Your Place In The Market: The Aesthetics of Branding
By Ronald L. Burgess
Your Place In The Market: The Aesthetics of Branding
Each purchasing decision a buyer makes is a multi-sensory experience. We take in environmental sensory stimuli before we process information about a product, consider the price, or determine the integrity of the salesman. Aristotle observed that “it all starts with the eye.” The saying “you only have one chance to make a first impression” re-states Aristotle’s Maxim.
In Bernd Schmitt and Alex Simonson’s great book, Marketing Aesthetics, The Strategic Management of Brands, Identity, and Image, they raise the ante on corporate and product image. The notion that corporate brand is important is not new to most. However, Schmitt and Simonson show how the aesthetics of product and company in fact are critical to the highest levels of success. If you as a business owner or executive have ever had doubts about your budget for corporate image, lobby design, product labeling or instruction booklet graphics, this book makes a case even your tight fisted controller will embrace, (although this asset will not appear on his balance sheet.)
The total aesthetics supporting product positioning are clearly the major differentiation between the competing products. Assuming the quality and service are appropriate for the market positioning, the aesthetics complete the sale. “Aesthetics offers multiple, powerful, specific, and tangible benefits to organizations,” according to Schmitt and Simonson. These tangible assets include:
Loyalty, the experience is one of the major “satisfiers” to the buyer.
Premium Pricing- Due to aesthetics, the perceived value is increased by properly positioned products. Aesthetics cut through information clutter- with thousands of images daily bombarding our lives, only the best are remembered.
Aesthetics build bonds with customers that protect against competitive attack.
Increased employee satisfaction and longevity. Comprehensive aesthetic marketing includes buildings, work spaces, correspondence and transportation. Employees are more efficient, and can be tougher to lure away by competitors.
These are concrete and monetary benefits which cannot be explained on a financial statement. Yet hundreds of companies know that the aesthetic benefits are real, and carefully craft entire companies around a concept.
Oakley Sun Glasses is such a company. Built around innovative design, and cutting edge manufacturing technique, they have carved a $300 million chunk out of the high end of the market. Their otherworldly $40 million facility looks like a robot factory out of Star Wars, illustrating their attention to detail and total devotion to aesthetics. The pay-off? Getting over $60 for a few bucks worth of glass and plastic. Turning the glass and plastic into an art object makes the brand and the product. Where else but aesthetics can you get a 75% margin?
Who in their right mind would think that the slumping vodka market would support another brand in the late 70’s? The odds were against Absolut, a Swedish distiller in a country that thought all good vodka was Russian. A marketing study warned against attempting to import to the US: however 10 years later Absolut was clearly here to stay. How is this possible? Common explanations do not account for a 60% market share among imported vodka in the US. Product quality (who can really tell the difference between vodkas?), efficient distribution, or low price do not explain the success. Aesthetics do. A well integrated identity campaign termed “smart, showy, sassy, sophisticated, sometimes silly, but always stylish, “proved to be all of those things where margin was concerned. Once alone, Absolut now had dozens of copycats trying to cash in on the aesthetics.
Here’s an idea for your controller. Let’s start a café, that sells a few flavors of coffee, a few muffins, and open them on every corner! Sound nuts? Can a coffee really be blended that can attract that kind of market? Can we increase the service to create that kind of market? No. While coffee can be blended and flavored many ways, the market is full of very good choices. The answer is that Starbucks created an “experience” that attracted thousands of customers to its good coffee and adequate service “cafes.” What Starbucks created was a “place” to sit and retreat for a few moments a day, an environment where total sensory experience brings back customers daily. The excellent use of coordinated company wide aesthetics is the reason for their stellar performance. Sure, the coffee is distinctive and good. Is it the best? No, not without the cup and brand on it, representing more of a culture than coffee. Some might argue that together it is the best. But it’s the whole experience; not the coffees, biscotti or service and certainly not low price that makes it very good-it’s the total aesthetic quality.
Marketing “all starts with the eye,” but ends with the nose, the ear, touch, emotion, and finally the money. In a market place crowded with products all trying to catch your eye and somehow make it into a sophisticated customer’s market basket, the brand aesthetics may be the only perceived difference.
Ron Burgess is the principal of Burgess Management Consulting. His practice specializes in strategic growth and marketing management. He is also co- founder of RedFusion Media Inc., an online marketing agency, and the market leader in the Inland Empire.