STEPHEN KING: 1931 - 2006
Stephen King was born on 25 February 1931. I first met him when he was fourteen and I was a bit older - a ratio that never changed. Later, we knew each other at Oxford, from where he graduated with a good degree in Greats (philosophy and ancient history). He became a Publicity Assistant at Mond Nickel for a couple of years, then in 1957 joined J Walter Thompson in London - where I had been a happy copywriter since 1954 - as a member of the Marketing Department. We worked together there for the next 30 years. Here are a just a few of the things he did at JWT.
He set up and ran the Advertising Research Unit; set up and ran the New Product Development Unit; set up and ran the Account Planning Department; joined the London board and later the worldwide board; became chairman MRB International; worked on every major account, including Beechams, Bowater-Scott, Findus, Golden Wonder, Guinness, Kraft, Kellogg's, Lever Brothers, Mr Kipling, NatWest, Oxo, RHM, St Ivel, Schweppes, TSB; and wrote and published classic papers on advertising, branding and research - the most significant of which are reprinted in A Master Class in Brand Planning: The Timeless Works of Stephen King to be published by John Wiley in October 2007.
He was a man of wide interests, great clarity of thought and expression, wicked humour and limited dress sense. He died in February 2006, a few days before his 75th birthday, leaving Sally, his wife, and his children, Sam, Matt and Sophy.
- Jeremy Bullmore
In 2008, it will be 40 years since Account Planning was first created. That is a relatively small period of time in the history of advertising but it is long enough to have felt its influence.
This legacy of Planning's creators, Stephen King and Stanley Pollitt, is worth acknowledging, preserving and celebrating. There is a soon-to-be-released book which will contain many of Stephen's best writings with comment from some of today's finest Planners.
JWT and Haymarket's Campaign and Marketing are delighted to bring you an extract from that book. It is the paper that Stephen wrote in 1971, called What is a brand?.
We chose What is a brand? because it is the most definitive explanation of what our industry is here to do: build the long-term value of brands. This can seem such an old-fashioned notion in today's world that it feels almost new. Yet it is the context in which Stephen wrote the paper that is as important as the content.
In 1971 the marketing industry was trying to understand how to cope with profound change: ie. the growing power of retailers and private label. It was an "uneasy" time for brand owners.
Stephen's concern was that the advertising industry would respond by "rushing in" and "start to argue about techniques". Instead, Stephen wanted to "work out the theory of the thing first". Right there lies the profound value of this paper for us all today.
The sentiment today is that this is the period of greatest change. The important question is again about our reaction. Shall we rush in and talk techniques, or shall we work out the theory of the thing? This paper urges us to rush a little less and work out some fundamentals first. The way Stephen discusses brands in his paper tells us a great deal about what kind of Account Planner he was. In reading it we can watch the original practitioner's mind at work.
Stephen thought about the long term, forwards and backwards in time. In this paper he was looking at what history could teach us about the cycles in which brands have moved. The astonishing thing is the timeframe he chose to take - 100 years! The theme continues as he reminds us that "a brand is after all a long-term thing" for which we need long-term solutions. "Long-term planning can be easily left out."
Perhaps more fundamentally, Stephen rooted his discussion in business. Brands are crucial, but not as an end in themselves. He describes the link between brands and profit, thus completing the logic for why businesses would benefit more from focusing on long-term brand building versus other short-term solutions.
And Stephen obviously believed in the power of fact and knowledge. His beliefs about brands were not unsubstantiated claims. The blind-branded research he describes is as conclusive as anything one can find about the value of branding. He didn't plan with guesses and assertions, he planned with the truth, as best as he could discover it.
This style of Account Planning that Stephen invented built rock-solid foundations for the brands that Stephen helped guide.
The JWT Creative Department benefited hugely from this aspect of his work. There was absolute certainty about the role for advertising, and consequently real clarity of creative purpose, and evaluation of ideas. I bet there were very few dreaded "changes to the creative brief"!
Stephen urged this style of Planning to continue. He wanted to see "Grand Strategists" for Planners and not "ad tweakers".
Unsurprisingly, JWT is staying true to the brand of Account Planning of Stephen King. Indeed it is embracing his principles ever more tightly. Brand building remains the centre of gravity for JWT. Long-term thinking, commercial understanding, and knowledge remain vital components to creating effective work for our Clients.
