Professor Tim Calkins points to this Kraft Miracle Whip commercial released in 1998 as an example of a tightly scripted, much-belabored ad typical of the pre-social-media era. Calkins, who oversaw the launch of more than two dozen products during his time at Kraft, recalls commercials like this taking months to produce.
Professor Alice Tybout highlights Coca-Cola as a brand that has worked hard to evoke specific associations from customers. “A brand like Coca-Cola is not just this caramel-colored beverage that’s carbonated and comes in a red can. For many people, it is a set of memories. It stands for connectivity with their family, or with their friends, or good times,” she says. Commercials like this one, released in 1971, went a long way toward making these connections.
According to Coca-Cola, the song was written by advertising director Bill Backer, whose flight was grounded in Ireland by fog. At the airport cafe, he watched as frustrated passengers unwound and socialized over bottles of coke. He “began to see the familiar words, ’Let’s have a Coke,’ as more than an invitation to pause for refreshment. They were actually a subtle way of saying, ’Let’s keep each other company for a little while.’”
Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should. The McLean burger represents one of the biggest repositioning flops in branding history. As Tybout explains, the company was trying to respond to health concerns about its food, as well as competition from healthier alternatives. “But, that’s not why people go to McDonald’s. They can’t really reposition themselves to being a health brand. It’s just not gonna work.”
In the early days, video games were often geared toward children, as this Atari 2600 ad demonstrates. Today, of course, most video-game ads target adults.
This early Bounty paper towel commercial (not aired in the podcast) goes all in on their “point of difference” from other paper towels—a difference that would later be captured as a catchy jingle: the “quicker picker upper.”
The first season of Insight Unpacked primarily features Kellogg faculty contributors to the book Kellogg on Branding in a Hyperconnected World. This book is available for purchase here. In addition, you can read three free excerpts on Kellogg Insight.
Prof. Paul Earle Jr.’s chapter on finding the right name for your brand.
Prof. Bobby Calder’s chapter on using design thinking to find a design that appeals to consumers on an unconscious level.
Prof. Mohan Sawhney on transmedia storytelling for brands.
Jessica LOVE: In the ‘90s, Tim Calkins worked in marketing at Kraft Foods. He was in charge of a bunch of BIG brands you probably know.
Tim CALKINS: Taco Bell, and Miracle Whip, Digiorno.
LOVE: One of his responsibilities was helping to create commercials for these brands… like THIS one for Miracle Whip, which featured a dog making a sandwich.
COMMERCIAL: Now that’s a dog!
LOVE: It’s a VERY ’90s ad… goofy, colorful, clever. But to Calkins… it’s also a reminder of just how much time, effort, and money it once took to put together a 30-second spot. You had to hire a video crew, and buy coveted air time. And because it was such a big deal, the marketing team would agonize over every word, every color, every MOMENT.
CALKINS: You might spend two or three months creating a commercial. And it was a very long, laborious process. But now that’s all, that’s all gone. The ability to reach people has changed.
LOVE: Today, Calkins explains, even a SMALL company… heck, even an INDIVIDUAL… can create a great video in a day or two. And it’s easier than ever to get that video in front of people. No need to BUY airtime. Instead, you can put it on your website, and throw it up on YouTube and Instagram. If it resonates with people… it might spread on its own, organically, from there. The point is… these days, anyone can establish a brand, and have it reach people, almost as easily as a big company like Kraft Foods. So if you’re trying to get your product or service out there, NOW is the time to strike.
But this exciting moment of easy branding… also presents a BIG challenge. Because, when it’s THIS easy to create a brand… a lot of people do. Which is WHY our world has become STUFFED with people and companies all trying to stand out. Amazon, Instagram, the neighborhood grocery store, your podcast feed… they’re all CLUTTERED with more brands than ever. And according to Calkins, who’s now associate chair of the school’s marketing department…if you want to cut through that clutter… your best hope… is to build an AMAZING brand.
CALKINS: You know, the world is full of brands, it’s full of communication. But we don’t have enough special brands, and there will always be room for those.
