Breaking Brand: What Great TV Can Teach Us About Branding
September 9, 2014
Breaking Bad is back in the spotlight after nabbing 6 Emmy’s last week. It’s arguably one of the greatest dramas of its day, and is certainly the most entertaining lesson in brand marketing any marketer can get these days. Just in case you haven’t seen the show here’s the premise, “To provide for his family’s future after he is diagnosed with lung cancer, Walter White, a chemistry genius turned high school teacher teams up with ex-student Jesse Pinkman to cook and sell the world’s purest crystal meth (IMDB).” Now, do yourself a favor and spend the next ~2.2 days marathoning through it so you can appreciate the rest of this article and we don’t spoil anything for you.
A Great Brand Starts with a Great Product
When we first meet Jesse, he has his lab set up in a living room. He has a vague recipe and follows it as best he can but without the proper tools and processes in place he can’t ensure that the final product will be as good as the last batch or more importantly any better than what is already out on the streets. Walter White, or Mr. White as he is affectionately known, is a stark contrast to Jesse. As an experienced chemist, he values process and precision above all—he is a purist. Somehow this unlikely pair teams up to produce the best product the market has ever seen.
When building something great, having the right equipment and tools are imperative, even if you have to start small. For Walt, stealing glassware from the High School to upgrade Jesse’s hodgepodge cooking kit led to higher efficiency and a better final product. For marketers today, it could mean upgrading from Adobe and Dropbox to a brand management or marketing asset management software so you can make sure customer communications are being created efficiently, their usage can be controlled, and each customer touch is on brand.
For marketers and drug dealers alike, establishing a process is also crucial to building a great product and a great brand. Though there are obvious differences between creating brand messaging and cooking illicit drugs they are the same in that both benefit from using a process or recipe. When you follow the recipe it makes the entire creation process more efficient, and more importantly, it yields consistent results. Nowadays consumers in every form, expect a consistent experience and the best way to give that to them is to create your brand recipe and make sure everyone sticks to it.
Differentiation Keeps Customers Coming Back
Every brand needs a way to set itself apart from the competition, this where Walt and Jesse scored big with their blue colored meth. Being that it was a different color, their “blue” stood out in the meth market and became the symbol of a high quality product. Others tried to replicate it, but they failed because they didn’t have the same recipe or process. Gale Boetticher couldn’t do it. Though he was smart and knew enough about recipes he couldn’t recreate it perfectly. Others tried again down in Mexico, but they didn’t have the same process for cleaning and cooking so they failed as well.
Whether it’s the name, the color, the logo or something else, your product needs to be distinguishable so your customers know what to expect. Finding your brand’s “blue” could be the difference between ending up like Gale instead of succeeding like Walt.
Even a Great Product Doesn’t Sell Itself
In their humble beginnings, Jesse was both a cook and a dealer. Even with their near perfect product, they had to rely on Jesse’s knowledge of the market, the consumers, and the competition to be successful. As they grew, they had to add to their “sales team” so they recruited Skinny Pete, Combo, Badger and eventually an entire dealer network. These guys didn’t know much about making the meth, but honestly they didn’t need to, the “blue” brand practically spoke for itself. What they did know was the local market. They were fantastic at selling to the right person at the right time, which is as important as the product and brand development.
As mentioned, cooking and dealing were very different disciplines, but the show taught us that they are both essential for company and brand growth. When both “departments” work together everyone benefits. The cooks provided branded product or materials to the dealers who were able to capitalize on the power of the brand and make more sales. As they sold more and more product the word spread and added to the power and credibility to the brand.
When you take away the drugs, the scenario above isn’t too far off from the business dealings of a typical start-up company. The marketers of today are the cooks with the brand recipe. They supply sales reps with branded material and send them into the field (not the streets) to sell the product. With a solid product, a differentiated yet consistent brand, and a strong local sales network a start-up should be able to grow and become successful just like Walt and Jesse. As a side note, it will also help if the company is selling a legal product and doesn’t have to deal with Saul Goodman.