The republication of this paper can inform a new generation of the importance of brand thinking. It can also remind those who have been around a little longer to not forget the fundamentals.
- Guy Murphy, Worldwide Planning Director, JWT
WHAT IS A BRAND?
- JWT London, 1971
The programme for the Advertising Association's 1970 conference started with a survey of advertisers, to get an idea of what they wanted to discuss. Several themes emerged. In particular, through unease at the growing power of retailers, those of discounts, below-the-line and private label. In fact, all the chosen themes converged on one point - that is, the role and future of the manufacturer's brand. How can the brand yield ever-increasing profits in face of retailer pressure and private label? What sort of advertising can help the brand? How can we use research to control and measure this advertising?
Usually when we discuss such difficult and controversial topics, we rush in and start to argue about techniques.
So often we try to solve problems without working out the theory of the thing first.
So here I want to stand back a little and consider:
First: what can we learn from the economic history of brands?
Secondly: what makes a brand successful? What role does advertising play?
Thirdly: where does this mean we should sharpen up, and how?
I shall be looking at this from the manufacturer's point of view. Of course, I realize that different industries have different problems and are at different stages of development. After all, the brand is crucial to most, whether it's a brand of soap or a brand of refrigerator or a brand of packaged travel or a brand of machine tool.
How brands grew up
First, then, let us look briefly at the development of the brand over the past 100 years. I think that the manufacturer/distributor relationship tends to move in cycles, and there is a lot to be learnt here from the past.
By the late 19th century, when brands started to emerge, wholesalers had become the dominating force in the marketing of manufactured goods. These wholesalers were more than just a link between buyers and sellers. Retailers chose from what the wholesaler had in stock, and the wholesaler specified what the manufacturers should make - a position of some power. In this situation of competitive tender the manufacturer's profit depended mostly on sheer production efficiency. There was little scope for building up margins by providing a unique product. It was nearer to commodity marketing. Then, as manufactured products became more complicated and as the benefits of large-scale production became apparent, the need arose to invest in expensive plant. But this was very risky in the competitive tender situation. Manufacturers got over the problem gradually through the use of patents. And gradually brand names spread to non-patented goods. This was, of course, opposed fiercely by the wholesalers, but their position was weakening somewhat through competition among themselves.
The next step was to safeguard the manufacturer's position by applying pressure on the wholesaler from the other end. Hence advertising - the direct link with the buying public. The point is that at this time the basic motive for advertising was to stabilize demand, thus allowing regular large-scale production, free from the whims of the wholesaler. Partly because of this the advertising tended to be based on the idea of reliability and guaranteed quality. (It was, of course, partly because reliable quality was still rather rare.)
The next stage developed from the first breaking of the chains - a period of manufacturer domination that lasted from about 1900 to 1960. It was a period of great concentration in numbers of manufacturers - from hundreds or even thousands in some product fields to the oligopoly situation we see so often today. The brand was used to concentrate demand on a relatively small number of lines, and the basis of growing profits became economies of scale - in production, raw material purchasing, distribution, investment capital, and so on. In keeping with this, the role of advertising was now seen as one of promoting growth - regular increases in sales volume. The old role of stabilizing demand became rather taken for granted. A key factor in the domination was that manufacturers could control their consumer prices, with the full backing of the law. Wholesalers became reduced more to distributing agents. At the same time, retailers' profit margins came under increasing pressure, with manufacturers more or less able to dictate both their buying and selling prices.
Then in the sixties this manufacturer domination began to wane, and retailers began to redress the balance of power. They got new management who saw the profit opportunities and themselves started using economies of scale - in buying, warehousing, store size and location, self-service. They started taking initiatives as entrepreneurs - branding goods like cheese, meat and vegetables; and introducing new products like delicatessen. Of course, a key factor in all this was the ending of Resale Price Maintenance. One effect was that of increasing the concentration within the retail trade, as marginal or specialist retailers were forced out of business. And, of course, more immediately the retailer gained much greater control over buying and selling prices - a means of applying his increased power.
