When brands are behaving well, it’s because they have found a way to capture the meanings that work best for the brand.
Sometimes, these meanings come easily. All we have to do is to push off against our chief competitor. For Apple, this meant taking aim at Microsoft. For Google, this meant taking aim at Microsoft. We might say that Microsoft has been one of the great brand builders of our age.
The Apple post: When Apple decided to use Intel chips, the agency, TBWA\Chiat\Day Los Angeles, knew what to do. Treat this as Intel’s liberation from all that is dull and tedious about the world of Microsoft. Since the writing of this post, we have seen the PC vs. Mac campaign, TBWA/Media Arts Lab, roll out to spectacular effect. Here too Mac is hip and interesting, and PC dull, stodgy, and clueless. In a sense, Apple built it’s brand merely by being what Microsoft was not. (See the post here.)
The Google post: Google has had this advantage, too. "Don’t do evil," the words of the corporate slogan meant, really, Don’t be Microsoft. But when I wrote this post, the bloom was suddenly off the rose for the Google brand. In effect, Google was suddenly discovering that not being Microsoft was not enough. It was now obliged to make it’s own brand meanings. (See the post here.)
The Rachel Ray post: We have lots to learn about branding from celebrities. If only corporate brands were so responsive, so charismatic. In the case of Rachel Ray, we have another case in which brand building is mostly a matter of pushing off against the competition. In this case, it meant not being Martha. Talk about an easy target. Martha Stewart is famous for being status conscious, status anxious, particular, bossy and self important. Along comes a woman like Ray who is casual, relaxed, forgiving, and goodhearted. You might say she had found her Microsoft. (See the post here.)
The Volvo post: But sometimes we have to make brand meanings the old fashioned way. We have to earn them. We don’t have a competitor to push off against, we have to start from zero. In this post, I look at Volvo and an ad by Euro RSCG, that figures out the things the brand can and should stand for. In the case, the most precious things in a man’s life: his daughter. And it captures this daughter in her most precious moment. And there is suddenly an arch. All that is precious about the daughter comes to reside in the brand capable of protecting this preciousness. This is meaning manufacture of a powerful kind. (See the post here.)
The Old Spice post: Once we decide that we are going to search out meanings for the brand, there are millions of choices. We have an entire culture to draw upon. In this case, we look at two men’s colognes both of which have fallen from fashion. Their meanings passed their "best by" expiary date and it is now time to start again. Both perfumes are struggling to come up with new meanings. Aqua Velva is looking in the wrong place. Old Spice, drawing upon the characteristically brilliant work of Wieden + Kennedy, is looking in the right place. In this case, they are drawing upon the irony created in the 1990s and the distance with which Gens X and Y now treat old fashioned kinds of masculinity. The brand is current once more. (See the post here.)
The HP post: In this case, we see the brand attempting something pretty daring in the field of meaning manufacture. HP attempts to claim the best face of the future, the notions of dynamism and responsiveness. I was unkind to HP’s meaning making efforts in the last section. In this case, I think they get things right. Hats off to the agency Goodby, Silverstein and Partners. (See the post here.)
The Coca-Cola Company post: I was unkind to Coke in the last section, but here I think they show what they can do. This ad, by Foote, Cone & Belding, New York, captures one of the most resonant themes in contemporary culture, self-transformation and women’s empowerment. This is a sensational "connect" with meanings that matter. Coke is of course an interesting case study for anyone interesting in branding. After all, this is the company that managed to turn sweet, brown water into a sign of America. Now that’s meaning manufacture. But the corporation has been uneven in brand building. Coke was smart enough to hire the likes of Sergio Zyman and Mary Minnick, and stupid enough to let Daft fire the Atlanta marketing department at a critical time. (See the post here.)
The Starbucks post: This post was about a funny little accident that gave Starbucks an opportunity to connect with the social networks and one of the great cultural trends of our time. Let’s call the latter the "kindness of strangers" trend. (See the Tag, We’re It link at the bottom of this post for more on this trend.) Anne Saunders is VP of Global Brand Strategy at Starbucks gets the credit. This ends up as a useful play on the networking theme, and as we now know, this is the great Tsunami now running through the world of marketing. (See the post here.)
Brands behave well when they are smart about the meanings they create for themselves. The trick is to discover which meanings, in which form, and how best to communicate and claim them.
Sometimes, meaning making is made easy by the competition. Microsoft make things easier for Apple and Google. Martha Stewart made things easier for Rachel Ray.
Sometimes, the brand has to make meanings by its own efforts, and in the case of Volvo, this meant going out, doing the research, building the strategy, and capturing the meaning "safety" in the form that matters most.
There are lots of other meanings to work with:
HP claimed dynamism.
Coke claimed women and self transformation.
Starbucks claimed the generosity of strangers.
Well behaving brands can claim any numbers of meanings.