Sunday, September 14, 2008

Point of Impact @ Brand Zero

“A brand is always a story well told,” the New York Times reports Ms. Lucas, the vice president, general merchandise manager for beauty and perfume buyer for Henri Bendel, as saying as she gave a reporter a tour of the boutique’s perfume bar (An Underdog Pursues the Scent).

I understand how Lucas arrives at her assessment. For those who have never given women's retail any thought, movies that lend themselves to multi-tier licensing deals –like STAR WARS– illustrate Ms. Lucas' point emphatically.

Likewise, part of our experience of a given brand results from the context which we discover a given product, service or experience.

But I arrive at Branding from a different angle. To my mind a Brand is not a story in and of itself, but the thing a story delivers.

In my market theology: Story is simply a tool to deliver a brand or creator's promise, message, lesson or entertainment. Positioning is what the client or account or company does to carve out market space and visibility. A brand mark is most certainly an element in that strategy. But, brand marks aside, Branding is completed and returned by consumer consensus responding to the promise delivered by the Position.

Both Promise and/or Message are intangibles that your clients want consumers to understand about a given product they represent at first POINT OF CONTACT. –At least in a retail environment.

As with any ideogram, neither the communication itself, nor what is being communicated can be defined as story –there's simply no time for it. Rather, marks, identity assets, logos and packaging provide a business opportunity to inject a single shot of symbolic data into a consumer's brain. Call the resulting impact 'a feeling'. A story may in fact be the vessel for whatever is promised or experienced, but so is an ideogram –or in the case of a sound logo– or audiogram.

Wikipedia defines Ideogram as follows:

"An ideogram or ideograph (from Greek ἰδέα idea "idea" + γράφω grafo "to write") is a graphic symbol that represents an idea, rather than a group of letters arranged according to the phonemes of a spoken language, as is done in alphabetic languages, or a strictly representational picture of a subject as may be done in illustration or photography.

Examples of ideograms include wayfinding signs, such as in airports and other environments where many people may not be familiar with the language of the place they are in, as well as Arabic numerals and mathematical notation, which are used worldwide regardless of how they are pronounced in different languages."

Naturally, Ideograms are abundantly found in portfolios comprised of brand assets.

AUDIOGRAM is my own derivative invention, and refers to the sonic equivalent of ideographic mark.

In any regard, both ideograms and audiograms carry independent messages open to wide interpretation by those who receive them. We can narrow interpretation by creating context, but consumers often connect with companies, products and services before assimilating context. And your context may prove besides the point if public consensus posits a contrary mythology. In effect, Packaging and Content (or Company) only become synonymous with each other after consumers experience the product or service being advertised, and come to consensus on the value of the thing.

Story delivers brand assets, but neither the story nor the promise is the branding. Although, the reaction to it may very well be.

To make it real simple, consider advertising for a film. A trailer can make an awful film look great. The film's producer's want people to think they have a great film so that they'll actually pay to see it. But what happens after the public sees the movie, and everyone walks out the theater saying, 'it stinks'? Is the film's brand: A) Great? Or B) Awful? Or both? Like the The Rocky Horror Picture Show, it may require the right mood to discern its brilliance.

Of course, we can expand the concept of branding to mean anything we want it to, to apply to any and every sort of corporate communication. But when the feet hit the street in a given supermarket aisle, –and dare I say also along the cosmetic counters at Henri Bendel–, the only thing that matters is POINT OF IMPACT.

In fact, how does packaging compete with story?

Forget the hundred million dollar campaign produced by a legacy brand designed to introduce the pubic to a new logo. What intrigues me is what happens in the mind of a consumer who looking at boxes wrapped in packaging that hides their contents will then choose one over the other, instead of first doing research? It happens all the time.

Stories –delivered via advertising– hopefully drive consumers to stores. But faced with a multitude of heretofore unknown choices, how does a given consumer decide whether to buy one cosmetic over another? Or walking into a store, armed with information –and possibly a recommendation– with every intention on making a specific purchase: what happens then, when a given shopper ultimately decides to go with a different, unexpected, untested, new choice?

I would have to guess lacking personal experience or recommendation from a trusted source, nano-second judgments are made by each individual based on symbolic information made manifest by branding and packaging. When it comes to consumers purchasing products new to them, often choices are made first; and once having been made, only then does the consumer go looking for a back-story. Hopefully they accept the one your marketing department has created. Otherwise, it's behemoth brand against the bloggers, and nothing defines a brand like a bunch of unhappy consumers.

In like manner, the same piece of language can be read using one font or another, but sometimes one specific font is a more perfect choice to serve as the vehicle to deliver a specific composition. That is why Typography, like Sonic Branding, creates experiential value.

Say what you want about Art versus Commerce, first impressions do matter, even more than stories –at least until you've earned the full Faith and Trust of your client or customer.

As a Music Designer or Songwriter, your intention might be to compose an epic metal ballad, but your audience will tell you if you are indeed a rock shaman, or if alternately you are received (and perceived) as formed from the same mold as Spinal Tap.

• Audiograms are not inherently Brands by mere virtue or intention alone
• Brands are not stories, but are the subject of them
• Stories deliver and exemplify brand assets
• Logos, Ideograms and Audiograms promise an experience
• Faithful delivery of the promised experience creates Trust
• Trust is the basis of a relationship
• Relationship and Reputation ultimately define a Brand

In effect, the faith and trust that results from consistently delivering a given experience –THAT is the brand.

Branding –whether it is a graphic logo for letterhead or an audio mnemonic for a Television commercial– BEGINS with design and creation. Application of the mark distinguishes one product, service or company from another. But only when customers become return customers, and come to some consensus as to the value and identification of the assets –in effect making mark and thing synonymous with each other– do those assets and the promise they make (or message they deliver) become the brand.

No comments: