Podcast: What makes a great brand?

By Alexander Evjenth

Podcast: What makes a great brand?

In this episode, me, Anders and Stellan discuss that trickiest of topics. What makes a truly great brand, and how can you create one? Or how much is it even possible to control how your brand develops? Take a listen and find out - and don't worry, we mentioned Apple and Amazon in this episode too.

Successful branding can turn your product and solution into a household name. But coming up with an actual definition of a brand isn't always easy. People would usually point to advertisements or product design when trying to describe what a company's brand is, but this isn't the full story. Really, the brand is the gut feeling that is felt by the people who perceive the brand - whether they're on the inside or the outside.

These kinds of feelings are complex and difficult to change, so a company tasked with designing a great brand, or changing an existing one, often run into challenges. In this discussion, we talk about these issues and try to get a picture of what brands are and what you need to do if you're trying to produce a truly great one.

I really hope you enjoy this episode - don't forget, you can listen and subscribe on Spotify, Soundcloud, or right here on the blog with the buttons below. If you subscribe here, you'll get an email alert when we release a new episode.

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AE: [00:00:00] Hello, Anders and Stellan!

AB: [00:00:03] Hello, Alexander,

AE: [00:00:05] How are you today, Anders?

AB: [00:00:08] I'm very well, actually. I am in the office today, in Zooma's so-called head office, and a package arrived with a couple of more microphones from Røde and some more really ugly headsets. And it came spontaneously from someone.

AE: [00:00:35] Wow. And was it a note, or?

AB: [00:00:38] No, nothing that personal more than sort of Zooma, attention Anders Bjorklund and so on, it was a package from a fairly well known e-commerce company.

AE: [00:00:51] Oh, yeah. Yeah. Mm-hmm.

AB: [00:00:53] Actually, there was a personal note. It said, "Hope you like them. /Jeff."

AE: [00:00:59] Ok, so it's more, OK, wow. Well, thank you very much, Jeff.

AB: [00:01:05] Yes. Thank you, Jeff.

AE: [00:01:06] We need to get those to Stellan. Or will you use all Anders, or are you going to distribute them?

AB: [00:01:12] Or I presume that he will send to everyone who needs them. But perhaps he wants me to distribute them. And of course, I can help you with that, Jeff. No problem.

AE: [00:01:22] They do have quite good logistic distribution.

AB: [00:01:28] Without mentioning any names, I expected more of their distribution than sending it to an empty head office.

AE: [00:01:38] And Stellan, you're quiet today. It's cloudy. And how are you actually doing?

SB: [00:01:44] Oh, I'm great. I'm ignoring the weather today. Yeah.

AE: [00:01:49] And a couple of episodes ago you said that you were about to, uh, do some stuff in the garden. How did it go?

SB: [00:01:57] It's in progress. It's going to be, the first step is going to be finished this weekend. And we're going to put some greenery and stuff and then probably in like two or three weeks, we're going to get an excavator here to do some stuff.

AE: [00:02:12] Yeah, I must say that I'm excited for this episode to start. It's nice with some soft talk in the beginning.

AB: [00:02:22] You know why Alexander, right? Because we don't know the subjects in advance. We try to avoid if you're going to talk about something where we have no idea how we're going to respond, and then we can say "time's out" and leave.

AE: [00:02:40] Exactly. So I'm going to quickly introduce the topic today, it's branding, and I know you both have written articles on zooma.se, and we have a full page about branding, which we will link in the bio of this episode. And today, yeah, we're going to start off with asking you — what is a brand?

AB: [00:03:09] You can use the nice university-like phrasings, but many, many years ago, I know we phrased it like that - a brand is everything that people right now feel, say and know about the brand and you. And the thing with people is that they are always right and the brand is created in people's hearts and minds. So if you want to summarize that in a very, very easy way, instead of saying that it's a feature and set off this thing, which one company to another, blah, blah, then you say brand is a gut feeling, very much affected both by long and short term interactions.

AE: [00:03:57] OK, and so what is then branding, Stellan?

SB: [00:04:02] Yeah, well for me it's the process of creating that gut feeling. So in essence, establishing the brand, establishing that feeling in your target audience on how you want to be perceived.

AE: [00:04:17] And so let's start with, except Amazon, Tesla and Apple, which I guess would be some examples, and maybe David Bowie as well, Anders, which brand is the most appealing brand for you? Except these four.

AB: [00:04:39] You were right on some of the four brands mentioned. So then I come to think about two brands, one Swedish brand name Vässla, not to be mixed with Tesla. And then I would say GAIS. They're exceptionally much brands that appeal to me for different reasons and that give me a really good gut feeling, long term, short term at all interactions for different reasons, but very much so. Now I'm very, very excited, what is ongoing in Stellan's brain when he can't say Amazon, Apple and Tesla? I have never heard him talk about any other brands but these three. So I'm excited.