LOVE: So, that’s what we’re going to talk about. How to build a brand that cuts through the clutter of modern life. And you’ll hear that in five parts — five episodes that make up the very first season of Insight Unpacked…it’s a new podcast series from Kellogg Insight…if you don’t know, Kellogg Insight is an online publication from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of management that highlights our faculty’s research and insights. You may already be familiar with The Insightful Leader podcast we put out…but this is something different.
On each season of Insight Unpacked, we’ll be going deep on a particular problem that business leaders face, with guidance from our faculty experts here at the Kellogg School of Management. I’m Jess Love, the editor-in-chief of Kellogg Insight. And I’ll be your host.
On this, the FIRST season of Insight Unpacked… you’ll hear how to create a standout brand straight from Kellogg faculty who have spent their careers RESEARCHING and PRACTICING the art of branding. So whether you need to build a new brand from scratch, or you’re hoping to reinvigorate an existing one… in the coming episodes, our faculty will help you figure out how to stand out from the crowd…
Paul EARLE: Weird is great! Weird is wonderful and magical!
LOVE: You’ll hear how to make sure your brand is hitting the right mark…
Julie HENNESSY: Stop being so obsessed with what you’re saying, and pay attention to what consumers are saying.
LOVE: And you’ll learn how to bring your brand to life in the digital world.
Mohan SAWHNEY: If you can connect your brand to one of these stories, it creates a much deeper and more visceral response from customers.
LOVE: But before diving into the nuts and bolts of … brainstorming a genius name, or designing the perfect logo… there are a few fundamental questions that every brand NEEDS to answer about what, exactly, you are trying to accomplish. Now, some of them may sound familiar, particularly if you are a professional marketer. But stick with us, because these questions offer a CRUCIAL foundation for the topics we’ll cover in later episodes.
So today, we’ll walk you through what these THREE questions are, WHY they matter so much for your brand, and how you can go about answering them…
And we’ll do that with help from our own podcast branding experience…which we’ve recorded…and which you’ll hear throughout the series…to help you better understand how these insights look in action…and hopefully help you in your own branding journey!
LOVE: Regardless of whether you’ve ever built a brand before… you probably have some sense of what “branding” means. Maybe what comes to mind is a product logo… like the Nike “swoosh” mark, or Apple’s apple logo. Or maybe it’s a tagline… like “The quicker picker upper” or “Can you hear me now?” But for Alice Tybbout, an emeritus professor of marketing at Kellogg… the FULL power of a brand goes much deeper than any one of those brand assets.
Alice TYBOUT: A brand lives in people’s minds. It is the set of associations that are connected with a name. And so, a brand like Coca-Cola is not just this caramel colored beverage that’s carbonated and comes in a red can. For many people, it is a set of memories. It stands for connectivity with their family, or with their friends, or good times.
LOVE: Of course, these associations that people have with Coke… they’re no accident. They’ve been PAINSTAKINGLY cultivated by Coke’s marketers for DECADES.
COMMERCIAL: I’d like to buy the world a Coke and keep it company! [SLOW FADE OUT]
LOVE: Brands also DO more than we give them credit for… ESPECIALLY today. Sure, they’re often used to SELL a product or service. But brands also convey a lot of INFORMATION pretty efficiently…information about a product’s purpose… its reliability… its value. Just imagine if there were no labels in the soda aisle at the grocery store, and you were left to choose among hundreds of identical looking bottles.
TYBOUT: So, brands fit into that by giving us a grounding, a place to put your foot down and have some constancy. So, they’re particularly valuable as we get into a faster paced world—a world where we really can’t process all the information available.
LOVE: So… if you want to create an effective brand, how do you go about it? Where do you start? We posed that question straight up to Tim Calkins.
CALKINS: Well, I think in all things marketing, you really take a step back, and you begin always with the objectives. You really want to go back and say, “What are we trying to achieve here?” And once we know what we’re trying to achieve, then we can assess the options.
