branding: an antipodean experience
Successful online firms from
Australia and New Zealand have managed to get on the world stage,
despite fewer capital resources. They have, instead, leveraged their
brands, competing online against better-funded rivals. Jack
Yan discusses how
these successful antipodean organizations accomplished their goals
through branding, hands-on management and low cost, and outlines
implications for all organizations wishing to market successfully,
on- or offline
THE WEB has impacted on developed nations and the way we conduct
business. The structure of commerce has changed significantly with
the rise of infomediaries and portals but one constant has been
the need for the branding of goods and services in online and cross-media
firms. Many web failures are tied in with poor branding. Branding
has become more important in ensuring value for marketing dollars
with numerous high-profile ebusiness failures and the end of the
late-1990s' online gold rush.
The full version of this paper, submitted for
the Human.Society@Internet conference in Seoul, Korea, in July 2001,
looks at what has made successful, global brands in Australia and
New Zealand. It further addresses how they could win future consumers
using the internet and other media. This summary highlights some
of the author's findings.
Antipodean companies directly participating in
the study include Hippies, Jenniferann.com, JY&A Fonts, nzgirl
and Lucire, while independent research on Bloom Cosmetics,
eMale, Evolu Cosmetics, Karen Walker and Zambesi provided additional
evidence. A PDF version of this summary with footnotes is available
What is branding?
The offline phenomenon of experts disagreeing on the definition
of the word has made its way online. One authority is Wally Olins,
chairman and founder of identity consultancy Wolff Olins, who states
that the brand began as 'the emanation of the company's products
as far as one audience was concerned … the customer.' But the company
is now becoming a brand, representing an 'attitude'. The 'totality
of the corporate whole' is represented by the brand.
In other words, the brand has an outward focus,
i.e. it is a representation of an organization's vision. It is part
of a larger framework of 'identity', or:
the explicit management of all the ways in which
the organization presents itself through experiences and perceptions
to all of its audiences.
Identity begins with a vision or a corporate
raison d'être. Some organizations use a mission statement,
but research by the author shows that a slogan is equally powerful,
such as Saturn's 'A different kind of company. A different kind
of car,' and Caltex's 'We're pumping', the latter used in New Zealand
in the late 1990s for relaunching that company's brand. The important
(a) the uniqueness of the statement relative
to other entrants in the market-place;
(b) the ability to summarize an "attitude" of
These elements are then linked with other aspects
of the brand, such as its symbol or logotype (or the proprietary
brand assets). Audiences, including internal audiences based on
Olins's latest thinking on branding, come to learn the association
between the attitude and the symbol through a careful communications'
Semiotics are key. Symbols, logos, etc., signify
certain things that form mental pictures in our mind when we interpret
them. The campaign ensures that the correct pictures are formed
and that incorrect or earlier ones are replaced.
Repeated exposures reinforce meaning, which is why consistency in
branding is important.
This leads to brand equitythe added value
which a brand endows a product—divided into the associations and
proprietary assets mentioned, plus brand loyalty, perceived quality
and brand awareness. As audienceswhether they are shareholders,
future customers, students or any other groupselect or think
of the brand more frequently, they ultimately contribute to the
organization's business performance in economic or strategic terms.
Given all these activities involve the brand,
it is hard to pinpoint exactly what 'branding' is. 'Identity', as
defined, must include every element from vision through to image
because these are ways the organization presents itself. Some authors
like to include the entire process for branding, but that would
be contrary to the established usage of 'identity'. In the literal
sense, of branding animals, it comes with the labelling. Its origins
began in the nineteenth century with the bestowing of names for
common products, usually commodities, while advertising allowed
companies to speak to consumers directly. Therefore, branding is
restricted to exercises which communicate the identity to audiences.
It is the realization of the explicit management in Olins's quote,
the methods in which the organization communicates,
symbolizes and differentiates itself to audiences.
The brand may be thought of as 'an inclusive
term which refers to a product or service. It includes its trademark,
its name, its reputation and the sensual and emotional buttons surrounding
it, most often created by advertising.'
