their past and having an eye to the future. That vibrancy keeps them relevant while still remaining true to who they are. 

The book then sets out a methodology for creating a passion brand, which I'm not going to summarize because it's more relevant to big brands. And my focus is on new or very early stage businesses whose needs are far less complex than those of established multimillion pound brands. 

However, anyone supporting larger businesses to reconnect with their brand essence would do well to buy the book for guidance. 

Indeed, there are many valuable takeaways in the sections of the book discussing how to create passion brands that would be valuable for startup brands too.

The big takeaway for me after reading this book is the importance of not mistaking the need to be market oriented with asking consumers their opinion on matters where you yourself should make the decisions. There is a boundary between getting a better understanding of the consumer and asking consumers what issues you should focus on. If you enjoyed this episode, please do tell a couple of people about it. And sign up to the Brand Tuned newsletter over a brandtuned.com The link is in the show notes. Thank you and bye.