Brandmaster’s Weblog

Thoughts and ideas on branding and brand development in a digital world.

Branding, the Archers and the value of a good story

The Archers radioThere has been a good deal of discussion about branding on the radio recently. Interestingly, it has not been on the business, money or financial programmes – it’s been on the Archers.

Let me summarise the storyline so far as I recall – Bridge Farm is a brand of dairy products belonging to a family business. An employee had a stomach bug, but in the interests of soldiering on, came into work and did not tell the owners of her sickness. The result was a contaminated batch of product and a minor outbreak nasty food poisoning. The media picked it up but the brand mishandled it, not having a pre-prepared spill-drill in place. Major customers cancelled orders, product was withdrawn and retailers sued.

It was a situation we have seen with some major brands, but usually they react swiftly both with their own actions and through the media. Big brands have the resource and clout to take these hits and work their way back up. Small businesses such as this fictitious brand rarely have the resource or market power to recover.

The family had an emotional connection with the brand but acknowledged that the damage could be terminal. So, what to do? First reaction was to struggle to rebuild the brand credibility – a costly and time absorbing activity. There was another brand owned by the son on the same farm – Tom Archer Sausages. Originally this suffered by association but is now rebuilding with new confidence and orders coming in. There was the option to re-brand the dairy products on this banner – but there are some political considerations. Thirdly, there is another brand owned by the family, Ambridge Organics, which exists to market organic vegetables – this could be used to carry a range of re-branded dairy products.

Okay, all of this is fictitious, but first of all, it is a serious discussion of branding and how brand values are important to SMEs. But the fact that it is fiction, a narative storyline, makes a valuable point. Fictitious scenarios are vital tools for business and brand planning. I often use them in consultancy sessions with brand owners in order to play the ‘what if’ games and help build flexible brand strategies. Narratives and story telling are very accessible ways of understanding actions and consequences. They are things we can all easily understand rather than dry business plans.

I strongly recommend building some scenarios into your planning – they are easy, insightful, and can be fun. In selecting your scenarios I suggest bringing in a third-party, someone who can bring a fresh pair of eyes. You have probably already dismissed a whole bunch of storylines as unlikely, improbable or unthinkable – yet these are just the things that can come and bite your backside if you haven’t considered how you would deal with the eventuality.

And remember, these scenarios are not just useful in planning for bad news, but also in dealing with the good. Imagine a scenario where a major distributor in a new market suddenly has a runaway success with your brand and puts pressure on you to add new products or services to capitalize on the success – how would you respond to such success given limited resources and finance?

You may never make an Archers scriptwriter – but your own storylines could be far more important for your own brand.

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