If there was a simple answer, someone would already be flogging it for millions (under a popular brand name, no doubt). Branding is an odd concept – somehow leeching its way into public psyche like a Pied Piper of consumerism and no matter how anti-brand you are, you can’t help but at least acknowledge the power a brand has. Who doesn’t subconsciously feel a little bit more Christmassy once that first “holidays are coming…” Coca Cola advert plays on TV (even it if they do start their campaign in October)?
Broadly speaking, a popular brand is one that is instantly identifiable, and inspires familiarity in whatever field it happens to be in – like quickfire answers in the last round of a gameshow everyone would win:
What’s the most famous fast food chain? Maccy D’s.
The first car company? Ford.
Biggest name in sportsgear? Nike.
Coffee, anyone? Starbucks. Etc, etc.
And it’s not just about a logo, though golden arches and ticks rarely need text to accompany them for us to recognise what they represent – a successful brand has its own identity, somehow conveys its value is higher than other similar companies, differentiates itself even if it sells exactly the same thing as the next store. They are the brands of our childhood, bringing with them memories and personality; they are the brands of the future, bringing progress and excitement; they are the brands of today, having impacts on our daily lives. And now I’m getting a bit oratory so I’ll calm down and we’ll have a list. What are the factors that make a brand popular?
- Time. Not a hard and fast rule, but generally, we’re not all that into change. We stick with what we know, what we’ve used for years, what our family and friends recommend and respect. If you’ve used a Mac since that first apple fell from the tree, you’re not likely to run out and buy the next Vaio. No matter how many incarnations McDonalds uses to reinvent itself (fancy a salad?), we still know what we’re getting when we fancy something naughty.
- Value. Brands don’t necessarily mean the crème de la crème, they can represent the best value option too. Certainly, using a brand such as Prada broadcasts wealth, style and exclusivity, but just as powerful are brands like Wallmart or Tesco, whose personality is based in value for money and being available to all.
- Identity. CEOs may come and go, but a brand’s identity usually stays the same – again, the importance of feeling the safety in familiarity. Ford’s identity has developed since Henry brought out the first fleet of (slightly unimaginatively coloured) Model T cars in 1908, fulfilling his dream for ‘simple, affordable cars’. Ford still maintains that feeling of reliability and good value over a century later.
- Association. A good brand attracts affiliation, be it in the form of celebrities, national pride, other products or companies or a good cause. Driving an Aston Martin won’t make you into James Bond, but it will give you an ego boost, and perhaps tweak the perceptions of those who see you drive it. Affiliations are often fleeting, and not always successful, but the sign of a strong brand is that it stays popular nonetheless. Nike has managed to extricate itself from Tiger Woods relatively unscathed – after all, his Nike branded clothes presumably weren’t even anywhere near the scene of the crime…
- Following. Paradoxical maybe, but what makes a brand popular is its popularity. Despite angsty quests for individuality, the human spirit craves to be part of a group or a crowd or a family – even if that means showing undyingly loyalty to a product or company. iPhone-lovers will fight Androidians when their beloved fruit is challenged; there is an emotional response rather than a logical one.
Howard Schultz, CEO of Starbucks explains: “A great brand raises the bar – it adds a greater sense of purpose to the experience, whether it’s the challenge to do your best in sports and fitness, or the affirmation that the cup of coffee you’re drinking really matters.”
Having a strong brand is a culmination of so many aspects – giving your company the visibility in the first place, so people are aware of its existence; providing the best service you can, and differentiating yourself from your competitors; showing personality and honesty in your business, through interactions with customers and your target audience (social media is a popular new way of achieving this); and being a recognisable authority in your field.