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Avoid The Celebrity Brand Wagon

May 10th, 2021

Using your own name to brand your business may appear a simple solution, but in the long term, it’s a much more difficult way to create a recognised and respected, stand out brand.

What about Lorna Jane, Donald Trump or Coco Channel?

Of course it has been done and there are well known name based brands, but what may seem an easy way out at first, could create a rod for your own back.

The human brain ‘sees’ brands with emotion and attaches these to a memory in order to recognise and recall a brand when the need arises.

Having your name on your business could disenfranchise the very people you are trying to attract.

Donald Trump creates an emotion of wealth and power… but what has that done for his business brand, especially in the political arena?

Lorna Jane creates an emotion of vibrant fitness, one which alienates women who aren’t a particular shape and size.

Celebrity Chef Pete Evans healthy brand emotion, now seems to be quite frankly, a bit nuts.

As for Coco Channel, the brand emotion is chic and classy… but then, that wasn’t actually her real name.

It’s easy to use your own name because it saves you having to come up with something else, making branding a no-brainer.

But your brand still needs to generate an emotional reaction in order to stand out and become memorable for the right reasons.

Do you know what you want to be memorable for?
Because if you brand using your name, your personal reputation is on the line.

Benjamin Franklin once said:
“It takes many good deeds to build a good reputation and just one bad one to lose it”.

The biggest risk you run when you brand with your name, is that every public and private move affects your brand.

When a company stuffs up, personal brands like Richard Branson or Gary Vaynerchuk are responsible for the reputation of their businesses, but they focus on building the brand culture rather than on promoting their own name over that of their brand.

The question to ask yourself is, do you plan to spend many years and a great deal of money to build yourself into a celebrity brand or would you rather spend your time and money on marketing your services and how you help people?

Brand awareness takes time, you want to make sure you are investing yours in the right way, right from the start.

Your brand is also asset, like McDonalds, Adidas or Coke, these are all brands worth millions more than the actual company. If your brand is your name, it’s going to be difficult to cut yourself off from it when you need to.

Tempting as it may be to brand with your own name when you provide a service, because ‘you are your business’ to start with, it can also make you indispensable. And that’s a problem if you want growth.

Personal trainers, photographers, real estate agents and business coaches who name their business after themselves have clients who expect them to show up at their door and no-one else will fill their shoes.

Like it or not, you generate a trust currency for your brand and when your company is named after you, the only exchange clients want is engagement with you.

So go ahead and brand with your name but be prepared to front up.

You are probably building your business to give you a lifestyle, otherwise you’d just be working for someone else right? If you are considering branding with your name, ask what what sort of life do you want to have while you are building your brand?

If you want to grow a successful business that can run without you, so you can focus 100% on the work you really love, you are best to choose a name that’s not your own.

From experience in helping hundreds of professionals to develop their personal brands, it’s going to take about 3 years for your brand to really ‘get known’ to the point of industry respect, where you get referrals and clients, media interviews and speaking requests, from sources you didn’t even know existed.

Yes, having your name out there as the go-to specialist for what you do really well is vital, but do you really want all that attention on your personal life, or on your business brand?

To really be successful, you need your business to feed you, not to run you. If you want to be able to grow your brand, venture into new markets, add a variety of services or franchise and duplicate, a personally brand named business could hold you back and stifle your options.

Most importantly, your brand is actually not really about you, it’s about engaging and connecting with your ideal prospects and enabling them to know, like and trust you, from a simple interaction with your brand, not necessarily having to actually meet you.

A brand can do that for you, if you are prepared to understand your target audience and build the subconscious triggers into your brand identity that ‘speak’ to their brain.

Neurobrands Fedex, Amazon and Baskin Robbins do this with ease.

If you really still want to use your own name in your branding, one option is to use it as an endorsing brand – ONEactive by Michelle Bridges is a clear example of brand extension which enabled a celebrity brand to branch out into the apparel market.

If you don’t use your name to brand your business, you can choose from one of these three proven formats:

The best brand names are either created, abstract or descriptive:

Created brand names include;

Google – a googol is a very large number – a ’1′ followed by a hundred 000′s – the idea being that Google delivers the most search results
Xerox – which has become an eponym (the echelon o brand names like Hoover, Kleenex and Band-Aid) where a proprietary name is used as a verb, or to describe a general use
Adidas – is Adolf ‘Adi’ Dasslers name joined together, interestingly his brother Rudolf’s brand is Puma, which belongs in the next category of abstract names.

You can certainly create a brand using your name like Adolf Dassler did, or play around with ancient languages or Greek mythology like Nike – the goddess of victory, to find a name that tells your brand story and create emotion.

