The Importance of Brands

Telling the stories behind a brand’s true value

by Bruce Terkel

Mr. Terkel is CEO of Turkel Brands, a PR and brand management firm in Miami, FL. Connect with him by e-mail:

It wasn’t until I spent three weeks in Southeast Asia with my family that I really learned the true importance of brands.

It shouldn’t have been that way because for the last 30 years I’ve been running a brand management firm that helps our clients create and build their brands through advertising, design, strategic planning, and online activities. I’ve written books on building brands and spent a lot of time zipping around the world teaching audiences what I’ve learned about building brands. I’m even lucky enough to appear on Money with Melissa Francis on FOX Business each week talking about what’s happened in the world of advertising and branding. But what I learned is that you CAN teach an old dog new tricks.

Our flight to Singapore included a layover in the spanking new transit terminal in Doha, Qatar. Other than housing facilities for the planes that are taking off and landing, Doha’s airport is really just a shopping mall. And all the products they sell there are big brands. Hugo Boss, Tom Ford, Tumi, Ferragamo, Samsung, Canon, Porsche, and Lamborghini are everywhere. So are TAG Heuer, IWC, Escada, Nikon, Chanel, and Montblanc. Plus every liquor and cigarette brand you can name – all in a Muslim country, no less.

Singapore, too, was awash in eastern and western brands. As was Bangkok, Saigon, Da Nang, and Hanoi. But none of those places compared to Hong Kong where I saw more brand names and logos than I’ve ever seen in my life.

It wasn’t just the upscale malls and airport stores that featured these brands. They were prevalent in every market we visited—from the floating market in in Bangkok and the street stalls in Saigon to the night market in Hong Kong.

Not the real thing

Brand value, the true reason today’s consumers purchase, is not about product function but about creating stories that help consumers tell the world who they are

It was most obvious in the counterfeit watch stalls and arrays spread out on blankets on busy avenues. Rolexes, Patek Philippes, Panerai, Omegas, and IWCs seemed to be the most popular. Of course they weren’t the real items, but then again, they weren’t five, 10, or 20 thousand dollars either. I didn’t bargain for one but I did watch a few tourists haggle for their counterfeit wristwatches for much less than $100 apiece.

What I found most interesting was that the tourists I watched weren’t actually buying timepieces. Because if they wanted to know the time they could always look at their mobile phones, dashboard clocks, laptops, iPads, or the myriad of watches they probably already own.

What they were buying were brands. They wanted to come back from the Orient with a status symbol on their wrists to tell the world just how successful they are. Accuracy, or even approximate time, is irrelevant—it’s all about the brand.

That being said, there’s not any reason to believe that the counterfeit watches from the Asian stalls are any less competent at time telling than the real things they copy to begin with.

In this world of modern computerized manufacturing, actual function is becoming less and less important to consumers. Thanks to today’s technology, most things simply work regardless of their brand name or cost. In fact, it’s very likely that regardless of the brand name on their boxes, many differently branded products are manufactured in the same factories. Moreover, most affluent consumers already have everything they could possible want or need. Instead, their purchases are about upgrading, freshening or replacing — I’m sure that no one I saw buying watches at those stalls actually needed another timepiece.

Brand value, the true reason today’s consumers purchase, is not about product function but about creating stories that help consumers tell the world who they are. From expensive foreign cars in the driveway to faux-expensive watches on wrists, it’s the brand value that both differentiates products from one another and incites customers to buy and buy more.

If you don’t believe me, book a trip to Southeast Asia. And if you need someone to carry your bags, give me a call. On your branded Android or iPhone, of course.