The brand is everything that makes a product more than just a product. It is in this that the brand differentiates and makes itself incomparable: it renders the competition uncompetitive. Of course, this process often begins with a new and highly innovative product. This is the basis, for example, of medical brands, or high tech, or fashion. Dell is a distributive innovation. In mass consumption, Sunny Delight was a great product launched by Procter & Gamble.
With the help of chemistry, it was possible to give an incredible taste experience without the need for real orange juice (although orange is included in the recipe, in those countries where it is in competition with Orangina). However, copies quickly arrived on the scene: under distributor brands, for example. What makes the brand incomparable then ceases to be exclusively the product or the service, but the idea that accompanies it: the intangible.
This is why the major brands are all brands that have a vision, that are not culturally empty. They are based on an intimate and personal ‘big belief’ (Edwards and Day, 2005), which they make real through their products, services, customer relations and marketing communications. This strong idea, which energises all the brand’s activities, is communicative: it is the source of all conscious or unconscious adherences.
In its day, Benetton was far more than sweaters in all the colours of fashion; it was the brand of tolerance and openness to all the colours of the world. Admittedly, perhaps 50 per cent of clients entering a Benetton store saw nothing but sweaters like any others, in a similar colour. This is normal: the aspirational capital of a brand is not built through the whole of its purchasers, but on a very small part. Then the mechanism of social contagion will get under way.
Today the brand must aim to be more than a ‘preference’ and reach the level of passion. To do this, it must itself be passionate. All entrepreneurs would like to change the world in their own way: they tap into this energy to make it contagious, a source of passion in others. For Biotherm, truth is found in water, and in plankton. For l’Oréal, women’s happiness can only be found in science and its ability to turn back the years. Toyota puts product quality above all else. If Nissan expects first and foremost a low price from its suppliers, Toyota never mistakes its own priorities: obsessive quality comes before everything.
In marketing, consumer modelling focuses on the idea of preference. This stems from the fact that for many academic researchers, fundamentally a brand is a product with a name. It is true that if people are forced to choose between two products, they do indeed express a preference based on the attributes of these products. Apple’s iBook is preferred to a Toshiba Tectra because it is more attractive, has more exciting colours, and makes it possible to do this or that more easily – and moreover it is an Apple. An iPod is more than an MP3 Walkman with specific characteristics.
To own an Apple is an affirmation of self. Its users engage with their self-concept and their internal image, in relation to others. In the same way, driving a Volvo truck or owning a fleet of Volvo Trucks is not the same thing as driving or owning an Iveco. Too many brands only aim at preference via product or service characteristics. Are not great brands, however, a big idea that is made real in products and services and attention to the customer? The whole identity process is aimed at identifying this big idea, or essence of the brand, and then transforming it into effective behaviour. Fundamentally, therefore, it is the intangible that must guide the tangible.