Bilge about brands: the Tale of the Spiny Lobster

There’s far, far more to a brand than a name: but the potential benefits are hard to overstate

Round the corner from my place there used to be a restaurant called The Rockfish, voted the best in Bristol.

Then a  few weeks ago it was “Closed for Refurbishing and Rebranding.” I was curious: what would change? Would they lower their prices? (Fat chance). Would they start selling curry?

Here’s what happened.

They repainted the place. They moved the entrance. They put the same seats back in slightly different positions. And they renamed it The Spiny Lobster.

I went back to see what it was like. Pretty much the same food. A lot of emphasis on charcoal grilled fish. The kitchen has not been moved, so you can see the chefs scurrying about.

That’s it. A bit of tarting up and a new name. NOT a rebranding, which I would suggest suggests something far more radical.

The most famous case was probably when Marlboro, originally a cigarette aimed at women, was rebranded as one for macho males.

Marketing is in its infancy, compared, say, to law, which dates back perhaps as far as Urukagina’s code in 2,350 BC and certainly to Ur-Nammu’s code in 2050 BC.

So in marketing words like “brand”  mean whatever anyone wants them to, and there is a thriving business in renaming old things to make them sound mysterious and important. A good example is Native Advertising which for decades was just Advertorial.

Here, for what it is worth, are what I have discovered after 50-odd years of diligent curiosity.

You may find it worth reading, because it really pays, financially, to build a strong brand. People freely admit they will pay more for a branded product even though they know it is physically identical to an unbranded alternative.

So it’s not about what it is – the thing. Things can be copied. Brands can’t. They exist independently of the product or service.

“A brand is not a process, a product or people. It can live on after processes and products have changed – and people have died” said the very wise Jeremy Bullmore of J. Walter Thompson.

Companies are made up of people. People die. People move on. Working practices change. But how do you “copy” a brand? It’s impossible, because its qualities are in people’s minds.

The man who. with his colleagues, did more research than anyone into branding was Professor Andrew Ehrenberg.

The most important difference between a strong brand and a weak one, they found, was that strong brands have more customers,

This gives you some remarkable potential advantages.

  • Make more profit by selling more at the same price. Or by selling the same amount at a higher price.
  • Customers stay with you longer, buying more in the process, which means their lifetime value is greater.
  • You can pay more to get or keep a customer.
  • More customers give you economies of scale. Thus you have a greater profit margin so you can undercut your competitors.
  • People trust strong brands more. They forgive your mistakes more easily. They believe you will put things right.

All these are wonderful things. But getting them takes a lot more than a lick of paint.

You might also conclude – as I do – that getting and keeping customers is the one thing you should think about night and day.

And rebranding – very fashionable among people with  more money than sense – is a perilous business. Once a brand’s positioning is fixed in people’s minds it takes a heck of a lot to change it. The Marlboro brand was very weak at the time Leo Burnett got the account.

Equally fashionable is the practice of buying companies and subsuming them under your name. If they have strong brands, then in doing so you throw away an awful lot of customer value.


About the Author


<p>In 2003, the Chartered Institute of Marketing named Drayton one of 50 living individuals who have shaped today’s marketing.</p>
<p>He has worked in 55 countries with many of the world’s greatest brands. These include American Express, Audi, Bentley, British Airways, Cisco, Columbia Business School, Deutsche Post, Ford, IBM, McKinsey, Mercedes, Microsoft, Nestle, Philips, Procter & Gamble, Toyota, Unilever, Visa and Volkswagen.</p>
<p>Drayton has helped sell everything from Airbus planes to Peppa Pig. His book, Commonsense Direct and Digital Marketing, out in 17 languages, has been the UK’s best seller on the subject every year since 1982. He has also run his own businesses in the U.K., Portugal and Malaysia.</p>
<p>He was a main board member of the Ogilvy Group, a founding member of the Superbrands Organisation, one of the first eight Honorary Fellows of the Institute of Direct Marketing and one of the first three people named to the Hall of Fame of the Direct Marketing Association of India. He has also been given Lifetime Achievement Awards by the Caples Organisation in New York and Early To Rise in Florida.</p>

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