The modern wired consumer
Today's web has parallels to the advent of television in that organizations
do not yet know the ideal method of reaching audiences. However,
the consumer psychological process remains largely the same. The
principal difference is that more experienced audience members often
seek information online and are not exposed to it "unexpectedly",
with the exception of online advertising. Some younger internet
users, having grown up with advertising and computers, take the
web's presence for granted and browse with tightly defined criteria.
The question is how an organization ensures its brand is at the
top of the user's consideration set and, on a related note, how
it can appear in search engines and portals prominently. As stated
by Ries, 'Internet brands are invisible until you input the brand
name into the keyboard. If you don't know the brand name and how
to spell it, no sale can happen. Therefore, online, name recognition
Organizations must find ways of reaching consumers
and becoming their preferred or only source if their online ventures
are to be successful. Even if there were agreed definitions on branding,
there is still the issue of practice.
There is an additional challenge. Brands have
become so high profile that the public is fascinated by the organizations
behind them. Corporate citizenship has become important. The flip
side of branding is that companies that employ sweatshop labour
and other unethical practices are more easily targeted. Modern consumers
fight establishment brands, preferring niche players partly because
of increased segmentation, as sales leaders Nike and Levi's found
in the late-1990s. This suggests that organizations must not risk
appearing too overwhelming and retain an entrepreneurial style.
Findings of interest
Successful antipodean dot coms, run by their founders, put their
stamp on their ventures by being hands-on. By using technology,
CEOs communicate their philosophies without them being diluted by
intermediaries. Vision statements are found to be unnecessary as
there is buy-in.
Most successful firms did not adopt a tagline
or positioning statement. The author casts doubt over the need for
taglines in an era when brands can be summarized as "attitudes".
Through semioticsincluding careful use of logotypes and symbols
that differentiate clearly and do not need to change, unlike that
of Amazon.com which has done so at least three times in recent yearsaudiences
are reminded of the attitude. This is one of the key ingredients
to building a successful internet brand. Design was a critical element,
with subjects creating logotypes and symbols that remain distinctive
and lasting. In some cases, the founders had in-house expertise
or prior experience in the visual communications' professions.
These organizations use domain names that are
similar to their business's, unlike many high-profile dot coms that
adopted a new online persona. The same-name strategy reinforces
brand messages and reduces marketing costs. The brands respected
the visions in both their on- and offline roles.
None play on stereotypical notions of their national
origins, developing brands that speak to a global consumer, transcending
national boundaries. This casts doubt over the use of national branding,
particularly when targeting US consumers.
Antipodeans are culturally inclined toward a
do-it-yourself nature, conducive to flat or organic management structures.
The majority of ventures seek cross-media exposure
to compete properly. Otherwise they cannot occupy the same share
of mind as larger rivals. They attempt to use more ingenious ideas
and take advantage of their small size. Speed and intellectual capital
overcome rivals' larger promotional budgets. One respondent arranged
to have her home town's name changed to aid promotion. Many cited
that their workplace was 'fun'.
Most are aware of growing cynicism toward larger
corporations and seek to retain an entrepreneurial, independent
"attitude" through branding.
Their success claims are backed up by rankings
that show their sites measure well against larger players given
their later entry.
The practice of identity and branding online has not changed drastically
from its offline progenitor. It continues to revolve around differentiation
and trust, as it always has. Consumers depend on both. Technology
has become an intermediary linking the CEO and the vision to the
public, with fewer distractions arising internally, and vice versa.
Antipodean organizations are excellent examples
because there are national traditions of innovation and independence.
The purity of this concept has been carried through more strongly
online. The do-it-yourself nature of Australasians seems particularly
suited to the medium. Visions must be strong, but organizations
must exhibit flexibility and acquire competences as technology changes
increasingly more quickly.
PDF edition of this article with footnotes (90 kbyte).
JY&A Consulting staff participated in this study.
Home | Features
Your feedback is welcome