Is the bottom line of branding always about money?

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Is the bottom line of branding always about money?

Corporate branding is the process of creating a unique identity for a company that would differentiate them from competitors in the marketplace.  It is the brands look, feel and reputation, it is how the customers view the company and what associations they make when looking at a brand. The importance of branding is becoming more and more evident in the business world. It is the most powerful weapon in a marketing departments arsenal and businesses can’t afford not to brand.

But is it always about money?

I believe branding is about generating an outcome and in most cases the outcome is income.

There are companies out there that genuinely want to do good. And they use branding to get people riled up about the same causes and beliefs and simply making money on the way. However, very few businesses are like that. Most businesses will use carefully developed branding strategies to get money and who can blame them? After all that is the main function of a business in the first place. I personally don’t see it as wrong unless they are lying and don’t support the causes they say they believe in.

But it is not only businesses who use branding. Politicians, artists, freelancers, religious groups and many others brand and are branded as well. Some of them do not brand to get money out of it but rest assure all of them brand to get a desired outcome. A politician does it to get votes, an artist to express an opinion or to sell paintings, a freelancer to get better clients and religious groups brand to get more followers. Even non-profit organisations use branding to get more donations and in their case it is definitely about getting more money

So the answer to the question is no. It is not always about money. But it is always about gaining a desired outcome.

Dissecting a brand

Today in brand busting we were given a task of dissecting a brand and looking at the brands core values, voice, message, and bottom use. When given a choice between a corporate, civic, institutional, individual and media brands we chose an individual brand – politician Hilary Clinton.

We all have immediate associations when thinking about her as she has quite a strong personal brand and a huge marketing team behind her to look after her image. Her voice is professional and she resonates experience in leadership and politics. Her message tries to appeal to young people, ethnic minorities, and especially women and we can agree that her message does get across quite well to her target audiences.  Her campaign slogan is ‘Make it Real’ which on it’s own does not make much sense. The slogan comes out of her aim as a president – ‘Creating a society where everyone is treated equal. Make it real’. As far as slogans go i think hers is not a good one as it does not stand on its own, without context. Apart from not being the most functional of slogans it fits very well with her core values: equality (both gender and racial), helping rural communities, small businesses, medicare, helping those in poverty and providing education. These are well chosen core values as most Americans can stand behind those.

However, when looking at the gaps of her brand we see quite a few, especially in her communication with the younger generation. Tweets like : ’’ Tell us how you feel about your student debt in 3 emojis or less’’ does not seem like something she would normally say and it is clear that her team is tweeting for her. Another gap in her brand is the lack of trust people have in her because of her long involvement in politics. The bottom line of her brand is getting elected and gaining political power and she makes it visible.

What do you think about Hilary Clintons brand?img_3712

How do branding behaviours define us as individuals?

These days we purchase from brands that we believe in and through our purchases we create our own identities.  We buy to fit in groups with likeminded individuals.

Marty Neumeier, the author of ZAG suggests that unique buying tribe (UBT) is about pulling people into a tribe they can trust. In a marketplace of me-too offerings, people don’t seek features and benefits as much as tribal identity.

When we buy a new product we think of what it will say about us. If i buy an Apple computer do I come off as more creative? In most cases if you consider yourself a creative individual you MUST have a MacBook to show the world ur identity. Just walk around any arts university and you will see only MacBooks and that is no coincidence.

How do companies do this? They create their brand around emotions and a story instead of focusing on their product. This way a brand will portray a belief system and a set of values that the brand holds dear. And when we go out and buy things we look for brands that have similar belief systems and values to ours.

We can look at Harley – Davidson as an example. Men buy these bikes because they represent freedom and makes them feel more macho. It is very common for men going through a mid-life crisis to get one because they want to feel young, free and manly. A costly breakdown but probably effective for at least a little while. There are men out there making tattoos of the logo just because of what it represents.harley

If we like how a brand behaves we will buy from them to portray how we wish to be seen and that is how branding behaviours define us as individuals. You can tell a lot about a person just by the brands they buy items from.

Semiotics in branding.

