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31 October 2005

Brands we like and those we don't

Brands are all about creating a marketing point of difference and maintaining it in the face of changing tastes, intense competition and the need to turn a profit.

Coca Cola/Coke is obviously the stand-out success. But newcomers 42 Below vodka and Dilmah tea are much more relevant to modern marketers.

The former has climbed with great success into an extremely crowded marketplace dominated by tired old brands; its formula a mix of product excellence and extremely irreverent and imaginative advertising. Its competitors must have wondered what hit them.

The latter has muscled into what was known as ‘down' market segment, again dominated by tired old brands. With a combination of product excellence, an appealing brand story and an ability to capitalise on changing tastes and untapped market niches, Dilmah has not only muscled some of its competitors off the supermarket shelves and out of hotel minibars - it has done so at a premium price. How many primary produce marketers can claim to have done that?

The 42 Below brand name is directly linked to the country of manufacture - the latitude of Godzone - which is also a strong part of the product's brand story. Dilmah, a created name based on the first syllables of the names of the founder's sons, nevertheless has a rightness about it which will now be forever associated by its customers as the source of the best single origin Sri Lankan tea. 

Getting brand names ‘right', so they fit with the brand story and the product itself, is something of an art form. While WHAM has successfully created a number of smaller brands which have stood the test of time, Brian Richards is widely seen as  New Zealand's brand wizard. Cervena venison and Zespri kiwifruit are just two of his better known creations.

When you see the research, skill, energy and creativity that he puts into developing a brand, and when you know how important it is to ‘do it right', it is extraordinary to see companies which have the necessary resources, creating and promoting high profile brand names which do nothing to build a point of difference in the marketplace. Indeed, some are downright negative.

Classic cases in the NZ marketplace are Smeg kitchen appliances (how smutty can you get?), Rabobank (sounds like a toxic waste dump) and Westfield Shopping Plazas (why in the world would you want to name your retail experience after a big, dirty, clapped-out abattoir?).

Of course, each of these brands was already established internationally before they were launched in New Zealand. Presumably the owners decided in each case to have a single global brand, regardless of the circumstances they found in new markets. They are also in market sectors where the volume of your advertising noise is probably more important than the quality of the sound.

Other examples are L.J. Hooker and Re-Max Real Estate real estate - names which have no cachet in their own right, but thanks to constant repetition in a commodity marketplace it probably doesn't matter. Everyone knows who they are.

Many businesses servicing just the local market, or in sectors where margins don't allow for big advertising budgets, don't have this excuse. Indeed to make their limited advertising budgets go a long way, they need everything working in their favour, from the quality of their product or service, to its price, the location of their stores and - yes - the names they choose for their businesses.

One of the biggest decisions to make for an owner operator is whether to name their business after themselves. If you're a former sporting hero selling sporting goods, you'd be crazy not to.  But Shackel Motors? Lugton Real Estate? What on earth were they thinking?

The choice of a brand name is not easy. No-one else in the sector can be using the name. It needs to be easy-to-remember, but not so easy that it quickly becomes banal or irksome, and most importantly to have a ‘rightness'. This rightness should ideally lend itself to the development to the development of a brand story which consumers can understand or relate to.

Dilmah and 42 Below have done this superbly. In the case of Dilmah, with a highly personalised story about their family business. In the case of 42 Below, with a series of whacky stories about the mystical creatures that make the company's fine products.

In a world where consumers increasingly take product quality as a ‘given', the perceived cachet associated with a brand may make the difference between market success and failure. Brand development and management therefore needs to be accorded much more importance than many businesses accord it today.


- Trevor Walton

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