LOVE: Okay, so back to those three questions we said you need to answer…before you can start really crafting your brand. The FIRST one is…what’s the PURPOSE of this brand? The SECOND is…Do you need to start this brand entirely from scratch…or should you build on what you already have? And the THIRD is…what is your brand position going to be?
So, let’s start from the top with our first question…what is the PURPOSE of this brand? We CAN’T overstate how important this question is. Calkins and Tybout recently edited a book called Kellogg on Branding in a Hyperconnected World. Throughout this series, you’ll actually be hearing from some of the branding experts who contributed that book. And EVERY one of these experts we talked to agreed with Calkins on this point: EVERY branding decision… comes back to your PURPOSE.
Now, in thinking about this “purpose,” it’s important to articulate something bigger than just “we’re trying to make money.” Rather, you should think hard about: WHY do you truly NEED to exist in the world? Because with more brands than ever… and customers who are increasingly motivated by the chance to be a PART of something… brands driven by purpose are the ones that are going to stand OUT.
One example of a strong brand purpose is Warby Parker, whose mission is to make eyewear more affordable. Another is Airbnb, who aims “to create a world where everyone can belong anywhere.” For both companies, their PURPOSE permeates not just their branding materials, but the products and services they offer, the social causes they choose to fund… even the layout of their offices.
So… when you’re trying to create a brand, how, exactly, can you get at YOUR brand’s purpose? If your brand or organization doesn’t already have a mission statement, it can take some introspection to figure out what that deeper PURPOSE really is. Our branding experts suggest a few questions that you might try thinking about. Like, what IMPACT do you want to have? Or, what’s your rallying cry? Or, what will success look like for you?
LOVE: Questions like this can help you get at your purpose… but they’re TOUGHER than you might think. We struggled with this a bit here at Kellogg Insight…when thinking about OUR podcast…this podcast you’re listening to right now!
So about this podcast — this mini-series — that you’re listening to right now. You might have come across it because you’re subscribed to our main podcast, which is called The Insightful Leader. The Insightful Leader explores a range of topics, but all through a leadership lens. Like…how to lead your organization through a cyberattack or how to exude executive presence or how to use game theory to motivate your employees.
But we had been wanting to create an additional podcast where we could tackle other topics–particularly ones that didn’t lend themselves to our leadership framework, or couldn’t fit into a typical 20 minute episode.
But when our team sat down to discuss what we thought our PURPOSE was with this second podcast, all of us had slightly different answers.
FRED: …to amplify popular content.
EMILY: …to showcase Kellogg professors’ expertise.
KEVIN: It’s an attempt to develop a new audience.
LOVE: After a lot of discussion…we did eventually agree on a couple things. First, we wanted to provide a NEW venue for audiences to access our faculty’s expertise. Second, we wanted a place where we could go DEEPER–much deeper–into an important topic or problem than we’d ever gone before. Those objectives hinted at a broader purpose… to make sure our faculty’s expertise was connecting with the people who would get the most out of it
So…think deeply about your PURPOSE. It’s that first question that you, as a brand, have to ask and answer before you can do anything else.
Once you DO have a clear idea of your purpose, ask yourself a SECOND question, which is: Do you need to start this brand entirely from scratch…or should you build on what you already have?
Now, of course, this only really applies if you already HAVE a brand.
But when you do. It can be tempting to envision your new brand as a complete DEPARTURE from what came before. you might think… doing something REALLY different might help me break out of old habits, and reach new audiences… right?
TYBOUT: Trying to completely reposition a brand often leads to disaster.
LOVE: Alice Tybout advises that any brand think long and hard before trying to COMPLETELY shift how it’s perceived.
TYBOUT: Almost every brand gets drawn into the temptation to do that, often by competition. If you think about McDonald’s, at one point in time, offering the McLean burger.
COMMERCIAL: Critics are saying McDonald’s new McLean Deluxe is revolutionary! That’s because it’s made with the leanest beef patty in the business…
TYBOUT: You know, they were trying to respond to concern with health and brands that were at least perceived as more healthy. But, that’s not why people go to McDonald’s. They can’t really reposition themselves to being a health brand. It’s just not gonna work.