So is today a return to the situation the manufacturer was in during the period of wholesaler domination in the late nineteenth century? In many ways it is. I think it is clear that in the 1970s retailers will concentrate still more. There will be more big mergers. There will be increasing pressure on retailers' margins, through conventional competition, through retailers' margins, through conventional competition, through the competition of other forms of selling, such as discount stores, mail order and direct selling, through rising costs in an inevitably labour-intensive business, and so on. Retailers will undoubtedly pass on these pressures to manufacturers, and the fourth, fifth and sixth brands in any market will find it increasingly tough going. Ultimately some balance will be reached. The public will demand more variety. There might ultimately be legislation, but it seems more likely to be a Monopolies Commission type restricting the growth of an individual chain than anything on the lines of Robinson Patman. In fact, I think it will be the retailers themselves who will set the limit. After all, they need strong brands. The problem for manufacturers is that they do not need very many strong brands.
In other words, I think one must see the 1970s as being a continuation of the trends in the 1960s. The question the manufacturer must ask is not how to stop them, but how to exploit them. This is where it is useful to look at history. The manufacturer broke away from wholesale domination before. Can he do it again? I believe that he can, and that the principles by which he did it can be applied again. But there are certain crucial changes in the context which mean that the approach will have to be rather different from the nineteenth-century approach and very different from the approach in recent years.
New approach for the 1970s
First, I can't see increased economies of scale helping the manufacturer as much as in the first half of the century. This is not to say that all factories have fully exploited economies of scale or that there will be no totally new production process. But on the whole, in most industries, production has already reached the size where plant utilization matters more to profits than scale per se. Secondly, the manufacturer's link with the consumer in the nineteenth century was based on product reliability, guaranteed quality. Today I think that this is largely taken for granted by the public, even with private label goods. Consumer protection legislation will make it more so. And thirdly, I doubt if there is any real prospect of the manufacturer regaining the direct control of prices that he had up to the 1960s.
So in these changed circumstances how will he break away from middleman-domination, as he did before? How is he going to sustain and increase his profits? The two methods that were most potent for him in the past are not, I think, going to be so potent in the future. Obviously, production efficiency and sheer volume will continue to be vital to profits - but they are unlikely to offer the means for sustained growth. Unless the manufacturer can retain and increase his control of margins indirectly, pressure from retailers will attack his profits in a way that simply building sales volume will not be able to offset.
This is really a new situation which has been creeping up on manufacturers over the last ten years. In fact, I think that they have often been able to ignore it by the device of putting special discounts as a lump sum into the marketing budgeting, as if they were a form of marketing expenditure, like advertising or competitions. This may be an administrative convenience, but I think it is a totally false way of looking at them and one that is potentially very dangerous. The truth is that discounts are not expenditure at all. They are income foregone. They are purely a notional way of expressing the fact that the manufacturer's selling price is no longer fixed, that the price he can get from a big customer is less than from a small one. This may seem a rather theoretical point, but I believe that it is very important indeed. It has led to many false diagnoses. The real truth is that, when special discounts have to be made bigger and bigger, the brand is simply not valuable enough in the retailer's eyes. And yet so often the manufacturer's solution has been to cut back on those very things that would make the brand more valuable. And so he goes into a vicious spiral. It is a vicious spiral that could be critically dangerous in the economic conditions of the early 1970s.
So how do we improve margins indirectly? I think this new situation means a new role for marketing and advertising.
The key to it must be, as before, the link with the consumer. In the current situation, the only leverage the manufacturer can apply to the retailer is his relationship with the consumer. And the main element in profit growth is going to have to lie in making his brand more valuable to the retailer, through its being more valuable to the consumer. And that means his brand must be unique, it must have no adequate direct substitutes - because it is in this, after all, that value lies. Sustained profit growth will only come if his brand has unique added values. So how do brands become like that?
Let us look at one market in particular - that of toilet paper - and consider the fortunes of Andrex and Delsey. This is not because I want to tell the conventional sort of success story, which is usually over-simplified and untrue to life. But I think we can see a number of pointers from the history of this market. It is a market where there has been a great deal of price-cutting, many minor brands introduced and a lot of private label. Indeed it looks like the sort of near-commodity market where private label thrives best.
First, let us consider market shares up to 1963. You can see that Andrex and Delsey together steadily built up the soft toilet paper market, against the old type of hard paper. Andrex led the way, but Delsey was not all that far behind. In 1961, soft paper sales looked attractive enough to tempt in other manufacturers, who grew fairly rapidly up to 1963 - and became a real threat to Bowater-Scott and Kimberley Clark. So, of course, was the growing pressure from retailers which accompanied these smaller cheaper brands. But from this point the two major manufacturers diverged in their response.
