What is Great Branding?


2 quick questions: Do you have great branding for your business? Do you know great branding when you see it?

Airbnb Rebranding

After 5 years in business, Airbnb rebranded and it changed the trajectory of their business. Airbnb’s CMO Jonathan Mildenhall was asked about great branding and his reply is one for the ages:

All great brands have three things in common.
1. Instantly recognizable
2. Compelling cultural truth at the core
3. Consistent value proposition

Jeff Bullas has a similar view of great branding. He boils it down to three words: recognizable, memorable, and trustworthy. What do brands do? Bullas says, “They create trends. Influence lifestyle. Determine spending patterns. ” An example of this is Apple.

What is Great Branding?

When you look over the following collection of logos, which ones are instantly recognizable to you?

How did those great brands become great brands? Conventional thinking would say that they bought mind-share through extensive and expensive marketing, and that’s true for many of them. They bought their way into your mind, but there’s more to branding these days than extensive and expensive marketing.

Branding has evolved from mind-share branding to emotional branding that emphasize relationship building with customers and clients to viral branding that builds an audience who spread the brand message – think Apple.

Cultural branding, i.e. branding with “compelling cultural truth at the core” (Mildenhall) is what builds iconic brands – again, think Apple.

Types of Brand Marketing

In his book, How Brands Become Icons, Douglas Holt gives examples of companies that built their brands on mind-share, emotional, and viral branding.

Corona beer was built through mind-share marketing. Here’s a headline from Ad Week in 2015: “Experts: Marketing Is Boosting Corona Sales Even Though No One Likes The Taste” The Wall Street Journal reported at that time, “Shipments of Corona have increased nearly 10% over five years to 7.8 million barrels, making it the top import and fifth-best selling U.S. beer.”

If you have any doubts about the power of marketing, that should get you to think otherwise. Corona marketing built the beer’s branding around the beach, fun, and relaxation and it worked.

Coke continues to use emotional branding. The soft drink has grown and maintained a loyal following with slogans and campaigns built around “Share a Coke,” “Open Happiness,” and “Taste the Feeling.” Connecting with consumers at an emotional level has been paramount for Coca Cola for decades.

Old Spice has been called the king of viral marketing. In 2010, their “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like” grabbed over 54 million views on YouTube.

In 2013, Ogilvy & Mather Brazil created a marketing campaign for Dove soap called “Real Beauty Sketches.” Dove uses 33 YouTube channels and 25 languages to reach over 110 countries. Their video for this campaign was viewed over 114 million times.

How do you create viral content? Emotion is what drives viral content.

Viral content emotions

Cultural branding is the new kid on the block. Douglas Holt is considered the pioneer of cultural branding and after teaching at Harvard and Oxford, he leads CSG (Cultural Strategy Group).

Through cultural branding, CSG has helped build the Zipcar, Sonos, and Huawei brands. They’ve helped revitalize Coca-Cola, Purina Dog Chow, Cadillac, and REI.

Cultural branding takes theories of culture, society, ideology, and politics, to understand, and fuel cultural innovation through marketing strategy. Cultural branding recognizes that brands create and reflect culture.

Cultural Branding by Zipcar

Zipcar logo

When Zipcar began as a small startup in Boston, their version of ride-sharing was innovative. It was much different than mass transit or the car rental business. Zipcar branding took into consideration how to educate the public on what they were doing.

In time, ride-sharing competition grew with options in urban environments like bike sharing, taxis, carpools, Uber, Lyft, and others, Zipcar had another marketing problem. With more choices and brands, how could Zipcar differentiate themselves?

First, they clarified their target audiences, and then they told their brand story is an engaging, amusing, and conversational manner. Then they hit another speed bump – when they were bought by Avis, there was a backlash on social media from their loyal members.

Zipcar eased over this speed bump with great social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn), YouTube videos, customer experiences, word-of-mouth, and referrals.

They tapped into the social and political concerns of their clientele, including making financial contributions to local organizations that their tribe supports.

With an international mass-market product like Coca-Cola, cultural branding can be tricky. A small business can learn from Zipcar. Know your audience and support what your audience believes in. Tell your story in an engaging, conversation manner. Use social media to the hilt.

Learn the essentials of branding from Airbnb’s CMO Jonathan Mildenhall: work to make your brand immediately recognizable. Put a compelling cultural value at the core of your marketing. Offer consistent value.

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