Blog: Robert Bean – On Branding.

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Graham Stewart reports on the Like Minds Branding Breakfast with Robert Bean.

The fourth Like Minds Business Breakfast on April 23rd became the Branding Breakfast in the hands of guest speaker Robert Bean.

It was a beautiful morning in London and the views from the Radio Bar at the top of the ME Hotel in Aldwych were incredible. In fact, the views were so stunning and the sight of sunshine over London so welcome, that many of the attendees – including Robert himself – needed some encouragement to retreat from the balcony that surrounds the venue and start the talk.

Robert’s 35-year career has seen him work in many leading advertising agencies and with many leading brands. And it’s brands that are his passion. Defining brands; refining brands; and finding the core strength that lies at the heart of a great brand. As a result Robert now runs his own company, the aptly named Robert Bean Branding Company.

The essence of his talk centred on what makes a great brand and why aligning the whole business with the brand is vital. He started by telling is what a brand is not; namely, logos and identity. When he first started out, Robert felt as if he had the Sisyphean task of pushing a large boulder up a hill with a fork in battling this predominant view.


What is a brand?

So, what is a brand? The word itself comes from the Old Norse ‘Brandr’, which means burnt. And therein may lie the confusion. Taking a hot iron to your herd of cattle is not the same as building an emotional investment in a business.

There’s a definition from the US that states a brand is “the worth of a business beyond the value of its tangible assets”. However this appears locked into the era of manufacturing and it feels very much as if it depends on something physical. It’s all too clear nowadays that many great brands actually have few, if any, tangible assets.

Trying again, we can look to advertising, where the brand is seen as the synthesis of “product and personality”. But anything more than a cursory examination shows this definition to be rather shallow.

The best of all the traditional ways of looking at a brand, according to Robert, is “promises delivered”. This is better than the others, if only because the focus is on the effect rather than being a simple explanation of a ‘thing’.


The Single Organising Principle.

But after years working with brands, Robert believes a great brand can only emerge from three core elements that are essential for any successful business. These elements are:

• Culture;
• A great Product or Service;
• Reputation.

And from where these three intersect and overlap comes the single organising principle (SOP). A business that maintains the alignment of its three core elements is wonderfully efficient. And efficiency delivers greater profitability. In short; continuous alignment = sustainable profits.


Putting it into Practice.

So much for the theory. How do you put this into practice within a business to arrive at the nirvana of alignment and a great brand?

Here is the necessary 5 step process of analysis and discussion, as outlined by Robert in his talk:

1. Identify your market/audience with precision
2. Identify what makes your market buy. (Many organisations are information rich but insight poor when it comes to their customers)
3. Competitive performance: work out what competitors do that may be better than your offering
4. Specify your core business personality (behaviours) and values – (a max of 4)
5. Create a Role Statement (combine customer motivation knowledge with competitive edge insights to produce a proposal that will meet customer needs exactly)

When all of the above are defined and accepted across the business, they become true inputs to form the SOP and drive the alignment of Culture, Product/Service, and Reputation.


The Coda.

Robert brought everything to life with some case studies from BT, BMW, and Honda before opening things up for a lively Q&A session that covered topics such as the devaluation of the word ‘brand’, whether brands had a natural lifespan, what made brand DNA, the effect of digital on brand transparency, and how brands could survive beyond the demise of a guiding figurehead (e.g. Jobs, Branson, Gates). Incidentally, the feeling in the room was that the first two could survive but Microsoft will struggle (and, indeed, are struggling).

Take a look at Robert Bean interviewed by Graham Stewart at ME London.

About the author

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Founded Like Minds in 2009. Andrew is a serial entrepreneur and angel investor. He founded design agency Icon in 1983 (sold to AGI Media) and Eyetoeye, one of the first digital agencies in the UK, in 1994. He advises start-ups and digital agencies on business development and is an Evaluated Consultant for Finpro, the export arm of the Embassy of Finland. He was elected a Fellow of The Royal Society of Arts in 2000.