I’m a bad person.
I pulled into a petrol station, yesterday, in a quiet area, and spotted a guy crossing the street. He looked young-ish, had messy hair, had his head down, and generally looked sullen. In my head, I judged him as ‘creepy’.
Why did I do this?
Because, aside from his general aura, he was wearing a full-length, leather trench coat.
The problem is (and it’s my problem, not the wearer’s), I associate nothing good with full-length trench coats. They make me think of mass killers (the Columbine High School massacre springs to mind), perverts, and the baddie in I Know What You Did Last Summer.
I bet the guy crossing the street was nice as pie, looks after his gran, and feeds stray kittens… but trench coats generate certain images in my head.
In contrast, pancakes (I promise you I’ll make it all link up in the end) say nothing bad to me whatsoever: pancakes flood my mind with all sorts of positive associations. When I think of pancakes I think of childhood, Pancake Day, the first thing I cooked for my girlfriend (yes, really). I think of Amsterdam and I think of a place I go to in Barnet. I think of a restaurant my dad used to take my sisters and I to, when we were kids. I think of all the things that go with pancakes; lemon, sugar, cinnamon, Nutella … mmmmm.
If the two things I’ve mentioned were brands, pancakes would have positive brand equity, and full-length trench coats would have negative brand equity.
Brand equity is everything associated with a brand that gives it value (or not): its logo, its slogan, its marketing, its product range, how the public perceive it. In fact, I’d say the last thing on that list is the most important: how the public perceive it. If the public place no value on your product or service, don’t like it, or even associate bad things with it, everything else is irrelevant.
The trench coat, for me, is a damaged brand: it makes me think of death/murder, perversion, and dodgy film characters.
Pancakes, for me, are a brand on the up: they make me think of fun times, childhood, places I’ve been, other yummy food.
In fact, you know what? I think a better way of describing brand equity is ‘brand baggage’ – it’s all the stuff around that brand that’s ever been said about it (whether by employees or consumers), the successes and failures, all of the things which have been done in that brand’s name, how they’re known to treat their staff, whether they’re seen as ‘premium’ or ‘cheap’.
An example of a brand with negative brand equity, would be Ratner’s jewellers – the company which never recovered after their own CEO referred to the goods they sold as ‘total crap’. They were known for selling cheap jewellery and cut glass, but the CEO’s frank admission finished them off.
No matter what they did from that point onwards, they would never have survived. They were lumbered with that ‘total crap’ comment forever.
An example of a brand with positive brand equity would be Virgin (not that I don’t mention them enough already). They span many sectors (air travel, TV and broadband, finance, mobile communications, health and fitness), with great success in all of them. Their CEO is known as a maverick entrepreneur, but has a positive image himself: he doesn’t seem to have ‘stepped on’ people on his way up, he looks after his staff, he’s all about sustainability, and he’s trying to send people to the moon.
Every time they enter a new sector and take on the established brand(s), they seem to hold their own. Their advertising (and general tone of voice) is cheeky, funny, daring, but gets the message across.
They also try to look after particular groups of people when considering their customers: off the back of a recent survey, Virgin Trains have said they’ll guarantee a seat for all pregnant women.
All of the ‘baggage’ that comes with Virgin is positive.
No matter the size of your brand (even if you’re a startup or a one-man band), think carefully about everything you / your staff say, write, and do: the repercussions, in terms of brand equity, could be huge, and – when all is said and done – you want to be the pancake, not the trench coat.