Does the Formula Matter or Is It the Brand that Counts?

According to a recent CNN article there is much buzz about a copy of the secret formula of Coke being released in the media.  However several experts indicate the formula does not matter.

“Today, anybody with access to a sophisticated chemistry laboratory could analyze the formula of Coke, but no one can call a product called Coke other than the Coca-Cola Company,” John Sicher, editor and publisher of “Beverage Digest,” told the paper. “The so-called ‘secret formula’ is a wonderful story of lore and mystery, but in reality, the value today is the brand, not the formula.”

Is this true? and is it true for your start-up? First let’s look at what is a brand? According to Wikipedia:

“A brand is the identity of a specific product, service, or business. A brand can take many forms, including a name, sign, symbol, color combination or slogan. The word brand began simply as a way to tell one person’s cattle from another by means of a hot iron stamp. A legally protected brand name is called a trademark. The word brand has continued to evolve to encompass identity - it affects the personality of a product, company or service.”

Ironically the first image that appears when you search the definition of a brand on Wikipedia is the Coke logo! This further begs the question is brand as important as formula for everyone or only Coke? Lets look further at the definition of a brand.

A brand is the set of expectations, memories, stories and relationships that, taken together, account for a consumer’s decision to choose one product or service over another. If the consumer (whether it’s a business, a buyer, a voter or a donor) doesn’t pay a premium, make a selection or spread the word, then no brand value exists for that consumer.  Seth Godin

Several sources agreed with Seth’s definition. They stated that the brand is the emotional  response to a product.  So how does the consumer get this emotional response? From either advertising or direct experience with the product.  So for the start-up some suggest that demand creation is actually more important than your brand.

 ”When you’re small, nothing builds brand better than selling.” ~Tom Scearce of Scearce Marketing Group

Ah ha! The formula does matter! it is much harder to create demand without the right product. No demand no emotional response to the product.

The moral of the story you must have a great product to create the intrigue in discovering its secret formula! Your brand comes from the experience the consumer has from your product. A great formula creates a great experience.