Where does a brand stop and a company start? Or vice versa? This is one of the tricky questions we have to ask when positioning a brand that is the company - or a company that is the brand. Take Google, for instance. Do most people out there think of it as a company or a brand?
The truth is that people simply don't think in a convenient boxes type of way. It used to be easy to think of the commercial side of a brand and set down a "desired consumer response" - and then to switch over to the corporate side and envision what we'd like "the opinion leader audience" to think. Just as brands play many roles these days, so do people in relation to a brand. Those opinion leader people may be leading opinions here there and everywhere during the day, but when they go home in the evening, they could be using your product, or helping their daughter with a work experience application to a local branch of your company.
And conversely, on the other side of the street, that once docile "consumer" could be ranting off with his own opinions of the poor service he got via the internet.
You don't have to be a consumer, or even a customer. There are plenty of brands and companies whose products may not be relevant to me, but that doesn't stop me expressing my opinion if I admire or loathe them or what they are doing.
The context in which we think about a brand or company is important. Is it personal or collective? Me, us or the world? Me - my own personal experience, specific and most likely product- or service-related. Us - my family and friends, my neighbourhood, bricks and mortar, or on social media. And The World - the broader implications of how the company is acting.
Rather than recruiting different types of "stakeholders" from consumers to opinion leaders, perhaps it would make more sense for market research studies to look at the context of people's thoughts about a brand or company - me, us or the world?
The world's a big place, but it's getting increasingly impossible for brands to be discreet.
I love good use of infographics, probably because I don't have a clue about how to use them myself. But that's probably a generational thing as I'm at the tail end of the Baby Boomers.
The presentation here is from Bhavesh Patel on Slideshare, and although it's probably based on US rather than global figures, it shows the differences between the post-war generations in a charming and engaging way. The main contrast is between those born pre-1980 (Baby Boomers and Generation X) or "Kids of the Past" and those born after that (i.e. anyone young enough to be my child, gulp!) namely Generation Y, or Millenials and Generation Z, who are yet to be named or defined.
While most of the media behaviour documented tends to follow a linear progression with age, there are some odd exceptions. For example, Generation X are more likely to watch more than 1hr of TV than either the Baby Boomers or Millenials.
As far as Generation Z goes, my bet is that they will have sorted out the public/private thing as far as self-projection goes. There are already signs that things are going this way, with "self-destruct" social media such as Snapchat.
And one more request. Now that the Baby Boomers are grey and snapping up the anti-age treatments, can we call ourselves Generation W for Wrinkly?
In a post a few weeks back, I noted how Coca Cola has been toppled off Interbrand's top spot by those relative new kids on the block, Apple and Google. Despite this, the brand is showing healthy growth and could even teach a few of the new boys a thing or two about marketing.
One of my very first memories of Coke advertising was a groovy, happy-clappy film of a crowd of young things on a summer hilltop singing "I'd like to buy the world a Coke". You could run that film today - on other screens of course - because Coke is still about refreshment and happiness, all wrapped up in good-natured global togetherness. It's less about the strict consistency of corporate design manuals and more a feeling of being true to your self in your outward expression.
The "share a Coke with" named bottles this summer - and it was fascinating to see the names change as we travelled across Europe - was a stunning idea that I am sure will be talked about in years to come. And another innovation is Coke becoming a channel or medium. Instead of the usual corporate web page, Coke has launched CocaCola Journey, a digital magazine buzzing with stories from how to make a Coca Cola Cake to sending a Coke can into space, as well as plenty of the obligatory CGC.
It's a refreshing, happy online magazine, with something for everyone. The corporate facts and figures are still there, but not on the front page.
A good example of how brands in the 21st century should behave, even if they are 127 years old.
Anyone who works in marketing cannot have avoided the barrage of c-words that have characterised the marketer's vocabulary so far this century. Or more strictly said, Co-Words.
Thanks to the marvel that is the internet, we are all connected these days, cheerfully collaborating, co-creating and co-operating in our communities.
But is it all really so co-sy? If you just stick to the areas of the internet that you feel at home in, with like-minded communities, you probably feel co-mfortable most of the time. But under the co-ver, it's there. There are followers and leaders, there are hierarchies. And more often than not, if someone decides to do something that involves active participation beyond liking and agreeing, it will fall apart unless some of the participants actually meet face-to-face.
A recent book by Richard Sennett, Professor of Sociology and Humanities, called Together, is all about co-operation between human beings. Current politics (and indeed media) encourage tribes rather than cities, which is why co-operation, rather than being on the up, is a vanishing skill.
Because communities and co-operation are two very different things. Communities are a group of like-minded people, while co-operation describes working/doing together to a common end, often with people who are very different to oneself.
Next time I'm blithely buzzing those co-words around, I should remember that compromise and coalition also belong in that part of the dictionary.
It's generally agreed that, to be relevant, brands have to play a role in people's lives. And perhaps beyond that, a role in society. Havas have defined that a Meaningful Brand is one that makes a Contribution to improving the quality of people's lives (via a number of defined Personal and Collective Outcomes) and one to which people show Attachment - they would care if the brand were to disappear.
I don't think having a role is under dispute, but I do wonder whose job it should be to define that role. Have you ever tried to define a brand's role? It's not an easy job, and you tend to keep coming back to a rather fuzzy area where the brand is a helper/enabler/facilitator/deliverer in or of the brand's benefit or some other aspect of its positioning. Or else you get into the relationship metaphors and the brand is a friend, or a chum, or a buddy, or even an ally - but invariably with the adjective "helpful" plonked in front. Or you might simply state that your brand's role is to stand on a pedestal and be an Icon of whatever your one-word equity is.
In reality, the roles that brands really play in our lives are multi-faceted, complex and individualistic. Where does the brand Audi stop and my car, Red Freddie, start?
Maybe we shouldn't try too hard to define a brand role, as long as we're clear what that brand stands for. In the end, it's the user who writes the film script of their life - and probably does the casting.
When I was little, I wanted to be a spy. I got off to a good start, studying Psychology at Trinity College, Cambridge but somehow got side-tracked into the wonderful world of advertising and marketing.
My children's books: