There is a common misconception that marketing and branding are the same thing, however this is incorrect. While the two disciplines are certainly interwoven, they are distinct and exist of their own accord. To put it simply: marketing is telling people that you’re great; branding is people telling you you’re great. Of course it’s more complicated than that, but essentially this is what it boils down to.
Branding is concerned with tone of voice and perception. Many brands are purchased, worn, and worshipped simply because of what they represent and the identity associated with them. Supreme is an example of a brand that has achieved a cult-like following with a distinct target group of people identifying with it. Conceived in 1994 in New York, Supreme was born out of skateboard, streetwear style. The brand is mainly worn by 18-25 year olds and who, according to Vogue, ‘wants [sic] simply to buy cool stuff—and who will pay for it, assuming it’s worth it.’ Supreme are extremely tapped into their audience and while something being ‘cool’ is largely a subjective description, it’s hard to argue this in the case of Supreme; if they identify something as cool, then it is.
Supreme and Social Media
Supreme’s brand is enduring and has inspired an extremely devoted following, the founder (or guy who runs a skate store, as is his preferred moniker) James Jebbia comments, ‘…and they are very loyal—and a customer who is loyal is a real aspiration for anybody with a brand.’ The brand produces a limited amount of stock and once it’s gone, it’s gone; the more fanatical of those who worship at the altar of Supreme are willing to queue outside the stores, often for days, to be in with the chance of getting their hands on the coveted pieces. And while it might seem like a certain laissez-faire attitude is applied to the promotional efforts, Supreme are conscious to stay loyal to their roots and their image of exclusivity. As such they rarely advertise and instead associate with authentic skateboard personalities, someone who a marketer would probably label as an ‘influencer’ but who customers identify as a skater. Vogue writes, ‘Supremeheads understand the nuances of marketing nonsense; their nose, both for corporations pretending to be human and for brands trying to throw themselves at potential customers, is highly refined, a reason Supreme uses social media primarily as an exhibit space.’
Burberry: Branding Bounce-back
A strong brand presence allows for recognition and conjures certain perceptions, but what happens when a good brand goes bad? Some brands have been derailed through negative associations, Burberry, for example, has only recently reclaimed their status as a luxury brand after a period of instability. Burberry had always been tailored towards aristocracy; however a period in the mid-noughties saw the label be adopted by so called ‘chav culture’, which led to plunging sales. The signature check print of Burberry was banned from several pubs in Leicester after it was associated with hooliganism, not quite what the label was aiming for. Burberry were able to turn this around through the implementation of clever strategies, namely the use of technology and personalisation, according to Claire Ritchie, director of International Fashion Studies at the London College of Contemporary Arts. “They [Burberry] have been very clever in terms of how they have integrated technology into their brand,” she says.
Burberry had to take back control of their public perception and one way that they did this was through embracing new technology and innovation. They completely re-hauled their website at a time when luxury brands weren’t capitalising on the importance of digital space. Christopher Bailey, Burberry’s chief creative officer, explained, ‘’Technology is an intrinsic part of most people’s lives … All we’ve done is make sure to weave technology into the fabric of the company.’ Social media was another big priority for the brand, they were keen to build a conversation with their followers and even launched a mini-site where fans could upload pictures of themselves in the iconic trench coat. Tracking their efforts through Salesforce allowed Burberry to gauge how well their social media efforts were performing and adjust accordingly. As of 2012 Burberry was rated as at the top brand in a Digital IQ Index conducted by L2, a think tank for digital innovation, just proving that strides in technology, and analysis and subsequent adjustment, can reap huge rewards.
Brands with a strong tone of voice will always rise above the fray, identity is extremely important and being invested in the latest technological development is one way to ensure that consistency is achieved. Branding is about what a company stands for and how that is represented, the importance of which cannot be understated.