Abstract:

Apple – a fruit or tech company
Twitter – a social media platform or a noise a bird makes
Dominos – a pizza chain or a child’s game

These incredibly well known brands are easy to identify because they are simple, short, catchy and easy to pronounce so the brain loves them even though they theoretically used out of context.

Descriptive:

The Cheesecake Shop
carsales.com
Jims Mowing (and many other variants including Jims Cleaning and Pet Washing Services).

Most service providers prefer the idea of a descriptive brand name over the other options. They feel they need a name that explains what they do, yet the most iconic created and abstract brand names do nothing to explain brand benefits and have massive recognition.

It’s also untrue that your brand name needs to be descriptive in order to be SEO friendly. All the web developers and SEO experts I’ve talked to agree it’s more important to be consistent with keywords and focused content, than to have a brand name that includes a specific word.

Oh and by the way, you should avoid using an acronym for your brand name too…

What’s wrong with using letters given IBM, ANZ, UPS and a host of others brands do exactly that?

Remember what I said about the importance of generating an emotion with your brand?

How can three letters of a brand name generate any sort of emotion? IBM and ANZ at least use blue in their branding to create a feeling of safety and reassurance. UPS is brown and gold, indicating down-to-earth but quality service.

But the brain doesn’t think in words, it thinks in pictures and it’s just too difficult to instantly convey a brand essence with an acronym, especially when you are starting out in business, so avoid it if you can.

Brands help your brain make unconscious choices and an engaging brand name works hard to make it instantly easy for your ideal client to choose you.

When Brands Hack Your Brain and Work As Placebos

March 10th, 2021

In the previous article we discussed how placebos are excellent problem solving tools. They are ideas that are planted in our minds. When these ideas stick, they trigger beliefs. And beliefs trigger change. In a sense they hack our brains.As instruments of change, placebos have an important role to play in medicine, marketing, product development, religion etc.

It doesn’t really matter what the facts are but belief in the potency of a weird tasting energy drink, military flags and uniforms, homeopathy, a swoosh sign or some female beauty exotic potion have led to creation of large companies, institutions and brands. These ideas or brands are long-lasting since they trigger a significant positive change in their consumers or followers.

Placebos, in the field of medicine, have helped alleviate chronic pain, depression, rheumatoid arthritis, high blood pressure, angina, asthma, ulcers,Parkinson’s disease and even cancer.Placebos in medical terms are ‘pharmacologically inert medications’.Medically speaking, placebos can be a pill or an injection.In a non-medical world the placebos could also be ideas or brands, a good-luck charm, a ritual, a perfume that we wear on a first date.

In this article we explore the thesis that powerful brands are not any abstract, obtuse constructs. Good brands are effective placebos. Brands work because placebos do. In this article we explore instances of how brands work as placebos. We also give a preview to how the brands harness the phenomenon of placebo effect to trigger a set of beliefs in their consumers.

The ‘Real Thing’ is not so real after all

For those who swear by their brand of cola (it’s unique taste, flavour etc.) it is pertinent to ask whether ‘the taste’ is really such a big deal. Do you actually ‘taste the thunder’ or ‘taste the feeling’? Or is it all in the mind, a placebo. The effect of a brand as a placebo was proven when Baba Shiv and team proved that a cola tastes very differently when the respondent knows that it is the ‘real thing’ (a Coke) versus the same cola being labeled as a generic brand. Subsequent researches by other researchers showed that if the image of Coke was shown the perceived impact of the taste was higher.

Are you having a ‘branded headache’?

Another study done on women respondents in the UK, regularly suffering from headaches by Daniel E. Moerman highlighted the impact of branding on efficacy of analgesic pills.Women respondents were given four options- a branded analgesic (of a widely advertised and known brand), generic analgesic, branded placebo, generic placebo. The branded analgesic was perceived to be more effective than the generic analgesic, similarly the branded placebo was more effective than generic placebo. The branding of the pill enhanced the perceived effectiveness of both the active and the inert drug. Thankfully, the active drug was perceived as more effective than the placebo inert drug. Thank God, for small mercies.

Is the money spent on expensive branded shoes worth it?

Similarly a study by Frank Germann answered the question whether you will golf better with a branded putter? In other words it poses a question that all of us want an answer to – whether all the money that we have spent in buying expensive shoes or sport gear is worth it. And the answer is ‘Mostly Yes’.

In the Germann study the participants were tasked to complete putts on a putting green using an identical quality of putter. Half of the golfers were told that they were using a Nike putter, and the other half were not told the brand name of the putter. On an average participants who thought they were using the Nike golf putter needed fewer putts to sink the golf ball.

