Brands without identity

Should we be who they want us to be or should we be who we want to be?

Flair Brazil 2023 | Society | Consumers | Marketing | Brands without identity

When we carry out brand strategy projects, one of the critical stages is interviewing the CEO to hear their vision for the business, the future for the sector, the influence that their company wants to have and the challenges they have had in getting to where they want to go. These are basic and challenging questions which are central to the role of any executive. Most of the time, they give us inspiring answers which motivate their internal stakeholders, consumers, suppliers, shareholders and even sceptics.

But there is one question that, although it seems fairly simple, they often find hard to answer: “what do you not want to be?” Most of the time, answers involve negative, undesirable characteristics. “We don’t want to be seen to have bad customer service.” “We don’t want to be distant from consumers.” “We don’t want to be inflexible and inward-looking, but outward-looking.”

Very rarely do we hear what we call strategic sacrifices. These are positive characteristics that companies choose to give up in order to focus on what really makes their company tick. What the very essence of the company is. A strategic sacrifice also means forgetting an audience that doesn’t fit with that vision in order to give value to different things. After all, you can’t be everything to everybody.

Unfortunately, years of prized mass-marketing campaigns are being replicated as if they were a recipe for success and end up making managers think it really is possible to be everything to everybody. But then nobody is able to, or even wants to, sacrifice anything. People want to have their cake and eat it.

What about the obvious example of Coca-Cola - doesn’t the whole world from Brazil to India drink it in the same way? From the old grandmother sat on a seat on the veranda in her ranch in rural St. Petersburg, reading Tolstoy and enjoying her Beluga Vodka, playing Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Waltz on an old vinyl record from the 70s, to the teenager in her bikini sunbathing on the Boa Viagem beach in Pernambuco, sharing a portion of cassava dumplings to the sound of Devotos, the punk rock band, on her iPhone.

Yes, they are both drinking Coca-Cola. Once upon a time, all you needed was Father Christmas, dressed in red, and you could sell the drink to the whole world, including those two. But have things changed? Is Father Christmas sufficient for both Russia and Pernambuco?

I want my Coca-Cola

First of all, not all brands are Coca-Cola. And secondly, even Coca-Cola has realised that it has to keep up with the times and can’t be all things to all people. In Japan, for example, the company has shown how flexible it is by launching new and unusual flavours of its famous drink, including apple, peach, and vanilla.

Ipsos | Flair Brazil | Inflation | Healthcare | Society | brands identity | coca cola brand Would that work on the beach in Pernambuco? Or in rural Russia? To answer that, we don’t need look too far away - on that beach in Pernambuco you can find the girl in a bikini listening to punk, but also the conservative man who looks at her disapprovingly and there is a lawyer walking along in his suit. Would all of them like vanilla Coca-Cola?

Not only are there many different needs, but we live in strange times that require constant changes in strategy. Coca-Cola could not fulfil its aim of “giving people joy” in a war zone. Like other big brands such as Disney and McDonald’s, Coca-Cola has withdrawn its operations in Russia because of its invasion of Ukraine. And at the same time, copies of Coca-Cola have come in and filled shelves in Russia.

The truth is that we have moved away from a few markets with thousands of people to millions of markets with a few people. There is no longer a one-size-fits-all solution by which giant brands with their central branding departments, dictated peoples’ behaviour and influenced fashion in the golden years of advertising.Ipsos | Flair Brazil | Inflation | Healthcare | Society | brands identity | coca cola brand

With this new outlook comes different needs, multiplied by an almost infinite number of different touchpoints, seen in many different environments and based on a huge number of different consumer motivators. Given this is the case, is it possible for a brand to have only one value proposal? Is it possible to have only one identity?

Wanting to be trendy and go with the flow of the moment is not always the right way or the right time.

If in doubt: be authentic

One lesson that CEOs and their marketing teams have learnt the hard way is that besides having to give up on absolute consistency or even some positive characteristics in certain markets, just to stay relevant, they also have to learn to give up trends that look like perfect opportunities.

Everyone has heard of stories where, no matter how careful the process of creating a new product has been, it didn’t fit the brand image and ended up failing in the market.

Wanting to be trendy and go with the flow of the moment is not always the right way or the right time. Why is this? Aren’t initiatives that talk about sustainability relevant then? No, quite the opposite! Such concerns are more and more important to the general public. The number of people concerned about sustainability (whether it is environmental, social or financial) is actually growing. Sometimes, what might not work out is the fit of the agenda with the culture of the brand, the moment of the company or, many times, their actual products.

Ipsos | Flair Brazil | Inflation | Healthcare | Society We do have to make sacrifices. But to sacrifice customers that have always supported the brand and what made it what it is seems, at least, to be like shooting yourself in the foot, and could even cause undesirable harm to your reputation.

Fintech brands are gaining more and more market share with their new innovations. For example, at Nubank employees can take their pets to work, play ping-pong and no longer have to abide by a more formal dress code. Traditional financial companies are trying to go in the same direction by changing their identity, trying to adopt a more youthful tone of voice and creating more relaxed products as evidence of their having sacrificed their traditional, serious banking identities. Really? Imagine for a second a bank where the staff are in casual wear and playing ping-pong whilst their pets run around as they try to sell financial products. Does it work?

Now go to, for example, Bradesco agencies, which are all over Brazil, in small and far away towns, next to the only post office and the town hall. You can see how proud the employees are of their workplace, and how proud they are of their customers. Many don’t even know what a smartphone is. But they do know and value their bank, made up of people who have always believed in the development and progress of their country and do not need to change the simple way they work. Who should Bradesco talk to? Who should it sacrifice? Does Bradesco really need to become ultra-digital and fight for its place with Nubank

We do need to change our identity depending on our context. But more than that is impossible. Anything negates the real essence of who we are.

It’s not just about knowing what’s best for the customer. Of course, that’s very important. Going back to our initial question, our vision of who we want to please is just as important as the vision of the CEO, the founder. But if in order to please we have to sacrifice the essence of who we are, we will be seen as a brand or company with no identity, which is fatal. That is something people will not forgive.

Point of view 

  • It is very difficult to give the same value proposal to everyone.
  • It is important to always adapt to the changing demands of customers, even with different value proposals, but without damaging the essence of the brand.
  • We can have many identities, as long as they are authentic.

Table of content

  1. An introduction to Flair Brazil 2023
  2. Inflation
  3. Afro-Brazilian culture
  4. Parallel conversations
  5. Brands without identity
  6. The diversity of beauty in Brazil
  7. Is 60 the new 40?
  8. Conclusion

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