When you’re looking to buy something new, how much brand loyalty do you have? Do you look for a Ford, Skoda, or BMW if you’re shopping around for a new car? A Rolex or Skanska if you’re looking for a watch? Nike if you’re searching for a new pair of shoes?
Brands are more than just a name emblazoned on a object. It’s a promise that something will be delivered with a certain level of quality. If you’re of a certain age, you might have winced at the word “Skoda”; I grew up in the 1980s, when it was a laughing stock. Fast-forward through the years, and Skoda have changed their brand image with effective engineering and a clever marketing strategy. There’s still a lingering memory amongst anyone 35 and over of the “old days” that might influence their purchase of a new car, despite evidence to the contrary. Brand can be emotional as much as factual.
We all know of people who will only buy particularly-branded clothes or cars or food. Often, they will brag about their branded purchases; sometimes, there are logical reasons for their purchase – higher processing speeds of a particular computer makes it easier for them to work, for example. But sometimes it’s because there is a status to it – an iPhone versus an Android, for example. What about a diamond; what intrinsic value does that stone have over any other? It’s purer and it looks nice, but we choose to give it value.
But you don’t necessarily need to market products; marketing ideas is also effective. Smoking is a key example; the entire marketing of cigarettes used to be one of positivity and focused on supposed health benefits. Doctors even promoted them, for heaven’s sake, and smoking was considered entirely normal.
But then medical science woke up to the effects of smoking, and so did we for the most part. Smoking-related deaths have reduced dramatically over the decades although, given that they haven’t been completely eliminated, other messages (“Be cool”) are still getting through in some places. But smokers are now isolated with fewer and fewer places left for them to partake, and a societal frowning at their life choices – especially when smoke wafts across our faces.
I also work for a children’s charity – the Caldecott Foundation – and we don’t sell anything; there’s no commercial arm to our business. Our services aren’t always visible, as we work to give strong, positive futures to children; if we succeed, the children will see it, but not many other people will. From a marketing perspective, how do we “sell” what we do?
First, we define what our brand is; we are one of a number of children’s charities focused on residential homes, fostering, and specialist education, so we need to decide what makes us us. In the case of the Foundation, we promote our 100-year history, our therapeutic model, and our successes – any case studies we’re allowed to use that shows what we’ve achieved for “our” young people.
We also make sure that the services we deliver are visible to the people who make the decisions about where to send children in need of support; local councils, social workers, managers who commission services. We play to our strengths; OFSTED reports that reflect our quality, social media that reflects our professionalism and knowledge, and a price structure that is affordable and realistic.
But we also use our staff as ambassadors; everyone is in marketing when it comes to our brand. When an American president was touring NASA, he walked past the caretaker; the president asked him what he did there, and the caretaker proudly said, “I send men to Mars.” He had a job to do at NASA that kept the place clean, tidy, and well-maintained, and that allowed everyone else to do their jobs. He was the perfect ambassador; he was proud of what he did and who he worked for, and was clearly treated with respect in order to feel that way. He could even sell NASA’s work to the president.
I’m an ambassador for the Foundation; so is everyone, whether we’ve all met or not (and I’ve not met very many of the staff yet). If I can’t stand proud at the values that the Foundation live by, then I would not be a very effective member of the team, and I would not be very good at influencing others to see the organisation in the same way.
That level of engagement comes from having a brand culture committed to and respected by the staff and the sector. You need a staff team who buys into into that culture, which is tailored through effective recruitment, healthy training, and trusting them to do the job.
Presenting a public face that is at ease with itself and entirely in line with its values ensures that people see an authentic message. It can be boosted through paid-for ads, etc, but a history of well-developed content and authentic messages gives your audience a set of values to like and – hopefully – respect.
Brands are vital (if they’re done right) to build trust in what an organisation offers – but, if broken, the trust in the brand takes time to rebuild.