Hey you. You're doing great.
Hello! Good day!
How are you today'?
Let’s jump right in with some colorful fractions.
Maths are hard!
Today I’m throwing together some notes I’ve been keeping on brand fame. Consider this another entry in the “stop spending all your money on demand gen” folder.
If you’re a student of brand fame as well, please drop me a line with your favorite reads. I very much welcome your recommendations.
Friendly reminder that I’ve opened up a few blocks of time for informational zoom calls. If you’d like to talk shop or have a content problem needs solving, schedule a 30-minute meeting. I’d love to meet you.
Looking forward to meeting the folks who scheduled some time this coming week! Talk soon.
Brand it like Beckham
Posh Spice is an interesting person, don’t you think?
Member of the best-selling female group of all time. Fashion designer. Beauty brand owner. Five-time reality show person of some renown.
Also married to David Beckham, another human who is known for being known, after he was known for playing soccer and looking like a snack in underwear.
In other words, and simply: Posh is famous.
Super famous, world-renowned famous, so famous that even those of us who experience a full-corpus shiver at the algorithmically smooth sound of fin-de-siècle pop, and those of us who don’t care about celebrities … we still know who she is.
We’re almost forced to know who she is!
Her fame is, to borrow a phrase, spectacularly untargeted.
And none of that is an accident!
“Right from the beginning,” Posh wrote in her 2001 autobiography, “I said I wanted to be more famous than Persil Automatic."
Princess of Persil
Now immediately, even as I write this, I see some hands being raised from the Americans in the back.1
“We have two questions."
By all means, go ahead.
“The first question is, what is Persil Automatic?"2
Great question. Totally appropriate. I once had to be informed as well.
I guess, question mark, that an American analogue here is Tide, though I’ve no intelligence on whether British children try to eat pods of Persil.
Will get back to you on that.4
And what’s question number two.
“Posh Spice why?"
Elusive, slippery, and half-real
This will be musty fedora to the agency folks here, today, hello, terribly sorry, but stay a bit and there’s a pretty picture at the end.
Twenty years ago, Jeremy Bullmore—the khan of creatives, the potentate of publicity, the former chairman of J. Walter Thompson, hear ye hear ye—wrote one of his famous essays.5
The essay was called Posh Spice and Persil: Both big brands; both alive; and both belonging to the public.
The plan for this brief letter, to the extent that I have one, is to get you to click that link immediately previous and spend several minutes with that essay. It’s just a load of common sense really, and goes a good way towards explaining why so many CEOs, and even marketers, prefer that which can be measured now (e.g., sales activation) from that which provides growth for the future (e.g., brand development).
In the interests of your time, I’ll sum up the thesis:
Brands are elusive, slippery, half-real, half-virtual things
It’s easier to think about things you can measure
But numbers can deceive, and only paying attention to numbers gives you a false certainty
Posh Spice was right to aim for fame
Because just about the only thing that successful brands have in common is a kind of fame
“It is one of the peculiarities of fame – whether for people or products – that real fame appears to be spectacularly untargeted. By that I mean, that the most famous people in the world are known to an infinitely greater number of people than their particular talent or profession would seem either to demand or to deserve.”
And here, let’s just quote one of the main points at length:
To the consternation of media planners and buyers in advertising agencies, the same is true for brands. A brand, if it is to enjoy genuine celebrity, must be known to a circle of people that far exceeds what we in the business so chillingly call its target group.
It is not enough for BMW to be known only to that 5% of the population wealthy enough even to contemplate buying one. For BMW to enjoy real fame, it needs to be known almost indiscriminately.
I do not know why this should be; I only know that it is.
There are those who believe that it’s all to do with envy and one-upmanship: what’s the point of your driving about in a £50,000 BMW if 95 per cent of us peasants don’t realise just how successful you must be to own one? There may be a bit of truth in this theory: but it surely can’t explain the value that Persil derives from being universally famous? And doesn’t it seem improbable that we pop a six-pack of Coke or a packet of Oxo cubes into our shopping basket in the hope of arousing envy and admiration in the hearts of all the others at the checkout counter?
There are thousands of great and public brands that virtually no one is debarred from buying on the grounds of price – yet they possess a value that lesser-known products lack. For manufacturers, for brand marketers, I don’t think the question of why matters very much. It only matters that it is. Fame is the fundamental value that strong brands own.
I won’t attempt to summarize the whole kit nor the entire caboodle. It’s enough to know that it’s a delightful and well-reasoned work and it, should you read it, will at minimum help you to spend more time noticing the world instead of trying only to measure it.
