Sunday, January 28, 2007

"Genius" branding moves

In case anyone was concerned, I didn't fall off the face of the earth after Midwinter. I'm back and bloggin'. :)

I've been thinking a lot about branding and what it means to have a strong brand. Much of this thinking was prompted by the excerpt from Peter Fisk's book Marketing Genius, called "Finding the big idea that defines you," which I referred to previously as the best piece on branding I've seen. I reviewed Fisk's work more thoroughly and considered how it might relate to libraries, which I'll discuss in this post.

First, let me summarize Fisk's argument about the nature of branding. Fisk contends that powerful brands resonate with customers' aspirations and derive their value from their ability to engage and inspire people. He states, "A great brand is one you want to live your life by, one you trust and hang on to whilst everything around you is changing, one that articulates the type of person you are or want to be, one that enables you to do what you couldn't otherwise achieve." The foundation of these super-brands is what Fisk calls "the big idea." This "big idea" is the thing that the brand helps people achieve. The thing could be a skill or feeling of confidence, for example. As Fisk summarizes, "If brands are about people rather than products, then the big idea around which they are formed is more to do with what it does for people rather than the company." Furthermore, each brand has three components: Rational ("What you do for people"), Comparative ("How do you do it differently?"), and Emotional ("How do people feel about you?"). Once marketers hone in on the big idea that defines the brand and that appeals to people in one or more of these areas, they use every means at their disposal to communicate the idea. These means include everything from language to logos.

This brief synopsis doesn't do the piece justice, but hopefully you get the idea. I think I was so excited by reading this because it strikes a chord with my beliefs about how librarians can reinvigorate the library brand. I believe that libraries are services that provide people the tools and training to grow socially and intellectually. They're vast frontiers ripe for personal exploration. The more we can help people realize their goals, the more successful we become. Generally speaking, libraries' "big idea" could be summed up something like this: "Achieve your best through information and discovery." Of course, under this big theme, each library has its own big idea with roots in its particular community. (To uncover your unique branding big idea, Fisk maps out a Brand Definition strategy).

For too long, the library brand has been linked to stuff instead of people. Patrons are more likely to associate libraries with books, information, and facilities than with community and personal achievement. While there’s nothing wrong with books and information per se, these strong brand associations are limiting, as Fisk points out, "Of course, if you define your brand around your customers, based on a belief or attitude, a benefit or aspiration, rather than it being a descriptor of your existing business or product, then it gives you far more scope and flexibility in the future." Being aligned with objects rather than with aspirations makes our brand static and difficult to adapt to environmental changes, as we're finding.

To those who may argue that these sentiments are nice but a bit too esoteric and impractical, I ask that you think about your favorite brands and consider what it is about them that attracts you. My bet is that the appeal comes from one or more of the sources Fisk mentions, including: reinforcing your self image; helping you become what you hope to be; enabling you to do something, or connecting with others. For libraries to have a great brand, the brand needs to be based on great ideas. The practical decisions we make should stem from those ideas in order for people to care about what it is we can do for them. Without those ideas, we might as well just become information storage units.

To revitalize our brand, we need to take a hard look at ourselves and ask tough questions. For example, do our communications say, "We want a genuine relationship with you," or "We want to retain formality"? Do our spaces say, "Welcome! Come in and explore your potential," or "If you do come in, you must follow our rules"? How much of our branding efforts originate from a desire to support patrons' ambitions, and how much originate from our desire to showcase ourselves and our stuff? By turning the spotlight on patrons' success, we can in turn build more successful library brands.

I’ll be reading Fisk’s book, Marketing Genius, and I’ll report on other thoughts and findings in upcoming posts.


William said...

It's a bit dated, but Surowiecki's article on the decline of brands is worth reading. He writes:

Marketers may consider the explosion of new brands to be evidence of branding's importance, but in fact the opposite is true. It would be a waste of money to launch a clever logo into a world of durable brands and loyal customers. But because consumers are more promiscuous and fickle than ever, established brands are vulnerable, and new ones have a real chance of succeeding - for at least a little while. The obsession with brands, paradoxically, demonstrates their weakness.