Chart 2 shows that one general effect of retailer pressure was to reduce media advertising as funds were switched to discounts and promotions. Or as I have suggested we should think of it, to price-cutting and promotions; that is, the manufacturers' margins decreased (or, to put it another way, the net sales value per roll decreased) and they made up for it by cutting their marketing budgets. But there was a great difference between Andrex and Delsey. By the end of 1964, Delsey had virtually given up trying to speak directly to the consumer through advertising and was concentrating more on discounting. Andrex kept a balance between the two.
You can see what happened. The "all other soft" category - in which of course Bowater-Scott are strongly represented - gained share more rapidly. Andrex continued to grow. Delsey slipped back a lot. But in a sense this is not the most important result. I think it is more significant that by 1969 Andrex reached a 30% share of market value, by taking a positive approach and not a defensive one. What has made it a profitable brand in recent years has not been so much a spectacular growth in market share as that Andrex has been formed into a brand that is valued highly by consumers.
We can see from the Advertising Planning Index how people's ideas of the relative values of Andrex and Delsey have changed. Chart 3 shows the percentage of people attributing the qualities of strength and softness to Andrex and Delsey over the past five years. You can see that up to 1966 the two brands were advancing at much the same rate; but since then Andrex has continued to go ahead and Delsey has dropped back. Not only are less people mentioning Delsey at all, but more people are saying "not so strong" and "not so soft" about it.
Now, I do not think that objectively the standards of the two physical products have diverged all that much. They have both always been of very high quality. Nor do I think people have suddenly thought to themselves "Delsey isn't as soft as it was." What has happened is that, relative to Andrex, people simply value Delsey a little less highly than they did, as a brand. These words are simply their way of expressing Delsey's lower value and Andrex's higher value to them. So where does this added value come from?
I think that pretty clearly the success of Andrex has been due to a blend of a lot of things. First of all, consistently high product quality and efficient marketing. Then Andrex's early leadership in soft toilet paper and its leadership in innovations and product improvements - the positive approach. But the added values - the factor that allows Andrex to command a proper price - must certainly depend a good deal on the way in which the company has used advertising. Or to broaden that a little, the consistent way in which Andrex and its values have been presented to the public as a brand. Andrex has been very much a brand, not an object. And it is in this that I am sure the difference lies. Let me try to illustrate the point by looking at some of the Andrex advertising over the past twelve years.
On page 15 are some fairly different campaigns created by a lot of different people, approved and modified by a lot of different people. Superficially they very quite a lot, and yet there is quite a consistency. I think this is because they are dominated by the personality of Andrex itself. What runs through them all is not any unique product claim or unique feature or functional description. It is a sort of attitude of mind and values and tone of voice that belong to Andrex. Andrex the brand emerges as a clear personality. She is reliable, dainty, clean-living, domesticated, family-centred, radiating confidence in her ability to manage. It is this that makes Andrex, as it were, a nice person to have about the house.
What I am saying, in fact, is that Andrex succeeds as a profit-earner because, in addition to its values as a product, the brand has values beyond the physical and functional ones. And that these added values contribute to a brand personality. People choose their brands as they choose their friends. You choose friends not usually because of specific skills or physical attributes (though of course these come into it) but simply because you like them as people. It is the total person you choose, not a compendium of virtues and vices.
This might perhaps be thought a rather fanciful way of describing why one brand is valued more than another. But it is not too hard to find evidence to support it. For instance, blind versus named product tests. Here is one example:
You can see that when these two brands are tested against each other blind, Brand L is an easy winner. When the two brands are names, they come out about even. Quite clearly there is something in Brand K as a brand which raises its value to that of Brand L. It cannot be a physical or functional thing - since that would presumably have arisen in the blind test. Brand K clearly has more added values - non-functional values - than Brand L. Here is another example:
Brands A and B appear to be level on physical, functional performance, but Brand B has considerably more added values.
