Brandophobia: How No Branding Became Good Branding
June 23, 2016
Have you ever heard of retailer Muji? This business is known for a few things, from minimalism to recycling, but what they’re especially known for is their no-logo, no-brand policy. With nearly 700 locations all over the world, how does this business, that goes against all established rules and conventions of starting a business, grow, expand, and sell themselves without having a brand? This particular business is not unique, with more and more businesses finding the no-logo/brand model appealing and using it as a means of branding themselves.
Taking a closer look at Muji, the lack of brand is firstly in their name. Fully titled Mujirushi Ryohin, the Japanese name translates to “no-brand quality goods”, developed in the 1980s. The first products were wrapped in clear cellophane, using brown paper labels and simple red writing. Currently, the brand is known for their minimalist and Bauhaus-style that is very no-frills and almost mundane, limiting color options and packaging. Regardless, everything about the brand is a response to the labeling and high price tags associated with luxury items, and the value people would place on an item simply because it had that label.
In addition to the spartan name and appearance, little money is spent on advertising or marketing, attributing their success to word-of-mouth, the experience of shopping in these stores, and quite simple, the anti-brand movement that attracts a niche customer that prefers unbranded products (for aesthetic reasons or otherwise), and the different experience it proves in a world that is very saturated with branding all over.
In the 1999 book by Naomi Klein called No Logo, the argument was posed that business has too much of an emphasis on branding, and have begun less to brand their goods but rather abstract concepts (Think the Nike slogan, “Just Do It” that refers to confidence rather than footwear). For small businesses this makes sense! Focusing on the product rather than concepts seems like the brand may speak for themselves, but having a brand can sometimes be a huge benefit for organizations that aren’t able to avoid spending advertising budgets on themselves.
What Muji comments on is the strength of the product and design rather than the logo. This means that if someone purchases from Muji, they’re not buying for a designer or business, but rather for the product itself. For many businesses, branding means advertising. However, more advertising does not always equal a stronger brand. Some of the largest brands in the world, such as Google and Facebook rarely advertise, but they have a strong brand. A brand is lasting when their story, message, and actions last beyond an advertising campaign. Even think of Craigslist, the go-to for selling goods or finding an apartment, has a lack of branding and advertising for their services. Muji was able to tap into a niche market and expand accordingly, same with Google and Facebook. While the latter companies do, indeed, advertise and strongly brand themselves, Muji departs from this, with other companies following suit.
As much as Muji wants to herald a no-brand attitude, the no-brand movement is strongly associated with Muji, making no-brand a branding strategy. The appeal of these items is the lack of a brand, but if they didn’t enter the marketplace with a niche advantage, how well would the non-branding strategy have worked? It’s interesting to consider and lends credence to the idea that not every business is able to rely on their product speaking for themselves. In many industries, especially those that have competitors, a brand is not only crucial but can define the difference between success and fizzling out.