Why do iconic companies advertise? Everybody knows who they are. They don’t need to win new customers. They need to make us feel something, and keep us buying.
Nobody but admen enjoys those beginning-of-the-year marketing meetings. The requisite questions bounce around the conference table: How much money should we allocate to our marketing campaign? What kind of advertising should we focus on? And most important of all, who’s the target?
Marquee-level, multimillion dollar companies have these meetings too, just like your (most likely) small, service-oriented agency does. But for them, the purpose of advertising is possibly a bit different: they’re not trying to let you know they exist. They want to remind you of who you are, or who you once were, or who you’d like to be. They want to evoke strong feelings of hope, nostalgia, or longing.
Case in point: Who remembers the amazing short-film BMW ads of 2001-2? I’m not convinced that anyone actually decided to buy a car because of them.
Let’s say you’ve already bought a $100,000 BMW, and you’re experiencing twinges of buyer’s regret. You’re thinking, A Ford or a GM costs about $50,000… why did I buy this car?
Then you see Clive Owen punching his Beamer through a hail of bullets, using it to take down a helicopter, making Madonna wet her pants, even outrunning the devil (in Vegas, of course). You suddenly realize: you didn’t purchase a car. You purchased a time machine of awesome! You purchased a Vehicle of Heroes, a vehicle that can change the course of history, get the girl, and maybe even save your eternal soul.
Suddenly, you feel OK about your purchase.
This campaign is all about erasing buyer’s regret, and it pushes the buyer into becoming a “brand-loyal fan.” That’s when people start not just buying your product, but loving your product. It increases your brand value and your company’s worth—financially, physically, and physiologically.
If you’re still not sure what “branding” is all about, consider Coca-Cola, arguably the industry leader in branding. Be honest: Deep down, don’t you find yourself thinking, “It’s only Christmas when Coca-Cola starts running their polar bear ads!” That’s powerful stuff. People associate the celebration of Christmas, joy, presents, family, and the most emotional time of the year…with a red can of sugar water.
Coca-Cola is a master of insinuating itself into the culture so thoroughly that when you ask for a cola, soda, pop, or soft drink, chances are, you’re going to get a Coca-Cola. And in certain parts of the country (namely, the South), the word “Coke” equals soft drink, just like “Kleenex” equals tissue. Coca-Cola has mastered the art of associating its product with certain colors, a very specific taste, and nostalgia—a happy, positive place full of joy.
For a lifetime, Coca-Cola has been telling us what they stand for, even if we can’t put it into words. If you’re a bit older than I am, you may remember one of the most iconic Coke commercials of all time: the 1971 “I’d Like to Buy the World a Coke” ad.
As with so many things that seemed awesome in the 70s, this ad comes across as a bit creepy now, and you can’t help but wonder if the people singing were members of a cult. But at the time, it was groundbreaking. It helped to make Coca-Cola America’s drink.
That’s pretty miraculous when you consider that Coke tastes a whole lot like Pepsi, RC, and a few others. The difference is that Coca-Cola has for decades devoted vast advertising budgets toward making you “feel something.” And that feeling kicks in when you’re standing in front of a convenience-store fridge, looking for a drink. That’s the advertisement. The generations of advertisements. They’re in your brain, even when you’re not aware of them.
You don’t have to be an international corporation to use branding to make people feel something. If you offer a service, you can rest assured that you’ll have competitors in your area. All of them are going after the same customers and clients, and some of them are coming after yours. Brand-loyal customers are the people you need on your side. If you don’t remind them of who you are and what you stand for, a new competitor will push out a campaign that tells them: Get the same results, cheaper, from us.
When combined with excellent service, networking, and all the other things companies must do so succeed, simple brand advertisements (that remind your customers: We are here. This is what we do, and this is what we stand for) can turn your customers into loyal brand clients who will spread the word for you. Why? Because they believe in what you’ve created. You’ve produced a feeling in your customers, and that feeling is trust.
Your initial marketing strategy gets clients in the door; but your work isn’t done once people know who you are. Your company must continue to market its services, its image, and most importantly, its brand. A brand is what makes a company special. It will add value to a company, value that continues to grow even if the company is no longer expanding.
The main thing to remember is this: if your service can easily be synthesized and reproduced, why should customers choose you? How much is your company worth if it doesn’t have anything special behind it?
Your “branding” assignment is to find that special thing—about your company and about you—and tell the world what it is.