The nimble masterbrand: old-school brand writing is essential to getting it right in real time

The word ‘masterbrand’ is losing currency, becoming associated with analysis paralysis, with old school marketing that can’t be nimble or opportunistic. The enemy of quick engagement, or social relevance, it’s the laboured ‘think’ not the fashionable ‘blink’ reaction. But, look further, and the masterbrand is exactly what qualifies a brand to blink in a way that generates positive conversations and avoids negative ones.

Set aside traditional branding models like houses of brands or branded houses and never mind if you have a brand key, a wheel or a rhombus. Distil it down to the basics and a masterbrand is essentially a strong sense of identity and purpose, which governs how a brand thinks, acts and reacts. The masterbrand sets out who and what a brand stands for and what it’s opposed to, knowing how it would behave in any given situation and what it would never do. It’s the building block for any social strategy worth its salt and essential to being nimble – and, importantly, getting it right in real time.

Retail is one industry where quick turnaround is paramount and a strong masterbrand is invaluable. Great masterbrands understand the power of rituals and symbols. K-Mart (a BWM client) is able to convey (otherwise generic) product and price messages in an instantly identifiable, uniquely branded way.

No brand is completely infallible, but, where there are gaps in understanding of the masterbrand, marketing fails are more likely. These fails can be extremely damaging to brand health and sales. For example, JP Morgan recently put their vice chairman up for a Twitter Q&A session (subsequently cancelled), without understanding how negatively their brand was perceived in the real world. They were subjected to a barrage of abuse, hammering their corporate integrity, with questions like, “When will you all go to jail?”

Spending time upfront to define the masterbrand is like honing your marketing intuition through training both to react quickly and get it right every time.

Intuitive thinking (system 1) is powerful and quick, but, it can also be unreliable and lead to bad snap judgments because it’s subject to many biases, Daniel Kahneman points out in Thinking, Fast and Slow. In a marketing sense, these biases may stem from a poor understanding of the brand’s place in culture, or its tone, a weak sense of purpose, or a lack of understanding of its audience, all of which would be encapsulated in a masterbrand.

Our intuition can be honed through training to be very accurate. The experienced firefighter ‘knows’ exactly when to vacate a building, seconds before disaster. The master chess player has an almost preternatural ability to ‘read’ the board. Likewise, the well-defined masterbrand is primed to know exactly how to react in the blink of an eye when opportunity knocks, to get Australians talking and avoid a backlash.

Moensie Rossier
BY Moensie Rossier ON 21 January 2014
Moensie Rossier, planning director at BWM, is a well-travelled planning director and digital trends writer, with advertising and media experience in the UK, Belgium and Australia. She’s worked on major FMCG brands from P&G, Unilever, Colgate Palmolive, Campbell Arnott’s and Sanitarium, as well as technology, telco, tourism and government accounts.