...Look at Nokia. In 2002, it had the sixth-most-valuable brand in the world, valued by the consultancy Interbrand at $30 billion. But the very next year, Nokia made a simple mistake: It didn't produce the clamshell-design cell phones that customers wanted. Did consumers stick around because of their deep emotional investment in Nokia? Not a chance. They jumped ship, and the company's sales tumbled. As a result, Nokia lost $6 billion in equity. How about Krispy Kreme? In 2003, Fortune called the doughnut maker America's "hottest brand." Then came what might prove to be the hottest name of 2004: Atkins.

Annual rankings of brand value are littered with examples of firms that watched billions of dollars in supposed "brand equity" vanish - not because they messed with their identities, but simply because they didn't make a product or deliver a service that people needed.

See also Kevin Roberts comments from the same time period:

Maybe eight weeks ago now, I was in Seattle talking to 3,000 college professors -- not a very stimulating kind of way to spend the day. And I went to the Adidas concept store in Seattle. I didn't need anything, nothing. $880 later and four bags later, I staggered out of the Adidas store, and I felt great, because I love Adidas and I always have. There's no reason for it. It's beyond reason. I didn't need anything in these bags. I bought stuff for my wife, for my kids, for me. I had no guilt, and I had no sense of "You stupid whatever, you just dropped 880 bucks." I didn't care; I felt great. I have loyalty beyond reason to Adidas, largely because of their heritage, their authenticity. If I try to rationalize how I've developed this -- as I was growing up playing rugby, Adidas were the best rugby boots -- but there's no reason really.

My question to you: Where are you ultimately headed with this?


Imagine that we are successful in "revitaliz[ing] our brand."

Then what?

Jill said...

Hi, William!

This is probably the best comment I've received to date on this blog because it's insightful and forces me to really focus my thinking – thank you!

My interest in branding comes from my dissatisfaction with patrons' close association with libraries and books. I know that ultimately, the brand image from the patrons and not from the librarians, but I do think we can and should make efforts to reposition ourselves in this way.

What I envision is a time when patrons begin to associate the libraries with the bigger ideas our materials/services make possible, not with the materials/services themselves. While formats, spaces, and offerings may change, patrons can still look to libraries as places for exploration, research, intellectual challenge, opportunity, community, and so on. These bigger ideas are more lasting, and I argue more compelling, than the notion that libraries=books. What I liked about Fisk's work is that it challenges us to think about what we stand for, what our real value is, and to make that the centerpiece of all our activities.

Your point on this matter is right on: "Annual rankings of brand value are littered with examples of firms that watched billions of dollars in supposed "brand equity" vanish - not because they messed with their identities, but simply because they didn't make a product or deliver a service that people needed." I would ask that librarians consider what people "need." The marketing and psychology literature would suggest that there are a whole range of needs people seek to fill, including needs like belonging, self-actualization, social status, etc. I don't think people need books. They need opportunity, intellectual fulfillment, escape, entertainment, and all of the other things that books make possible. Books are merely the vehicles. Let's do a better job of letting those underlying needs drive our services and marketing efforts so that libraries' value is tied to universal needs rather than objects.

In answer to your question, where am I ultimately headed, I would say that I would like librarians to build a brand that is durable and meaningful; one that transcends our physical environment and holdings, and that speaks to more basic and powerful human ambitions. Doing so, I would hope, would make libraries’ value self-evident so that conversations that begin with the question, "Do we need libraries anymore?" would cease.

I realize this is a bit grandiose, but these are the kinds ideas that excite me and motivate me on a daily basis. I think you're right that brands can go out of fashion if they loose touch with their customers or with social/technological change, but I think we could weather those changes by honing in on our "big idea" and keeping in touch with patrons.

I don't know if I answered your question, but I do want to think on this more and discuss this further. I'll also be sure to read the pieces you mention. Please let me know if I addressed your thoughts adequately and thanks again for the thoughtful commentary!