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Protect your brand with meaning

If a brand is built right counterfeits will only increase its desirability.

  • Opinion
  • BrandOpus

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If your brand is built in the right way, the availability of cheap rip-offs will only increase its desirability, says Paul Taylor, founding partner & executive creative director in The Marketer, the magazine from the Chartered Institute of Marketing.

The truth is, if a brand can elevate its meaning and values to a level beyond its products, it is in a much stronger position to defend itself against “rip-offs” or “me-toos”. Distinguishing your brand from the pretenders to your crown is a lot easier if the brand is imbued with a meaning or idea that connects with the consumer beyond generic product attributes. Brands that carry significant meaning and a powerful memory structure often have one thing in common – a metaphorical identity.

For example, do I choose Nike running shoes because they use the best materials and finest shoe-making techniques, or do I choose Nike because the brand has consistently associated itself with the idea of “winning”, right down to the core of its brand name and visual identity – the ancient Greek goddess of victory?

Even the swoosh mark is a carefully stylised version of the wingspan of the goddess. This powerful brand idea gives the consumer a frame of reference that allows the brand to stand apart from its competitors. So, when consumers find themselves in a position where a cheap rip-off alternative is offered, the successful brand frames the decision in their minds as a compromise.

If a compromise is made consciously, this decision still does not damage the brand’s value to the consumer – the counterfeit still registers as a less good alternative and fails to deliver on the expectations set by the genuine brand; which actually increases in desirability as a result.

If you consciously decide to buy a fake Mulberry handbag, you are acutely aware that it is fake. Your admiration of the brand is not diminished and, no matter how good a fake it is, your desire to own the genuine item is only heightened due to the rich brand meaning and values that have been generated both visually and subliminally over the years. In today’s global society, brands need to be mindful that the digital space must not lead to a proliferation of “brand messages” that erode the singular brand meaning.

The desire to make brands relevant to local markets and cultures can lead to a weaker and less distinctive proposition which makes it easier for the consumer to choose the counterfeit alternative. When a brand unearths its own unique personality, channelling it through a meaningful and aspirational identity, there is no reason why this cannot travel consistently across all touchpoints, media and markets around the world. It is therefore imperative that brands establish unique meanings for themselves in the consumer’s mind; that they create, develop, and continue to hone distinctive visual identities that shortcut to the brand idea. They may not be able to prevent consumers from being tempted by “cheaper alternatives” but if they maintain their position in the consumer’s mind they retain the intellectual property high ground.

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