Can you smash your brand?

Can you smash your brand?

When you first saw the image above, did you immediately think "Coca-Cola"? Almost everybody does, even though you can only see part of the logo. Coca-Cola is the company that coined the phrase the "smashable brand". Back in the 1940s an executive from Coca-Cola went to a Chicago design studio and commissioned them to design a bottle that was so distinctive that if it was smashed into pieces on the floor, passers by would still be able to recognise it for being a coke bottle. They came up with the iconic bottle that we all know today.

Think about it. Imagine if someone had smashed a Coca-Cola bottle on the floor in the street and you saw it, you'd easily be able to identify what it was. Their brand and design is so distinctive that people recognise it even when they can only see a tiny part of it. The three images below show this example.

McDonalds is another smashable brand. You are driving along the road at night and ahead in the distance in between the trees you see a familiar backlit yellow colour. You can't quite make it out but there's no question what it is. Yet again we have a brand that can be broken into smallest components and we still recognise it. You would recognise McDonalds from it's signage, from it's interior design, from the way they layout their menus, even from the smell when you walk through the door. It is so consistent, every McDonalds tastes the same and every experience is the same. I was in Moscow in 2002 and the hotel food was pretty poor. Tired of making Pot Noodles in our room we went out into the city and came across a McDonalds by Red Square. The food, the decor, the menu, the uniforms were all exactly the same as you'd find in the UK and elsewhere.

Do you have any Apple products? An iPhone maybe? An iPad? A Macbook? Did you get the original iPod? Or the nano? Apple reinvented itself on its iPod. As a music machine it was expensive and definitely at the upper end of the mp3 player market and there was no difference in sound quality. So why did we go crazy for them? The answer is in their design. The late Steve Jobs said that the functionality of the machine had to be a given. They weren't prepared to promote it to the market by what it did. A perfectly working machine was an entry-level requirment for them.

They focused all their energy on making it look great, and sleek and stylish. Apple turned a geek product into a piece of art and made it a highly desirable object, topped off with those amazingly distinctive white earphones. Before Apple, when did you ever see white earphones?

All three brands mentioned above are super brands because our response to them is no longer just about the product. McDonalds isn't just another burger outlet, Apple don't just make mp3 players and laptops and Coca-Cola isn't just a fizzy drink. The consistency and distinctiveness of their branding over many years has made us attach certain values and expectations to their products.

You may have heard of the famous Pepsi taste test that proved in the 1970s that, when conducted blind, people preferred the taste of Pepsi over that of Coca-Cola. However, the reverse was true when the subjects knew which brand was in the glass. Recently this test has been revisited but instead of just asking people their preferences, they also had subjects wired up to an fMRI scanner to see how their brains reacted and it showed some really interesting results. When the test was blind, subjects compared the taste of the two drinks and again preferred Pepsi. When the subjects knew which brand they had, when it came to drinking the Coca-Cola, it was a completely different part of the brain that was activated. Instead of being assessed by the taste centre of the brain, it was instead triggering reactions in the pleasure centre and the part of the brain associated with rewards, positivity and dreams. Coca-Cola wins, not because it tastes better but because it makes us FEEL better.

All the super brands have this in common. It's not about what their product is, but how we feel about the company and the product. So what can we learn from these companies that we can put to use?

  • Consistency is everything. If you have a lot of printed materials, do they look like a complete set when they are put together? Does that match your signage, your uniforms, your website? This is especially important if you work across multiple sites, facilities or venues. A great example of this being done well is Halo Leisure Trust in Herefordshire and South Wales. They have chosen a unique purple colour for their brand and their imagery, their logo, their signage etc is so consistent across all their sites. The acid test is to "smash it". Can you cover up half of your poster and would service users still recognise what it is underneath. If you have a uniform, is it obvious what it is, even if the person wearing it has their back to you? Go into any Apple store, you can spot the staff a mile away!
  • It's not just about printing things. The consistency you need to build a strong brand also comes from interactions with your people. The language your staff use to describe what you offer, the smiles on the faces of receptionists when people enter your facilities, the cleanliness of your changing rooms and waiting areas, the ease of navigating your website all add up to create an overall impression which becomes your customer experience. This also needs to be consistent.
  • Simply having a service which does what it needs to isn't enough if you want people to develop a strong sense of feeling about what you do. Can you be creative and add design to make your service look awesome.This could even be something as simple as having the most attractive forms for service users to complete. Nicely designed forms? You probably think I'm having a laugh but they make a serious difference. The best I have come across were at Redbridge Council and here's an example of their work experience request form. They take admin design seriously!
  • Use emotional language to promote yourselves. Don't bamboozle with fact, figures, risk factors and acronyms. People really don't care about that stuff. (No really they don't.) They care about how it will make them feel. Factual things don't make people feel emotion. Facts are by their very nature calm and cool and rational. To get people to feel positively about your service, talk to them about what is really important to them. Use emotional language like "amazing", "awesome" and "dazzling". Tell people your service exists because you really do care, and you want them to be healthy and happy and to get the most from life. Tell them that your staff are the best, and can't wait to support them.
  • On a final note about marketing, the big brands are no longer looking at "target audiences" and "market segmentation". Their campaigns are focusing on individual interactions and they are finding ever more inovative ways to surprise and delight their customers.

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