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Candid Conversations November 2, 2007

Posted by David Gillespie in branding.
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It has been the week for breakfast meetings, I had another one today. Now, I am to mornings as Superman is to kryptonite, but the company I can keep over a morning cup of coffee makes it worth my while to get out of bed a little earlier, despite having crashed out at 2am the night before. I can recall being 22 and getting no more than 6 hours sleep every night, and somehow this was always fine. These days I can barely get out of bed after 9 hours, which says more about poor lifestyle choices and particularly a penchant for that extra glass of wine I imagine. Regardless, I found, to my utter astonishment, that not only did I arrive on time for the 8am meeting, but that there was actually some fantastic dialogue to be had.

I’m a firm believer in there being no monopoly on good ideas; indeed it can often be the people least savvy with a particular medium who arrive at the best outcomes; they’re not bound in any way by what has gone before them. That statement has nothing to do with breakfast however, as across the table from me sat a good friend whose ability to think critically and objectively about a given situation I really admire. He hit upon a very interesting point, and one that particularly resonates with work I’m doing right now: much less does my company’s brand resonate with its intended audience, but does my audience, frankly, really care? The site exists to provide a particular service. And, provided this happens for the people who come to use it, what impact if any can the brand then have on the individual? More to the point, does it need to?

We talked about Google and how they are so intrinsically linked with search that the noun has also become a verb. We now google using Google; I’d be curious to know if anyone has ever heard of someone saying they googled using a competitor such as Yahoo or MSN. But I digress, the question was asked: does Google’s brand actually resonate with its users? Do people feel an affinity for it? I’m not so sure. I think people have feelings towards Google as a company, which is based on their admiration of either an ethical approach to business, or the appreciation they have for a core function (search), which in turn spurs their core product (advertising). I certainly wouldn’t wear a Google t-shirt, but then I don’t wear any clothes with overt branding on them, which speaks volumes about me and nothing about Google’s brand.

It begs the question though, if a brand fails to resonate with its audience but still delivers on a core service, will people still use it? What does that say about traditional marketing and branding? How does that change the rules online? If I want to book a flight, I go to WebJet and find the best price on any airline. Qantas resonates with me as a brand, but JetStar and Virgin resonate with my hip pocket, and that speaks far louder. The point at which the value of the company’s service eclipses the power of the brand is an interesting thought – does that then mean, as I mention in a post below, a company can no longer affect mass change in the way a brand is perceived without alienating the people who use it?

Or in simpler terms and to touch back on a comment I made earlier, there is no monopoly on good ideas. But once that idea gains mass acceptance, perhaps you forfeit the ability to affect change in that idea; that is left to the users.

Of course when your share price heads north of $700, I imagine you have other things on your mind…

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