Pirate or Generic Brand?

Brand.  It’s a loaded word.  It means lots of different things to different people.  My short definition of brand is the personality of a product.  But a brand identity is in the eye of the beholder.  It’s what the customer thinks about your products that constitutes your brand image.

I was reminded of this watching a movie the other night called “Pirate Radio.”  In the 1960’s, a nascent time for rock ‘n roll, the BBC chose to play only an hour a week of the new, raucous music on the air.  To satisfy demand, radio stations went offshore (literally) and broadcast round the clock from ships in the North Sea.  I used to listen to Radio Caroline, another British pirate radio station, when I lived in Norway.  I never found any rock ‘n roll on the single Norwegian radio station and single television station, well through the next decade.

The movie is a great blast to the past if you’re into all things rock ‘n roll.  The pirate station, Radio Rock, is being hunted down by the British government, who bans advertisers from paying money to any pirate stations.  The owner then decides to lure back the number one D.J. in the world, who is dripping with personality.  He’s the bad boy of rock who will shock, while audiences flock.

This reminded me of one of the cardinal rules of marketing: a brand without personality is a commodity in the customers’ eyes.  This isn’t to say that your products have to be the bad boy of your category.  They can be staid, prim, proper, whatever you choose–but make sure that you have a distinctive personality. 

When I was marketing Silk Soymilk, we made sure that we built our brand on a quirky personality.  Soymilk was strange enough, so we reinforced that “fringe” personality so that our customers were reminded that they were trend-setters–not followers.  Volvo has long been known as an extremely safe car.  There isn’t anything about that brand perception that edges into quirky or bad-boy territory.  But the brand image reinforces Volvo’s point-of-difference, and is exactly what their customers want in a car.  Apple is innovative, trendy.  That perception rubs off on the users of Apple products–whether that reputation is deserved or not. 

A while ago, I wrote down a tweet that I thought was pertinent to brand identity.  I’m sorry I didn’t identify who wrote this, so that I could give him/her credit.  The person stated:  “The competition can copy everything you have except your Brand.”   Radio Rock was distinctive because of the personalities of their D.J.s.  BBC radio wasn’t distinctive (by design) so that the BBC experience was always the same–whether you were listening to news, classical music or the weekly hour of rock ‘n roll. 

Is it better to be a pirate or a generic brand?  The choice is yours.

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