The power of brand properties

In the work I’ve been doing this year on turbo-powered marketing, one topic has come up over and over again: the power of “brand properties”. These are assets such as slogans, colours, characters and music that play two key roles:

1. They make your brand distinctive, so that people remember and like it

2. They provide continuity and coherence both across the marketing mix, and over time.

This topic is so important, I’m doing a series of weekly posts over the next 4 weeks, drawing on what I think is the most important Market Leader article in a long time: “What price continuity in a short-term world”, by Chris Barker of Bacon Strategy and Research. In this first post, we look at the power of properties. Then, in the next three we’ll look at different types of property: icon (Direct Line), tone of voice (VW Golf) and business model (Tesco).

1. How do properties work?

As I’ve written about before, the power of properties is the way they create positive brand associations in our brains. As Chris says, “Neurons in our brains fire together when an association is made, and when this happens over and over again neurons eventually wire together to form semi-permanent, resilient net- works that remain for a long time, sometimes forever.”

So, when you see this, you know what to do without even thinking about it:

Screen shot 2010-07-09 at 10.30.13
Works the same with brands. You see the following, and you know what it stands for:

Screen shot 2010-07-09 at 10.33.45
2. How long do properties last?

Neuroscientists estimate that hard-wired associations take up to two to three years to create, and a minimum of two years to erase.

Now, this is really important.

New marketing directors often ditch a brand property built up over many years for a new campaign. But guess how long they stay on average? Just under two years. So, they watch in frustration as consumers play back the old campaign, over and over and over again. They leave before new memory structure is created. A new marketing director come in and changes campaign again. And the whole thing starts over again!

This is why you see so many brands deciding to rejuvenate brand properties to bring them up to date. Recently there was news that Tetley would revive the cartoon Tetley tea folk (below) nine years after axing them back in 2002. This was a brand property that had been used for 28 years. You can imagine how hard-wired those neurons were. And guess what happened after the Tetley tea folk change? “Sales in the first half of this year slumped by 14% while rival PG Tips’ soared by 35%,according to The Guardian.

It will be interesting to see what happens after the Tetley folk return. My guess is a pick-up in sales.

Screen shot 2010-07-09 at 10.44.05

3. Remember AND refresh

The challenge with brand properties is to refresh them to keep them relevant. You need a stream of “new news” to give you “excuses for a conversation” with the consumer. See how Apple has refreshed is apple symbol over time.

But the trick is to refresh your properties, not ditch them altogether which can be costly, as shown by the now (in)famous and disastrous Tropicana design changes. The brand removed the highly recognised ‘orange and straw’ device, that we posted on here. quickly returning to the original design after sales dived.

In conclusion, brand properties take time to create, and can last a long time. And even if you want to ditch them, this will take bags of time and money. So, a better route is refreshing and reviving what made you famous.

We explore brand properties in depth on our brandgym Mastering Brand Growth program. If you’d like more info on the program, simply pop your name and email in the form below (we’ll also send you the weekly brandgym blog email and brandgym Academy news, but you can opt out at any time).