The emphasis of many brands is on their product attributes. This is natural as it’s the most obvious and tangible part of the brand identity, and by focusing on the specific features and benefits of a product they can appeal to the rational decision maker who is well informed and wants to base their decision on specification product information. If we were talking about cars, for example, this would include considerations like top speed, acceleration, efficiency, storage space and safety features.
Some of the important considerations when viewing the brand as a product are as follows:
- Where do you wish to place it in terms of value and quality? Do you want to perceived as premium and best in class, or as low cost and great value?
- What is the usage context. When do people engage the product and why? More importantly, perhaps, who are these people?
- What language do we want associated with the brand. For example, we may be happy to describe it as good value, but never cheap.
- Where was the product built? Where is the customer service team based? For example, Germany may reinforce perceptions of quality and Italy may suggest style, while other brands may highlight that the product is built in the UK as consumers often prefer to see their money stay local.
An industry that tends to focus heavily on brand as product is the automobile sector. This is because there can be huge variation in product scope, features and benefits and therefore the implications of focusing on these elements within their advertising is considerable.
- Audi concentrate on their engineering and performance, and capitalise on the association with German quality.
- Volvo place their emphasis on safety. They have been championing the importance of automobile safety since the 1940’s, and were the first manufacturer to introduce the three point seat belt in 1958, since which time almost all of their marketing and advertising has reinforced the sense that Volvo is the safest brand in the market.
- Porsche concentrate on delivering a luxurious and thrilling driving experience through an exclusive, beautiful and technically superior design, drawing upon a sense of Italian flare and taste.
Another world that favours this functional approach to brand is the B2B sector. Business people tend to focus on rational factors as they are seeking very specific features and benefits. There is likely to be specific criteria that the purchase must meet and budgetary constraints within which it must fall. These decisions are far less likely to be of an emotional and self expressive nature than the majority of consumer purchases.
Limitations of this approach
Product attributes tend to play a role in almost all brand identities, but it’s important to recognise that this perspective does have its limitations. Most functional USP’s are easy to copy and most customers want to communicate with their brands on a more emotional level. For example, an Aston Martin is wildly over priced if you concentrate entirely on product features, but that’s not why you buy an Aston Martin. You buy it because it makes you feel a certain way. You buy it because you’ve dreamed of driving one since you first watched James Bond as a child. It’s these emotional and self expression elements that justify the Aston Martin price, not the product itself.
Even when decisions are based on seemingly rational factors, there are still all sorts of emotions influencing their decision under the surface. For example, as mentioned above we tend to view business purchases as highly rational and measured. To a large extent that’s true, but it’s important to remember that one of the reasons business people conduct so much research is because they nervous about what their colleagues and boss will think if they make the wrong decision and want to gather as much information as possible to rationalise and justify their eventual purchase. Everything we do is on some level driven by raw emotion.
One last argument in favour of focusing on product
Whilst the trend has been to focus less on product and more on the lifestyle and emotion that surrounds it, there are many believe that at the heart of every truly great marketing campaign is a truly great product. I think there’s some truth in this. Marketing is not there to mislead or manipulate. It’s there to communicate the amazing things you create. Far better to have a great product poorly communicated than a terrible product brilliantly communicated.
Of course a lot of this comes down to the market in question. If you sell chewing gum then arguably there is little point concentrating on the product as it so difficult to differentiate yourself. However, for any market where there is significant variation between products then these differences, whether you like it or not, will heavily shape your brand image. After all, the customer may buy your car, dress or computer based on your emotive lifestyle marketing, but will they buy a second time if they don’t then have a great experience?
So yes, extend the brand into a rich personality, but understand that that personality must emanate authentically from a truly outstanding product that delivers on its promise.