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Create a brand that will make you rich

The great brands have a clear meaning in the minds of consumers. Volvos are safe, Mercs are well engineered, Lamborghinis are fast, Toyotas dependable. The people who buy cars identify these brands with those qualities. In every case, the product has supported those beliefs and the marketing has reinforced it.

The great brands have a clear meaning in the minds of consumers. Volvos are safe, Mercs are well engineered, Lamborghinis are fast, Toyotas dependable. The people who buy cars identify these brands with those qualities. In every case, the product has supported those beliefs and the marketing has reinforced it.

However, you do not have to own a huge company, like Toyota, to build a strong brand, one that will help the money to role in. Jack Trout, one of the best-known marketing strategists alive, has this to say: “(In future) there are going to be two successful kinds of players. There will be big powerful brands, the mega brands, the big companies who can really put the muscle in around the world, the strong leaders. And then there will be the specialists, the well-positioned niche brands, the small players.”

In Trout’s view, the brands then that are going to have the most trouble are the ones in the middle, neither big and powerful, nor smaller and focused.

So, identity will be what counts. You can be big or small, mainstream or niche, but your brand, whether local, national or international, must have a clear meaning to your target consumers. People have to look at your brand and immediately know what you stand for.

Al Ries, Trout’s equally famous associate, says, “It is not just a question of size. It is really a question of narrow focus. Power comes from being a specialist.”

They give the example of a general dealer in a small town of perhaps 100 people. The general dealer may have a filling station out front and inside it will sell everything from food to clothing, hunting rifles to ploughs, storm lanterns to beer. In its small town it may do very well, but move that store to the city where there are companies that specialise in all those areas and it will go out of business very soon.

Nike means something to consumers, so does Coke, Nando’s, Disney, M-Net and a thousand other brands. We associate them with the fields they work in. The general dealer means nothing to anyone. The bigger a company becomes and the more global its reach, the more focused the company must be.

Among small companies, a company with the identity Rosebank Plumbing draws in customers who need their services. If the company’s name were Rosebank Plumbing, Baby Clothes and Data Bases, they would not be in business long. To say that prospective clients would be confused would be to understate the matter.

One of the top South African companies that specialise in creating brand images is the HKLM Group. “We are essentially designers,” says Gary Harwood, one of the partners in the company. “We assist our clients in revealing the unique character of their project or company.”

A case in point was the company’s work on a new development based on the old Orlando power station. “We knew that it needed a strong identity, one that would help to attract international tourists. We examined the history in the area and decided that we should make the brand identity Proudly Sowetan, so we called it Orlando Ekhaya. Our clients immediately agreed to the strong South African approach and character. Overseas visitors will be confronted not by just another shopping mall, but by a complex that is uniquely South African. There is immense power in a national identity, something that sets you apart from other international products.”

The HKLM team does at least half of their work in other African countries and the Middle East. Among the clients for whom they have created strong brand identities are a number of continental telecommunications giants.

“In these companies, like any other, a brand needs to start with a single BIG IDEA that will be the core of its identity,” says Harwood. “And the big idea must have real meaning, it must be challenging. After that the name, the brand identity and every detail, right down to the design of the phone cards, have to follow.”

To Harwood, the aim for every company they work on is to create a world-class international brand. “And it helps to emphasise your African heritage. African companies should be proud of their roots. In a recent Nigerian campaign, we threw out the photographs of men in suits and replaced them with pictures of people in traditional dress. The response was overwhelming.”

HKLM has worked on a number of major South African banks, not always the easiest clients about which to find something fresh to say. Nevertheless, the principles they apply are the same for all, and the strengths and weaknesses of the product form part of it. “We see what is working and what is not. We look for the essence of the brand. We ask ourselves if the client company operates quickly and efficiently. Once we have found the company’s BIG IDEA, we can take it to market.”

And the power of the brand is not just about marketing. “There are two audiences with which we are dealing,” says Harwood. “One is external, but the other is internal. The company’s own people must also buy into the brand. A company’s brand and its reputation are inseparable. For the process to work best, everyone must be involved. Marketing, human resources, finance, sales, production: all must buy into the company’s brand.”

In Harwood’s view, good design makes a better place for all. “Everything around us that has not been created naturally has originated from a designer’s drawing board.”

This also applies to the outward appearance of a brand. Or is it just the outward appearance?

Not according to Steve Jobs of Apple. “In most people’s vocabularies, design means veneer,” he says. “Nothing could be further from the meaning of design. Design is the fundamental soul of a man-made creation.” That this translates into turnover can be seen by the recent success of some of Apple’s extremely handsome products.

Design also has a practical aspect. Some buildings designed for African cities where the power only works sporadically have air conditioning systems with heavy current drain.

To keep them running would need a room full of stand-by generators. Some wiser designs have no air conditioning, but plenty of windows and features with running water to keep temperatures down.

Design can also play a major part in beneficiating the raw materials we ship overseas. “If we had more designers, we would use our minds better,” says Harwood. “We would produce more that has added value. Some other emerging markets are showing the way. In Korea, they have created a design centre. In Brazil, they invest heavily in design that uses ingredients from the Amazon basin.”

At some time soon your brand may need some serious design work. It does not only need to look good, it also needs to represent something that is good and it needs to mean something to people, both inside and outside the company.

Trout and Ries say that a company must have focus. Harwood says that you must find the big idea. Steve Jobs is reaching into the soul of his product. Ultimately, it is all about the brand.  Success is the result of having a recognisable brand with an excellent reputation.

By Wessel Ebersohn, acknowledgement to SUCCESS MAgazine

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