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Thursday, November 30, 2006

The great divide.


Based on some recent work we've been doing, it's becoming more and more apparent to me that there are two irreconcilable points-of-view around the role of brands. These views exist both within the agency world as well as the client world, and I'm not sure that you'll have any luck shaking a holder of either belief and convincing them of the other.

The one view says that brands are there to provide consistency and reassurance. They are designations of a familiar set of qualities and values. This view leads to brand communications that present an integrated front for the brand.

The other view says that brands are here to surprise and delight their customers. They inspire and enrich you by presenting new and interesting sides of themselves. This view leads to brand communications that, while based on a central belief, can look and feel purposefully diverse.

As in most black and white debates, I'm not sure either side is completely right or wrong, it would seem to depend on the context. However, I'd love to to see where you all fall.

Which do you think best describes the primary role for a brand?
To provide consistency and reassurance for its customers
To surprise and delight customers of the company
Make Free Online Polls

9 comments:

Rob Fields said...

I'm all for the latter view, since brands don't exist in a vacuum. Brands are viewed through the lens of culture and, as such, mean different things to different people. Coke's not quite the iconic brand it was in the 70s, for example. In fact, given rampant fragmentation, it's probably a good thing for brands to be able to present multiple faces that adjust to the cultural media through which their messages travel.

Anonymous said...

it's dialectical. hegel needs better coverage in what-should-planners-read rolls...

paul said...

It depends on whether the brand wants children or not.

Anonymous said...

If we are to give a vote on one or the other, then brand consistency is just one of many tactics to get to the ultimate goal, which is expressed in the latter view. Otherwise, brands serve various roles depending on what kind of relationship appropriate between it and its ideal consumer.

Adrian said...

That's an interesting view but I'm not sure that consistency would lead to surprise and delight. Don't we just get used to consistency and stop noticing or caring about things that stay the same?

Mnels said...

I can unequivocally support the notion that both are correct. Having segmented consumers almost every way posssible, you will inevitably reveal a segment that values consistency and one that values change and surprise. One of the single best discriminating attitudinal statements is "I like to take risks". It all depends on who you are tring to communicate with.

That said, being consistent and reassuring does not imply stasis either. A reasurring and consistent brand has to evolve as their customers' expectations evolve.

To me, the real question is does a brand have to be one or the other? Arguably, brands like Keds or Converse have straddled the divide. I think most brands can do both. The "Reassurance Seekers" can be held by unviolable base principles. Target tells us to "Expect more, Pay Less". This is a core promise that should not be touched. It does not prevent them from pushing out in many other ways.

A. said...

i agree with mark that both can be correct, depending on the brand and depending on the consumer. the thing you'll find more often than not, however, is that the people who are most likely to see the possibilities in advertising, the people who are most receptive to brands, the people who are usually the best opportunity for communications, these people will more often than not want a brand that surprises and delights. these are generally the kinds of brands we want to work on, and the kinds of brands everyone in the agency world is dying to pitch. of course, there are less dynamic brands and less dynamic consumers out there, and in those cases less dynamic advertising is what's appropriate. i'm just glad i don't have to work on those sorts of brands very often!

Chip Dwyer said...

Brands should subtly surprise and delight. This is the reason that rock stars and media figures who die young (James Dean, Jimi Hendrix, etc) are idolized---they were taken away before they got a chance to be stale. Same reason The Chapelle Show will always be beloved.

Adrian Lai said...

Once upon a time, shortage of shelf space limited the options consumers could choose from. To stand out, the brand's goal was to discover a Unique Selling Proposition and own it. A "self-contained gem" as Gareth Kay puts it, repeated numerously to drive the point in.

In today's information-rich world with an infinite amount of choices, brands need to adapt quicker to match people's fast-changing preferences. This isn't to say that positioning is no longer relevant. But brands need to be more multi-dimensional, modeled by a cluster of strategic cultural ideas that are both delightful and surprising, rather than one monotonous brand essence.