• Transform magazine
  • October 22, 2020

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Branding the intangible: How to give solid personality to things that aren’t there

Thinkfarm Cover Photo

With most brands, you can pick them up, smell them, wear them, consume them. But how do you create a strong identity for something that’s completely intangible? Stephen Izatt, managing director at strategic branding and campaign agency Thinkfarm, offers his insights into the branding process behind Bauer’s Greatest Hits Radio, and creating a solid identity to communicate the station’s USP.

How do you tell someone that a particular series of electromagnetic waves deserves their attention? That they’ll provide interesting dialogue or a life-enhancing burst of joy that speaks to them directly, leading to a sense of fulfilment?

There are thousands and thousands of radio stations filling up the airwaves every minute of every day, all over the world. The job of the brand strategist is to make that one particular channel stand out and connect with target audiences, giving it a tangible presence that makes people want to tune in and establish it as part of their daily routine.

Brands are not physical items, but they’re often attached to something you can pick up, taste, smell or feel. With radio it’s different – there’s nothing to look at or to touch. But for a radio station to succeed it needs to be imbued with a physical presence and a solid personality.

So, how do you go about achieving that?

In any brand strategy the key thing is defining the product and establishing its brand truth – what it’s all about, what it stands for and who it’s for. Working all that out should be the launchpad for any branding strategy and creative campaign. The radio market is incredibly cluttered and highly competitive, so it is crucial to isolate the thing that serves to differentiate you from other stations, the thing that excites and engages listeners.

Hit the right note

Bauer Media recently launched its newly expanded station, Greatest Hits Radio, an unapologetic celebration of those hits from the 70s, 80s and 90s that take you back to a time when rock ‘n’ roll was exciting and new, when we had fewer responsibilities and times were good. It was our job as the brand strategists and creative team to drill down to the truth of the brand and give it relevance, defining its audience and building a bridge between people and product. For Greatest Hits Radio that meant zoning in on the fact that we all need a bit of levity in our lives right now – and being reminded of our favourite tunes as we go about our day-to-day is a good way to achieve that. Our brand proposition – ‘the good times sound like this’ – summed it up perfectly. It’s early days, but the ads are being placed across multiple media and reaching new audiences, with a bright and optimistic nationwide station. 

Our award-winning work for classical music station Scala Radio required a totally different approach. We were defining a new audience and responding to an underserved demographic – dabblers who love rock and pop but also want a bit of classical in their lives too. Developing a unique brand strategy and clear positioning was crucial in communicating the difference that Scala Radio brings when compared with the incumbents – Classic FM and BBC Radio 3. We joined Bauer’s head honchos in profiling audiences who listen to all sorts of music, classical among them. People who want a classical radio station that’s not stuffy and educational but interesting and informative, presented by people who entertain. We captured it in the line ‘classical music for modern life’. The whole project has been well received and, apart from impressive RAJAR results, the audience engagement has been positive on social media and other channels, too. Also, the presenters are very on board with the way the station is positioned and enjoy being part of something truly different and fresh. The most successful branding is that which connects presenter, advertiser and audience via a common belief or truth. 

Tune into brand truth

Drilling down to a brand’s truth, defining its audience and devising a creative response all serve to give weight and substance to brands. Which has the knock on effect of making them resonate with consumers in as profound a way as possible. The visuals, audio, logomark, colourways, etc, all come later when the building blocks are in place.

Often your brand strategy is already there, hidden in the weeds. You’ve just got to draw it out and make it real. Getting to the core of who you are and what your target consumers will get out of your business is the key to getting to the heart of what your brand should stand for. All the flipcharts and spreadsheets in the world won’t help here because it’s about emotion and connection. 

Consumers really buy into brands so it’s important to spend the time to get it right. Branding provides the foundations for your business so it should inspire, offer flexibility and be with you for the long haul. And if you’re dealing with a business that is invisible to the naked eye, it has the additional role of making sure people know you’re there in the first place and you’re going to deliver something special and meaningful to them.