Brand strategy is a coping mechanism for brand infidelity.
You see your brand in high definition. Your brand positioning, your brand personality, your brand proposition are all high definition, high resolution concepts. Your brand is a beautifully sculptured ideal.
Your customers see your brand at much lower resolution. To them, it matters much less and stands for little. Customers deal in brutal brand basics, which means they often understand the essence of a brand better than the brand understands itself. There is an inevitable loss of fidelity between the brand as you define it and the brand as they perceive it. Your message will be garbled. And brand strategy is all about dealing with that infidelity.
Of course, the first step to dealing with infidelity it is to accept that it is happening, which doesn’t come easy to some brand managers. We need to work with this knowledge rather than rage against it.
How to cope with brand infidelity? In my experience brand strategy is more pragmatic and more effective if treat your brand as a blunt instrument. In Cluedo parlance, a brand is more of a lead pipe than a dagger. We’d like our brands to be precision instruments but they’re not. Deep meaning, simply expressed is less prone to loss of fidelity than a brand with bells and whistles. Obsess about essence and don’t fret too much about nuance. And remember that blunt instruments are very effective at leaving a lasting impression.
Blunt instrument brands go with the flow of brand history and they push against the open door of audience expectation. In her conversation with Jon Evans, Rebecca Dibb-Simkin, Chief Product and Marketing Officer at Octopus Energy, describes how Virgin stands for just a few things in people’s minds. Virgin = red, Richard Branson, and, if they’re lucky, bringing better service to tired markets. That’s it. Virgin communications that play to these attributes will be less prone to brand infidelity than messaging that tries to introduce new, unexpected brand ideas.
Blunt instrument brands are adept at creating “fluent devices” and distinctive assets. Often these are one and the same thing, like a catchy slogan or a lovable brand character. If these fluent devices are aligned and loaded with core brand meaning, they are a powerful antidote to brand infidelity.
“You know when you’ve been Tango’d” is a fluent device that delivers the the brand essence of intense taste with maximum memorability and minimum loss of fidelity. This is what blunt instrument branding looks like when it’s done well.
Keep it simple. Harness brand history. Try to push against the open door of audience expectations. Create distinctive assets that are inseparable from your brand essence. Brand strategy, in a nutshell, is about accepting and dealing with brand infidelity.
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