“Your premium brand had better be delivering something special, or it’s not going to get the business.” – Warren Buffet
Samuel Langhorne Clemens was a prolific American writer who was as well known for his literary works as he was for his love for cigars. It was said that he started smoking cigars since he was a young boy.
Before he reached his 30s, he claimed he smoked 300 cigars a month. However, Samuel’s friends were more horrified with his choice of cigars rather than his excessive smoking habit.
Although he could afford expensive brand name cigars, he chose to smoke cheap, foul-looking cigars. So one day, he decided to turn the tables on his friends. He invited 12 friends over for dinner at his house.
Before that dinner engagement, he visited a friend’s house and stole a handful of the friend’s favourite, expensive cigars. He removed the brand labels from the cigar and placed them in a box containing his favourite brand of cheap cigars.
He offered his friends the cigars after dinner and commented, “They took these cigars when offered at the end of the supper, and lit them and sternly struggled with them—in dreary silence.”
A short time later, his friends excused themselves from the table and went outside.
The next morning, Samuel found sticks of cigars lying on his front lawn, except for one stick. The friend from whom he had stolen the cigars from had left his cigar in his dinner plate.
Samuel said, “One or two whiffs was all he could stand. He told me afterward that some day I would get shot for giving people that kind of cigars to smoke.” Based on that incident, he said this: “He goes by the brand, yet imagines he goes by the flavour.”
That is just one of many experiments that show how brand preferences can influence and affect a person’s decision. Yet, while companies are aware of the importance of a brand name, they still don’t think it is important enough for them to be spending time and money to build a brand.
They think a brand only has an aesthetical value. However, many companies who have built their businesses based on their brand name will beg to differ.
Let’s do an experiment to see how much a brand name influences your perception. Let’s say this is the first time you have heard of an American writer called Samuel Langhorne Clemens.
What is your impression of him based on what you have read so far? Perhaps some of the following information may influence your initial impression. Samuel travelled widely and made contact with a lot of famous people in his time, including Gandhi and Sigmund Freud. His group of close friends included people like Helen Keller and Nikola Tesla.
Samuel had even dined in the White House with President Theodore Roosevelt. Samuel L. Clemens is also the person who wrote Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, The Prince and the Pauper, and he goes by the pen (brand) name of Mark Twain.
Do you feel any differently about your initial impression now? Did your impression of Samuel change as you were reading the details of his background OR only after you found out that he was actually Mark Twain, one of the great American writers of his time.
The point is, a brand has the power to evoke emotions and generate a sense of personal connection. And it seems that adults are not the only ones who fall under the power of brands.
Even Kids Are Affected By Brands
In a study that was done on a 63 children between the ages of 3 and 5, it was found that even young children are swayed by brand preferences. The study was conducted to determine the power of advertising and its effects on children.
The group of pre-schoolers was asked to taste five different foods: chicken nuggets, a hamburger, french fries, baby carrots and milk. The chicken nuggets, hamburger and french fries were all from McDonald’s while the carrots and milk were bought from a supermarket.
Each time, the child would be presented with two versions of the same food: one in McDonald’s packaging and the other in plain paper packaging. After they tasted the pairs of food samples, they were asked to indicate whether the food tasted the same or which they thought tasted better.
A significant number of the children picked the food in the McDonald’s packaging as the tastier one for four out of the five foods—chicken nuggets, fries, carrots and milk; despite the fact that the foods were exactly the same.
Dr Tom Robinson, the lead author of this project, said, “They actually believe that the chicken nugget they think is from McDonald’s tastes better than an identical, unbranded nugget.” He also pointed out that the kids’ perception of taste was “physically altered by the branding.”
When you understand the power of the brand and know how to use it well, it can also become an asset that sells by itself.
Many companies in fact, are willing to spend millions on creating and building a brand name in the hopes that it will turn into a money-making asset that generates passive and massive income for years and years.
Just look at media darlings like Facebook and Twitter.
