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Building Brand Identity Beats Advertising Hands Down

TapestryWorks have always argued for and emphasised the importance of distinctive brand identity in building successful brands. It makes complete sense in terms of the brain science and the importance of pattern recognition and the building of mental associations linked to emotional needs and context. And now the data is in!

WPP agencies The Partners, Lambie-Nairn and Millward Brown have crunched the data from 10 years of BrandZ valuations, combining brand valuations with consumer opinion. And their collective conclusion is that investing in brand identity and positioning produces much higher returns on investment compared with investment in strong advertising.

What is most striking is the multiplicative effect of strong brand identity and strong advertising. In comparing brands with weak identities, the impact of strong advertising is only to raise the increase in value (over ten years) from 21% to 27%. However, for brands with a compelling core proposition, strong advertising moves brand growth from 76% to 168%.

To look at the data another way, for brands with strong advertising and weak brand identity, their data shows ten year growth of 27%. By contrast, for brands with strong brand identity and weak advertising, their data shows ten year growth of 76%. In seeing the comparison, it’s also good to reflect on the relative cost of building a strong brand identity versus creating strong advertising.

Of course, the ideal is to have both great advertising and a strong identity, but let’s not ignore that identity is a clear winner (with a return three times that of strong advertising). This study builds on several analyses of advertising, including the recent IPA publication “Lessons from the World’s Best Campaigns” and the 2012 PIA study “The Long and the Short of It”, showing the role of emotion and storytelling in the most effective advertising.

I’ve just re-read Unconscious Branding by Douglas van Praet (one of the most successful advertising execs of recent times), which discusses the importance of unconscious processing, mental associations and emotional stories in driving advertising success. All the evidence of the advertising world’s analysis, marketing science and what we know about the brain’s function is that the key to being considered and purchased is to be “top of mind” in a particular context, which comes down to having a rich and consistent set of mental associations which are relevant to the consumer’s emotional goals at the moment of decision-making. To put it simply, it’s about having a strong brand identity!

Such associations are implicit and not explicit (and therefore difficult to capture in traditional market research – including that conducted by Millward Brown!). The vast majority of these associations come from experience and are stored as sensory data (mostly visual). Bill Bernbach (as quoted by van Praet) once said, “Telling isn’t selling”, pointing to the importance of embedding messages in emotion, story, symbolism, metaphor, pictures and other devices that speak to the non-conscious brain. Douglas van Praet quotes some great examples (many he was personally involved in) including the Volkswagen “The Force” commercial (the most successful Superbowl ad of all time) and the Energiser Bunny campaign.

The evidence is in and it is clear. Successful businesses start with building a strong brand identity first. This has been proven to give much higher return on investment than creating strong advertising. That doesn’t mean that strong advertising cannot be effective, but it really only seems to be effective if you start with a strong brand proposition and build on it.

Building brand identity beats strong advertising hands down!

REFERENCE

Unconscious Branding: How Neuroscience can Empower (and Inspire) Marketing by Douglas van Praet

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