Thoughts and ideas on branding and brand development in a digital world.
Tag Archives: cultural values
I remember the early days of the web when we had poor screen resolution and were just getting to grips with anti-aliasing. ‘Jaggies’ – saw-edges on diagonal lines were a common problem and designers avoided the use of italic type and angled logos. In fact some major brands subtly altered their corporate signatures to ensure good screen reproduction.
Then we saw web graphics impacting upon print design. Logos started taking on button form with radiused corners, 3-dimensional shines, glows and drop shadows.
The latest phenomenon seems to be an increasing use of logos which will fit into a generally square format. Behind this is the influence of social media. Identifiers on Facebook, Twitter et al, were initially photographic head-shots – ideal for a personal, social medium. Now that commercial organisations are increasingly using social channels, they need brand signatures to fit.
For a long time, western corporate signatures were generally horizontal – perhaps a symbol and a brand name. This was ideal for print media. The signature fitted comfortably at the foot of an ad or the top of a letter, along a shop fascia or a vehicle side. However, recently we’ve been required to create adapted signatures for a number of brands (including our own) which fit to a 1:1 shape, for use on Facebook pages etc.
It seems like we are coming full circle. The earliest trademarks are reputedly those of blacksmiths making swords for the Roman legions. These were applied by punches. In the days when few tradesmen were literate, punches, seals, stamps and other marks would be used and would generally fit in a square or circular area. It was only with the growth of literacy that more horizontal ‘signatures’ became common though often used together with a symbol.
The first registered trademark in the UK is the Bass Brewery mark – a red, equilateral triangle – which would fit in a 1:1 area.
In the east, pictograms already fit tidily into rectangles. Elegant examples are the artists ‘chops’ used on japanese prints rather than western style signatures.
New technology once again coaxes us back into old approaches, and once again it is becoming cool to be square.
This may seem obvious, but does your brand name translate into your target languages? Even proper names may have an unintended meaning. Don’t just think of the spelling – when pronounced, even seemingly harmless words may have unintended meanings.
Do you use descriptive words in your brand such as, ‘Norfolk Car Parts’ or ‘Budget Printing’? Will these words be meaningful in your selected markets.
You may not need to change a brand name, but it may help to emphasise just part of your title.
Also consider any statements or strap-lines that form part of your corporate signature; these may need adapting in translation.
While language may be easy to check, culture is rather more subtle, and potentially a bigger trap. There is no quick fix. You need to do your research and immerse yourself as far as possible in the culture of your market. Look at the media, both online and offline; look at your competitors.
Best of all, expose your brand to nationals of your target markets. Discuss your ambitions. Use your partners in-market; agents, distributors etc. Talk to embassy staff.
You’ll soon appreciate how culture impacts upon many of the other dimensions of your branding activity.
3. Brand Story
Is your brand narrative relevant to your target market? Things that may seem unimportant at home may be leveraged to advantage internationally. While your location may have little relevance to home customers, it may be a strong plus abroad. Consider the cultural context: for example, history of a family business may be very important in certain markets.
4. Competitive positioning
The perception of your brand position relative to your competitors from market to market. Be aware and be sensitive, you can often use this to your advantage. Don’t assume that your positioning will be the same as it is at home.
5. Core Values
Your core values are what makes your brand what it is. They should be strong and consistent wherever you do business. You must be clear about them and communicate them to all you work with – your staff, your partners in market, your customers and supply chain. Don’t tinker with them, but just be aware that certain values may be more important in some markets more than others.
Intellectual property rights – consider them all; brand names, trademarks, patents, designs, copyright etc.
Legal protection may be difficult or costly across export markets, but you must give them consideration. It is important to give your brand all the protection you can apply or afford. It is equally important to make sure you don’t infringe the IPR of others.
Remember, a strong brand can often be the best protection you can get – be first to market, establish a strong presence and leave potential copyists playing catch-up.
7. Visual communications.
Though language is important, visual and non-verbal communications have an equally powerful part to play. When you see the ‘golden arches’ of Macdonalds, or the Apple symbol, you don’t need the name. Strong visual symbolism can be a means of transcending language difficulties.
Consider the elements of your corporate identity, symbols, colours, typography. Maintain rigid visual standards.
It’s important to look at the cultural context of your visual elements. What semantic connotations do your colours have? In many cultures colours are far more important, and signify different states.
Brands have their own narratives which in turn feed into the bigger narrative that we all play in, and where we each have our own personal narratives. Stories myths and legends from around the world show great similarities, not least in the characters that populate them. Carl Jung had a theory that humans all share a collective unconscious that is a store of information we all share regardless of culture. In this store of knowledge are archetypes or symbolic characters that pervade the narratives we develop about the world.
It’s easy to assume we would all like our brand to be the hero in its own story, but there are other archetypes that might be more appropriate to the role it plays in the bigger story – in the customer’s story. Perhaps a financial institution or non-profit may be better perceived as the ‘Father Figure’ – law firms may wish to be seen as the ‘Wise Old Man or Woman’ – a software provider may wish to be seen as a ‘Helper’.
