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What makes a great brand?

Tom Hearn, business director at Nude Brand Creation explores what's behind a great brand

Tom Hearn Nude Brand Creation

What makes a great brand? Everyone knows – and almost nobody does. A true top-tier spirits brand is not just admired but loved; fans don’t just buy it, they talk about it, share posts about it, and act as its most loyal champions. This is the sign of a brand that has achieved greatness – and, harder still, is maintaining its place at the top.

The illusions of price and provenance

So how do you achieve this elusive goal? Price is a factor in becoming a great premium spirits brand, of course: the notion of being “reassuringly expensive” that Stella Artois tried so hard to channel. But relying on price alone lacks depth, and expense by itself isn’t actually reassuring. Consumers need to feel they are paying for something that is worth the money they are paying.

Once the novelty of an exciting new brand wears off, how do you maintain consumer interest and stoke brand loyalty, so that people stay engaged? Provenance and ingredients are important elements in keeping your brand desirable, but often they are all too easily replicated by others.

What you need is that more elusive quality: self-confidence. Everyone responds to a display of confidence, in a brand as in a person. A strong personality and a consistent message are absolutely crucial for a brand to keep people close. How to create and promote that strong and authentic brand personality? There are various routes, and the key is finding the one that is right for your particular brand.

Aged to perfection

One way is using packaging to convey a brand’s self-assurance. The redesign of Midleton Very Rare Whiskey takes this approach to convey the product’s brand strengths. It rejuvenates the design, but stays true to the brand story in an authentic way, as well as bringing it up to date.

The new packaging for this exclusive whiskey features a unique set of luxury codes, inspired by Irish literature and craftsmanship to reflect the precious nature of the liquid, as opposed the following obvious and outdated luxury codes. Interestingly, the notion of luxury has changed in the last few years. Previously luxury packaging featured lots of gold, over-embossing and dark, rich colours, whereas the new luxury is inspired by craft and honesty.

Team up

To pick the right road to brand desirability, you need to have the right strategy in place. The partnership must be right. It must emphasise the brand’s authenticity. Copy the competitors, or just dream up a partnership out of nowhere, and you’ll affect your brand’s desirability – in entirely the wrong way. But find the perfect pairing and it can reap rewards.

Look at Havana Club. It linked up with Cohiba to offer the finest Cuban cigars with the finest Cuban rum. Havana Club was supplementing the power and desirability of its brand, as a luxury after-dinner drink that contains the finest Cuba has to offer, with the ideal accompaniment: the best cigars, from a place that is world-famous for them, reminding every cigar-smoker and every drinker what Cuba and Havana Club have to offer.

Halo effect

Limited editions are an effective way to fuel the fire of brand desirability. A carefully managed limited edition, however small, can have an incredible ‘halo effect’ – so, when we created Ballantine’s three single malts for the brand, drawing single malt drinkers into Ballantine’s, which is well known for blended whisky, it was a lovely story that resonated.

The packaging design reflected the character of the three Scottish distilleries that created the range, with the stone colourways of each distillery used to tell the brand story. We visited each distillery and met the master distiller to capture the three personalities and their unique Speyside location at source.

Although the range of three single malts is out of reach for most people, the strength of that story is elevating the whole brand, including the entry-level Ballantine’s whisky more people can afford and locate. It’s amazing to think that a super-exclusive range can have an effect on the core brand – but it can. It also created something new and exciting for Ballantine’s loyalists.

Strategy trumps luxury

Desirability is elusive, and requires more thought and a deeper understanding of both brand and target consumer. It requires strategy.

For a brand to maintain its position long-term, brand managers need to think long-term. With deep understanding of the brand, creative thinking and brand expertise, there’s no reason that a strong brand cannot build and maintain true consumer loyalty. Consumers have a lot of love to give: it’s just a question of directing it, carefully and sustainably, towards your brand.

Knowledge is key

There are many ways to boost desirability and keep it boosted, but what they all have in common is the need for expertise. The method must be right for the product, otherwise the whole exercise is a waste of time – and can even adversely affect a brand’s clout.

That’s why it’s so important to have the right partner on board. A branding agency with experience and creativity is key – and, when that agency has been around a while, they become a repository of knowledge, so that whoever comes in new to manage the brand knows they can consult that agency on its history. Because a brand that aspires to longevity needs to understand its own past.

4 June 2018