One could add of course a lot of evidence from outside marketing to demonstrate the power of these non-functional values. For instance, the well-known placebo effect in medicine, whereby an inert substance will cure the patient if the patient thinks it will. Or the Hawthorne experiments, which showed how productivity was put up among a group of workers, not by the actual changes in working conditions but through the emotional rewards of having the management take an interest in them. Not only are people influenced by such values, but I think that as they become better off, they will get more and more of their rewards in life from the non-functional. They will require style as much as performance. They will value brands for who they are as much as for what they do.
I think that in the advertising business we may all have been slow to recognize this because there is still a puritan streak in us which says that it is wicked for people to have non-functional values, that they ought to buy brands for function and performance only. I cannot really see any reason why we should have this feeling. If we are really honest with ourselves, we must surely admit that on the whole the non-functional pleasures that we ourselves get are more intense and meaningful than the functional.
Fortunately, consumers, who know a lot more about brands than manufacturers or advertising agencies, do not get too bogged down in the Puritanism. They can and do see brands as personalities - in some cases, the personalities are more vivid than the product. Here are some comments that housewives made in a recent series of interviews, in which they were simply asked to imagine certain brands as people - what sort of personalities would they have?
- WASHING POWDERS ...
INTERVIEWER: "What kind of a person would you think Fairy Snow would be?"
HOUSEWIFE A: "Well, I think it would be somebody older ... somebody whose outlook on life was a little slower, most probably her children would be growing up, she would be a married woman again, I should imagine. Generally doing a slower run of life than would Mrs Ariel."
INTERVIEWER: "Tell me more about Mrs Ariel."
HOUSEWIFE A: "I think she would be the sort of person who has got to get everything done, though very well and very efficiently, to have rather a good social life at the same time. Very sparkling, and would be the sort who would always have a baby-sitter at the ready, to go out in the evening and take good care of herself; and who likes to keep young and follow trends."
INTERVIEWER: "What would Mrs Fairy Snow do in the evenings?"
HOUSEWIFE A: "Well, just sort of sit by the fire and watch television."
INTERVIEWER: "And what about Tide? What sort of personality would Tide have?"
HOUSEWIFE B: "A very gruff old man, very fierce. Ex-army type."
INTERVIEWER: "What about Tide, if Tide became a person?"
HOUSEWIFE C: "A little nearer a Mrs Ariel sort of person. She would be a little more with it, more mini-skirted, more Americanised, I would think. The sort of person who tends to buy the frozen foods and have a rather flashy car. It matters to her - social things matter to her, I would think, rather than with Mrs Surf. I don't think it matters too much if she doesn't keep up the Joneses."
- SOUPS - HEINZ ...
INTERVIEWER: "What about Heinz, if that became a person?"
HOUSEWIFE C: "Oh, she's rather like Mrs Persil."
HOUSEWIFE B: "I think the older person; by older I mean 60-65. A woman who hasn't got a lot of money, perhaps a pensioner. Oh, very sweet, very understanding, but a little bit narrow."
- TOILET SOAPS - LIFEBUOY ...
INTERVIEWER: "What about Lifebuoy, if that became a person?"
HOUSEWIFE D: "That's and older man, about fiftyish, somebody whose children are growing up, a very steady job and looking to retirement."
HOUSEWIFE A: "I think the sporty type of man, who is always on the tennis courts."
HOUSEWIFE E: "A male worker in his twenties - dirty job, mining or something."
INTERVIEWER: "What would he be like as a neighbour?"
HOUSEWIFE E: "Oh, I should think he would be very good, but people might take him wrongly because he was so abrupt. But underneath it all he was kind-hearted."
- TOILET SOAPS - CAMAY ...
INTERVIEWER: "What about Camay toilet soap as a person?"
HOUSEWIFE F: "Fresh, bright young girl of about eighteen on nineteen, very bright and very clean. She likes to wash her hair at least twice a week - and of course have a bath every day - and look after herself and her bedroom, very tidy."
HOUSEWIFE A: "A single person, a model, I would think. You know, very tall and very slim and very, very careful about her make-up and the toilet things she uses."
INTERVIEWER: "What sort of boyfriends does she have?"
HOUSEWIFE A: "Oh, I should think very go-ahead boyfriends, you know, sort of salesmen and people like this."
HOUSEWIFE E: "She might be a bit like that to everybody and sort of underneath a bit catty perhaps; but she's warm to everyone. But secretly she might be thinking differently about you."
INTERVIEWER: "What would she be like as a neighbour?"