LOVE: McDonald’s ended up discontinuing the McLean burger… which is now considered one of the most expensive mistakes in fast food history. And plenty of other companies who attempted a TOO-radical change met a similar fate. When affordable clothing retailer JC Penny tried to turn itself into an upscale fashion brand, … it totally alienated its customer base. So when in doubt, Tybout says, rather than trying to CHANGE what you are to your customers…
TYBOUT: You’re better to figure out how you can be what you are more effectively.
LOVE: So when launching a brand, before you reinvent the wheel, if you have a wheel, remember to ask yourself that second key question: Do I REALLY need to build a new brand from scratch and reinvent who I am to customers? Or should I think about what my EXISTING brand is already doing right, and build on that?
And that brings us to our third and final question: What is your brand position going to be? Basically, where does your brand sit in your customers’ lives?
There are a few things that, together, create your brand position. And those are … a target audience, a frame of reference, a “point of difference,” and a “reason to believe.”
Let’s start with your target. How do you figure out what that is? Here’s Alice Tybout.
TYBOUT: You have to have a set of people in mind, because different people want different things.
LOVE: If you’re starting a brand from scratch, you might look at data on consumer trends, or emerging markets. But, if your new brand is BUILDING off of another brand, you might ask WHO that existing brand IS and is NOT reaching. In the case of our podcast, we asked our listeners, directly, who they were. We asked them to leave us voicemails telling us. And they gave us a lot of the information we were looking for. For starters…
VOICEMAIL MONTAGE: I’m a Kellogg alumni… Kellogg alum, class of 2006… 1990… ‘98
…‘94… Class of ‘91…
LOVE: About HALF of our callers identified themselves as alumni of Kellogg programs. So did that mean our target audience for the NEW podcast should be this same group of people? Tim Calkins thought that there was a strong case to be made for that.
CALKINS: You know, great brands usually really resonate with someone. And there’s a core of champions, there’s a core of people who love the brand. Those are the people in turn who perhaps spread the word, who attract other people. But without the core tribe, it’s really hard.
LOVE: But there CAN also be value in thinking beyond your most OBVIOUS target audiences. One good example of this…can be found in the video game industry.
COMMERCIAL: Jeannie! Mom and dad said I could play Yars’ Revenge!
LOVE: Companies like Atari geared branding towards kids.
COMMERCIAL: Your parents hook it up to the TV! [FADE OUT]
LOVE: But over time, video game companies realized that ADULTS were interested in their products, too. Which is why today, many games are geared towards adults, or some combination of adults and children… In other words, these companies realized that they could benefit from EXPANDING their target audience.
Similarly…we felt we had room to grow. After all, there are a lot of curious, engaged professionals who are not Kellogg alumni. So for our new podcast, we figured, we would ALSO target emerging business leaders who WEREN’T affiliated with our school, but wanted to learn a lot more about a specific topic: like AI, the economics of healthcare, or…well…branding. Each season, we figured, we’d delve into a new topic. And in addition to connecting to our core audience, we’d also try to connect with a new audience who wanted to learn about that topic.
So…figure out your target audience.
Once you’ve figured out who you’re targeting, it’s time to determine your “frame of reference.” Here’s Alice Tybout again:
TYBOUT: It’s the alternatives that your targets might consider to solve a particular problem. So you’re looking for, what might they consider as an alternative to you? And, you have to get into the customer’s mindset to figure out what that frame of reference would be.
LOVE: A lot of times, people think of frame of reference as just the “category” of product that they’re in… like, “furniture,” or “gardening podcasts.” But Tybout says it doesn’t HAVE to be that way. For example, take Blue Apron, the meal-kit delivery company. The most obvious frame of reference for Blue Apron would probably be meal kit providers… meaning it would compete with companies like Hello Fresh, and Home Chef. But…
TYBOUT: Alternatively, if it’s going after the “help me cook, I don’t have enough time to shop” segment, it might view its frame of reference as carry-out.
