Matter Chatter

The Power of Brand

In the great cinematic achievement that was Demolition Man (with Sylvester Stallone and Wesley Snipes in a dystopian near-future) every restaurant, no matter how humble or fancy, was a Taco Bell.  The film explained that The Bell had won the “franchise wars” and so became the only restaurant brand in their society.  By the end of the movie, Stallone had defeated the villains and returned freedom to the land, but the point about the power of brands was what stayed with me.

In our less cinematic world, there are plenty of examples of this power.  Don Sutherland, a writer who spent a great deal of his career covering the photography industry, said it best when he told me that Sony could successfully market a blender, the kitchen appliance of choice at that moment. His perspective was proven in the marketplace soon after the introduction of the Sony Mavica, the camera that captured digital still images and stored them directly on a 3.5” floppy disk. (Remember 3.5” floppy disks?) Until that product introduction, Sony had no presence in the digital still camera category and it was dominated by typical photo brands such as Olympus, Nikon and Kodak. However, one Mavica generation later, Sony was the category leader. The Mavica line of cameras was a serious technology breakthrough at the time – so success wasn’t unexpected. However, despite significant drawbacks – a fixed focal lens and no zoom, for example –early adopters selected a Sony product on brand alone.

Among other brands, I liken the success of the Mavica to the introduction of anything branded by Apple. Since the introduction of all things beginning with “i”, the global giant of Cupertino has dominated the market with some of the biggest game-changing devices of our generation. Other brands have succeeded as well, building strength inside a category and often stretching beyond; though not always making such a positive visible impact on the consumer world. While it starts with the introduction of solid products that people enjoy and value, successful brand management plays a crucial role in the process. We are trained to embrace a widget because it comes from such a reputable provider of goods.  Sometimes, that trust or even a “cool factor” is enough to carry a product or service to success.

In the public relations business, we think a great deal about the power of brands and reputations.  In fact, the way a brand communicates about itself is often the secret ingredient in changing a product into an unstoppable market trend. Many of our clients are mid-sized technology companies who have a very real need to synergize the messages they bring to the market, and often our work starts with the launch of a brand that resonates with decision-makers and causes them to take notice or better yet, action! The messaging structure only begins there, but should be a part of all communications initiatives executed by a client.

Speaking of the impact of brands…more than ever it seems to me that many popular categories – particularly those with a slant toward technology – are dominated by only a few. Google. Microsoft. Facebook. For example, the acquisition of Skype by Microsoft is a timely indicator of the extension of established brands. The Skype name will dissolve and its system and service will live on as part of a product family.  In our business, we think a great deal about the power of brands and reputations.  In fact, the way a brand communicates about itself is often the secret ingredient in changing a product into an unstoppable market trend.