Microtank: Science of Branding, Part II
In last week's column, we gave our readers a broad overview of what branding is. We discussed some of the concepts and ideas behind branding. This week is part two of a three-part series on branding. In this issue, we will talk about contemporary approaches to brand strategy, and how these might be applied to a microbusiness.
One common approach to branding for very small businesses or sole-proprietorships is known as individual branding. The brand strategy here centers around making a chief person of the organization, often the owner or CEO, the identity of the brand. John Doe, for example, might build a website at johndoe[dot]com. When you arrive at John Doe's website, there may be a professional photo of John on the homepage. There may also be an artistic heading on the homepage that includes the words "John Doe."
The website might have a personal statement from John. It may include his beliefs, or his unique perspective on the industry he's in. Often personal branding involves an emphasis on the mission or vision statement of the individual, and how that individual expresses the vision or mission with his or her clients. This type of branding is often seen with artists, writers, and other creative professionals.
This is just an illustration and is not meant to be taken literally. It is only meant to point out the salient characteristics of individual branding. This type of branding can work well for microbusinesses with limited resources. An individual is unique and differentiated, by definition. Therefore there will be naturally fewer competitors for an individual brand as there will be for other types of brands. As such, this type of branding campaign is often less expensive. An important consideration in individual branding is how easy or difficult the name is to remember, pronounce and spell. Individual branding may not be the best choice for names that are more complex.
Attitude branding involves infusing virtue or a noble ideal into the the brand. Examples of attitude branding include Nike's "Just Do It" ideation, and Starbucks' Fair Trade Coffee campaigns. In case you didn't know, Nike was one of the Greek goddesses of victory. The brand idea here is very clear: Nike represents victory, which of course is apropos to a sporting goods brand. The Nike brand is pushing you to strive for greater success, to push for victory, to become better than what you currently are (without Nike). This is an example of attitude branding.
The same is true for the Starbucks Fair Trade Coffee campaigns. Whatever Fair Trade Coffee is (does anyone really know or remember?) the idea is clear: the Starbucks brand is in some way committed to bettering the world of coffee farmers. They are saying, "Don't just buy any coffee. Buy the coffee that makes a difference in the third-world."
Have you ever noticed how you feel when you're at the local Starbucks? When I'm at my local Starbucks, I feel good about myself. For some inexplicable reason, I feel more educated, smarter, more cultured. Next time you're in Starbucks, take note of how you feel. Take note of your attitudes about yourself and the world around you, when you're there. What you discover might really surprise you.
Our firm - Gnosis Arts - utilizes an attitude branding strategy for our brand campaigns. Microtank, for example, is the brand name of this weekly column. It is a neologism for "Microbusiness Think Tank". The idea is that we're striving to bring our readers the most cutting-edge research out there on microbusiness management.
Howard Schultz describes attitude branding in this way:
"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," said Howard Schultz, president, CEO and chairman of Starbucks.So, with Microtank, we're attempting to "raise the bar" on the information out there on microbusiness. Microtank is only one of the Gnosis Arts brands, and it is part and parcel of our overarching brand ideation of giving small business executives the knowledge (gnosis) they need to achieve the highest level of freedom and success in business. In a very real sense, we want you, the reader, to have a greater sense of purpose to your experience in reading this column. We hope to spur creative thinking and innovation in you, so that you will have the intuitive insight, imagination and revelation you need to achieve your business goals.
In our column last week, we interviewed Gary Kaskowitz, associate professor of management at Moravian College. Professor Kaskowitz is a proponent of emotional branding. He believes that emotional branding is the most effective approach for small, lesser known businesses. "True branding success comes at the emotional level where the small business owner can position his or her business as a prop to the story his/her customer is already living," Kaskowitz told Microtank . "Modern branding takes advantage of storytelling and symbolism, far more than mind-share branding ever did. It also requires the effective use of technology and advocates to help spread your message due to serious resource limitations most small business owners face. "
One good example of the use of emotional branding is the company Red Slice. If you visit the company's website, you are immediately struck with an entire microcosm of familiar western metanarratives. The homepage has header images of apples - all of which are green, except one red one.
As you navigate to the various pages, you are shown images of different fruits, fruits known for their juiciness. In addition, the color palettes of the various main navigation pages changes as you surf, stimulating different moods as you pass through the website's pages. Then, on one page of the site, you are shown a magnified version of the inside of a fruit sweating and pulsing with juice.
As you surf the pages, your eyes are drawn to a tagline, "You have a story to tell. An image to convey. A feeling to evoke." When you click on the Facebook icon to visit the company's Facebook page, you are taken to a landing page that is very artistically done, customized with a similar look and feel as the website. On the Facebook page you encounter another tagline, "Fresh brands. Crisp messaging. Juicy ideas." In short, Red Slice isn't just giving you information, but an experience.
