Friday, March 10, 2006

Branding The Experience: Andy Milligan’s IDI Lecture

Andy Milligan from Interbrand gave a speech about Branding the Experience at an IDI event in Smithfield on Wednesday 22 February. He was an entertaining speaker and did manage to weave in at least six plugs for his latest book, ‘See Feel Think Do’, throughout the course of his talk.

He offered his definition of brand as: ‘Brand is the Central Organising Principle.’ Brand delivers consistently valuable experience.

The old USSR was the failed experiment in a no-brand economy, and everyone knows how that one panned out. Rather, we want to live in a world of brand choice. It may be overly garish at times, but that is democracy for you. Today we need to think about ‘The Experience Economy’ when we think about our businesses.

Nike, Disney, BMW, etc, are all ruthlessly consistent in the delivery of their core values. With any required deviation accommodated by other brands that they have spun-off separately. A key point of difference for the greatest brands was that they understood the importance of consistency over uniformity. He had two slides listing some example brand values and the audience were able to match those to their relevant brands. That said, his examples were Nike and Disney, two of the most over-exposed global uber-brands around.

Interestingly, while his ‘What Brand Is’ slide included most of the same elements as the similar slide that I use, he also added three items that I have omitted until now: History, Pricing and Users.
Also noteworthy was his brand mark design slide, were he showed a faux BMW brand mark (say, CNV) composed from the identical visual elements as the BMW marque, where it was easy to analyse the flaws in the graphic design. His point being that, whatever merits or otherwise there are to the aesthetics of the brand mark, they are secondary to the quality of the brand. (BMW’s brand values are Dynamism, Innovation and Aesthetics. Samsung’s brand values are Clarity, Consistency and Leadership.)

Design is one of only two factors that influence all aspect of the brand. People are the only other cross-platform element. Without the right people there can be no true brand delivery. I asked him about that primary role of people in delivering the brand and whether in future the key internal ownership of the brand was going to migrate away from the Marketing Department and more towards the HR Department.

I also asked him about building brands for organisations that are not wholly united behind an agreed commercial agenda, particularly dealing with staff in state organisations. His answer, concerning his own experience consulting to London Underground, was that the key there is to uncover what it is within the brand that is the source of employees pride in their job. That is what hooks people to the brand within the organisation.

During the Q&A, he fielded some No-Logo themed questions about the nefarious effects of large brands on their smaller competitors; something along the lines of ‘what about the local corner shop?’ His answer was that if the local corner shops had a strong unique offering that their customers related to, then they should thrive and survive.

Mr Bradley enquired about how to convince an SME client of the value of branding? Given that the examples Milligan had shown were mostly taken from the top-tier brand stratosphere. His answer was to ask that MD of that notional SME: ‘Are you stupid? Can’t you see? Don’t you get it?’ His point referred back to the old maxim that ‘you cannot not communicate.’ So you have to manage it. Branding starts when you introduce yourself, when you hand someone your business card. Every interaction with a customer or potential customer is an opportunity to build or degrade your brand.

This post is not in any way intended as a comprehensive record of the event. Indeed, I have omitted whole sections and case studies from his presentation. Rather these are my own personal notes of points that interested me, jotted into my PDA on the spot and re-worded on the train afterwards. So I have probably paraphrased all over the place. I have Milligan’s earlier book, but I never yet got around to reading most of it. I think it is time to dig that one out from my library.

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