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Brands that change your lifestyle We eat them, drink them, wear them and even enjoy major sporting events thanks to their sponsorship. The world's major brands aren't just an integral feature of everyday life. They virtually shape it. How and why asks Des King?

Is it a sweet? Is it a scent? No, it’s a superbrand. There are some consumer goods that need no explanation other than their name: think Kit Kat, McDonald’s and Coca Cola.

The Superbrands organisation has been tracking the branding phenomenon for the past 20 years and maintains councils in 11 different countries, each of which regularly stage tribute events for the year’s best-performing brands.

Luminaries serving on the UK council include Michael Peters and consumer affairs and design directors of Virgin, Lever Brothers and BT.

Marcel Knobil, chairman of the Superbrands organisation, assesses the do’s and don’ts of world-class branding for Talking Shop.

DK: So what makes a superbrand?

MK: Most of the great brands you look at actually have within the wrapping or behind the badge a strong quality product so that’s key principle number one.

Key principle number two, and this is absolutely paramount, is that the brand owner delivers against his or her promises.

It’s very easy for a brand to make big claims, as Tizer did when it claimed to be self-cooling but, of course, didn’t really deliver. That was the whole proposition, so all that was achieved was disappointment.

The third pre-requisite is generating awareness amongst those that matter to you. Again, this is absolutely crucial.

You’ve got to know whom you’re targeting and they’ve got to know about you. That could be through word of mouth or, of course, heavyweight advertising.

Lastly, the brand has to be differentiated from the competition. It’s not necessarily what’s in the content that makes a difference. It’s the fact that the consumer is specifying that product or label that creates the distinction.

DK: Is that how, say, Marmite achieved its iconic status?

MK: You won’t find too many things like Marmite on the shelf so that’s helped for a start. As many people love Marmite as loathe it and they’ve played upon that. It’s distinctive in taste and flavour. Its whole look is absolutely classic and the consumer just expects something special to come out of that jar.

DK: But surely all successful brands eventually become outdated?

MK: They adapt. Lucozade was a brand that was initially associated with the medicinal sector. If you’re ill, fine but, if you’re healthy, then you didn’t need it.

Then it was recognised that, in a world in which we’re going to get more and more stressed, the idea of being able to healthily inject ourselves with a burst of energy would be a very attractive proposition. Lucozade already had all of those caring credentials so, in repositioning it, they built upon the integrity and authenticity already implicit within the product.

The advertising, the packaging and so forth sent out such strong energy signals from the very colours reflecting vibrancy that they were able to turn around an established but self-limiting brand into one that successfully applied itself to that trend.

DK: So packaging can help?

MK: Packaging can help in a very significant way. Look at part of the Lucozade range now and you’ve got these very sports-like squeezable bags that are so appropriate to the brand proposition – not necessarily the fundamental imperative that actually creates the success of it but still a key contributor.

And take something like Toilet Duck. The packaging is almost the heart of the product. Everything was built around the packaging, even the name itself. It was a packaging innovation and a significant brand builder.

DK: Who calls the shots then in brand building?

MK: What comes first is the spirit and positioning and that should dictate everything around it. A responsible brand guardian will know, for example, that Lucozade is about energy or that Avis is about trying harder. It’s that core proposition that the advertising and the packaging then communicate.

Invariably, brands that go wrong over the years are those for which there hasn’t been a vigilant brand guardian within the company. Brand marketing has grown up. Tools such as advertising and packaging are there to assist not define.

DK: Does the relatively fast turnover in brand guardians worry you?

MK: As long as there’s real cognisance of what that brand’s all about then it doesn’t matter so much. So it’s ego that can be the worry. The prudent brand guardians are looking for something that has integrity right the way through it and has a long life ahead of it.

Hovis is a good example. It has phenomenal heritage and people have a lot of faith in it but there might have been the sense that it was maybe getting a bit tired. The way they’ve revitalised that brand through the baked bean and the cucumber wrapping was really quite visionary.

DK: Aren’t we seeing a contraction in some brands?

MK: Yes. There’s been a brand culling. When you’re a very big organisation and you have a lot of costs to carry, it probably makes economic sense to have streamlining but that doesn’t mean it’s the death of niche brands.

DK: Retailer-brands are gaining ground too. Is that a growing trend?

MK: Yes, it is. Own-label used to be seen as very much a ‘me too’ strategy and a second-rate one at that. What the likes of Sainsbury and Tesco have recognised is that by investing enough into own-label they can deliver something that has merit in its own right. Both of them have done that pretty well. It’s not product specific either.

DK: Who drives the market more effectively, the manufacturer or the retailer?

MK: It doesn’t work as precisely as that. Sometimes it’s one, sometimes the other.

DK: But isn’t it getting harder to have your product placed with these major multiples?

MK: One would naturally expect the retailers to have a better understanding of what the consumer wants. They’re in a far more privileged position.

DK: Understanding is one thing but dictating is surely another?

MK: Who is the stronger is another thing altogether. That whole Levis/Asda situation was very interesting in this context.

DK: But a brand is nothing if it has no outlet?

MK: Sure, but the outlet in which that brand is placed will also contribute towards its definition. The reality is that if you’ve got a strong enough item then demand will drive availability. And the Internet is clearly providing manufacturers with some added leverage in this respect too.

DK: Could you foresee, say, ‘Taste the difference’ becoming a superbrand?

MK: Sainsbury itself is already a superbrand and also possibly in terms of a particular own-label line attaining that status.

Take something like Boot’s No.7. Now that’s very strong indeed and its also interesting that Boot’s have created stores not under the Boot’s name which offer a whole range of items including of course their own lines.

DK: Big brands are synonymous with globalisation, which doesn’t always get a good press – is that a potential problem?

MK: We’ve got people like Naomi Klein to thank for that. Logos are just symbols that differentiate one product or service from another. What she’s having a go at are the corporations behind those symbols. I think that it’s fair to say that not all of those corporations behave responsibly.

The very fact that you have a logo is an incentive to behave well. If I’m putting my name on a product then I know that, in order to sell it, the next time and the next time again then it’s got to deliver. I have a reputation to maintain.

The ‘no logo’ attitude is very attractive to some consumers – but all those that have got onto the ‘no logo’ band wagon as opposed to brand wagon must appreciate that in reality they’re still buying into a kind of branded philosophy in its own right. In any case, no brand is of course just another ‘brand’.

DK: Can you foresee a world without brands?

MK: There’s absolutely no way. There might be a world where you get a mass of individuals that don’t buy into global brands but there’ll never be a world without brands. And I think that the world needs them.

The next Superbrands UK awards event will be held in February 2003. Copies of Superbrands – an insight into Britain’s strongest brands (published by Superbrands Ltd, priced £35) are available from bookshops or tel: +44 (0)20 7267 8899.