Apple’s Tim Cook and the distinction between brand and branding

Away from the furore among analysts about Apple’s – apparently – disappointing results yesterday, the brand’s chief executive, Tim Cook, uttered a phrase which precisely states the distinction between brand and branding.

He said: “We could put the Apple brand on a lot of things and sell a lot more stuff. The most important thing to us is that our customers love our products, not just buy them but love them.”

Branding = ’We could put the Apple brand on a lot of things and sell a lot more stuff.’

Brand =  ’The most important thing to us is that our customers love our products, not just buy them but love them.’

And that’s why Apple is the biggest brand in the world.


The Great British brand identity crisis

Symbols are significant. And few symbols carry more significance for those who encounter it than a nation’s flag. So the unveiling of the dove-inspired design by British Airways earlier this week – less than a fortnight after the launch of the Team GB athletes kit pictured above – only serves to reinforce an idea that’s been irking me about the Olympics’ effect on the UK’s brand identity: is our nation in danger of conveying the idea that we are colourless, drained of energy and drab?
Continue reading “The Great British brand identity crisis”

Landor: Why ‘I want an iPad’ beats ‘I want an iPad xyz’

Just spotted this really interesting piece for by Allen Adamson at Landor’s blog. The clinching argument is made in the penultimate paragraph of the piece:

“I think the company made a smart decision in not giving the newest iPad a new name. It makes it simpler for people. I want an iPad. How simple is that? I don’t have to explain which iPad, other than saying the newest model or the less expensive model.”

In fact, I think plenty of marketers – and not just market leaders – may want to take note of Apple’s decision not to call its latest iPad ‘iPad 3’ or something like that.

For me, it’s the underlying idea that just the right amount of branding enables people to recog­nise and under­stand how to nav­ig­ate your business’s goods, ser­vices and organisation. A little more branding than is necessary, and it’s probably going to have the opposite effect.

To be honest, I wasn’t at all concerned what the latest iPad would be called.

I suspect I’m like most people: what matters to me that a product lives up to its promise when I decide to invest my cash in it. If it doesn’t, no amount of branding is going to fix that.

Landor Associates

The difference between brand and branding: Part Three

I like fountain pens.

I’ve always preferred to write in real ink and I’ve tried out plenty of makes and models.

For many years I settled with a Lamy Safari but, even though the Lamy is an exquisite writer, I was in the market for a family heirloom to hand down to one of my sons.

Lamy’s top-of-the-range pens didn’t strike me as sufficiently ‘heirloomy’ and, having tried out a Montblanc Meisterstück (picture, right, by Freimut) once or twice, I’d set my heart on it.

The trouble is that Montblanc pens are expensive, so I waited and waited and squirreled away money until I could justify the expense.

Meanwhile, whenever I found myself close by a jewellers which stocked Montblanc, I would take a couple of minutes to gaze wistfully at the distinctive Meisterstück’s black resin and platinum shell oozing gravitas while it twinkled away behind the glass in a pristine window display.

By now, I was investing more than simply money in this writing instrument: I was lapping up all the visual and written communication cues conveyed by the branding, and assigning the object with a kind of significance and meaning that Montblanc could only dream of.

(But, then, what else should I expect from an object that’s been ‘hand-crafted in the European tradition’ and is ‘meticulously crafted from the finest materials. Every single part is subjected to scrupulous inspections. Montblanc guarantees the quality of materials, faultless workmanship and flawless operation’?)

The day finally came when I’d saved up enough to part with a good deal of cash for my very own Meisterstück.

But, within a matter of hours of purchasing it (and following years of patiently waiting of course), I was irretrievably disappointed with my investment.

The nib wasn’t as responsive as the Lamy Safari and, either because the flow of ink was erratic or the nib actually leaked, my fingers were smothered with ink. (I even have ink on my fingers from writing those three lines that appear in the image at the top of this post.)

Knowing that nibs can take a while to adapt to the writer, I gave the pen a few weeks.

Still no joy.

So I followed all the suggested methods offered in the exquisitely produced Montblanc booklet, which came with the pen, and sought advice from the people in the shop where I bought it. But nothing seemed to work.

Of course, it would be entirely reasonable for you to point out to me at this stage that, more likely than not, I was simply unlucky. The pen I bought had slipped through the net. I could send it back to Montblanc to be repaired. Or get a refund.

And you’d be right.

What’s more, Montblanc do promise to remedy any problems with their pens at no charge at all within the first couple of years of purchase.

But an antipathy towards Montblanc has kicked in; all the trust and goodwill I placed in the brand in order to buy the pen in the first place has evaporated.

Both you and I know that, sooner or later, I’ll send the pen off to be fixed because:

a) I still don’t possess what I set out to obtain: an object worthy of the stature of heirloom; and
b) I realise that I’ve just been unlucky and feel sure that Montblanc will be able to remedy the problem.

But, at the moment, I’m too disappointed with my experience of the brand to seek another encounter with them anytime soon.

It’s not the branding that’ll kill you

I’ll admit that Montblanc are unlucky to be the subject of this post but my purpose is to illustrate the distinction between brand and branding, and not to vent frustration at Montblanc.

