M-Branding

Let me ask you a difficult question: How on earth would you build your brand on a canvas smaller than a matchbox? What if you could use only one color (say black on a green background), you had no scope for graphics, and the consumer was paying for every second it took for you to send him or her a commercial message?

Welcome to the new world of m-branding. Now, more than ever, creativity and discipline are needed for preparing a branding platform. Why? Because everything is telling us that the WAP-enabled (Wireless Application Protocol) cell phone will soon be bigger than the World Wide Web we know today.

“Soon” is three years from now, according to AC Nielsen. Do you believe this? I do. Just think back to 1995 when the World Wide Web was born, and then think about the criticism the Net weathered at that time. Yet look at the Net’s onward growth today.

Knowing how fast this next branding revolution could arrive, you’d better be ready and start preparing for wireless branding. Excuse me for comparing this with a cigarette brand, but I can’t stop thinking about Silk Cut, an English cigarette brand which, in the ’80s, prepared for a government ban on cigarette commercials for all media.

All the cigarette companies knew it would happen, and they had plenty of time to prepare for the restrictions, but only a few used the time well. So when the day finally arrived, Silk Cut was able to continue its marketing campaign where its competitors’ hands were tied. Silk Cut maneuvered around the legislative constraints by eliminating its brand name from all publicity.

Silk Cut became recognizable as an image: Luxuriously rumpled purple silk with a gaping slash through it communicated the identity wordlessly. Color and image became the communicators: Racing cars in the distinctive purple livery, as well as billboard advertisements, were just two vehicles that carried the message to the community. And the interesting thing was that no one really noticed that the name was gone. The branding was intact.

Marlboro was another brand which, through its clothing line, escaped into the new advertising reality. The cigarette retained its smokers and communicated with potential smokers by promoting its “Marlboro Country” clothing brand.

So what’s the connection with m-commerce and m-branding? Being limited to using a matchbox-sized display, with no colors and no resolution, is like running a Silk Cut campaign without being allowed to show your logo or your brand name. It demands creative, disciplined planning for the branding platform.

Yes, you can show your logo, but consumers are paying for every second you take up on their mobile display. So what would you do? One technique might be to work on product placement: to ensure that your brand is exposed whenever it’s relevant on the news, in movies, and so on.

Another method would be to develop your brand’s language – to use phrases that the consumer can recognize as being the voice of your brand. Some brands have already developed brand phrases. Just think about Coca-Cola which, over the past six months, has been heavily promoting the word “Enjoy.”

The connection to m-branding is apparent, isn’t it? Such a simple word, yet, through disciplined brand use, so charged with meaning that its exposure on that tiny mobile display will say a thousand things to the consumer in a split second.

Think about Intel Inside’s melody and imagine how easy it will be for that brand to broadcast its signature melody via the cell phone. Both companies have created identifiers around their brands which can, independent of the brands’ logos, names, and images, remind the consumer about the brand and all it stands for.

But many, many more brands haven’t been as inventive yet. M-branding is all about using very few tools in a very creative way. If you don’t have any tools, create them fast. Because the race for branding real estate on the cell-phone display has already begun. And I can tell you, there’s not much space left.

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