Tuesday, 17 August 2010

The rudiments of branding

I decided to undertake a small observation project while on a recent trip overseas. The title of the project; ‘Learning from Caribbean branding'. Having visited the area before, I had a fair idea where the exercise was going to take me, but some of the results took me by surprise.

I was expecting to see interesting cultural use of colours, naming strategies and visual identities – all of which I did observe. The vibrant use of colour carries through from architecture, to interior design through to advertising and packaging. Along with this I noticed that local naming strategies are influenced by geography (eg. Piton beer) and people (eg. Aunt Gemima and Grandma’s), nothing very unique in that.

Living in the global world of communications I was also not surprised to see the major advertisers are communications suppliers/operators. In particular Lime and Digicel are very big spenders. The obvious connection of using a fruit as a main mobile operator name is not lost on anyone, and on first glance it seems unoriginal and verging on plagiarism. However if you take a step back and look at it in isolation, it is a clever name. It works. Lime is one of 4 ingredients that are hugely important in the Caribbean; rum, lime, coconut and banana (plantain). So take the concept of importance and dependence into the name of the local mobile operator – and there you have it – genius. However all of this was not too interesting to me, as the parent organisations are large global players, and their identities are clearly cookie cut across the nations, simply taking cultural sensitivities into account.

The small islands of the Caribbean vary in sophistication. Even on the islands that have supermarkets you do not have to walk very far before you
find street stalls, often just tables set up with various goods – mostly fruit and vegetables. One day I walked up to such a street stall to buy some vegetables, and soon realised that it was not one stall but 3, and before I knew it, I was approached by 3 individuals trying to sell me their wares. One seemed desperate and pushy, one was aggressive and one was softer and more personable. You can probably guess which one I bought from. There was not a lot of difference between their products, so in the end it was down to the person selling it. (The stalls in the picture are from another island.) This was a stark reminder to me why branding evolved in the first place. People needed to differentiate their product from the next person's, and with time this became more sophisticated and included logos, names, positioning, proposition etc. Soon you forget that people are behind brands. I have long believed in vision and values based branding, but this was a great example of seeing first hand the origins of the need for branding.

On other occasions we bought wares from the boats buzzing around the harbour (ice, t-shirts, bread etc). They have developed wonderful raw strategies to brand themselves. They call themselves names such as Mr. Quality and Mr. Fabulous. You will actually find them named in guidebooks! The chap in the picture is actually Free Willy (although I am not sure what that proves) . This raw branding brought a smile to my face.

Note to self – remember whatever branding projects I am involved in – people are always the main thing.