I recently gave a presentation on the relevance of branding for small businesses to a business networking club of which I am a member. In mid flow a thought came to me. The way we relate to brands is not unlike the way we relate to the people around us, both those we know and those about whom we hold an opinion.

Brands want and need to be liked. To achieve this they must  a) be seen and b)  communicate. As soon as they are seen and communicate those they touch can form opinions – positive or negative. Negative is not always bad. Ryanair‘s bad boy image has kept it constantly in the news and its customers can have no misunderstanding of what to expect from frill free air travel. For many this is too far down the ‘Marmite‘ end of the spectrum for comfort. The ideal is to strike a balance that delivers enough definition to provide a brand character that attracts more than it repulses, especially in its target market.

The strongest brands are like our best friends – or enemies! We have a clear idea of their strengths and weaknesses, what we love about them or what drives us mad. For our friends and favourite brands we will forgive much because what we gain from the relationship far outweighs the negatives. Those we dislike we dont spend time with or listen to if we can avoid it. The dislike may be rational, the result of a slight or hurt, or irrational, we just dont like the way they walk, talk or just are. These are brands that will never engage with us however hard they try.

Brands effect us in a similar way and it is the quality of this interaction that is the key to their success or failure. Here is that crowded room where they need to mix and shine, to stand out as the ‘go to’ person/brand. To work in ‘brand world’ they need to be in the right clothes, in the right room , in dialogue with the right people.

To extend the analogy our friends/brands might be the most trustworthy and reliable types – M&S and John Lewis Partnership perhaps,or  fun to be with – Facebook, Twitter, Bacardi or Radio6Music, perhaps confident and cosmopolitan – Prada, Burberry, Ralph Lauren or up to the minute and sleekly successful – Apple, BMW or Bang & Olufsen. The precise list will be as constantly varying as peoples tastes and interests and that provides the perpetual challenge in matching perception and aspiration, brand with brand loyalist and consumer.

This is where the whole spectrum of work on brand identity and marketing communication kicks off – of which more later.


  1. Hi Christian
    Interesting stuff. I agree, people have a hugely sophisticated response to brands. They take from them what they want and ignore or excuse what they do not. It may involve likes or dislikes, as you point out, then again it may be about needing (rather than liking) to put together a jigsaw perception of self, with a spectrum of multiple brand choices available to complete an ever changing picture. It may be justified with opinion or not even comprehended. Who’d want to be a brand manager!

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