What are Brand Roots?
We always include Brand Roots as part of our brand positioning work in our advisory practice. Brand Roots are a critical component that can drag your sailing towards your target or facilitate a smooth ride.
Brands are the byproduct of our actions, execution, and vision. And what consumers’ of a brand today is a derivative of all the good and bad work until now. The brand roots are a polarizing element of our work on the brand, which can be either positive or negative but influences consumers’ and customers’ perceptions of the brand. In other words, the brand roots are an existing element, which brand strategy cannot ignore.
Apple will always be the company Steve Jobs founded. Amazon was – first and foremost – the largest bookstore on earth for quite some time. On the other end, denominations of origin always play a role for brands in a specific category: Scotch Whisky, Tequila, Champagne and Prosecco Bubbles, Cognac, Parmiggiano Reggiano Cheese, San Daniele Ham, Iberico Ham, Manchego cheese they all have strict geographical stories, and precise production processes which belong to the product, but impact the brand’s domain too, by defining the roots.
Why are they important?
Have you ever heard of Mozart Balls?
According to Wikipedia:
A Mozartkugel (English: Mozart ball) is a small, round sugar confection made of pistachio, marzipan, and nougat that is covered with dark chocolate. It was originally known as Mozart-Bonbon, created in 1890 by Salzburg confectioner Paul Fürst (1856–1941) and named after Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
Marketers are aware of Mozart Balls, especially for the number of trademark lawsuits these chocolate have been at the center of in the past half-century. Based on the tradition of these chocolates, a distillery launched the Mozart Chocolate Liqueur, a line of liqueurs based on the tradition of the Mozart Balls. What could the roots of such a brand be?
- Mozart, Austrian globally known composer of the classical period
- Mozart Balls, famous chocolate balls from Salzburg, the native city of Mozart
Why is this example relevant? Because with such a name and roots, Mozart Chocolate Liqueur is unlikely to become a summery brand, with a tropical imaginary and a modern flair of molecular mixology. Unlikely, not impossible. This example showcases the critical reason for Brand Roots being so important. They define a brand’s present and impact its future.
Likewise, roots can successfully empower a positioning. The Venetian’s origins did wonders for Aperol’s international development. The Made In Italy seal of approval supports the development of Italian exports in heavy machinery, design, fashion, and food and beverages.
The bottom line: brand roots are an essential part of positioning work: at minimum, they are a starting point. At best, they shape the future direction.
Brand Roots Archetypes
There are many different examples of roots archetypes, but the most likely to influence a brand are four:
- Country of Origin – we already mentioned the examples of food and beverages, where the notion of denomination of origin plays a substantial role with the products and influences and shapes the brand domain. But the idea of country of origin goes well beyond that. Made in Italy is a clear example of that, where the whole export system relies on this shared idea of quality, creativity, and innovativeness mixed with tradition. Silicon Valley also is a peculiar case: it is the quintessential country of origin for high tech and technology companies.
- Founder – Steve Jobs, Miuccia Prada, Bill Gates, and Giorgio Armani created companies that proliferated internationally. And they left their imprint whether they are related to the company or not. Likewise, Louis Vuitton, Yves Saint Laurent, and Coco Chanel have left a mark on the brands that carry their respective names decades after passing away. No brand strategist could think of repositioning Chanel without knowing who Coco was.
- Family – these brands are more peculiar than founder’s brands. First of all, when still run by the family, they still hold their values tight. Then because the sense of heritage belonging to the family runs deep. Brands like Swarowski, Taittinger Champagne, Amarelli have centuries of family history behind them, which shape their future and present. And it is hard to imagine those brands with no clear understanding of their family business.
- Origin Story – The anecdote or how a brand got its superpowers are solid roots for a brand. How did the Jaegermeister brand become a myth in the US? (Jaegerbombs docet). An interesting anecdote is that Ferruccio Lamborghini, a successful tractors manufacturer, was unhappy with the clutch of his Ferraris and decided to confront Enzo Ferrari himself. The latter dismissed Lamborghini, who founded the sports car company out of spite. That rebellious soul still lives in the brand, 60 years later. In spirits, entrepreneur and inventor Maurice Kanbar created Skyy Vodka because he wanted a hang-over-free martini experience. The brand became very popular, and eventually, Kanbar sold it to Gruppo Campari, but that anecdote and the San Francisco roots live on.
Of course, in some instances, multiple archetypes combine and survive simultaneously: Apple is one of the symbols of Silicon Valley, but its roots are undeniably linked also to Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak. Super-premium chocolate brand Marcolini builds on his Belgian heritage and the namesake Pierre, an award-winning chef patissier who is obsessed with chocolate. Maison Versace scaled up under the leadership of Gianni, who tragically died at age 51, when his sister Donatella and his brother Santo took control of creative direction and business operations, respectively.
Brand roots are an essential part of the positioning, and brand strategists can never dismiss them. They are either a hurdle or an opportunity for future brand growth!