HOUSEWIFE G: "A neighbour? Oh, I should think she would be terribly hard to live next door to."
From all the experimental research that we have done on this, it seems pretty clear that brands do have personalities. And they tend to be consistent, though what is one person's praise is another's condemnation. For instance, Persil is seen by some as happy and contented; by others as dull and lacking in ambition. Two facets of the same person. One can often trace the sources of a brand personality - here it is the advertising, there the pack, somewhere else some physical element of the product. Of course, the personality is clearest and strongest when all the elements are consistent.
What makes a brand successful?
I think that from all this evidence we can get a fairly clear theory of what it is that will make a brand successful in today's and tomorrow's marketing conditions. By successful I mean able to bring in worthwhile profits over a long period.
First, it has to be a coherent totality, not a lot of bits. The physical product, the pack and all the elements of communication - name, style, advertising, pricing, promotions, and so on - must be blended into a single brand personality. Secondly, it has to be unique, and constantly developing to stay unique, because it is through its uniqueness that the brand can offer sustained profit margins. And the uniqueness will depend on both functional and non-functional values - appeals to the senses, the reason and the emotions. The added values beyond the functional may become increasingly important. Thirdly, this blend of appeals must be relevant to people's needs and desires, and immediate and salient. It must constantly stand out from the crowd; it must spring to mind. This will not of course be a static thing. It will constantly have to develop and to take the initiative to avoid me-tooism.If the brand can have these three sets of attributes it will succeed, because retailers will need it as much as the public does. It will get its due distribution and display and be valued highly enough to build a good profit margin.
One advantage, I think, of looking at the brand in this way is that it makes it easier to pick out the contribution that advertising can make. It can operate in all three of these areas - but perhaps most particularly in expressing and synthesizing the brand's personality. In fact, you can judge the value of advertising or a promotion or a product improvement or a price adjustment or any other marketing action by asking yourself about its contribution to the brand in these terms:
- Does it enhance the brand's total personality?
- Does it contribute to the blend of appeals to the senses, the reason and the emotions?
- Does it bring the brand to the front of the mind?
- And if it does not do any of these things, what is it for?
- Where should we sharpen up?
Let me try to summarise briefly where the argument has led us so far.
- Like it or not, we are entering a period of greater power for the retailer. The successful manufacturer will be the one who can make the best of it.
- Sustained profits for the manufacturer in the future are going to depend much more than they have done on improving and holding margins, much less than they have done on sheer size and growth.
- The only way to improve margins will be by developing and building brands that are more valuable to consumers than competitive brands, brands that have added values. And that will mean a positive approach, with frequent brand improvements.
- These added values will tend increasingly to be non-functional values. But they will only work if they are blended with the physical and functional values to form an integrated brand personality.
- Advertising has a crucial and changing role to play today. It will of course continue to have a role in increasing volume sales, but its main task will be to improve profits. Not only is it an important element within the added values, but it is also a primary means of expressing the total personality of the brand.
If all this is true, where do we need to sharpen up? There seem to me to be four main areas we should consider, from the manufacturer's point of view.
First, organisation and management. I wonder whether all top managements are involved deeply enough in the nature of their brands. Do they realize fully enough that it is from the success of brands rather than as products that the profits will come? Do they fully understand the nature of brands? Do they set company objectives in terms of brand positioning or simply in financial terms? Or is the responsibility for brand positioning delegated to the junior brand manager?
We can ask too whether the company organization is ideally suited to making profits from brands. I think it would be fair to say that many companies are still structured like this:
With neat hierarchies and departmental barriers. Yet everything that emerges from any consideration of successful brands is that they are a blend of elements. So we face today this new factor of the variable selling price, so the blending becomes more complex - involving R & D, production, finance, investment, plant utilization, product improvement, selling, advertising and so on. Is the sort of organization we see here the right one for producing such a blend? Can it be done effectively without a project team type or organization? And then, who is going to do the blending? I think we are going to have to do something about our ambivalence over the term "marketing." All the textbooks suggest that marketing is a total planning function with the aim of satisfying consumer demand at a profit. But is the marketing director in this chart in any position to do this? He can certainly control the distribution mix, but has he the authority or the influence to control planning of the brand?