Below is a collection of some of the typical archetypes which may be useful in considering our brands’ positioning. Archetypes influence the way people behave and think, and follow similar patterns around the world.
|The Hero||Larger-than-life. Demonstrates the abilities and qualities valued by his culture.||King Arthur, Superman, Luke Skywalker|
|The Father Figure||Protector, leader, provider||The Godfather, Mufasa from The Lion KIng|
|The Mother Figure||Protective – a nurturer and gentle provider.||Marge Simpson, Forrest Gump’s mother|
|The Femme Fatale or Temptress||She has powers of intellect, beauty or magic which she uses to make men (especially the hero) weak||Circe, Morgan le Fey, Delilah|
|The Witch||A woman who seeks to trap and destroy the hero or heroine||Thw wicked stepmother, Cruella Deville|
|The Monster or Villain||The potential nemesis, particularly where the hero is concerned||The Big Bad Wolf, James Bond’s or Batman’s adversaries.|
|The Innocent||Naive or inexperienced player exposed to the evils of the narrative||Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, Forrest Gump|
|The Alter Ego||The dual nature or doppleganger||The evil twin, Jekyll and Hyde|
|Helpers, Wise Old Man, Woman or Animal||Characters who assist, support or guide the protagonist||Merlin, Fairy Godmother, Obi Wan Kenobi|
|Trickster or Fool||Use tricks or subterfuge to get others to do what they want – with good or bad intentions||Puss-in-Boots, Milo Minderbender in Catch-22|
|The Underdog||Always at a disadvantage but usually win something at the outcome||The Ugly Duckling, Frog Prince|
It may be useful to consider how your brand fits into the cultural narrative of the world it inhabits – remember, in the customer’s story they usually see themselves as the protagonist so how does your brand perform in that scenario?
For years the French and other European countries have protected their local food products. The British have lagged behind but are now slowly catching up, and the latest product to achieve European protected status is the mighty Cornish Pasty. Of course we are all pleased to see local producer secure a measure of protection for their products, but what are the implication for brands and the associated intellectual properties?
One major food brand, Ginsters, have already capitalised on the opportunity with a fanfare on their website and a draw to win a pair of commemorative cufflinks… wow! I’m sure that locality and tradition, that can be seen as important and beneficial brand values can be great assets: one only has to consider the example of Scotch whisky to appreciate their importance. While not attributable to any single brand, protected status could well be treated as a brand in terms of valuation. For example, if each Scottish distillery had to license the nomenclature ‘Scotch’, what would be its value? It would be interesting to do a valuation exercise on the ‘Cornish’ appellation.
I have some sympathy for the many ‘Cornish’ Pasty shops all over the UK, baking some fine products on their premises from Dover to Doncaster, Swansea to Sunderland, who will have to embark on a re-branding exercise to drop the ‘Cornish’ tag. As with whisky and whiskey, the protectionism associated with Scotch may have provided an added spur to differentiated products such as Irish, Bourbon and Canadian whiskies – even Welsh and English I hear, not to mention Japanese. The Devon pasty is already a differentiated product and perhaps we me soon see a crop of regional pasties following hot on their heels.
Well, this is all interesting food for thought – but I’m off to see if the name ‘tiddy oggy’ is registerable.
Most big brands have long taken a global perspective which has led to an increasing homogenization of values, communications and identities. Corporate ownership shifts, managers are mobile as are business bases. A few decades ago brands often had distinctive characteristics reflecting their nationality or country of origin. When Japanese brands first came to the West in force, in the 50s and 60s, they had an unmistakable personality. In the same decades Russian brands also began to appear in the western Europe and the US, displaying their own eccentricities. Today, it is difficult, if not impossible, to discern a brand’s country of origin without some prior knowledge. How many times have you been surprised to learn the country of origin of a high street retailer or even your energy supplier?
It is interesting how oil company brands are truly international and as such, almost interchangeable. To the consumer, brand nationality is of no interest. However it is also interesting how, following the Gulf disaster, BP was suddenly characterised as ‘British’ Petroleum by President Obama.
The reasons behind much of this convergence is to be applauded: it derives from brand stewards being sensitive to the cultures and values of their various markets – for sound commercial reasons, I might add. Even smaller companies with their small brands are striving to internationalize them. I work with a lot of such companies looking to take their brands into export markets and urge and support them to investigate, research and understand the dynamics of local cultures and values. It is important to have regard of all possible markets now and in the future.
There are times however, when nationality of origin is a vital brand strength and its protection and communication should be enhanced – Scotch whisky, English tailoring, Swiss watch brands and more can all draw strength from their national characteristics.
But national idiosyncrasies apart, it is a little sad that the characters of brand origins are becoming subsumed in an international standard. If there is one country where brand quirkiness seems to survive, it is China. I love collecting chinese branded products from my local oriental supermarket and celebrate such brands as ‘Healthy Boy’ soy sauce. But I’m going to hang on to my packs and bottles with their distinctive labels as I’m sure it will not be long before these brands become internationalized and the world gets just a little less interesting.