LOVE: …in which case, it would ACTUALLY be competing with GrubHub, and DoorDash. But that leads to a really tough question: WHY should a customer choose Blue Apron over these competitors?
Alright, so remember we’re still talking about the things that make up your brand position. We’ve got our target and our “frame of reference.” Now you have to figure out your “point of difference.” Basically, given the competitors in your frame of reference, what’s going to give YOUR brand a leg up? Even if you haven’t heard of this term before, you’ve DEFINITELY heard brands TALK ABOUT their point of difference… a LOT…
MONTAGE: Bounty picks up messes quicker, and is two times more absorbent than the leading ordinary brand… Hefty Ultra-Flex bags are 20 percent thicker and hold up to sixty pounds. Can a bargain bag do that? [FADE OUT]
LOVE: For our new podcast brand, for instance, we decided that our point of difference from competitors in our category would continue to be our unparalleled access to faculty experts at the Kellogg School of Management.
LOVE: Once you know what sets your brand apart, there’s just one last component to our brand position. And that’s…how can you PROVE that to prospective customers? This is what’s called the “reason to believe.” It’s the thing that demonstrates WHY you really ARE a cut above your competitors.
For some brands, the reason to believe is an IMAGE associated with the product. When you SEE basketball star Steph Curry wearing Under Armour, that’s EVIDENCE that Under Armour must be the best athleticwear. Other times, the reason to believe is an ATTRIBUTE of the product. Like, Perrier is the best sparkling water BECAUSE it comes straight from a spring in France.
For the new podcast, our reason to believe was simple… listeners would hear about a topic STRAIGHT from our faculty here at the Kellogg School. Like, for instance, they could learn about building a brand straight from the authors of Kellogg on Branding in a Hyperconnected World.
LOVE: And with that… you now know how to think about the three FUNDAMENTAL questions that will put you well on the way to building your brand. First… what’s your purpose? Second… should you build your brand from scratch? And finally, what’s your brand position? Figure out your target audience, your competitive frame, the thing that sets you apart from that frame, and how you’ll DEMONSTRATE that.
No doubt, answering these questions requires a LOT of research, thought, and work. But as Tim Calkins points out… doing this work EARLY ON is what’s going to set you up to succeed.
CALKINS: I think being thoughtful and disciplined about how you build your brand is really important. Because if you don’t really have a strong point of difference that makes your brand unique and special, if you don’t have that, it’s going to be very, very hard to break through the clutter.
LOVE: Alright, so you’ve done the hard work of setting your brand’s FOUNDATION. Now it’s time to start building on top of it. And of course, one of the most CRUCIAL pieces of any great brand… is a great name. But great names… are HARD to come by. As branding veteran Paul Earle explains… a rose by any other name would, in fact, NOT smell as sweet.
Paul EARLE: What would happen if you named a rose donkey vomit or sewer gas? Naming is really hard to get right and it’s really easy to get wrong.
LOVE: Next time on Insight Unpacked… Kellogg branding experts walk us through naming do’s and don’ts… and we talk to another podcaster with a name game that’s out of this world. That’s on episode two of Insight Unpacked, coming out next week.
LOVE: We’ll be back with the next episode of Insight Unpacked in a week… But while you’re waiting, you can check out the ads and brands we mentioned on our website at kell.gg/unpacked. The page also has related reading if you want to take a deeper dive into the world of branding. Okay, until next week!
This episode of Insight Unpacked was written by Jake Smith, Laura Pavin and Jess Love. It was produced by Laura Pavin, Jess Love, Jake Smith, Emily Stone, Fred Schmalz, Maja Kos , Blake Goble, and Kevin Bailey. It was mixed by Andrew Meriwether. Special thanks to Tim Calkins and Alice Tybout. As a reminder, you can find us on iTunes, Google Play, or our website. If you like this show, please leave us a review or rating. That helps new listeners find us.