Oct 22 2012
Short, snappy titles. Simple, memorable logos. Instantly attractive designs.
These are all things a marketer associates with a successful branding campaign. It’s what we want our brand to have. But something is missing. Something that`s both the most difficult to communicate and the most important to have.
The Brand Message
Behind the titles, behind the design or décor, behind the ad campaigns, there must be the brand’s clear and effective message. In this Drive Branding article we will look at how some companies have been able to launch their brands with a clear message- and why many companies fail to do this.
Virgin: A brand with experience
How can a brand communicate a clear, singular message if it has so much to say? Take Virgin, a brand that covers everything from airlines and comic books to vodka and safaris. Slapping on a word like “quality” just isn’t going to cut it. Dr.Klaus Schmidt and Chris Ludlow, co-founders of successful European branding firm Henrion Ludlow Schmidt, discuss Virgin’s triumph in their book, Inclusive Branding.
So-how’d virgin get so big?
They started small. Virgin’s founder Sir Richard Branson never sat down and designed a brand that could sell you airlines, investments and cola all in the same breath. It’s always good to think big and think ahead, but when it comes to your brand message your thinking should be short and simple.
Branson chose the name “Virgin” out of honesty; he was young and new to business. The Virgin label featured two naked women back to back, he was putting out a risqué, hip and youthful image to his customer base: young music fans. One of the earliest and most important messages Branson wanted his brand to communicate was that although a new, inexperienced small company it always provided great quality for an affordable price.
Branson’s original music store sold popular records for cheaper prices than its competitors. Does this sound familiar? Ten years later Branson would be buying quality computer game companies and selling them to a new generation of youth that were looking for the best and most affordable in a new, risky market. De-ja vu? In another ten years Virgin was new to the massive world of airlines, and again, began offering a new, fun and entertaining service (airlines with entertainment services) in a field nobody expected it to dominate. Virgin still conveys the same message that it did to its music junkie fans of the seventies: we will offer you a new, carefully planned quality service at an affordable price.
One last word of wisdom-you can only choose the right message if you live by it.
As soon as a message and a product diverge from each other the message becomes unclear. It’s very easy for this to happen because many companies fail to test the message against each and every component of their brand or product. A recent case is Mercede’s discontinued Maybach.
Maybach: A car with an identity crisis
Fifteen years ago Mercedes decided to revive the Maybach brand. Next year the brand will be buried. The Maybach brand has been a colossal failure.
The Maybach was made to compete with the two other top-quality marques: Bentley and Rolls Royce. Like its two rivals the Maybach had the latest technology, a lengthy, nostalgic history to tap and a small enclave of major celebrities ready to promote it. Although many small factors may have contributed to the downfall of Maybach there`s one thing we can be sure about-the Maybach brand had a scrambled, unclear message and was not able to define itself in the face of its rivals. Maybach`s message was supposed to be about nostalgia, luxury and status (pricing). Let`s see how they bungled these three key points.
Mistake One: Half-assed Nostalgia
Maybach is not a household name (and, unfortunately for the Mercedes company, definitely won`t become one!) The name references a series of German luxury limousines produced in the twenties and thirties. The design of the car itself aimed at least to capture some of the class and elegance of the original vehicles. That is where the attempts to communicate a nostalgic, classy brand end. The vehicles insides were meant to be endlessly customizable and abandoned any attempt at old-fashioned class. Unlike the engine of the Rolls-Royce, which was built with the classic engine of the 60`s in mind, the engine of the Maybach was merely the same as the Mercedes's usual fare, produced at the same factory, without any thought of the old-time class the car strove to communicate.
Mistake Two: Lower-case luxury
Mercedes's original sales projection for the Maybach were overly optimistic. So sure that their brand message would communicate that they were all about capitol L luxury they even ensured that the auto journalist who were granted test drives would only be able to sit in the passenger seats. Again, with the same engine as their less luxurious brands, as well as other similarities to the Mercedes Benzes, the Maybach brand was sending a mixed message. If it wanted to announce itself as the top-of-the-top in luxury, every component should have been exclusive. A good message must always be applicable to the whole product, not just components of it.
Mistake Three: Stunted status
Maybach was created to rival Rolls-Royce and Bentley. It had its own unique history, its own unique design, and its own unique features. Again, it just did not go far enough. As unique as Maybach was it was still an updated version of its other brands. It was nowhere near as exclusive as its rivals, all of which were produced and constructed by a unique team in a unique environment. As valuable as the Maybach was it could not aim to rival Royce and Bentley as a status symbol. Its attempt to communicate that through its brand message was bound to failure.
Message first, talk later
Virgin has a strong, simple message that fits all its products. Maybach couldn't quite find the right message for its only product. This is because Virgin was living by its message before it began quickly acquiring the 400 companies that encompass it today. Each and every time a new product is introduced by Virgin, the message may change a little, but the core concepts remain. The Maybach never lived by the Mercedes’s message. The messages released about the Maybach were contradictory and confusing to the Mercedes brand consumers. They did not know how it fit into the company’s mythos and message. The “Maybach message” touted the characteristics of a quality Mercedes vehicle, as well as the characteristics of a new luxury vehicle and even the characteristics of a nostalgic piece of history. This confusing array of identities and qualities frustrated consumers and the brand was never able to attain a clear presence in the marketplace.
A clear message that works with the consumer may be the most difficult part of building your brand identity. How do I know how my audience will take my message? you might ask. Knowing your customers is essential knowledge in the branding world, and the first step to building a strong, lasting brand.This is what we will be discussing in our next Drive Branding article –how to get to know your customers (before meeting them).