Marty Neumeier : The Brand Gap (book highlights)

Note: The following are my personal highlights. If you like them, please consider buying the book.

  • A brand is a person’s gut feeling about a product, service, or company. It’s a GUT FEELING because we’re all emotional, intuitive beings, despite our best efforts to be rational. It’s a PERSON’S gut feeling, because in the end the brand is defined by individuals, not by companies, markets, or the so-called general public. Each person creates his or her own version of it. While companies can’t control this process, they can influence it by communicating the qualities that make this product different than that product. When enough individuals arrive at the same gut feeling, a company can be said to have a brand. In other words, a brand is not what YOU say it is. It’s what THEY say it is. A brand is a kind of Platonic ideal—a concept shared by society to identify a specific class of things.
  • Brand management is the management of differences, not as they exist on data sheets, but as they exist in the minds of people.
  • The degree of trust I feel towards the product, rather than an assessment of its features and benefits, will determine whether I’ll buy this product or that product.
  • Trust creation is a fundamental goal of brand design.
  • When brand communication comes through intact—crystal clear and potent—it goes straight into people’s brains without distortion, noise, or the need to think too much about it. It shrinks the “psychic distance” between companies and their constituents so that a relationship can begin to develop. These gap-crossing, distance-shrinking messages are the building blocks of a charismatic brand.
  • Among the hallmarks of a charismatic brand are a clear competitive stance, a sense of rectitude, and a dedication to aesthetics. Why aesthetics? Because it’s the language of feeling, and, in a society that’s information-rich and time-poor, people value feeling more than information.
  • 1) Who are you? 2) What do you do? 3) Why does it matter?
  • Our brain acts as a filter to protect us from the vast amount of irrelevant information that surrounds us every day. To keep us from drowning in triviality, it learns to tell things apart. We get data from our senses, then compare it to data from earlier experiences, and put it into a category. Thus we can differentiate between a dog and a lion, a shadow and a crevasse, or an edible mushroom and a poisonous one (usually).
  • The faster globalism removes barriers, the faster people erect new ones. They create intimate worlds they can understand, and where they can be somebody and feel as if they belong. They create tribes.
  • The advantages of the one-stop shop are an ability to unify a message across media, and ease of management for the client. The drawbacks are that the various disciplines are not usually the best of breed, and, in effect, the company cedes stewardship of the brand to the one-stop shop.
  • The third model, the integrated marketing team, bears little resemblance to the traditional outsourcing model. It sees branding as a continuous network activity that needs to be controlled from within the company. In this model, best-of-breed specialist firms are selected to work alongside internal marketing people on a virtual “superteam,” which is then “coached” by the company’s design manager. The advantages of this model are the ability to unify a message across media, the freedom to work with best-of-breed specialists, plus internal stewardship. This last benefit is important, because it means that brand knowledge can accrue to the company, instead of vanishing through a revolving door with the last firm to work on it. A drawback of an integrated marketing team is that it requires a strong internal team to run it.
  • A combination of good strategy and poor execution is like a Ferrari with flat tires. It looks good in the specs, but fails on the street. This is the case for at least half the brand communication done today. Don’t take my word for it—pick up a copy of your favorite magazine and leaf through the ads. How many actually touch your emotions? Will you remember any of them tomorrow? If not, it’s probably the fault of execution, not strategy. Execution—read creativity—is the most difficult part of the branding mix to control. It’s magic, not logic, that ignites passion in customers.
  • “Would you persuade, speak of interest, not of reason.”
  • Audiences Want More Than Logic.
  • How do you know when an idea is innovative? A: When it scares the hell out of everybody.
  • The need for good brand names originates with customers, and customers will always want convenient ways of identifying, remembering, discussing, and comparing brands. The right name can be a brand’s most valuable asset, driving differentiation and speeding acceptance.
  • But Smuckers was a good name from day one—distinctive, short, spellable, pronounceable, likable, portable, and protectable. And while the company presents it as slightly silly, the name benefits strongly from onomatopoeia. “Smuckers” sounds like smacking lips, the preverbal testament to a yummy jam.
  • Generally speaking, high-imagery names are more memorable than low-imagery names. Names constructed from Greek and Latin root words tend to be low-imagery names. Accenture and Innoveda come to mind. Names that use Anglo-Saxon words, or the names of people, tend to be high-imagery names, producing vivid mental pictures that aid recall.
