Where Does the Brand Start?
A few years ago, the word “brand” was only heard in the narrow circles of specialists. Now this notion has confidently entered our everyday life, moreover, everyone understands and uses it as they wish! In order to find out what “brand” actually means, we have spoken to the founder of the Russian brand and consulting agency Zharkin and Partners, Yevgeniy Zharkin.
My partner, a well-known American designer, David Brier, believes that brands exist in consumers’ heads. Initially, this word stood for a label, which was stamped on cattle to establish which herd they came from. The aim of clever branding is to offer the consumer the possibility of “identifying” the product in the goods “herds” of the market easily and quickly. A good identity reflects all the attributes and aspects of a brand (name, graphical presentation, packaging design, advertisement and so on) and has a unique “voice” which is clearly distinguishable in the market “noise”. Moreover, it enables the product to rise above this noise, defying gravity.
It is clear why a product needs a brand, but why does the country need it?
If we carefully consider this expression we will establish that we first have to identify the “consumer”, or to be precise, the “target audience” of such a notion as “the country’s brand”. Here the question is “whose opinion do we want to influence?” For this, creating the branding of a country is key. Only having answered this question, we will be able to talk about “what for” and “why”, because brands exist in people’s heads, not in commercials or PR articles.
For example, if we aim to influence the minds of our own country’s citizens, we should know what we want from them. This could be the winning of widespread and sincere support for a presidential strategic programme, the adoption of high levels of moral standards in society or the mobilisation of people to solve a certain super task. If we want to achieve something from the international community, we should clearly define the main problem which can be solved by a country’s brand which is being created. One thing is to influence potential tourists and tour agents, another is to influence investors and multinational companies. These are different audiences that demand different approaches.
A brand manager is usually responsible for creating a company’s brand. Who should create and control a country’s brand?
The point is that a brand manager is only a technical specialist. He, as a rule, does not have and should not have the right to set aims and take any strategic decisions. A brand strategy is the issue of high level politics, be it a company’s brand or a country’s brand. This means that regardless of who in the country will be given the role of a “brand manager” defining the task and taking the decision about the country’s image are unconditionally prerogatives of the president.
Moreover, I want to draw your attention to the fact that developing a branding strategy can never be trusted to a big group of people. The entire history of humankind and the history of branding show that no bright idea has been produced by a large group. Decisions adopted by a group compromise, as a rule, reduce the efficiency of ideas proposed, creating a sort of dispersing effect. This does not mean though that someone who wants to develop a certain brand should not turn to branding agencies. However, this means that within the company (or the state) itself the number of people who bear responsibility over creating the brand should be minimised, because branding is not the sphere where decisions can be taken by vote.
If some government asks you tomorrow to help to develop its country’s brand, what will you start with?
As in any other project, I would start with clarifying aims and tasks, including a target audience and competitive medium. Only after clarifying this, I would get down to developing a brand – conducting opinion polls. Usually, this is the most complicated and labour-intensive part of the work. Nevertheless, in modern conditions opinion polls are simply a necessity, and sometimes even the most important element of any branding project. There is too much noise, too much information which is falling onto consumers every day. Without opinion polls and the technology of positioning it is becoming increasingly hard to relay the necessary idea to the audience with every day.
Positioning enables your voice to be heard among a huge number of other voices, sounding at one time and creating a certain cacophony. Making a way through this noise and receiving a desirable response from the main part of consumers regardless of any distracting factors are the main tasks which should be solved as priority.
What are the reefs while developing a country’s brand?
The experience shows that the main reef in branding is always that the client lacks knowledge and experience and, as a result, the understanding of what is right and what is wrong. If the client is ready to learn and listen to others, this obstacle can be successfully overcome. However, this is indeed a great obstacle.
What would you advise the person or state body responsible for a country’s brand?
First of all, I would advise to learn about the technology of positioning and about opinion polls. The knowledge about mistakes companies make while conducting opinion polls and market research is very useful in solving their difficult task. As for Kazakhstan, I was very much impressed by President Nursultan Nazarbayev’s Kazakhstan-2030 strategy. I believe that the Kazakh people are very lucky that they have the leader who is capable of setting aims clearly and wisely, making them realistic for very different groups of people. This is a rare quality. The correct technology of branding invented by US writer and researcher L. Ron Hubbard could indeed help the Kazakh snow leopard to acquire impressive strength and build what is intended.
Interview was carried out by Vladimir Kuropyatnik
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