I’ve used it as an example because it helps to demonstrate that, no matter how expensive a brand’s product or service may be, each of us invests more than just cash in the veracity of a brand’s claims; we place enormous trust in them.

For instance, you trust a brand to ensure that the ingredients in its baked beans contain ingredients that are good for you and not harmful, you trust a car manufacturer to build a vehicle that’s mechanically safe to drive on the roads, you trust an electrician’s knowledge, experience and expertise about wiring to avoid the risk of electrocution the moment that you flick a light switch on and you trust water companies to refine sewage so that it’s fit to drink again.

In the case of a fountain pen, I trust Montblanc to know how to manufacture a pen that works.

Once a brand’s got over that utility hurdle, its branding has to help me reach a transactional point by persuading me to spend money on their brand of product or service rather than a competitor’s.

In Montblanc’s case, the consequence of using a pen is the same whether you’re using a Bic biro or a Montblanc. But, since a Bic biro isn’t much of a family heirloom, this is where Montblanc’s beautifully executed approach to branding kicks in; without question Montblanc’s brand communication helps convey ideas of a hand-crafted, meticulous, scrupulous, faultless and flawless operation.

Montblanc’s branding persuasively conveys the idea that each pen is lavished with the personal attention of craftspeople at each stage in the process of its manufacture.

The videos detailing the stages of production at Montblanc’s site, for instance, seek to underline the ideas of meticulous, scrupulous, faultless and flawless operation. The video production values themselves even suggest this: big close up shots of the process conveying the idea of meticulous attention, the flawless elegance of the fading in and out of frames; the fact that each frame bathed in soft-focused golds, silvers and black.

So Montblanc’s branding is brilliant (in fact, it’s a meticulous, scrupulous, faultless and flawless operation). It plays an essential role in the brand’s architecture of persuasion; it carries implicit promises that are intended to support the explicitly stated claims made by a business. It helps mould perception and serves to set expectations.

It’s just that – well – my pen doesn’t work properly.

Brand = (Perception + Expectation) – Experience

In the second post in this series, I argued that part of the confusion between the distinction between brand and branding probably lay in the fact that businesses lean so heavily on branding to do the legwork.

But the problem is that branding is a passive element of brand experience: it performs a functional role and helps convey ideas but it can’t answer back. Most of the the other elements, on the other hand, are active; they involve people or interaction.

So, while a brand’s visual identity and branding can contribute to a positive brand experience, it can neither fulfil the promises that it conveys or moderate the expectations that consumers set for its goods or services. Only the active elements of the brand – the bits in which people and products play a role – can do that.

And, wherever people are involved, there’s a risk to the equilibrium between your expectations of a brand and your experience of it (which is why, in general, creating a great service brand experience is arguably a good deal tougher than a product one).

That’s because branding is simply a component of one of the four elements that comprise a brand – its communication. And only alongside what the brand offers (its product), how it enables you to obtain it (its environment) and the way you go about doing what you do (its culture) can a business successfully convey a core idea which makes its brand’s goods and services distinct from another brand’s.

I’ve illustrated the dynamics affecting Montblanc’s brand reputation as a Venn diagram below.

So it’s not that Montblanc’s branding is intentionally misleading because it isn’t. The brand’s problem is that its branding conveys a promise of meticulous, scrupulous, faultless and flawless operation. That brand idea can’t be sustained by branding and communications alone; it must be consistently expressed within the manufacturing of it products, within its retail presence and by the people representing its brand.

In other words, every facet of its operation must be meticulous, scrupulous, faultless and flawless if it is to match the expectations conveyed by its branding.

Those are dizzyingly high standards for any kind of business operation, especially when you consider that most Montblanc pens are probably not sold by Montblanc people. The brand operates a number of its own retail outlets but most of its retail distribution is through authorised retailers over whom Montblanc has no direct control.

But, as a consumer, none of that matters to me.

No matter how many hands my pen passed through, it was faulty.

In my case, Montblanc’s branding made promises that its brand was unable to fulfil.

And that’s the difference between brand and branding.

Why Starbucks is crafting the perfect branded blend

Starbucks. Now there’s a business that knows where it’s going.

The latest evolution of its brand visual identity – revealed late yesterday evening (as far as the UK is concerned, that is) – is the kind of project I really admire.

Not just because I like the elegance of the design thinking that is evident in the latest brand visual ID, but because this identity is the consequence of serious and significant reflection within a business seeking genuine synchronicity of its business and brand strategy. (In fact, I’d be very surprised if people within Starbucks even make a distinction business and brand strategy; Starbucks business is its brand and its brand is its business.)

This evolution of the brand visual identity is not about Starbucks branding, it’s about what Starbucks’ brand stands for for millions of consumers, worldwide, now and in the future.

Clarity of conviction and purpose

As a business, Starbucks has clearly considered its future role in the lifestyles of global consumers – or the ‘Third Place’ referred to in the Looking Forward to Starbucks Next Chapter post by chairman, president and CEO Howard Schultz – and the capacity of its brand to be sufficiently adaptable to earn the right to play a role in those lives.

