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Insights

The Only Way is Essex - the art and science of building a world class brand

25 April, 2012 - Source: Cogent Elliott

According to recent press reports ‘The Only Way is Essex’, or TOWIE to its 
devoted followers, is estimated to generate 1.2bn pounds for the UK economy.

If you are not addicted to following the lives and loves of a bunch of Essex 
youngsters, it is unlikely that you would be able to validate the accuracy of 
this number.

 

However it’s a little known fact that the principles that underlie the development of the cast list for this real life soap can also be used to help build stronger brands.

In essence a brand is a promise delivered. In other words no matter the category in which your brand is competing, the brand must deliver the promise it makes to its target customers day in, day out, and across all its touchpoints. A tough ask in any business.

But how exactly do you define the promise of your brand and what it’s going to stand for in the first place so that it’s distinctive from the competition, relevant to your business and its ability to deliver, and which meets the emotional and rational needs of your customers?

Too often this chase to find, pin down and articulate the very essence of a brand becomes a game of Scrabble as brand specialists leaf through dictionaries and thesauruses to find word nuances to define brand benefits, values and personality. One such expert has described this process as one which produces ‘a pile of disconnected words that looks like nothing less than an explosion in a bombed thesaurus factory.’ It is no wonder that many brands end up looking and acting like crazy mixed up kids.

This is where we can learn from ‘The Only Way is Essex’, ‘Downton Abbey’ or any other work of ensemble characters, even X Factor.

Authors and scriptwriters work on the premise that there are small number of identifiable characters that appear regularly in myths, fairytales, literature and film that resonate powerfully with us across all ages and all cultures. And so we will regularly find characters like heroes and super heroes, magicians, jokers, outlaws and mavericks in our fairy tales, books and even TV soaps.

If this approach works for story tellers why can it not work for brand story tellers to help define what their brand is and what it can become? At the end of the day a brand is a story that people want to be part of, with a character with values with whom its audience wants to be associated.

Now although the experts aren’t fully agreed on whether there are 12, 16, 20 or even more of these basic character types, properly known as Archetypes, the following list of 12 seems to cover the most basic character types 
CAREGIVER Helps people to… Care for others
REGULAR GUY Helps people to… Connect with others
HERO Helps people to… Triumph
INNOCENT Helps people to… Always do the right thing
CREATOR Helps people to… Create something new
LOVER Helps people to… Find and give love
OUTLAW Helps people to… Break the rules
EXPLORER Helps people to… Maintain independence
RULER Helps people to… Become the best
JESTER Helps people to… Have a good time
MAGICIAN Helps people to… Make dreams come true
SAGE Helps people to… Find the truth

If you are a fan of TOWIE you will instantly recognise Joey Essex as the Jester and Mario Falcone as the Lover. If ‘Downton Abbey’ is your kind of required viewing the Earl of Grantham is a dead ringer for the Ruler with his mother, the Dowager Countess, brilliantly played as the Sage by Dame Maggie Smith.

But let’s look at this in brand terms. Harley Davidson is clearly an Outlaw brand, Land Rover is obviously positioned as an Explorer, Disney could only be a Magician brand and Domestos, a brand which kills all known germs dead, a Hero to mums everywhere.

By assessing as part of the brand development process who the brand is or could be, we can get a clear direction for the development of the brand personality, values, benefits and essence. It gives us a definable persona and character for the brand determining how it should look, act and feel to the consumer in a far more consistent way than using a dictionary and thesaurus might. And allows us to create stories for our brands populated with real, rounded and well drawn characters, just like the writers of Downton Abbey and the makers of TOWIE.

Persil have over recent years used this thinking brilliantly to drive a differentiated positioning in the laundry market. Classically washing powders, and look at Ariel adverts to see this, portray themselves as Caregiver brands usually with the mum using the brand to take care of her family’s whites and colours. Persil shifted the category with its ‘dirt is good’ campaign adopting an Explorer brand positioning and encouraging families to play in the mud. A very different approach.

At Cogent we believe that strong well-defined and firmly-grounded brands develop and deliver their promise in much the same way as TOWIE, Downton Abbey and X Factor characters do. They rely less on an ability to play Scrabble well and more on a deeper understanding of characterisation. And while this approach doesn’t always guarantee a happy ending, it should lead to a cracking good story.

How well can you tell the story of your brand?

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