Their brands have become so valuable that they are worth more than their physical assets. But long before the advent of these technological wonders, there were also traditional retail companies who recognised the power of branding and used this to successfully market their products. One of them is a cigarette company called Philip Morris.
A Glimpse Into The Life Of The Marlboro Man
In 1946, an American-based psychologist and marketing expert named Dr Ernest Dichter founded the Institute of Motivational Research in New York. He was known to have pioneered the application of Freudian psychoanalytic concepts and techniques to business.
In layman’s term, he was using clinical psychology to study human behaviour in the consumer market, to see why people buy what they buy. In one of his articles titled Why Do We Smoke Cigarettes? he wrote, “individuals smoke one brand consistently, so that they become identified with it.”
That is why when smokers are offered a brand that is different from their own, they will usually reply, “No thanks, I’ll smoke my own.” Dr Dichter also commented that smokers feel flattered when they see another person smoking “their” brand of cigarettes because it is like an affirmation that “their brand” has a special significance. The reason they feel this way is because the brand has become a part of the smoker’s credo and personality.
That was something the advertising agency for Philip Morris was banking on when they were marketing the Marlboro brand of cigarettes.
During a brainstorming session to promote their filtered cigarette, the agency tossed around ideas for “the most masculine symbol” and a writer came up with “cowboy”.
They flew with the concept and created TV advertisements (before such advertising was banned on American TV) that were centred on the cowboy concept of masculinity.
The first Marlboro men weren’t limited to cowboys but featured all types of rugged men smoking the Marlboro cigarette while performing manly tasks in the outdoors.
However, the fact that Philip Morris chose to use real cowboys in some of the ads instead of actors played a part in what has been called “the most brilliant campaigns of all time.” The imagery and branding of the strong, manly Marlboro Man were so powerful that even though several of the “Marlboro Men” died of lung cancer, the brand is still the bestselling cigarette brand in the world.
Ok, But What Can A Brand Do For My Business?
A brand comprises more than just a name and a logo design. It consists of tangible and intangible elements. The physical aspects like the name, logo, website, corporate collaterals, product quality, et cetera, make up the tangible element.
The intangible element comprises what you stand for, how you behave, interact and communicate as a company, and so on. When you put those intangible and tangible elements together, a brand at its core is about building a relationship with the customer.
People prefer to buy things that they are familiar with. If you are not really convinced about that, try using a new brand of toothpaste or switching to another brand of cigarettes if you are a smoker. Does that insignificant change make you feel uneasy?
That’s because a brand plays a significant role in our decision-making process. The brand shapes people’s perceptions and causes them to think in subjective terms.
They tend to confuse their belief with what they know, meaning: people often see what they want to see instead of seeing things for what they really are. They choose to use a certain brand because of what that brand stands for.
At the same time, they would like to think that their choice of brand reflects on their image, what they stand for in life, in their society, in their work place. That’s why people become very protective when it comes to brands.
In a way, they feel that they have to defend their choice of brand because it has become a part of their reputation. This can be very detrimental for brands that stay low-key or don’t differentiate themselves.
People are not interested to buy brands that they don’t know about or a brand that is just like any other brand on the market. But if you are able to successfully brand your company and its products and services, then you’ll find that you can take your company to a higher level.
In their stories, the featured entrepreneurs shared about how embarking on branding activities has made a huge difference in their business. Chan Chong Beng of Goodrich Global pointed out, “The branding initiatives we did from 2003 onwards really changed the whole direction of the company. In fact, I would say that the profits we generated from 2003 to 2009 were more than what we generated 15 years before.”
Goh Kai Kui of Goh Joo Jin said, “One of the ways we improved our business significantly was to make the decision to develop our product brands. Previously we were only relying on our pricing. However, we realised that relying on pricing strategy alone will eventually kill us like a slow-acting poison. As a result of our branding activities, our sales increased significantly.”
Their examples show how branding can lead to increased awareness of your brand among the mass market, which will lead to a higher perceived value of your products and services, ultimately resulting in better profit margins and greater sales volume.