In a similar type of experiment conducted in a very different arena (of a scholarly maths test as opposed to a sporty golf game) the results were very similar. The participants of the study were given the same quality of foam ear plugs during a maths test to improve concentration. One half was told that it was a 3M ear plug and another half didn’t know the brand. Akin to the golf experiment, the group wearing 3M ear plugs got more questions right.

Germann’s results indicate that strong performance brands can cause an effect akin to a placebo effect. The use of an iconic performance brand which performs a related task, boosts the confidence level of participants by providing greater self-esteem and lowering the performance anxiety of the participants. This leads to better performance outcomes.

Another interesting observation was that the impact of the performance brand as a placebo was strongest in novices. The efficacy of the placebo effect was inversely proportional to the skill level of participant. In other words, expert golfers or brilliant math students received little or no performance boost through usage of the performance brands. This explains the ‘Mostly Yes’ part of the answer. So unless you are a good mathematician or a brilliant golfer, the money spent on the performance brand was worth it, at least in part.While we are on this topic, an interesting trivia is that when Nike signed up Michael Jordan in the 80s, and named a shoe after him, they expected sales of 3 million US dollars in a year. They eventually ended up selling 100 million plus worth of “Air Jordans”.

Does a ‘Beauty Patch’ work?

Dove conducted an actual ‘placebo test’ called the beauty patch experiment wherein they claimed that the participants who took part in the experiment would enhance the perception of their own beauty after the use of the ‘beauty patch’. Participants reported a significant increase in their perception of their own beauty and was surprised to discover that the patch was a placebo. Dove was truthful in a sense that they told their participants that this patch would change ‘perceptions of beauty,’. The patch managed to change perceptions fairly effectively, as echoed by the participants themselves.

So there is overwhelming evidence that brands work like placebos by improving performance or changing perceptions. Brands as placebos give us a confidence boost, reduce our anxiety in doing tasks and help us perform better.

The role of brands as placebos in the urban jungle, rat race

While we are at it, let us discuss the need for brands as placebos in our fairly stressful life in a fast paced urban environment. Living in a dense city and a hyper-competitive environment is quite unnatural and very stressful for a human being (who until a couple of centuries ago was living in villages). As a result, we require a fair dose of self-esteem building,confidence-inducing placebos to help us navigate the urban jungle & the debilitating rat races. Brands thus play a crucial role, and act as placebos boosting our confidence, improving our performance, changing our perceptions and altering our beliefs.

Jonathan Haidt talks about self-placebbing, wherein we spend a considerable amount of time administering a placebo to ourselves. These placebos work as signaling mechanisms to ourselves and our peers. Many products that we use have a utility and an ulterior placebo function. At a utility level, a Ferrari is car which does the job of transporting you from A to B. In dense & congested cities, in terms of utility it is a rather average means of transport, where a two wheeler is generally faster. But at an ulterior placebo level, Ferrari serves as an excellent aphrodisiac, a huge confidence booster or a very effective signal to humiliate a business rival.So even though a Ferrari goes at twenty kilometers an hour in a bumper to bumper Mumbai traffic, as a confidence or self esteem boosting placebo, it rather outclasses a Honda Civic.

Is 10x priced wine, 10x more tasty?

Likewise, there are a lot of luxury brands that have a basic utility function, but deliver extremely well on the ulterior placebo function. Expensive suits, thousand dollar cigars, gadgets, obscenely priced single malts etc. are all products that deliver strong placebo effects to the rich & famous men. An expensive wine is not ten times more enjoyable than a good affordable one, but it does administer a huge confidence-inducing social status placebo.

The female beauty industry is not just about beauty

So while men splurge on their placebo toys, the women have perfected the usage & rituals of self-placebbing into a fine art form. They have patronized a huge industry that delivers powerful doses of placebos to womankind- the female beauty industry, which is bigger in size than the education industry. A lot is made of utility function of the industry i.e. of enhancing the beauty or ‘the sex-appeal’ of women. The fact of the matter is it takes very little to attract the attention of the opposite sex. You need basic grooming and a sexy outfit to attract attention of the opposite sex. It does not take a long and tiresome regimen of two hours to appeal to the opposite sex. The two hours of beauty regime is actually a process of administering a confidence placebo to oneself.

In India, marriages are great occasions to observe these self-placebbing rituals. In North India, one usually finds that marriage procession are generally delayed. One of the primary reasons for this is that the women on the groom’s side take ostensibly long to get decked up. And amongst the women folk the grannies, usually take the longest time and have to be literally begged to finish their beauty regimen. On occasions they need to be dragged out of beauty parlours so that the marriage procession can depart. One would imagine that the grannies would not be very keen in attracting the attention of grandpas that would show up at the event. But they have an acute need to give themselves a big confidence placebo. One of the grannies I know went for an expensive set of teeth transplant just so she could smile confidently in marriage pictures.

