Robert Bean: The 9½ golden rules of branding

By Adam TinworthPosted May 24, 2012

Robert Bean

Robert’s talk starts with a “heavy tome” called The Psychology of Frozen Peas – which he started reading on his MD’s desk, early in his career. It was basically a defence document against the rise of own label frozen peas. Mothers in the south (apparently) were very careful about what they fed their offspring, but not their husband. Birds Eye were trading off that.

1. A brand isn’t just ‘nice to have’ – it’s a genuinely powerful, ‘mission critical’ competitive weapon. 

The manifestation of not understanding this is just bunging the brand to the marketing department to look after.

2. To build a brand make sure you know the REAL proposition

Ketchup isn’t just about slow delivery from glass bottles – it’s about meal enhancement. Vax believed that their proposition was deep-cleaning of carpets. Research showed that people wanted fast cleaning. So they moved the idea from deep clean to brightening homes. Homebase had a higher incidence of couples than other DIY sheds, so they became a home-making shop.

3. The company structure does not define the brand, but the brand can define the company structure. 

There was a debate on the Vauxhall Cars account about how people buy cars. They think brand, model, colour, in roughly that order. Vauxhall talked to the world how they were organised – by model brand. And undoing that led to “Once Driven, Forever Smitten”

4. Branding is about winning in your own way

BMW didn’t necessarily think that constantly winning races on TV was a good thing. It was just going to get harder and harder as time went on, so they wanted to build the brand on product quality, not any other success.

5. All good communication is based on reciprocated confidences

BT is about “reciprocated confidences” – or that was the theory was when he joined the company. It made them move away from the idea of being a phone company, to being a company that was about this communication, but it too a senior management trip to Bath Spa, where they started recirpocated confidences.

6. Great brands need great humans to champion them

BT trained its repair men to think of themselves as people who enables conversations between people, not repairers of wire.

7. Find the human need and even seemingly dull products can be powerfully branded. 

Velux isn’t about wood, or screws or glass. You’re a creative force turning dark into light.

8. A brand can’t run too far ahead of its company

…but Velux didn’t have the capacity to meet the demand generated.

9. Keep searching to find your fundemental truth

Honda though they were sensible but dull. But looking at the racing, and the engineering that went into it, he realsed they were visioneers. It was the Power of Dreams.

9½ Brands are inside-out creatures

Three things define businesses: culture, product and reputation. The it where all three meet is the single organising principle. It must be one thing.  And it must be based in truth. And so you create a culture where that idea predominates. The “ultimate driving machine” wasn’t just a tagline for BMW, it was an organising principle in practice. A business locked around this principle is more aerodynamic, because it carried less idealogical weight. There’s no drag in arguments about right and wrong. That leads to efficients, which leads to profits, which leads to shareholder value.

Can we take these ideas and apply them to people?