Will brand values be as unpredictable as political values in Europe?

Does branding in Europe have a unique flavour?

I’m going to be looking forward with interest to the Transform conference, given that ‘Brand Europe’ itself seems to have undergone significant changes. Are Europeans’ values shifting – paricularly those of consumers?

Brand management seems likely to have become a contentious issue, closely linked with corporate governance, which has the potential for challenge by value perceptions.

Brand evolution in Europe – Transform magazine

At the 2015 Transform Conference Europe, influence, reputation and creativity were key topics. Sustainability as a core brand positioning laid the groundwork for the current rise in purpose …

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Volkswagen embedded brand values

Volkswagen and brand contagion

A brand is a social construct and as such it does not exist in a vacuum.  It is socially and historically contextual. A brand narrative draws upon these contexts and informs our understanding and our emotional relationships that they engender.

The recent issues facing Volkswagen bring these connections into sharp focus. When we consider the brand values of VW, we see them as shared and deeply embedded in those of the German auto industry in general. They include technical and engineering expertise, quality of manufacture and attention to detail. These qualities we see shared and associated with other individual brands such as Mercedes and BMW.

If many VW values are shared and embedded in our perceptions of German car manufacture, they also draw upon what the world may see as German national values. These may include probity, rule-following, bureaucratic fussiness and openness.

It’s easy to see how VW has enjoyed and built its brand persona upon the wider perceptions of both the industry and national values.

However, just as the brand may suffer from any failure in the encompassing brand values – the converse is also true. VW’s apparent lapse in standards, running contrary to our perception of their values, also has repercussions for the German auto industry as a whole. We may question the brand values of the whole cohort.

As the ripples spread out, long-held impressions of German national principles and brand dimensions cannot avoid damage. This in turn may affect and cause us to questions those values as attributed to other businesses and brands closely identified with national characteristics.

It is a salutary reminder that no brand is an island and value it may acquire or inherit from a sector, industry or a nation is synergic. All may prosper or suffer damage from the actions of others.

brand plans and planning.

The problem with brand plans

Brand planning is vital – but brand plans are usually obsolete almost immediately. The world and market places are constantly subject to change.

Classic brand planning lies in researching and amassing data about the market environments, your products and services, your competitors’ activities and much more. By analysing this data you can arrive at a number of optional directions for evaluation and then agree on courses of action.

The reality is that we are dealing with a snapshot in time. The research data is increasingly obsolescent as we are using it. The world is changing, and competitors are not standing still – they are making and implementing plans of their own.

Brands are social constructs – as such they present multiple possibilities but are historically and socially contextual. This is why plans that seemed brilliant upon completion lie gathering dust on office shelves. Events overtake them and brand stewards have to react to real-world dynamics.

Are brand plans useless?

So does this mean that planning is useless? Absolutely not. It is working through the planning process that should prepare those working on the brand for the moving brand landscape. The changes of direction will be informed by the research and learning of the planning process. The act of working through the research, evaluating options and identifying potential goals allows us to be flexible and prepared to respond, not only to potential threats, but to opportunities.

One of the key benefits of planning is the identification of brand objectives. Again, however, a word of caution – even objectives may not be fixed. Imagine a military strategy the objective of which is to capture a hill where the enemy has his artillery placed: just before the attack, the general learns the artillery has been moved to another hill.  The overall objective to take the artillery is still valid, but the hill is no longer the ‘objective’.

Anyone who has been on a business-planning course has probably been exposed to SMART objective setting – Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time Based. A great discipline, but I would suggest it encourages too rigid an approach. Fuzzy objectives may be more useful in the world of brands and we should not be afraid of them.

Plan the approach.

  • Assemble as much intelligence as you can at the start
  • Work through it diligently
  • Identify as many optional approaches as possible and the ‘pros’ and ‘cons’ for each
  • Set objectives, but keep them big picture and ‘fuzzy’ if necessary
  • Use flexible media to note your plans – post-it notes etc – be prepared for change
  • Monitor your brand arena constantly – look for change and opportunities.