The narratives at work here are unmistakable. The apple. Forbidden fruit. Juiciness. Sweet to the taste. Sexual potency. Color palettes that exude sexiness. The site has a tremendous amount of sexual appeal to it, beckoning you to read more - if you dare. If you get to the Facebook page from the website, it is highly unlikely that you will not click the "like" button. When you visit the Facebook page, one of the first things you see is a video of Maria Ross, founder of Red Slice, giving a seminar on branding.
Maria is a magnetic speaker (and quite attractive, too). As she talks about branding, you are drawn in. You want to learn more. Red Slice, based in Seattle, WA, is positioning itself as the emotional solution for your branding needs. What the site, the Facebook page and the video all communicate is: If you want your target market to be irresistibly drawn to your business, as you were irresistibly drawn to our site, then the Red Slice style of branding is the solution - the only solution - for your business.
Now, whether or not the average website visitor to Red-Slice.Com gets all of this or not, only Maria can tell you. This is where market research comes in. But the Red Slice narrative operates, whether you are conscious of it or not, at a level below consciousness. Red Slice could be viewed as a form of iconic branding, and not just emotional branding. According to Douglas Holt, a popular writer on marketing and branding, there are four main characteristics of iconic brands. One of these is what he refers to as a "cultural contradiction" - some kind of mismatch between prevailing ideology and emergent undercurrents in society. In other words a difference with the way consumers are and how they some times wish they were.
Notice how the Red Slice brand captures this contradiction. The one red apple on the homepage is established as the one desirable apple. It is different from the other "plain" green apples. The red apple represents "how consumers wish they were." However, the apple, when placed in front of the backdrop of sexual appeal, reminds you of the Judeo-Christian metanarrative of the Garden of Eden debacle; choosing the red apple is breaking the rules. There is tension created on the Red Slice website; what this metanarrative tells us we ought to be clashes with what the hypermodern Red Slice narrative tempts us to become: unique, differentiated, not afraid to be appealing to others, even sexually appealing.
Some companies have taken a different approach to branding, one which could be classified as "anti-branding." Recently a number of companies have successfully pursued "no-brand" strategies by creating packaging that imitates generic brand simplicity. Examples include the Japanese company Muji, which means "No label" in English. Although there is a distinct Muji brand, Muji products are purposefully non-branded. This anti-brand strategy is considered hypermodern. "No brand" branding may be construed as a type of branding as the product is made conspicuous through the absence of a brand name. "Tapa Amarilla" or "Yellow Cap" in Venezuela during the 80´s is another good example of no-brand strategy. It was simply recognized by the color of the cap of this cleaning products company.
In last week's column we touched on mind-share branding. This approach to branding is considered the most classical, pedigreed form of branding by many experts. Kaskowitz said that this type of branding isn't as effective for microbusinesses because it generally requires more monetary resources than the microbusiness can afford. "Larger organizations can afford larger branding campaigns and usually operate under the premise of mind-share branding," Kaskowitz said. "They want to be the brand you think of when you choose a particular product category. For example, if you want a beer you’re more likely to think of Budweiser than Yuengling."
Though it can be more expensive, it is not necessarily true that mind-share branding cannot be successfully carried out by a microbusiness. Google AdWords, for example, is one resource that smaller businesses can utilize for mind-share branding. One methodology would be to create display advertisements for the brands, and run them on a select group of content network publisher sites. Run the ads on a CPM (Cost Per Thousand) basis, where you pay a certain amount for 1,000 ad impressions. Choose sites that receive a substantial number of repeat visitors (e.g., social networking sites make good candidates). Determine what your budget is and how much you are willing to spend for, say, a million impressions.
"Advertising services such as AdWords can help the small guy compete with the larger advertiser, at least in the online space," said Eric Bryant, director of Gnosis Arts, an online marketing and Internet PR firm in Bedminster, NJ. "And with automatic bidding, you can specify an amount you don't want to exceed, and the Google ad-serving algorithm will attempt to show your ad as many times as possible while staying within your spend limits. This is one way smaller firms can get 'a piece of mind' and play in the mind-share branding game."
If you are a microbusiness executive, you should think carefully about how to position your brand. As you study these different branding approaches, think about your unique products and services. Try to ascertain which approach, or combination of approaches, might work the best for your business. It helps to have a strategic planning meeting with your marketing, sales and/or PR people on this or to enlist the help of a professional branding firm, like Red Slice.
>> Read Part III of "The Science of Branding"