14 August 2014 | Stefan Stern
My name is Stefan Stern and I
used to be a brand sceptic, impatient with fluffy talk about “brand values” and “experience”. A thing is a thing, surely? You either like it or you don’t. Marketing is all about getting the right things in front of the right people at the right price. All that chat about brands was just hot air. Sure – you need a logo and packaging. But that was all. I have changed my mind. Not overnight, but gradually. I am now persuaded that this slightly mysterious, and at times slightly flaky concept of brand is important – and, sorry, but more important than mere marketing. It is, in fact, everything.
It was Kevin Roberts at Saatchi & Saatchi who first got me thinking with a book published 10 years ago called Lovemarks. In it he argued mere, boring old brands were no good. If you want customers to stick with you you have to get them to really love your product or service.
Why do you favour one coffee shop chain over another? Is it only because the food and drink is more to your taste? Or do you have some other, less precise feelings? You just like them a bit more, because… well, just because. This is the magic of brands. You feel differently about brands that you really like. It is weird and intangible. But it is worth a lot – look at Coca-Cola, whose market value is based overwhelmingly on its brand. (It isn’t about sticky, sweet, fizzy, coloured water).
So – get real. Brands – including your own ‘personal’ brand – matter. What do people say about you when you are not in the room? That is your personal brand. See – got your attention now, haven’t I?
How to spend it
On Saturdays the Financial Times publishes a glossy magazine called How To Spend It, aimed at the high-end of the well-heeled FT readership, promoting watches, shoes, boats and gadgets that most of us could only ever dream of owning. It really is quite something: a symbol of our times.
Luxury – conspicuously consumed – is a huge business. The newly super-rich seem to have an almost limitless appetite for elite brands. A friend of mine recently showed me her (genuine) Mulberry bag which, she was delighted to say, she picked up for a fraction of the usual price – which would have been in the region of £10,000. For a handbag. I kid you not.
Protecting the integrity of the supply chain – when the value tied up in it is everything – is vital. So the new technology I saw at PA Consulting’s Cambridge HQ recently could prove valuable. PA are developing a new “smart” QR barcode system to help prevent the counterfeiting of luxury branded goods. It is an internet-enabled system, which involves the transmission of real-time data, altering the QR code randomly every few seconds. Try copying that. (Of course, some people will). It is nice to know that those who set such store on exclusivity will be assisted in not getting ripped off by some hard-working technicians in a lab in England.
☛ Stefan Stern is visiting professor of management practice at Cass Business School