As far as I'm concerned, a brand is a collection of feelings and associations built up over time. At their best, there is vision or an idea that helps the brand create the right impressions for whatever they need to do. I thought it looked a little like this..
This means a general direction, vision, promise or whatever you want to call it (would you believe some people I came accross recently call it a 'brand dream' (!)) and communications ideas that cover off immediate objectives, remove certain barriers and help you 'tack' along.
I presented this specific chart a while back. I still think this is mostly right, but there's something wrong I now think. That's the concept of a 'brand idea'. Let me explain.
If you're launching a brand, you need an idea of course. You need to have a strong belief about the role you want to have in people's lives, what problem you are going to help them with, which people. What will it feel like? What will you always do? What will you never do?
This stuff matters. If you took Coke's means of production away, they could still sell their company for billions based on brand value. When Sainsburys was doing badly at the start of this decade (crap distribution) what kept them going was the loyalty of customers who wanted them to do well in a way that only Waitrose could maybe match.
But you SHOULD only have to do this once. And I'm less convinced that a brand IDEA is that important. Abrand is broad church, a collection of feeling and associations, much like a person is. It's at once vague and familiar. You know it's Coke, Nike or Ikea through a vague recognition of atmosphere. Cue the self serving analagy.
They used to think an electron was a single particel orbiting around the nucleas of an atom. A simple dot...you could predict where it was and where it was going.
Nowadays, as mad as it sounds, they believe you don't where it is, it can be anywhere within a given space - so you have to assume it is in all those spaces at the same time, a fuzzy cloud.
Really brands are like that, they occupy a fuzzy space, more a smudge than a bullet hard object (or sentence). Sainsburys may well be Try Something New Today right now, but I don't think that's a GENUINE brand idea, it's a bloody good BIG communications idea. Sainsbury's longer, bigger brand story (smudge) is about commitment to good food - a food hero, something like. Nike is something to do with self motivation and hero worship. We, of course, know that Honda is about optimism.
So what I think I'm saying is that a brand is rarely a big consistent idea. Plot the story of great brands over time and you see a series of great ideas that occupy a fuzzy area.
The only time you need a BIG brand idea is when you believe one doesn't exist in people's heads, like with Honda. Even then, the story was there, it was just that not enough people knew the truth about the company culture.
I think this means a lot more freedom for planning campaigns. Doing what is right for right now, dealing with what needs to be dealt with. Sainsburys will always be about great quality food, right now they're getting more out the customers they have and dealing with them having less budget, This will eventually change. But they found their way in the '90s with celebrity recipe ads.. and they're still doing it.
When Apple found its way again in 1997 with'Crazy Ones' and the Imac, it simply rediscovered what it was about. To be honest, the ad is another take on the premise of 1984...Disruption (you'll hate that word if you work at TBWA). And both are part of a wider story/cloud/smudge...simplicity and humanity.
Unless I'm starting from complete scratch with a launch, I'd be talking to lots and lots of people who are involved with the organisation, not looking for words as much as how they feel about the brand. What fuzzy space does it occupy? What it the atmosphere. Find that and you can have lots of ideas within it. They don't have to be the same, maybe not even the same theme, but together thet should create a smudge like and electron.
Thinking like this will help us manage what's going on right now, with the web enabled, Facebooking savvy consumer.
The rules are not that different to 20 years ago, you still have to create something interesting, just more-so now that we can't bludgeon people glued to the telly. The difference is that if you're under 25, you don't want something totally finished, you want to be involved, share and be part of it. I think unfinished areas (and when you think about it a brand is never finished, it just evolves) smudges, areas or subject matter for conversations are far more suited to that.