  • The 7 Criteria For A Good Name: 1    Distinctiveness. Does it stand out from the crowd, especially from other names in its class? Does it separate well from ordinary text and speech? The best brand names have the “presence” of a proper noun. 2    Brevity. Is it short enough to be easily recalled and used? Will it resist being reduced to a nickname? Long multi-word names will be quickly shortened to non-communicating initials. 3    Appropriateness. Is there a reasonable fit with the business purpose of the entity? If it would work just as well—or better—for another entity, keep looking. 4    Easy Spelling And Pronunciation. Will most people be able to spell the name after hearing it spoken? Will they be able to pronounce it after seeing it written? A name shouldn’t turn into a spelling test or make people feel ignorant. 5    Likability. Will people enjoy using it? Names that are intellectually stimulating, or provide a good “mouth feel,” have a headstart over those that don’t. 6    Extendibility. Does it have “legs”? Does it suggest a visual interpretation or lend itself to a number of creative executions? Great names provide endless opportunities for brandplay. 7    Protectability. Can it be trademarked? Is it available for web use? While many names can be trademarked, some names are more defensible than others, making them safer and more valuable in the long run.
  • Retail brand managers funnel a large portion of their marketing budgets into package design, because the return on investment is likely to be higher with packaging than with advertising, promotion, public relations, or other spending options. For many retail products, packaging not only makes the final sale, it strikes a significant blow for the brand, since experience with the product is often the best foundation for customer loyalty.
  • Instead, customers are greeted with features, benefits, and what one shopper I interviewed called “scientific mumbo jumbo.”
  • Here’s an example of a typical reading sequence: 1) the shopper notices the package on the shelf—the result of good colors, strong contrast, an arresting photo, bold typography, or other technique; 2) the shopper mentally asks “What is it?,” bringing the product name and category into play; 3) then “Why should I care?,” which is best answered with a very brief why-to-buy message; 4) which in turn elicits a desire for more information to define and support the why-to-buy message; 5) the shopper is finally ready for the “mumbo-jumbo” necessary to make a decision—features, price, compatibilities, guarantees, awards, or whatever the category dictates.
  • The standard model for communication has three components: sender, message, and receiver. The sender (your company) develops a message (web page, ad, brochure, direct mail piece, etc.) and sends it to a receiver (your target audience). Communication complete.
  • Innovators often feel that using research is like trying to chart the future in a rearview mirror.
  • Take any piece of visual communication and cover up your trademark with your hand. Can you tell whose piece it is? If the communication in question looks as if it could have come from any other company or brand, then it’s less than it could be. Because even without a trademark, those familiar with your brand should be able to tell who’s talking just by its “voice,” or the look and feel of the materials.
  • Which of these promises is most valuable to you? Which company would you expect to make a promise like this? If company X made this promise, would that make sense? What other type of promise would you expect from company X? Always follow up with “Why?” because the answer to “why” will contain the seed of the next question.
  • DISTINCTIVENESS is the quality that causes a brand expression to stand out from competing messages. If it doesn’t stand out, the game is over. Distinctiveness often requires boldness, innovation, surprise, and clarity, not to mention courage on the part of the company. Is it clear enough and unique enough to pass the swap test?
  • RELEVANCE asks whether a brand expression is appropriate for its goals. Does it pass the hand test? Does it grow naturally from the DNA of the brand? These are good questions, because it’s possible to be attention-getting without being relevant, like a girly calendar issued by an auto parts company. MEMORABILITY is the quality that allows people to recall the brand or brand expression when they need to. Testing for memorability is difficult, because memory proves itself over time. But testing can often reveal the presence of its drivers, such as emotion, surprise, distinctiveness, and relevance.
  • EXTENDIBILITY measures how well a given brand expression will work across media, across cultural boundaries, and across message types. In other words, does it have legs? Can it be extended into a series if necessary? It’s surprisingly easy to create a one-off, single-use piece of communication that paints you into a corner.
  • Instead of trying to present a Teflon-smooth surface, project a three-dimensional personality, inconsistencies and all. Brands can afford to be inconsistent—as long as they don’t abandon their defining attributes.
  • People “read” the script in their experiences with the company and its communications, then retell their version of it to others. When people’s experiences match their expectations, their loyalty increases.
  • Living brands are not a stylistic veneer but a pattern of behavior that grows out of character. When the external actions of a company align with its internal culture, the brand resonates with authenticity.

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