What is semiotics? It is the study of signs and how people interpret them. A sign can be anything – a road sign, piece of art, a colour, written language, an object. Semiologist Ferdinand de Saussure suggests that every sign has two parts. The first part is the signifier which is what the person can see, feel, hear and the second part is signified which represents the idea and cultural meaning behind the sign.

To put it simply: your mind creates meaning as soon as you see a sign. You might look at an apple and think that it represents health or look at soap and think cleanliness. All of these meanings are formed in our subconsciousness.

But what does it have to do with branding?

Well branding uses graphic design to visualise their identities. When we look at a brands logo or website we immediately create associations in our mind for what that brand stands for.

As an example lets look at some of these brands: fashionmarketer_logo_luxury_fashion-e1412961392113

When you look at them you think of luxury or prestige or even high end pricing. Well that is because graphic designers know that certain fonts and colours are used to get the desired associations. That is also why when you look at logos from companies in the same industry you see a lot of similarities. Like green colour for healthy foods, heavy, bold and well balanced letterforms for construction companies.

But why do companies in the same sector look so similar? Surely they need to differentiate to compete. Well we have a shared cultural understanding of signs that designers use to create identities. If a luxury brand will look like a fast food chain because of playful typefaces then we will not perceive the brand as luxurious even if they have high quality goods and premium pricing. Their inner identity would clash with their outer shell.

Even if graphic designers don’t learn about semiotics they end up applying it unknowingly. 

Responsible brands and transperancy

Corporate social responsibility is a movement that has become increasingly popular in recent years due to brands making promises to the general public in order to compete. People choose brands that portray similar values and beliefs to their own and CSR is a good way of showing that your branding behaviours reinforce your identity by sustainable development. But how honest are responsible brands and are they always as transparent as they seem?

Millennials tend to be quite the social activists. Fighting for equality, supporting fair-trade, eating only biological and free range foods etc.  A lot of companies lie about how ethical their brand is or how healthy their product is just to get the attention of millennials. Just stick free range on the packaging, increase the price and we will buy it.

I wish to talk about a company called TOMS Shoes which is a great example of a brand with good ethics and impeccable CSR. 8075f034079459.5605f0e233646

Their ‘buy one give one’ business model has been incredibly successful. Basically if you buy a pair of TOMS shoes they will give a pair to a child in need of a pair. Sounds wonderful doesn’t it? Well it’s not as wonderful as you might think and here’s why.

First of all people in developing countries don’t need shoes as badly as you might think. When you imagine somebody in a village of a developing country you most likely imagine them with bare feet, very skinny and wearing rags. That is because of media and how they portray the situation in Africa.

‘’Poverty porn, also known as development porn or even famine porn, is any type of media, be it written, photographed or filmed, which exploits the poor’s condition in order to generate the necessary sympathy for selling newspapers or increasing charitable donations or support for a given cause.’’

– Source: http://aidthoughts.org/?p=69

Media takes the most extreme situation and shows it as the average.

However, TOMS Shoes does have an impact in developing countries but it can be more negative than positive. Why? Because donations like these take creators and shop owners in the local community straight out of business.

‘’Used-clothing imports are found to have a negative impact on apparel production in Africa, explaining roughly 40% of the decline in production and 50% of the decline in employment over the period 1981–2000.’’  Source: -Frazer Garth, Economic Journal Vol118, issue 532

TOMS shoes in most cases is doing more damage than good. So why does he give away so many shoes? Well because it sells, makes people feel good about themselves. The shoes sell for around 40 pounds and the cost to make a pair is around 5 pounds (10 pounds for two pairs as one is donated) TOMS keeps 30 pounds from the purchase. They have now sold more than 10 million pairs. Safe to say that their seemingly ethical business model has made them incredibly wealthy. 

There are a lot of brands with good CSR models, just be careful next time you buy into a brands promise for doing good, do some research and don’t be so easily fooled. 

If you wish to do good by purchasing clothes here is Tentree with really good CSR:

http://www.tentree.com/Ten-Tree

For every purchase they plant 10 trees around the world in deforested areas.