Building brands: a long-term perspective

In this guest post, Mark Pinney, head of strategy at Carat WA, uses Leonard Cohen's song 'Hallelujah' as an example of how building emotion into strategy can provide brands with longevity and success.

The emergence of the song ‘Hallelujah’ as a widely loved, top-selling song presents a useful reference point for brands.


Even this week it is on the US Hot 100 charts, following the death of its original writer and performer, Leonard Cohen.

It’s a story about finding emotion, distinctiveness, fame and most of all time: important elements for growing brands.

Originally, ‘Hallelujah’ was never released as a single. The album it featured on was perceived to be a disaster by Cohen’s record company and the song had very limited appeal.

Yet, over the course of 30 years, layers of emotional intensity transformed the song. Welsh musician John Cale was the first to realise this potential. His version in the early 1990s, featuring on a Cohen tribute album, introduced emotion and intensity that created flickers of interest in the song.

Jeff Buckley’s 1994 cover version of ‘Hallelujah’ also had modest exposure when released on the album ‘Grace’.

Like Cohen’s original, it was an album track. It wasn’t until Rufus Wainwright’s version of ‘Hallelujah’ which featured on the ‘Shrek’ soundtrack, that there was widespread interest in the song.

Consequently, Buckley’s haunting version of ‘Hallelujah’ was discovered and shared by large audiences. Eventually it was released as a single and charted in 2006, nine years after his tragic death.

The song was catapulted in to the mainstream, featuring on TV talent shows and being used widely across mainstream media. This has led to more than 300 known versions of ‘Hallelujah’ in circulation today.

Two elements of Hallelujah’s story, emotions and long-term success, are important topics to consider in planning for brand growth.

Let’s look at emotions first. A robust body of evidence and commentary from several sources, categories, disciplines, and markets explore the link between emotions, distinctiveness and building brands; Les Binet & Peter Field, Byron Sharp, Robert Heath, Paul Feldwick, Mark Earls and Daniel Kahneman, just to name a few.

In short, it’s no coincidence that communication that makes us feel something tends to be more easily recalled (and therefore, successful) than communication that solely tries to persuade. It’s less effortful.

But also, on the contrary, the ability to reach and find audiences with an immediate need presents a different opportunity. Here, people are more open to more action-orientated communication, specific to that need. It means that both emotional and rational communications have a role to play in brand and business success.

This thinking is not original, but there is a compelling and growing body of evidence that validates the hunches that have influenced many of us. The need to balance communication styles brings comms planning to the fore.

A combination of research sources and techniques should present robust stimulus for brand teams, helping create practical audience insights; a window in to the behavior, needs and wants of current and future customers – our agents of growth.

This will reveal opportunities to help brands communicate more effectively all the way through to purchase, with emotional and rational communication taking turns to lead and follow on the way.

The balance and roles of both are key. There is richness in this discussion: budget setting, ambition, objective, measurement.

Every brand has a unique context to frame this discussion and the opportunity to create distinctive communication as people make their way to purchase.

Allied with appropriate metrics, this becomes a key part of the journey to success. It will help guide and manage stakeholders, as well as stoke the fires of creativity for our teams.

Whilst the evidence behind the role of emotions and feelings in long-term success is compelling, introducing more emotional/feelings-based elements can create tension.

Especially in an environment where short-term, rational communication is more commonplace. The benefits of longer-term, emotionally-based communication must be reconciled with the often uncomfortable changes required for success.

Its introduction often marks the start of a new journey: it requires more time, different objectives and measurement. As more numerous marketing signals feed our appetite for signs of progress, shifting to a model where evidence of success often takes longer requires a shift in thinking and commitment from marketing stakeholders.

Perspective must move from just thinking about today to also preparing for success tomorrow – paying it forward. Like ‘Hallelujah’ the effects will unlikely be overnight, but consistency will create the grounds for both momentum and memory.

As marketers and advertisers, we act as brand stewards; our opportunity to influence success is finite.

The temptation can be to focus on demonstrating quick traction, increasing short-term ROI, especially when tenure in marketing roles is often under two years.

Therefore, organising for long-term success can be uncomfortable to those ingrained in operating/delivering in the short-term.

It means that many will find themselves in a situation where brand success is returned when they are no longer responsible for it.

Viewed in this way, it’s important to ask: ‘what legacy are we creating for the brands we’re stewarding?’ Are the foundations sturdy or temporary? How are we organising for long-term success?

Over the past couple of weeks, I have had the opportunity to discuss and hear from clients on this topic as part of Carat’s quarterly ‘Redefining Series’. The general consensus is, if you haven’t already, it’s time to start the slow burn and lay better foundations for future success – hallelujah to that.

Mark Pinney is head of strategy at Carat WA


Get the latest media and marketing industry news (and views) direct to your inbox.

Sign up to the free Mumbrella newsletter now.



Sign up to our free daily update to get the latest in media and marketing.