Lazy thinking makes weak brands

Quality burger restaurant. Photo/COURTESY
Quality burger restaurant. Photo/COURTESY

Take a look at this picture. I shot it in Brussels airport and it made me very happy. Indeed it was one of the few highlights of a grey-green and greasy trip I recently made to the host city of the European Union.

Why so happy? You may well ask. Not for the prospect of a delicious meal, that’s for sure. But shortly after taking it I was to be seen fairly skipping down the concourse and into a waiting taxi.

The reason for my joy is that I now have, at long last, a perfect demonstration of a point I have been making to marketers for decades. It’s a picture, which means that even the most right-brained can understand it. Look at the restaurant sign in the picture and ask yourself what it tells you about the brand. Mm-hm, that’s right. Absolutely nothing. Zilch. Zip. Nada. Chochote. Rien.

Here is the point it illustrates. For a brand to work, someone needs to think about its 'Brand Promise' really hard. To bash computer keys and scrumple up printouts, and walk about and shout a bit. Go home, kick the dog, and sleep on it. Go back to work and beat it into shape with bare hands if necessary. Because nothing less will do.

But far too often, far too little effort is invested in this thinking by business owners and marketers in a hurry to design the logo and nail the slogan. A hurry to produce the pack. A hurry to brief the trade. A hurry to align the staff. And sadly… a hurry to fail.

So what did the marketing person at Quality Burger Restaurants do? Somewhere along the line he committed a mortal sin. He used the noun ‘Quality’ as an adjective. He is not alone in that. In the English-speaking world, this usage has become accepted over the past decade or so. Politicians talk about quality health provision. Bankers talk about quality financial services. Far too many customer service managers talk about quality customer service. For all I know, Vladimir Putin talks about quality invasions of sovereign territories not his own.

There’s not much we can do about that. But we can do something about eradicating the misuse of ‘Quality’ in marketing. Look at the photo again. What does the brand name tell you about the brand? What quality do you think is being implied here? Is this a clean restaurant, is this a fun or a friendly restaurant? Or perhaps ‘Quality’ is being used to hint, cheekily, at the nature of the eponymous burger? Perhaps it is a tasty burger, or a chunky burger, or a partially cremated burger? No one is any the wiser having read the sign. Even me, I don’t know.

The greater crime is that lazy marketers often pass the burden on to other people. Well-meaning, intelligent, creative people in ad agencies or design houses, or boutique digital shops or (heaven help us) PR companies. Just imagine that you are the recipient of a brief to brand a restaurant. You read down to the bit where a diligent client would have written some clear direction. A single-minded proposition, even. And there you see it, the adjective ‘Quality’ sitting there smugly. Abrogating all responsibility for brand direction.

So what do you do?

The answer is, as anyone who has received such briefs will tell you, that you do what you jolly well like. You produce a logo with a hidden banana in it. You write a slogan that can be disastrously misconstrued. You decide to put a photograph of the client in the press ad. And serve her right.

I don’t know how successful QBR is as a QSR (and I bet they use those acronyms). I had a look for them on the Web and they certainly don’t appear to be Belgium’s leading Quick Service Restaurant. Perhaps a passing Flem or a Walloon will write in to enlighten us. But in the interim- and on behalf of marketers across Africa - I would like to thank them for giving us this iconic image to treasure. I for one will keep it with me always.

Chris Harrison has 30 years experience of marketing and advertising most of them spent in Africa. He leads the African operations of The Brand Inside, an international company that helps organisations to deliver their brands and strategies through their people. Join Chris in this and other discussions about business, brands and behaviour by liking The Brand Inside Africa on Facebook page.