It’s easier to decide something when you feel something
Speaking of fame, you’ve probably heard of, or read, or heard that people have read Thinking Fast and Slow.
Brief synopsis that will save you $15 at the airport bookstore: there are two systems of thinking, the fast way and the slow way.
The fast way is instinctive and emotional.
The slow way is deliberative and logical.
We can figure out where a sound is coming from, or solve 2x2, and we do it quickly. That’s the fast way.
We can determine the validity of complex reasoning or solve 17x33, and we do it slowly. That’s the slow way.
Regardless your opinion of behavioral science, or stance on the replication crisis, there’s certainly something that feels right about this formulation.
First you feel, then you decide.
If you feel a lot, deciding is easy.
If you feel a little, deciding is hard.6
There are, of course and certainly, many shortcuts we use to help us decide. To help us think quickly, instead of slowly.
That’s what good marketing does. It makes a brand mentally available so it’s easier to buy. And this all lends itself to a clever formulation that marketers use:
If a brand comes readily to mind, it’s a good choice (Fame).
If a brand feels good, it’s a good choice (Feeling).
If a brand is recognizable, it’s a good choice (Fluency).
And this is the reason, or at least part of it, why a lot of agencies tell their clients that they need to create an idea that makes their brand famous to customers and users.
The more famous you are to a broadly targeted set of potential customers, the easier it is for any one of those customers to buy you.
Because if you know a brand is famous, and you have a good feeling about that brand, and you recognize that brand among all the other noise … well, your unconscious mind will tell you it’s a good choice.
Where everybody knows your fame
One last thing about fame.
A couple of years back, Binet and Field reprised their marketing effectiveness studies with the B2B Institute (hi, Jann).
One of the major findings:
Campaigns which focused on achieving brand fame as a strategy were 3x as likely again to drive large business effects, such as increases in sales, revenues and profits.
That’s across twenty years of campaigns from the IPA Effectiveness Data Bank.
What does it mean to be a famous brand?
It means that, in the right situation, the name of your brand comes to mind early and often.
Here’s how they put it:
Both brand fame and brand awareness are measures of mental availability: the ease with which your brand comes to mind at a relevant moment, such as when someone is ready to buy. However, they sit at opposite ends of the mental availability spectrum.
If someone is aware of your brand they may think of it when they are considering a purchase from your category. However, the more important measure for brands is ‘salience’. Brands that have a greater degree of ‘salience’ come into a consumer’s mind more strongly in specific buying situations. Memories of them come to mind more quickly, influencing the buyer’s choice.
To illustrate this imagine you’re heading abroad on a business trip that’s going to involve visiting several cities and out-of-town locations. You need to rent a car – and have lots of options to choose from. If you sat down and made a list of all the car hire brands that you could think of, it would probably be quite long – but this isn’t a pub quiz. What matters is the two or three brands that you think of first, as they will dominate your consideration set. You aren’t more aware of these brands than you are of the others – you can name all of them, remember. But those brands have greater salience; you feel more strongly about them; and your brain instinctively considers them more relevant to the choice you’re about to make. Decades of research into the psychology around brands show people choose whatever comes to mind most easily, in order to conserve mental energy. It’s known as the “availability heuristic.”
Here’s another way of saying it:
Don’t be the brand people have to think about.
Instead, be the brand that’s easy to buy.
Be the no-brainer you want to see in the world.
This is, famously, a great newsletter.
More delightful resources
How can I help? This is a 100% organic, free-range, desktop-to-inbox newsletter devoted to helping you navigate uncertainty, seek the most interesting challenges, and make better creative decisions in marketing and beyond. Delivery at 6pm ET most
Sundays whenever! Your host is Steve Bryant, who is for hire.
Reasons to get in touch:
Content marketing and production. You need help developing or producing content for an app, web site, or other delightful thing. I work with agencies and brands directly.
Content and editorial recruiting. You need help growing your team or hiring creative executives.
Content campaigns and pitches. You need help developing or pitching content ideas to brands.
I’d love to help you develop and deploy creative and bold ideas or staff your newsroom, content, or marketing project. Thanks for reading. Be seeing you.
I am also an American.
They changed it to “Dirt for Good” over the pandemic because reasons.
While we’re on the subject of Tide, you should know that Tide has been, in some communities, used as a street level currency to buy weed and cocaine.
For the uninitiated, here’s the full collection of Bullmore’s annual essays, free as in beer.
My therapist says this too. If you’ve got to think too much about a decision, like say breaking up with somebody, it’s probably a sign you’re not emotionally invested in the relationship in the first place.