Earlier this week I attended an event with the APG entitled ‘What is a brand?’, which reminded me of an essay of the same title from as far back as 1971 by the late Stephen King and made me question just how far, if at all, we’ve come in our understanding of brands and people’s relationship with them in the 45 years since then.
King’s argument is that in an increasingly saturated market, for manufacturers to sustain profits they must improve and maintain margins, rather than drive volume sales. The only way he sees to do this is by developing and building brands that are more valuable to consumers than the competition, brands that have added non-functional values that blend with product truths to form an integrated brand personality.
In his words:
“People choose their brands as they choose their friends. You choose friends not usually because of specific skills or physical attributes (though of course these come into it) but simply because you like them as people”
But that was 45 years ago… so what about now?
An interesting thought came from Unilever’s Global Brand Communication Director, Jane Buck, who thinks of her brands now as FMCiG (that’s Intangible Goods). As she put it, it’s no longer about selling a product, nor is it about that brand having any implicit meaning or ‘non-functional value’, but rather that the presence of the brand in the world is genuinely useful. Providing actual value outside of the brand itself, but in a way which has a credible link back to a product truth and that is amplified through increased penetration and consumer use.
The power of the brand then is in the consumer, more so than the product. The role of the brand is to augment and build that power into not just one person, but a community.
We don’t choose brands like we choose friends, friends help us choose our brands.