Brands are about making life better, and enabling people to achieve more

I love Nike.

Not the company, but the idea. It’s not about the founder Bill Bowerman and the story of his waffle iron, much more about the adrenalin and inspiraton that I felt tingling down my spine on the night when Steve Cram broke 3 minutes 30 for 1500m in Nice. I’ve worn Nike shoes and clothing for 35 years, and never considered any other brand. Products have come and gone, trends and technologies. It’s not about technical quality or superficial image, it’s about the confidence and confirmation that I get from wearing the iconic “swoosh”. It’s about me, and how I feel.

The old idea of brands was that they were marks of ownership. Brand names and identities reflected where they came from, as indicated by the Germanic origins of the word in brandt, as farmers burnt their distinctive markings onto their livestock. Most brands initially reflected family names, and the activities of owners.

Over time, consumers became less engaged by origins of ownership, and responded much better to brands that reflected their own lives and aspirations. Names became more abstract, as the concept became more important than the name, and the logo acted as a shorthand for distinctive attitudes and values. Concepts reflecting people, not products, could rise above functionality, and enable brands to move beyond categories.

They are a reflection of customers, uniquely shared value, and potentially your most valuable business asset.

Brands capture an irresistible idea, compelling and intuitive, engaging and inspiring people in ways that companies and products cannot. They build platforms and connections through which customers and business can achieve more. A great brand captivates people emotionally and irrationally, about them and what they want to achieve, and ultimately to make life better. Brands are also your bridge to new products, categories and markets, to sustaining and growing your business in a world of relentless change.


Brands in a digital world

Digital media further changed the ways in which brands engaged with consumers, ultimately connecting consumers with each other. Whilst greater access to information drove scrutiny and demand for authenticity, consumers responded by trusting brands less. They switched off from listening to overtly commercial advertising and turned instead to trusting and engaging with friends and others like themselves.

A brand’s story, and ultimately its reputation, became much less driven by what the business said about itself, much more by what people said to each other. In today’s world brand owners seek to nurture and curate what real people say to each other, tweets and posts, word of mouth, click to click, embracing it as an ongoing narrative which they cannot control, but which they still seek to influence and enable. Coca-Cola calls this “liquid and linked” story curation.

Brands today are about communities of consumers who share a common aspiration. The brand doesn’t own the community, but it can be an effective and respected enabler of connecting people, not to buy products per se, but to share passions. Products and services then follow, as the brand becomes trusted and aligned to the activity which it enables. A brand purpose is the shared motivation of the community, and its enabler.

Brands are therefore defined more by what they enable people to do, rather than what they do themselves. Brands are more structures of collaboration to deliver this enablement and ongoing relationship, rather than the wrappers of products and transactions.

Manifesto brands do more

Manifesto brands are about people. They are defined by what they enable people to achieve, rather than the means to achieve that. They are about

  • People: they achieve trust because they are built on human instincts, an emotional contract through which promises become reality.
  • Passion: they share the interests and obsessions of their audience, they want more and give more, with energy and inspiration.
  • Purpose: they share a guiding light, a common cause, to make the personal lives, societies, and the world, better in some way.

Like all brands, manifesto brands are short-hand codes for bigger ideas that people believe in. They are built on a distinctive set of values, beliefs that they share, ideas to promote, causes which they want to support. In a sense, they are the consumer’s interpretation of the company’s purpose.

They are manifestos. Declarations for change, a belief in better.

Some brands even define their manifesto in detail. Not as an advertising narrative, but as a shared statement of intent. Brands, and the products and services which they bring together, then act as a platform from which business and consumers can promote good, and also do good.

Apple famously defined itself, not with a logo, but with a belief: “Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently … And whilst some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do.”

Yes, it appeared as a memorable ad, in one form narrated by Steve Jobs himself. But it stirred an emotion in me. I wanted to be part of that. I wanted to be that.

Nike embedded its manifesto inside every pair of shoes, saying everyone is an athlete, striving to achieve their best, to find their own greatness. North Face is about “exploring”, the world and ourselves, to understand both better, and to be more fulfilled. Fiat wants people to enjoy everyday life, to “celebrate the smallest of things with infectious excitement”.

A manifesto brand typically is built around three components:

  • Brand manifesto and storytelling: makes the purpose relevant to the consumer, built on insight and aspiration, communicated to or between people.
  • Brand activations and experiences: delivers the manifesto through products and services, and broader initiatives, eg Coca Cola’s rural Ekocenters.
  • Brand ambassadors and community: spreads the manifesto between people who share the cause, as it becomes a movement, eg Patagonia’s climate protests.

Coca Cola is about happiness, not just refreshment. Nike is about your best performance, not just shoes and clothing. BMW is about the joy of driving, not just the driving machine. Swarovksi brings a little sparkle to every day.

Brand Lab … Reimagining your brand system

Peter Fisk helps you to build, redefine or grow your brand in a more inspiring and innovative way. Finding a better purpose, a clearly defined audience, new opportunities to extend and grow in existing and adjacent markets, new business models including licensing and franchising, based on deep insight into the ever-changing needs of your target customers, and to what drives most value creation.

Examples of recent branding projects include:

  • Adidas: Taking a purpose “sport has the power to change lives” and considering what it means for categories, such as running – better shoes, empower athletes – and for markets, mobilising communities.
  • Aeroflot: Brand strategy and valuation for Russia’s national flag carrier, exploring future scenarios for the brand and how it is positioned and communicated in the global travel market.
  • Davidoff: New brand strategy, and product concepts for classic brand. Building a new narrative around the future customer, replacing tired imagery with new insights and ideas
  • ISKO: How to become the world’s top ingredient brand in denim, turning a b2b supplier, into a consumer-centric fashion label, that adds value to the most prestigious jeans brands.
  • Philosophy: New brand strategy for global growth of cosmetics brand, from “Hope in a Jar” to new markets of Singapore and South Korea, through believing in more.
  • Samsung: Considering the role of the corporate brand in elevating a portfolio beyond its categories, and beyond competitors to have meaning in people’s lives and impact on society.
  • Tata Steel: Rebranding and communication of leading steel company, developing an added value blueprint to go beyond the low-priced commodity business into customer solutions.

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