Placebos need to be slightly absurd to work and need to follow a certain set of rules to be perceived as effective. We discuss these rules in the forthcoming article. Suffice it is to say the cosmetics work well as a placebo because they follow some of the basic rules of an effective placebo.The cosmetics are insanely overpriced (and therefore assumed more effective) and very time consuming to administer(a lot of extra effort heightens the placebo effect).

In mature markets, the ulterior placebo attribute is critical to differentiate

Firms spend a lot of time innovating and crafting a differentiated product proposition focusing on the features and utility function of their products. However in mature markets where products and services are more or less similar, tapping into a belief system, and positioning the brand based on its ulterior placebo attribute may be a more potent way for the brand to gain traction. In fact to take this argument a bit further, building in product or packaging attributes or usage rituals into the product or service may heighten the placebo effect and therefore the perceived value.

Having said that, not every placebo works with everyone, and the efficacy of a placebo also differs based on various factors, which we shall cover in subsequent articles. For a brand to take a shot at being an effective placebo, the brand has to tell a story which latches onto the belief system of a subset of population. This subset must believe your story to be authentic for them to buy into the story of your brand. They must connect with the story at a deep, meaningful level and ‘perceive’ it to be true. This encourages trial for the brand. Recently, there has been a huge outrage in India concerning Hindustan Unilever’s brand Fair & Lovely, so much so that the brand has to re-name & position itself as Glow & Lovely. But there was a time, when a big subset of population brought into the insecurity linked with dark skin colour, and the brand delivered a steady dose of fairness linked confidence placebo to millions of women.

Obviously it goes without saying that a premium brand has to deliver well on the utility function, maybe marginally better than a lower priced variant. So an expensive bag has to be well stitched, well crafted. But for the brand to be truly perceived as premium it has to deliver a strong placebo effect. The brand has craft a unique story and possibly include some attributes that heighten the placebo effect. And thereafter, the brand has to deliver on the brand experience being consistent to the story told.

If the story connects to the core customer’s beliefs then the brand has a decent shot of delivering a strong placebo effect. These core customers then become your brand’s early adopters and evangelists. They narrate the brand story as their own, and convert other consumers. They help grow a small market into a large one.

So for example if you believe, as a consumer, that your brand of sneakers XYZ is cooler than competition ABC, and wearing XYZ makes you feel cooler, then for all purposes you perceive yourself to be cooler than your friends wearing ABC. And with the brand’s placebo effect at play, you get a significant boost to your confidence and self esteem. This emboldens you to give your cool avatar a shot, and helps you overcome any insecurities that you may have had. This acts like a self fulfilling prophesy, and one confident step leads to another. And lo & behold, you are the new cool person in town! Now that you have clearly brought into the story of XYZ it is time for you to validate the story you are telling yourself. One good way of doing that is to persuade your friends wearing ABC to switch to XYZ.

Communication strategy vital to accentuating the placebo effect

Besides the brand story, the communication or persuasion strategy also plays a key role in accentuating the placebo effect of brands. Cacioppo and Schumann conducted a study wherein they manipulated participants’ interest in an ad for the “Edge razor”. They informed the participants that the participants could select from brands of razors (high relevance to the ad) or brands of toothpaste (little relevance to the ad) as compensation for participating in the study. Subsequently they subjected the participants to a strong arguments ad (Edge blade gave twice as many close shaves than nearest competitor) or weak arguments ad ( Edge blade gave no more nicks or cuts than competition).Both these arguments were presented by a celebrity endorser or an ordinary citizen.

The study found more persuasion for strong than weak arguments when the razor advertisement was higher in personal relevance (razors as compensation) versus when lower in relevance (toothpaste as compensation). Besides there was a larger impact of the celebrity endorser when the ad was low as opposed to high in personal relevance.

To conclude, good brands work more effectively because of the placebo effect. Like all placebos, good brands are ideas that are planted in our minds. When these brand ideas stick, they trigger beliefs. Belief is a powerful drug. It is a drug that works best at the deepest levels of the human mind, affecting it both consciously and subconsciously. So it is not possible to fully understand how a placebo or a good brand works at a subconscious level.

Good brands are well positioned and packaged placebos. And like all good placebos they serve a real need, and solve a real problem. They are excellent problem solving tools. And like all placebos, they do so without incurring any significant side-effects. After all, when compared to more violent options, Ferrari is a relatively harmless way to humiliate a business rival.

Sarvajeet Chandra writes on issues that are usually brushed under the carpet, or are too everyday-ish for armchair strategists. He writes on making strategic plan robust, how to execute strategy well and other tactical issues for everyday business success.