SB: [00:05:35] Well, I'm more into sort of the experience of using the product. I would say so. So, of course, you know, what is your favorite football team is a sort of one aspect. But why I like Apple, for example, is because the experience of using the product is superior to everything else, according to me, it just makes you feel more efficient. And it's convenient. And I think from personal experience, mentioning just a random company, I would say Volvo, and by that I mean Volvo cars, because I think the experience of the product in terms of the quality, the safety aspects and always sort of using the latest technology to somehow make you feel well taken care of, I think it is is excellent. And so, yeah, I would mention them.

AE: [00:06:54] That's a good example.

AB: [00:06:55] But he actually broke the rules. He started talking about his Apple products. Did you hear that?

AE: [00:07:01] Yeah, I was prepared for that. So no worries. Anders could you explain a bit what Vässla is? I think all the listeners know what the Volvo is, but what is a Vässla?

AB: [00:07:15] Vässla is actually a Swedish brand that provides electrical-driven stuff to make you stop commuting and start moving. So so they have...

SB: [00:07:30] Electric kickbikes.

AB: [00:07:32] ...Electric kickbikes, electric mopeds, but they actually Stellan, the electric kickbikes they don't have anymore. They have electric mopeds and they have the so-called Vässla Bike, which is an electric bike.

AE: [00:07:48] And you once explained for me how the first time you bought something, I think you found it on Instagram. Could you just explain that customer journey you had?

AB: [00:08:00] I don't remember it. Can you help me?

AE: [00:08:02] I thought you were on your way down to your weekend house down in Halmstad, and you said that you found Vässla on Instagram and you clicked on the product. You came to their website and you, you got so intrigued, you bought a moped.

AB: [00:08:29] Now I remember, thank you for telling me. Exactly like that. And I mean, the price in euros was like 2000 or 2500 euro, I don't remember, but very few things in my life where I never heard of a brand, interact with the brand, get all the response, and actually purchase a product in that short time. And all my interactions over the years with Vässla have been fantastic. They are very, very present and they are very, very helpful. And when there has been problems with their products, they have solved it immediately in a very, very nice way. And it's a cool product because very few people that I know have it, which is important for me, that I don't have exactly the same products as everyone else. So we have a kickbike and we have a moped.

AE: [00:09:34] So, Stellan, could you briefly explain the steps, how to create a strong brand, what do you need to have in place?

SB: [00:09:43] I think for me, the starting point, is under-promising and over-delivering. Know if you push a product, a product has to more than live up to the expectations that you build in your communication around the brand. And that is critical. So if you promise too much and can't deliver on that promise, then you sort of, I would say if it happens, it's really bad. But it could also be actually a way of reaching out to more people than you would have if everything would have run smoothly. And I think that's this example. This is one where that fits in as well. I think they had to do a recall of all the scooters at one point and then actually like either they replaced some of them, or they just gave the money back. So I think you have to be prepared to do that in the very beginning. I also know in in the US back in the 90s, I think when Lexus launched as a brand, they basically sent people out to do repairs for people at their homes, just because they wanted to prove that it was sort of a superior customer experience compared to what people were used to with sort of other premium brands. And then people didn't expect it. So they were like, "wow, did you know they came home and fixed my car?" So I think that's what you really have to do. And I think there are still people who can sort of learn from that. I know there are some new brands that have had some problems recently with cars being bricked on the road and so on. And basically, the message is you have to take the car to a repair shop and get it upgraded versus actually, you know, it's an investment in the brand to actually take the cost and do it conveniently for your audience. So it's the number one thing, I think, is over-delivering.

AE: [00:11:47] And Anders, what would you fill in the list of how to create a strong brand?

AB: [00:11:52] I always agree with whatever Stellan says, and I would add something like instead of sort of based on the question, "how do you create a strong brand?" You can sort of look at the different phases with how you need to think about the target audience and so forth, that's another episode of this, or that you read the pillar page from Zooma. I would say, be honest, be bold. And that's my advice. That's how you build a strong brand. I won't say a third one. Then I lose some maleish listeners. I would say two things - be honest and be bold.

AE: [00:12:30] So be honest, be bold and over-delivering. That's a summary of your mutual list.

AB: [00:12:37] At the same time, because Stellan is right, under-promise and over-deliver. But I would say, let's say I've been reading a couple of hundred of brand strategies where people always tend to want to write: "We're going to not only fulfill customers expectations, we're going to sort of overwhelm them." I think that's rubbish, because most brands in the world have a huge problem to even be close to fulfilling customers expectations. So I'm not saying that to sort of argue with what Stellan said, because I really like that. But I send the advice to everyone - you have a lot to do to fulfill your customers' expectations, all of you, except you Jeff.

SB: [00:13:31] And I think part of that is also setting the actual expectation. And many brands aren't very good at that. So then you measure against your own expectation and the brand has no idea what that is. Yeah, so that is also super important.

AE: [00:13:49] So how do you align all employees into working accordingly to how you want to be perceived as a brand?