That’s why the statements from the business and the initial design visuals ooze strategic conviction, confidence and consensus. I believe that they believe what they’re saying. And what convinces me of that more than anything else is the fact that the redesign was executed primarily by its in-house design team; a team which dared to drop the text off the logo. That’s evidence of a business navigating a strategic route of stunning clarity.

The decision to go in-house has been rewarded in spades. What Starbucks design team has been able to produce is both decisive and carefully considered, expansive in ambition and sensitive to its heritage.

Any brand consultancy would have loved to have been associated with work that resulted in such a clear sense of direction.

The simple but smart idea to release the Starbucks ‘Siren’ from its cell-like roundel and restrictive ‘Starbucks Coffee’ text not only begins to realise the potential of the Siren as an iconic branding device, but it also offers deft nod to the brand’s Seattle seaport heritage. (Yes I know it may not seem so ground-breaking but, trust me, it is a stroke of design genius.)

Of course it may strike many people as odd to drop the reference to Starbucks Coffee from the logo altogether, but that reaction tends to reflect general understanding of where the brand is positioned today. I’ve no doubt the Starbucks name will appear as text in close proximity to the Siren brandmark but, overnight, the business has given itself the freedom to roam simply by taking a subtle but symbolic step.

What will be very interesting, is what other words become associated with the brand mark in the future – and that’s what this change is all about.

And besides, Starbuck’s decision to drop its name as an integral part of the brandmark may be bold but it does have positive precedents: Apple’s decision to drop ‘computer’ from its brand visual identity in 2007 (thanks to Tim Baker for posting that link on Quora, by the way) was a move intended to achieve a similar outcome to the one that Starbucks is aspiring to. In order to reflect the changing nature of its business and to give its brand the best possible shot of fulfilling its potential, Apple subtly but symbolically shifted its emphasis.

As well as elegantly seeking to resolve the constraints of Starbucks brand association with coffee shops, this latest evolution of the Starbucks visual identity has all the characteristics necessary to prove both a resilient and adaptable branding device for myriad media formats. The strength and simplicity of the Siren design will translate beautifully as a hallmark in print and packaging, an ident on web video content as well as an illuminated sign above a store.

Addressing a new communications landscape

In November 2009, I published a post at MRM’s blog that made five predictions as far as the state of brands and branding were concerned. I suggested that, by 2012:

  1. Only three communications disciplines will matter: live events, interaction design and conversation
  2. Momentum behind ‘storytelling’ will gather, ousting traditional ‘campaign-led’ push promotional marketing
  3. Sustainable reputations will be built on the quality of interaction with a product or service; conversation about interaction will drive new adopters of your product or service
  4. As they become micro-media channels, ‘other people’ will become at least as influential as traditional media commentators
  5. Debranding will gain popularity as brands seek to create characteristic brandavatars – a means of creating a signature brand interaction akin to human personality traits both online and offline

Starbucks brand has a considerable stake in each of these five disciplines. And while the latest incarnation of its visual identity is not debranding of the order of its 15th Avenue Coffee and Tea style store, it is, nonetheless, evidence of a further shift away from rigid branding conventions towards new and more adaptive branding traditions. Ironically, the net effect of loosening the grip of the branding is likely to be an enhanced brand in terms of scope, scale and reputation.

Frankly, Starbucks is pursuing a fascinating strategy that has served as a catalyst for a beautifully crafted evolution of its brand identity. It’s the synchronicity of the pursuit of business and brand strategy that gives the business every chance to more easily adapt to whatever the future holds in precisely the way it hopes.

Is the ‘new’ Gap logo a PR double bluff?

Here’s a thought.

What if the uproar about the Gap logo redesign (above) that’s occupying the blogs and tweets of the design community – and beyond – is an elaborate ruse to buy Gap more attention?

It’s an idea that my colleague at NewTradition, Maxine Cameron, was musing about earlier and I floated in an exchange of tweets with Crispin Heath of Team Spirit.

Here’s the thinking: Let’s accept that the brand visual ID refresh and rollout really is a car crash in slow-motion. Why would a brand as experienced as Gap make that kind of misjudgement?

Now consider the attention that the brand is beginning to gain by releasing the logo, sporadically, world wide and allowing it to be ridiculed, lambasted and – in some instances – alternatives being offered up. (I particularly like the tongue-in-cheek sideswipe by id29 (pictured below) posted at Under Consideration’s Brand New site earlier today.)

Then you add into the mix the curious post by Gap at its Facebook page where it says:

Thanks for everyone’s input on the new logo! We’ve had the same logo for 20+ years, and this is just one of the things we’re changing. We know this logo created a lot of buzz and we’re thrilled to see passionate debates unfolding! So much so we’re asking you to share your designs. We love our version, but we’d like to see other ideas. Stay tuned for details in the next few days on this crowd sourcing project.

What if Gap are just seeking to build anticipation and then reveal to the world a brand spanking new ID which the designers of the world fall in love with?

Risky, but it might just work.

And, even if it’s not the strategy that’s in play, there’s still time, Gap. There’s still time.

What do you think?