desperate-for-toiletI have just been reading through the comments on a LinkedIn Post, which started when someone asked whether Michael O’Leary is right to charge a quid to pee on his RyanAir flights.  The comments, as usual range from the amusing to the folks who just don’t get it from any perspective, but that’s life.  So too are brands and, putting aside for a moment the misassumptions and misunderstandings of what Michael O’Leary actually said and in what circumstances, there couldn’t be a better example of what branding is all about.

I’ve said it before and I’m sure I’ll say it again – brands are communities and we interact with them in a way that mirrors the relationships we have with our friends. – that’s why I call the relationships we have with brands “Brandships

Its a fact, think about it.  I bet the people who you know who have a large circle of close friends all have vivid personalities.  Insipid people, though they may not upset a lot of people, equally don’t enjoy large communities of really close friends.  You know, the kind of friends you really love as opposed to those that you just hang out with because there’s nothing better to do.  And these are the ones that count.  They are the friends who, when times are tough, rather than just sympathise with you, will rally to your assistance with practical help and support.

When I think through the close friends that I have I see a number of people who sometimes piss people off with their views or style, but could never be accused of not telling it like it is.  I know where I am with them.  I’ve been put in my place a few times by some of them and I genuinely value their criticism, unlike the acquaintances I have who are always very politically correct, inoffensive and full of platitudes.  The latter group are motivated by the fear of rejection.  They just don’t want to piss anybody off and therefore succeed in neither annoying nor endearing anybody.

Brands are EXACTLY the same.  Look, around.  There are  insipid brands everywhere that people buy, simply because there is no alternative.  They are often brand leaders, which means both that they have been able to get away with this approach and why they are vulnerable to lighthouse brands that emerge.  The lighthouse brands being the strong characters in this scenario.

Right now the economic downturn has created a level playing-field and we find ourselves in the era of the lighthouse brand.  Its going to be difficult to succeed just because you don’t piss anybody off (although size and resources alone will enable the biggest to weather the storm).  Today friendships really count, we value the genuine help and support that comes with a close friend.

Of course, its not enough to just go shouting your mouth off, you do have to back it up with actions and those actions have to be consistent with what you are saying.  That way you reinforce your message, live up to your promise, reassure people that you are genuine and transparent.  Its that reassurance that you are someone who others can know and trust, derived from consistency, that makes for a really great friendship … and Brandship.

I’ve been thinking about this for a lot of years.  Full Effect Marketing with Brand Discovery at its core is firstly a process of self-discovery for brands.  Getting to understand the real you, not the “you” that you may have been trying to pass yourself off as for years because you felt that’s what people wanted to hear.

If it turns out that you don’t have what it takes to be popular we can set about addressing the issues, but we won’t create another veneer, instead we’ll make fundamental changes.  Its rare though that there won’t be something about you that’s interesting or attractive to others and that’s the foundation upon which we will build your new community of Brandships.

Making it work will involve firstly getting all your stakeholders behind the promise (your “Brand Promise”) that is inherent in your personality, and gaining their commitment to playing their part in its delivery.  Brand Discovery is the process that I use to achieve this.

So, how does this relate to Mr O’Leary and RyanAir?  Well, firstly I have to clear up the usual mess that has been make by the press, by pointing out that it wasn’t quite as reported. It was a TV interviewer who asked Mr O’Leary how far he would take his stripped-down travel model and suggested that he could charge for using the loo.  O’Leary took the chance to reinforce the RyanAir personality, which embodies fresh thinking, anti-establishment, not taking the press as seriously as they take themselves and a load of other stuff, by saying, in effect, “why not?”

Because you can’t be all things to all people, being true to your inner brand means that people will either take you or leave you, but at least their choice will be real and the result will be strong Brandships that’ll take you through thick and thin.  You’ll succeed if a lot of or most people like you, or if a minority that take you to their bosoms are able and prepared to pay handsomely for your product or services and, as I said, over time you can make adjustments.

Michael O’Leary did a great job of reinforcing his Brandships and in the process gave everyone a choice.  The facts speak for themselves.  RyanAir is an outstandingly successful business, with a very clear Brand Promise and a lot of people who just love them.

Michael Weaver
March 10, 2009

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