AB: [00:14:00] Generally speaking, whether you're an old brand or a new brand, when you sort of decide things from the brand in a very squared way, you actually do create what you want to be, what you want the brand to be perceived as, that you create on the inside. The key is, and the challenge for most companies, whether they are start ups or 110 years old, doesn't matter. How the hell do you think from the outside when you describe something from the inside? That's number two, and then I think in addition to putting big signs on the wall and doing other things, live by it. If you have a vision act according to that sort of wished-for desired future state. If you have a mission that tells what your task is, live by it, and when you analyse whether it's internal relations, external relations, internal quality, external quality, then you must map it to both the vision and the mission and some other things. But if you want to make it really, really easy, then you map it to the vision and the mission, whatever you do in every meeting. So if you and I and Stellan have a meeting and I have a suggestion and then you say, "hey, how do we align that with our task in Zooma?" Or in Apple or wherever we work, do we align what we do and the ideas that we have with the vision and the mission. But it comes from the inside, and the inside needs to live it, and it needs to be understandable from the outside.

SB: [00:15:47] And we need to have policies that align with this, whether it's renumeration or something else. I know from reading about Zappos, I don't have any actual experience about purchasing from them, but their whole sort of, how they build their culture, and actually back in back in my old job, we had plans to go there actually to do the tour of Zappos, but that they actually after X amount of time, they actually had this offer to new employees to say, you know, we pay you something like, I don't remember ten thousand dollars or you can stay. And sort of that was their way of saying, you know, we want to have this match where our culture and our brands match what employees think are so interesting and so fun, that they say no to shitloads of money to stay.

AB: [00:16:46] And then then when it comes to branding I think, not in this case, I don't know anything about Zappos, but I know that they are usually referred to in cases like this. But what I can say is that for me, it's a huge difference between what I said, which is a gut feeling of brand, and brands and companies that are good at PR saying, "we don't work, ever work on Fridays and we don't do this and we don't do that and it's a fantastic place." In many cases when I've been under the skin of companies like that, that's called PR. That's not branding. That's bullshit.

SB: [00:17:28] Yeah, I agree. And I think the what we will see more of going forward is sort of the actual, you know, the product and the company. In a way, it's the brand. I don't know how to describe it better, but you have you have like Toms shoes, for example, and you have other companies that do spectacles and stuff like that where it's essentially, you know, for every two pairs we sell, we give away one pair to charity. And it's sort of built-in the business model to be something more than just a pair of shoes or a pair of spectacles or a blanket or whatever it is.

AE: [00:18:04] So you mentioned startups versus 110-year-old companies Anders, and how hard is it for a 100-year-old company to adapt to how their customers perceive the brand, like how can you develop or rebrand, do you have any good examples of a company that has done so successfully?

AB: [00:18:32] Not not spontaneously if you match it to 110 years old, but I mean all companies, whether they want or not, their brand changes over time. Their brands change over time, whether you want or not. The gut feeling among both internal and external changes over time. So a deliberate change for a 110-year-old company that made a rebranding, no, I don't have a good example, but I think it's important to understand that it happens all the time, whether you do it deliberately or not. It happens while people listen to this pod. Some may think "they don't talk real branding", some others think, "ah, it's a fun episode" and so on, that's how a brand works all the time. It happens when when you sit at the kitchen table at home Alexander, talking to your spouse and so on and so on, that that's the thing with branding, some things you can affect, some things you can be aware about, but I don't have a good straight answer. Perhaps you have Stellan?

SB: [00:19:46] I know from the auto industry, it's a constant challenge to keep yourself in a bracket where the people buying cars are. So some brands I know have struggled. I think Mercedes-Benz struggled 15, 20 years ago with having an audience that was simply getting 60 plus. And so if you were 30 and could afford one, you wouldn't buy it because your grandfather was driving one. And sort of they had to make a rebrand in a way to reach a younger audience again, to widen sort of the customer base. And I think they, I don't know any sort of details of how they did it, but of course, I followed a lot of racing, for example, over the years. So I know they invested huge amounts of money in Formula One, for example, and I've done it really, really successfully, GT racing and stuff like that. But I think that's sort of what you normally turn to. You have to go somewhere where the audience you want is. So if we take Red Bull, this is a young brand, so it's not a rebranding story, but it's a good example of just going where the audience is. So go to all the extreme sports in the world. You will find your audience there.

AB: [00:21:06] And at the same time, as soon as we move to examples like this, then we're on the track of, "OK, so what's the brand positioning the brand is looking for? What's the brand positioning statement and how do they do that on and so on? That's the next episode, Alexander.

AE: [00:21:24] Yeah, and that's perfect. And before we end, could you share one tip for listeners who think about branding? Could start with you, Anders.

AB: [00:21:41] Create it on the inside, think from the outside, live by it.

AE: [00:21:48] Excellent. And Stellan?

SB: [00:21:50] That was a good one. I don't think I can sort of top that. So it's a very good thing to watch, which is sort of at least partly related to branding, is Steve Jobs' return to Apple and the keynote he made in 1997, if I'm right now, where he basically talked about the coming transformation of the brand, starting with the board and downwards, and it's like twenty five minutes or something. And I think it's really good for anyone looking to do a transformation, including the brand.

AB: [00:22:26] And to mention another famous CEO of a company, he said: "a brand is what people say about you when you leave the room." And so it is with this episode.

SB: [00:22:41] Thank you. See you later.

Alexander Evjenth
Alexander is a content creator who has a great interest in learning new things. What he enjoys even more is creating knowledge content.
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