Dom Boyd on 'What is a Brand Nowadays?'

17 Feb 2016

"Strategists need to act as brand entrepreneurs that approach their client brands as ‘software’ that is constantly evolving and updating, creating an operating system that’s fast, fluid and informed."


The subject of brands has a history of fascinating and confusing people in equal measure. So perhaps it was no surprise that the APG’s Noisy Thinking on the subject was sold out weeks beforehand.


With just 10 minutes to present our case, the format certainly lent itself to simplicity.


Of course, the nature of the question is loaded with an implicit assumption: that the world of digitally-connected-always-on-data-driven-modern marketing has changed fundamentally, and therefore what a brand is, has too.


But it’s important to distinguish between what a brand IS, and what a brand DOES. Because while the world around us has changed hugely, the way the human brain is hardwired, hasn’t – so until artificial intelligence renders us obsolete we’re still wired to process the world emotion-first, as our primitive ancestors did.


There’s a good Darwinian reason for this: It simplifies our decision-making by helping us navigate the world; acting as an environmental ‘cue’ or trigger that maximizes efficiency of the brain.


The implication for brands is clear: Brands add economic value through their intangible emotional values for people (both socially and personally). As Stephen King once put it, they’re “totalities of meaning” that transcend the functional.


And it’s this emotional power that makes us choose strong brands more often, and pay a price premium for the privilege.


This value-adding role has remained undiminished – but the WAY it’s achieved has fundamentally altered. No longer are brands built primarily through storytelling, but also through social engagement and - increasingly – the service utility it provides.


Or put another way, the model of the role a brand plays is shifting from ‘brand as idea’, to brand as community and brand as interface, essentially becoming less a thing and more a system of interdependent elements that fuel each other.


A great example of this is Jamie Oliver – a brand with functional assets of £281m, who has a strong storytelling purpose: To fight childhood obesity and get people eating more healthily; and who has created a strong digital content ecosystem including apps and a bespoke Food Tube channel to build a strong social community fuelled by tips, videos, constantly updated news and celebrity cameos.    


Like him or loathe him it’s dynamic, high-impact, engaging, socially responsible and – critically – very, very successful and constantly evolving. In fact he says 30% of what he does is R&D. 


There’s a compelling lesson for us here – while brands remain emotional hot-buttons that make our lives simpler, increasingly the key to success is the speed at which they can innovate to add new intangible value through new content and services.


This means strategists need to act as brand entrepreneurs that approach their client brands as ‘software’ that is constantly evolving and updating, creating an operating system that’s fast, fluid and informed.


Or, put more simply – if Jamie Oliver ran your brand, what would he do?


Dom Boyd

APG Chair and Group Head of Strategy at adam&eveDDB



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