The thing about a shared language is that we all think we’re speaking about the same thing. And most times we are. Is it raining outside? Easy. How ‘bout dem Packers? A little harder to answer, but we all understand what you mean. But the word ‘brand’ has a myriad of definitions that can lead to minor misunderstandings at best and outright hostility at worst. So what do we actually mean when we bandy the word ‘brand’ about?
Logo + Graphics Standard Manual = Brand, right?
Wrong. There was a time when things were simpler. When guys like these were the authorities on definitive brand identity.
Meet your branding team, circa 1900
But that was then, when the West was wild, and cattle were the only thing truly branded. It’s grown a little more complicated now. Yes, the consistent use and presentation of logo, color and type (in the form of codified Graphics Standards) is still a fundamental pillar of brand stewardship. But’s that’s just the beginning.
Themes, taglines, and campaigns are temporary.
A brand is forever.
It’s easy to get confused about what is, and is not, a key component of a brand—unless you ask one simple question:
Does this (color/theme/whatevah) have a scheduled sunset or ‘sell by’ date?
If it does, it’s not a brand (but may be an impermanent component of one). Campaigns end. Taglines get replaced. Themes come and go. But a brand—when carefully nurtured and adhered to—truly is forever. And the long-term value of a brand is far greater than any short-term ‘shiny object’ gain.
Remember the Tylenol® murders of 1982?
Tylenol®, the brand, is still around for one reason: because Robert Wood Johnson wrote some stuff down in 1943.
image: Johnson & Johnson
Should a brand be engraved in stone?
If you’re Johnson & Johnson, the answer is an emphatic “YES.”
“We believe our first responsibility is to
the doctors, nurses and patients,
to mothers and fathers and all others
who use our products and services.”
– an excerpt from Johnson & Johnson’s Credo
RWJ’s Credo isn’t marketing blah blah. It continues to be the bedrock upon which the J&J brand is founded. Its greatest test came 39 years later, in the form of the company’s response to a horrific series of events affecting one of its marquee sub-brands: the murder of seven people via tampered Tylenol capsules in 1982.
Turning a brand-destroying event into a brand-defining one.
What do you do when faced with such an existential crisis? You pull 31 million bottles from shelves nationwide, costing an estimated $100MM. Why? Because if you’re J&J, your brand demands it.
Mr. Johnson’s Credo has no ‘sell by’ date. What was true in 1943 is true now, and undoubtedly continues to play a huge part in the company’s consistent ranking within the top 50 of brands globally.
“Our Credo is more than just a moral compass. We believe it’s a recipe for business success. The fact that Johnson & Johnson is one of only a handful of companies that have flourished through more than a century of change is proof of that.” – Johnson & Johnson’s website
Within a year after the event, Tylenol was back to 30% market share after dropping to a low of 7% in the immediate aftermath of the tragedy, and ended 1983 at a new high of 38%. IMO, that’s because James Burke, then CEO of J&J, not only read, but lived the spirit of the words Robert Wood Johnson wrote almost four decades earlier.
A great brand is a double-edged sword.
Any brand can lose its way over time. Some question whether J&J has recently been living up to its Credo. To me, that’s exactly why every company and product needs such a strong, codified foundation (aka: brand).
A brand is not a ‘write it once and shelve it’ proposition. It is something that proves the quality of any concept, decision, or initiative. Great brands fail fast, and can, because they have a brand to quickly reorient themselves after the occasional, and inevitable ‘we’re innovating’ face plant. You have to ‘know who you are. So you can be it.’
What’s eternal about your brand?
“We just make/do/serve ________. How can we be afford to be a brand?” The fact is, you already are one. The way you serve, the people you hire, the words and images you use to sell; all of these things are actively communicating your brand 24/7/365. But is what they are saying perfectly aligned with the optimized version of what you actually are?
What you may need are the words, the brand-defining ‘Constitution of the United State of YOUR BRAND’ that captures not only who you are, but inspires you to continually be the very best ‘you’ possible. That’s the essence of what I call NonFiction Branding™’. And it all starts here.
– D.P. Knudten