Branding: Then and Now – Part 1

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I am an undergraduate student from the University of St Andrews majoring in International Relations (BA International Hons.). With a keen interest in marketing and design, I approached Elastic, in Edinburgh, for the opportunity to get a feel for what they do and to attempt to use my skills to better understand modern marketing. Working closely with Alex, and drawing on the skills and knowledge of the team, I embarked on a research project to chart the role of marketing and branding in the modern business environment. This 6 part, weekly blog series is the result:

Coca-Cola’, ‘Apple’ and ‘McDonalds’ are often noted as being some of the most recognized and successful companies in the modern, globalized world.

Why is this? They are not remembered in the mind of the public for their successful production techniques or even due to their new products– Coca-cola as a drink has barely changed since the removal of cocaine in 1903. No, they are remembered, almost exclusively, as innovative and important ‘brands’. Marketing an innovative ‘brand’ through design is integral– as can be seen by the clean-cut and efficient design aspirations of Apple. A company being able to market and sell a design image, even a way of life, to a customer has proved invaluable for business success and has led to the global boom in branded marketing through the 20th century.

It is very difficult to deny the ‘power of brand’ as a mainstay of success in almost all consumer companies. As the heady heights of the brands mentioned above continue to rise, marketers and businesses are changing to allow creativity to be interwoven into the business world. This blog series shall chart the role of marketing in business, with a view to showing that it can be noted as an investment into the future successes of a company rather than merely being a cost of production. However, to succinctly show this role, marketing has to play by the rules of mainstream business– which means focussing on measurement and quantification, an issue which shall also be discussed in this essay.

Branding and marketing is the process of associating a set of values or identity to a product or business with the belief that it can increase sales revenues and nurture economic growth. Creating an experience to evoke these values is instrumental in marketing to a customer’s aspirations and creating sales.As brands with small beginnings but a concise understanding of the importance of marketing boomed through the 20th century to become the titans of industry and sales that we see today, almost all small scale businesses recognize the role of marketing. However, much like a cheap pair of knock-off ‘Dolce and Banana’ sunglasses, the replication of successful brand marketing strategies often leaves much to the imagination. This is due to the fact that, in the mass market, brand marketing is merely approached as an after-thought or flourish to make products look pretty at the point of sale. It does not always substantiate marketing as integral to the vision of the business– rather it is often thought of as a non-essential cost of production. As shown in Hooley et. al’s 1990 investigation into the role of marketing in business, tradition dictates that marketing is thought of as a ‘departmental function’ of the business machine, in the same role, say, as human resources or an accounting department.

It needs to become a common understanding that marketing can do more. It is not just a way of making products look nice, but can actually be one of the most integral tools of modern demand creation. The potential for this demand creation is in every brand, it just needs to be unleashed. To realise potential, marketers need to use modern analysis tools to garner respect and understanding in the business world.  Instilling analytics as a key area of marketing’s work is a booming area, as shown through the introduction of associations and awards designed to firmly substantiate the returns of marketing investment. The Design Business Association is a professional organization which exists to urge the creative industry to encapsulate the ethos of business in all that they do. Other organizations directly look at returns, with the Marketing Science Institute making the “assessment of returns on marketing investment” the priority research area for the years 2002, 2004 and 2006. All of these organizations have one aim, which is to validate the role of marketing and design, within the business environment, so that the true power of a brand can be revealed.

Part 2: What does marketing actually do for companies


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