independent

Wednesday 23 April 2014

The sparkling appeal of Co. Louth brands

SOME YEARS ago, in the mid-eighties, I bought a small silver Sony radio on a visit to Dublin.

After a while the silver paint chipped off revealing an Airfix-grey plastic underneath. And the telescopic aerial lost the knack of supporting itself. But, despite dropping it in the bath, burying it in sand, and hauling it in the bottom of a backpack on holidays around Europe, it still worked 25 years later. It may have looked like a brick, but it was almost as robust.

A few years ago, I bought a flatscreen Sony to replace our old TV, convinced that it would give the same years of service as the little radio. It didn't. Two months out of warranty, the TV died. A quick Google revealed a problem that could take the price of a new set to resolve. Eventually, after staring at a blank screen hoping it would somehow fix itself, we bought another new TV. Another Sony. Why? Well, reasoning that the broken TV was a rare dud, possibly rushed off the production line at five to six on Friday evening, I convinced myself that Sony was still a byword for quality. That, friends, is the power of the brand. Today, branding everywhere and unavoidable. Even the German supermarket chains with a no-brand strategy have become major brands themselves. And the humble petrol stations once called Murphy's and Doyle's now sport fancy brand names denoting they are foodstops where you can also fill your tank, and not the other way round. It will come as no surprise that the top-10 brands in the world last year were American. The country where the consumer is king did not invent the brand, but did put it on the world map.

The logos of Mcdonald's, Apple and Nike are as instantly recognisable to a Venetian goldolier as a London stockbroker. But while the broker's brand of choice for getting from a to b is BMW or Mercedes, the gondolier's is a vessel crafted at The Squero di San Trovaso – the biggest brand in goldolas, I'm led to believe. The point is that while we think of the Coca-colas, Starbucks and Chanels of this world when the word 'brand' is uttered, branding is equally important at local level. Whether you're selling coffee or canal boats, a strong brand identity can give the edge. And, as in the case of CocaCola, if the panglobal brand has a strong local connection, all the better. Heinz is one of those powerhouse world brands and everyone knows their products and their catchphrase. We in Louth are proud that Heinz have an excellent state-of-the-art production facility in the county.

From software solutions to fitness gyms, all of the businesses in this supplement have one thing in common: strong branding, both in their own market and in their locality. Consciously or not, all the people behind these local success stories are following in the footsteps of corporate identity guru and branding expert Walter Landor, who famously said: 'Products are made in the factory, but brands are created in the mind.' Think on that the next time you buy a spa treatment in Mizu or use the local Bus Éireann services. And, while you're at it, give yourself a pat on the back for contributing to a local economy made all the stronger by brand names that show Louth in the best possible light.

– John Mulligan

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