The cataclysmic environmental problems in the Gulf of Mexico have stimulated much discussion and I don’t wish to add to that noise. What it does flag up however, is the changing perception of responsibility in the west. We have seen the trend in government where there is a perception that Government should somehow solve everybody’s problems. The economic issues that the government is wrestling with now are seen as somebody else’s responsibility and hence somebody else’s problem. So far as politicians are concerned perhaps they can be seen to have brought much of this themselves by suggesting: “Elect me and I will cure all your ills”. This is usually followed with a rush to legislation – followed quickly by public disappointment and anger.
In terms of corporate (and hence ‘brand’) responsibility, the same has become true. The public now have high expectations that companies and brand stewards are totally reponsible for every direct and indirect impact their business dealings have. Of course, organizations do have corporate responsibilities and over recent decades our expectations have have been raised in areas such as product liability, anti-trust, probity and environmental responsibility.
It is interesting that this abnegation of individual responsibility in favour of ‘them’ or ‘somebody’ seems strongest in western countries. Perhaps this reflects Geert Hofstede’s Individualism index for cultures (individualism v collectivism) where the USA ranks 1, with and index of 91 and UK ranks 3, with 89. Returning briefly to the Gulf disaster, individuals want cheap and plentiful fuel, and the dealing with the issues of carbon emissions, environmental risk and potential disaster are someone else’s responsibility. Governments want security of supply and inexpensive fuel for their people and assume that corporations will take responsibility for everything else.
For brand stewards there are two issues. Firstly they must take their corporate responsibilities seriously – not just statements or rhetoric, but real behaviours. But even having done that they must realise that public expectations of them may be even higher. Often these expectations may be unreasonable, but they are a fact of the world in which we live. It will not help the brand to yell, “Unfair”. We need to prepare our brands to live in an unreasonable world.
The news that Ford are to sell Volvo to Chinese car company Geely raises two interesting issues about brands, cultures and emotional values. Firstly, Ford have made a number of forays into the luxury car market – highly successful car makers, they shrewdly recognised that they cannot change their brand values overnight so set about acquiring brands that already embodied the necessary values, including such marques as Jaguar and Volvo. Putting aside the wider commercial and economic issues, what the company seemed to underestimate was the emotional power of the underlying Ford values.
I remember asking a lifelong Jaguar driver if he was pleased with his latest car, he smiled and gave a resigned shrug; ‘Yes, it’s very nice – but underneath, you know it’s just a Ford’.
Now, of course Jaguar is owned by Indian giant Tata, and without the huge brand pedigree of Ford, customers have fewer preconceptions: we all wait to see as the balance is redressed with Jaguar now having the stronger brand associations in the automotive world.
For China and Geely we see another interesting perspective on brands and cultures. China has a huge automotive industry, and an equally huge domestic market. Its growing affluent middle class is also hungry for established, luxury consumer brands. Acquiring a brand such as Volvo with its European cachet makes admirable sense.
As China looks to affluent European and US markets for its car output it will have brands with the culturally appropriate emotional values – provided it nurtures them in the meantime. Anyone who remembers the early forays of Japanese brands into European markets will recall the years of hard work they had to apply to develop culturally acceptable products and ultimately acceptance of the brands. Of course, things have moved on and manufacturers and marketers have adapted to the needs of foreign markets in a more sensitive and sophisticated manner. Markets too have become more accepting of output from manufacturers in diverse countries.
So Ford can return to its massive brand legacy of being a volume ‘people’s’ car maker; Volvo’s brand values again show their commercial importance over and above the economics of manufacture and China, long a brand wilderness is learning very fast.
When I work with companies on their business offer to international markets, I ask them to consider how important Englishness, or Britishness is as a differentiator for their brand in target markets. The same I am sure is asked by my counterparts all over the world. But recent events have brought this to the forefront of my mind once more. Firstly there was the announcement that the very English Twinings Tea packing plant in North Shields is to close and a portion of the business will move to China and a New facility in Poland. The second was the news that Cadbury is to be taken over by US food giant, Kraft. Does it matter?
Perhaps for differing brands it matters to greater or lesser extents, but I think it is important to look at the geographic context in two dimensions.
Some brands’ values are important in defining the nation and the people from whence they originate. Twinings tea and Burberry coats etc. help define Britain. As Volvo and Ikea define Sweden.
By this I mean brands that are intrinsically tied up with the culture of their nations – by the characteristics we associate with their people – German engineering, Italian fashion etc.
There is no simple dichotomy of course: far from it. It is often the major brands that help define the culture that we then attribute to other brands.
In an increasingly global culture brand origins, place of manufacture and ownership are increasingly confused. We see the iconic British ‘Mini’ brand now under German ownership, manufactured in the UK and benefitting from the Issiagonis heritage and German build standards. Does it matter that Knightsbridge store Harrods is owned by an Egyptian? Hmmm… well…..