Launching a brand and launching a product are not the same

Marketing books devote chapters to the definition of new products, but none to the launching of new brands, except for an occasional word or two on how to choose the name of a new product. This confusion between product and brand is an enduring problem. Most famous brands, rich in meaning and values, started out as the ordinary names of innovative products or services, different from those of competitors.

These names were generally randomly chosen, without any prior study or analysis: Coca-Cola reflected the contents of the new product; Mercedes was the name of Mr Daimler’s daughter; Citroën was a family name; Adidas is a spin-off of Adolphe Dassler; likewise Lip of Lippman and Harpic of Harry Picman. The new product had to be given a new name so that it could be advertised. Advertising was then put in charge of presenting the advantages of the new product as well as the benefits which consumers could expect from it.

After some time, new products usually get copied by competitors. They then get replaced by new, higher quality products, which often benefit from the fame of the existing product name. However, although products change, brands stay. In the beginning then, advertisements will boast the merits of the new, initial product, say X.

But, since all products naturally become obsolete over time, X will soon come to announce that it’s about to update and upgrade itself by lending its name to a higher quality product. And that’s how a new brand comes to life. From then on, it is no longer advertising that will sell the products, but the brand itself.

Over time, the brand will gain greater autonomy and part with its original meaning (often the name of the company founder or of a specific feature of the product) by developing its own way of communicating (about the products), of addressing the public and of behaving. Few British people think of ‘clean’ when saying ‘Kleenex’ and few French think of the lotus leaf when saying ‘Lotus’.

The product name has become a proper noun, meaningless in itself, yet loaded with associations that have built up through experience (of the products and services), word-of-mouth and advertising. Advertising gives us hints of who the X who is now communicating really is: what is its core activity, its project, its cultural reference, its set of values, its personality, and whom is it addressing? Over time, the meaning of X has changed: it is no longer the mere name of a product, it is the very meaning of all products X, present and yet to come. The famous brand, X, is now the purveyor of values, from which its own endorsed products can benefit (as soon as they enter production).

In terms of brand creation, there is only one simple lesson to be learnt from this: if the new brand does not convey its values from the very start, ie as soon as it is created and launched, it is quite unlikely that it will manage to become a major brand. On an operational level, this means that in launching a new brand, knowing its intangible values is just as important as deciding on the product advantage.

A successful launch requires that the new brand be treated as a full brand, right from the very start – not as a mere product name presented in advertising. Launching a new brand means acting before the product name becomes a brand symbol, with a much broader and deeper meaning than previously. Modern management must show results a lot sooner. From the very beginning, the new brand must be considered in full, ie endowing it with both functional and non-functional values. Creating a brand means acting straightaway as if it is a well-established brand, rich in meaning. This entails a few fundamental principles.

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