Then there is the whole approach to planning. There is an element to this which springs from the organizational problem. In some cases, I suspect manufacturers are doing very little long-term planning because there is no organization for doing it. Divisional directors are very involved in their functional responsibilities, and the board meetings have to cover a lot of ground - from the shareholders to the bicycle shed. Long-term planning can easily be left out. I think we have seen this very clearly in the tendency of some manufacturers to treat the "retailer problems" as a short-term, direct sales-force problem - requiring short-term solutions. Whereas I hope I have shown that it is a long-term thing.
Sharpening up on planning methods is going to be necessary too in improving a going brand or developing a new one. It can be like the sad parable of the man rich enough to have an entirely custom-made car. He decided that nothing but the best would do, so he went to the best people regardless of expense. He himself was very keen on speeding up the M6, so he went to Jaguar for the engine.
He knew his wife found parking a bit of a problem, so Fiat seemed the best people to go to for the chassis.
And he felt that Volvo could deal best with accommodating his three children, two retrievers, au pair girl and beagle in the back; so they did the bodywork.
The curious thing was that when the car was assembled, it never seemed to work very well. And when in the end he decided to sell it, he had quite a lot of trouble finding a buyer at all.
But isn't this happening quite a lot with the planning of brands? Experts are hired to construct all the bits - a production unit in the north midlands, some basic research people from High Wycombe, an advertising agency in W1, a packaging boutique just off the Tottenham Court Road, some merchandising experts from Soho; and in some office suburb someone choosing a name by sticking a pin into a computer printout.
Then there is the way we use research. There seems to me endless scope for sharpening up here.
To keep it short, I will stick to just one point. And that is that we will never use research to the full unless we start from a carefully worked out theory of what the brand is, why it is successful or not, and what advertising can contribute.
For instance, consider what follows from the theory I have been outlining:
- If a brand is a complex blend of elements, with the relationships between them as important as the elements themselves, can it really make sense to test the elements in isolation? Can a name test in isolation mean anything? Or a pack test in isolation?
- If advertising works mainly by giving added values to a brand in the long run, what can we learn from a single exposure advertisement test whose results are based on short-term brand switching?
- If brands seem to consumers almost living things with personalities, are we learning anything by getting people to choose between phrases printed on a bit of card?
- Again, if brands have personalities, with all the subtleties of people, are we using the right balance of qualitative and quantitative research? Once you have heard people describing Lifebuoy as rather abrupt, Tide as gruff and ex-army, Camay as a bit catty, will you be content to rely solely on the sort of research that gets people to put crosses on a seven-point scale running from "kind to the hands" to "not so kind to the hands"?
And so on. Once the theory is there, the questions about our current use of research come pretty easily.
And finally, we can of course sharpen up on our approach to advertising. First, we can recognize that in the 1970s it may well have a different role from the past. Added values and their effects on profits will become more important - the direct effect on sales volume increase rather less. We can sharpen up by following through the implications of this role.
Secondly, we can improve our methods of setting advertising objectives, by thinking of them in terms of the advertising's contribution to the added values of the brand - how it can contribute to the brand's appeal to the senses, and to the reason and to the emotions.
And thirdly, we can recognize that advertising itself is a totality. A campaign, like a brand, is not just a number of bits put together - a claim here, a pack shot there, a reason why somewhere else. If we try to produce it by the atomistic approach, we will end up with a sort of Identikit brand. It will be a perfect description of the structure of the brand, as the Identikit can describe the contours of the face. But it won't be the same thing. The brand will never come to life.
This is only a short list. But there seems to be quite a lot to do. Today's pressures from the retailer are not altogether pleasant for the manufacturer. But if they can discipline and stimulate us to sharpen up in these four areas, then in a few years' time I think we will be able to look back with a certain feeling of gratitude.
- What is a brand? is taken from A Master Class in Brand Planning: The Timeless Works of Stephen King, edited by Judie Lannon and Merry Baskin (John Wiley & Sons, October 2007, £27.99). It is available in all good book shops and online at amazon.co.uk
What is a brand? is reprinted with the permission of JWT and with thanks to Bob Jeffrey, chairman and chief executive worldwide at JWT, who both encouraged and enabled it to happen. Sincere thanks also to Sally King.
Consultant editor: Caroline Marshall, art editor: Ingrid Shields, illustrations: Lulu Pinney, managing editor: Michael Porter, senior production controller: Alex Courtley.
Printed by Lynhurst Press.