Brand-out or audience-in?

There are a number of key thoughts around successful branding that frequently come to mind and now I have somewhere to ruminate on them in public. This issue is a big one for me, an issue I come back to all the time. Should a brand idea and positioning be dictated by what a distinct audience seem to want, or should it be fuelled by what you as an organisation want to do/make? Do you make or deliver something you are passionate about and find an audience that feel the same as you? Or do you find an audience that want a distinct product or service then make it for them? Full marks to whoever just whispered under their breath, "well its both you bloody idiot". You're right, ideally you'd hope to do a bit of both. Come up with a great idea and a product you want to make, or a service you want to deliver, then before you take out the second mortgage or sell the kids on Ebay, check (somehow) that there are a few people out there that feel the same as you about the wonderful thing you are about to try and sell them. Interestingly I recently had the opportunity to get some inside info from the principle scientist for global product design and prototyping at Mars and was deighted to find out that generally speaking he experiments (messes about with chocolate and caramel and biscuits and nuts) and finds new interesting stuff he can concoct, then, and only then do they find out who might want it. It's kind of heartening to find out they do it this way rather than identifying that 34% of AB adults aged 42¼ living in Bradford would like a bit more toffee in their lives, then make them something. Now the more numerate and risk adverse amongst you might be saying that the latter is a more reliable and commercially robust way to proceed and you may be right, but I think the best brands are driven by passion, desire and conviction not maths. Consumers (us and him over there) want to see that a producer cares about their product because if they care it's likely the product will be better.

We have a rising suspicion about big brands. We doubt their motives and their sincerity and now that we are all becoming much better at deciphering marketing tricks and practices, we can see more clearly the businesses that are in it for the money and the ones that see monetary gain as a consequence of selling something thay care passionately about.

Now, although my general advice and preference would be to find something you are passionate about and then find an audience that feel the same as you, I would suggest you take a look around and see where the sector is on the adoption curve. It would seem to me that a lot of people became very passionate about making ice cream at about the same time and now, living as I do in the Cotswolds, I could thrown a ball of paper out the window and there is a fighting chance I'd bop a fresh-from-the-dairy-organic-farm-ice-cream producer on the head. I just don't think there are enough people who want that much ice cream, added to which it's all pretty average and no one has a really good point of difference. A picture of a cow or a barn is not really enough.

All of this thinking has come from analysing the make-up of all the great brands we know and love. They have a number of common traits:

1. Most of them have a wonderful idea, purpose or fight in mind before they make anything or deliver any service. Zappos wanted to prove that genuinely amazing customer service (not lip service to customer service) would deliver success, and they did. Tesla want to speed up our transition to renewable energy. The amazing car and the battery plant in the middle of the desert is a consequence of that.

2. Once they've had the idea these great brands don't tinker around with it, they go out and they tell everyone, the idea is in everything they do.

3. Their communication is not a veneer invented by an ad agency to cover up a lacklustre brand, it's an expression of what they genuinely care about.

4. Great brands are not afraid to get emotional about their idea, where as most businesses are happier looking at a spreadsheet than discussing what they care about or why they do what they do. Businesses are just not very good at getting emotional which is a shame given that emotion plays such a big part in the way we as cusumers engaghe with brands.

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