Advertising & Marketing

Where do brands need to look for inspiration?

Douglas Holt, the man who wrote the book on how brands become icons, suggests that marketers should look to digital tribes who share a passion or ideology and then espouse that ideology as their own and nurture it. That might be true for some brands, but I suspect for most inspiration comes from inside, not outside, the brand.

Inspiration, of course, can come from anywhere, provided the receiver has an open mind. However, my experience suggests that the initial inspiration for a brand is very specific and marketers would do well not to forget it. A founder saw an unmet need and created something that resonated. Many brands could benefit from looking for inspiration from why they were founded.

We might better know Henry Heinz today for tomato ketchup, or his 57 varieties, but he got his start with horseradish. When Heinz first packaged grated horseradish in a clear, glass bottle he was responding to the societal changes of the time. People were more likely to be working in offices and factories and had less time to spend on food preparation. Existing packaged goods were often contaminated or adulterated, and sold in opaque packaging. Heinz emphasized the purity of his product by suggesting that the clear glass meant he had nothing to hide. That ethos continues as part of the brand’s DNA today and is reflected in an ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it’ approach to marketing.

Of course, it may not be the origins of the product that matter most but the original positioning. The Always #Likeagirl campaign has won many awards of late, but its success comes from the recognition that the idea of confidence, central to the brand in the past, needed to be re-envisaged for the modern day. Working with different brands around the world, I have found that getting the brand team to focus back on what first made their brand successful is a great way to stimulate new thinking about how the brand can evolve to meet the challenge of marketing in digital and social media. Many brands either lose sight of their reason for being in the pursuit of sales or drift away from it to pursue trendier but potentially faddish cultural trends.

And that is part of my concern with Holt’s thesis that brands need to look to crowdcultures – groups of like-minded digital natives who share some specific passion – in order to find inspiration. Sure, there will be plenty of inspiration, from insight into language to emerging trends, but will it fit with what the brand already stands for? And will it have the potential to appeal to a wider group of people or will it end up like Scion, limited to some cultural backwater?

Written by Nigel Hollis,Executive Vice President and Chief Global Analyst at Millward Brown

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