(This is the second post in a series comparing political and brand communication.)
In my previous post I suggested a framework for brand strategy inspired by a model for political communication devised by Edwin Diamond and Stephen Bates. It looks a bit like this:
We can use this model to judge the consistency between what some brands are currently communicating and their ideal trajectory.
Let’s start with Mobile Operators: they’re a funny breed, as they all essentially behave the very same way, to the point of even sounding the same. Don’t you see how “we’re better connected because life’s for sharing?” That’s the sign that all operators have their feet firmly planted on a visionary territory. The problem with this is that they’re all telling slightly different variants of the same story about people and life, one in which their only direct contribution is, well, connectivity: aka, air. They bought so much into the idea that they’re an undifferentiated commodity, that they’re behaving as one: they’re not telling us about who they are (because they believe they’re all the same, so we end up believing it as well), nor about their products (save the regular new tariff…when was the last time you paid attention to one?), nor about why they’re better than their competitors (have they even given up trying to be?). They’re only telling us a human truth, be it that “together we have fun” or that “we are who we are because of the people we met”: that’s all good and true, but it is so with or without them. In other words, they’re selling us a vision that we can’t recognize as theirs, because we don’t know who they are, what they give us, and where that will take us. Things would be different if they worked out a distinctive, credible and relevant purpose for their brand, and then proceeded to position their products and services within that framework. To this extent, it doesn’t matter that they factually run the very same business. Just look at Nike and Adidas: they produce commodities, but refuse to look at themselves as one.
Fast Food chains are in a very different place: they each managed to carve their own distinctive positioning, a remarkable achievement for an industry that essentially sells meat, bread and an undistinguished bunch of toppings. Most of the communication is still focused on product (with the exception of some comparative ads), and that’s a reasonable universal trait of the food industry: it’s what makes us drool, just show it to us and we’ll want one. Now. Having said this, in response to the
alleged undeniable obesity epidemics in some western countries, certain major brands have been broadening their product offer to include salads, fruit and other unlikely combinations. These products have been marketed as evidence of a new vision of healthy/balanced/fresh/you-name-it diet, that is supposed to be more in line with what consumers (and regulators) expect today. That’s precisely the problem: that vision is in line with what consumers expect (from eating in general) and what regulators may demand (from the fast food industry), but they’re not necessarily in line with the brand themselves. This is an issue of consistency between the brand’s DNA and its vision: no matter how sleek their new shops are, Mc Donald’s still smells of hamburgers. (Much to the delight of many of its fans). On the other hand, a vision built around “fresh” is entirely consistent with who Subway is, and as such they’ve been able to benefit from recent food trends without changing much of their offer. On the other end of the spectrum, Burger King has for a long time stayed loyal to its vision of Food for Men, one that is rooted in their products and their heritage. I’m curios to see what will happen now that things have changed.
Finally, fashion sheds its own peculiar light on this model: high-end fashion is fundamentally tautological, and it finds the justification for its promise within itself. A certain item is fashionable because it comes from a fashion label. (More precisely, a certain item is fashionable because it respect the canons of fashion. The canons of fashion are as such because they’re established by fashion labels. And fashion labels produce fashion items). In other words, a brand dna is its vision, and the other way around: think at Armani’s rigorous elegance (with a few exceptions that might end up proving harmful) or Dolce&Gabbana’s decadent taste. Fashion makes itself credible and relevant, so all it has to be is consistent. With the first and fourth step of the trajectory being effectively one and the same, and the third ruled out because fashion brands are tautological and as such can only be compared to themselves, all that’s left is ensuring that all the products, from haute couture collections down to accessories, are consistent with the label’s creative (and symbolic) direction. Unlike what some people think, fashion labels are not recreating themselves every few months in an effort to make their old collection obsolete and get people to buy a new one that they really wouldn’t need: that’s only a skin-deep drama, although an incredibly effective one. Fundamentally they’re the most conservative brands, always true to their core and incapable of evolution. This model visualizes why.