Monday, September 29, 2014

Brand Magic

Brands and the organizations, products and services that they represent must deliver real customer value. That is, they must address real human needs and desires.  And they must do so for monetary and convenience-related costs that deliver at least a reasonable, if not an outstanding, value.  So, brands should deliver real functionality. Often, the most visionary and innovative brands and the ones that make the best use of emerging technologies are best at doing this. So are brands that are backed by operationally excellent organizations and whose organizations stress outstanding customer service.

Having said that, there is a less tangible, but equally, if not more important element to branding – what the brand stands for symbolically. Research has shown that most decisions are made emotionally. And people are emotional animals. A brand that has a clear and admirable mission and vision, that has strongly articulated values, that is associated with important ideas, that takes a strong stand for what is right - that brand will win people’s hearts and loyalty. Further, research has shown that these brand associations can be created well before the product or service purchase or usage experience. And they will actually enhance the product purchase and usage experience even though these associations are completely intangible.


While some brand managers, depending on organization structure and roles, may have control over the more tangible brand benefits, every brand manager should have control over the symbolic brand values and associations. And this is where the magic occurs. I encourage you to think deeply about how your brand can inspire people, how it can make them feel good about the state of the world. Take your brand to the next level. Take it beyond functionality to the world of compelling ideas and emotionally moving values.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Universal Myths and Branding

If brands tell stories, it might be useful that those stories are informed by the universal myths that recur over time and across geography and culture.  These myths resonate with people at a very deep level. They are about coming to grips with our mortality, making sense of our lives and reconciling the individual experience with the infinite. So, what are the myths that emerge in one form or another again and again?

  • Creation Myths: Why are we here? Where did we come from? How did it all begin? What was the first cause? What is our place in the universe?
  • The Earliest Times: What are our roots? What is our lineage? Who were our ancestors? What were their customs? What were their lives like back then? What trials and tribulations did they have to endure? What can this teach us about our lives today?
  • Flood Myths: Was there once a great earth-wide tragedy? What was its nature? What caused it? Why did it occur? Could it happen again? If so, what could we do to minimize its probability of recurring? How fragile is our existence?
  • Great Loves Stories: What is perfect love? What is divine love? What ecstasies and traumas are associated with true love? Can two people that love each other ever really be permanently separated? Can love conquer all?
  • Morality Tales: Are there moral tests? Would I pass them? What can an immoral person expect? What are the consequences of immorality? What are the consequences of specific immoral acts? How does an immoral person’s life end?
  • Hero Myths: How does the hero save someone or something from disaster or destruction? What bravery and courage does the hero exhibit? What is the hero’s reward? In what ways am I a hero? Can we all become heroes, at least in some small ways?
  • Journeys to the Underworld: What possesses someone to journey to the underworld? Is it possible for someone to journey to the underworld and then come back to tell about it? What sort of individual is able to sacrifice everything to save another? Can love overcome fear? Can our dark side be conquered? Can we conquer death? Can we transcend death?
  • The End Times: What are the signs of the end times? Are we in the end times? What will happen in the end times? Can we ever transcend the chaos and evil in this world? Will there ever be heaven on earth? Are the end times something to be welcomed or feared? What will happen to me in the end times? Ultimately, what will become of me?



As a marketer, you can attempt to associate your brand with almost anything. While none of these myths may have direct applicability to your brand or its story as currently conceived, perhaps there is a question or two related to one of these universal myths that is relevant to your brand and its messaging. If you are able to weave these myths or their questions into your brand’s story, you will be tapping into something with deep emotional roots and the power to persuade.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Tribal Branding

With declining trust in traditional institutions, people today are increasingly using brands and consumption to express their identity and signal their values. Tribes come together under what they imagine are a shared set of values or emotions. An astute marketer can often help the tribe to link those shared values or emotions to its brand and its products or services.

The first step is to understand what the group values, what its rituals are and how people in the group behave when they are together. It is also important to understand how the tribe views the world and their place in it. This includes uncovering their beliefs and their hopes, fears, anxieties and aspirations. This requires intense ethnographic research – interviews, observation, and even spending significant time interacting with the group. From this, you discern patterns. Once you have refined and validated the group patterns, you can then determine how your brand might be able to link to or reinforce one or more of those patterns.

Brands that have the potential to become tribal brands (or that already are tribal brands) include Harley-Davidson, FOX News, Patagonia, Star Trek, Tesla Motors and MINI Cooper. It is important for people not only to have shared values and an intense interest in using the brand to signal those values, but also to seek each other out and share at least some aspect of the brand experience with each other.

Harley-Davidson is all about the experience of freedom of the road and comradeship of kindred spirits. FOX News is for people who share a very specific conservative view of the world and of how they would like to see the US operate as a nation. Patagonia is for people who really care about maintaining a healthy environment and who are passionate about the outdoor recreation that occurs in that environment.

People use brands as badges, but more importantly, some people are connecting with brands in ways that they traditionally would have with their churches or hometowns or alma maters. The brands are important signals to their identities but are also components of their shared activities and social lives.

An important aspect of tribal branding is co-creation. Once your brand becomes tribal, you lose some element of control over your brand. You can suggest brand usage or rituals, but it will be up to the tribe to decide if those uses or rituals make sense to them.

Some brands are well on their way to going tribal in unexpected ways. Burberry was a conservative luxury brand with a country feel. Various sources talk about the brand being taken over by “chavs” and “chavettes.” It all started when people traveling for football games liked the clothing they saw the locals wear and adopted them for themselves. Similarly, rappers and hip-hop artists have adopted the Helly Hanson brand.


The bottom line is that consumers are now using brands not only to signal their identities and shared values, but (with the help of astute marketers) also as a sign of tribal membership and as an integral part of the tribe’s activities and rituals.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Branding Clichés

It seems that every good idea, every admirable quality, at some point gets overused and eventually becomes a cliché. Some qualities become so popular that every organization aspires to possess them or at least claim that they possess them. I run into this all of the time in crafting brand positioning statements and elevators speeches.  These are some of the words and phrases that I believe have become clichéd:
  • Leader
  • Quality
  • Innovation/Innovative
  • Reliable
  • Responsive
  • Customer focused
  • Service
  • Trust/Trustworthy
  • Authentic
  • Green
  • Organic
  • Luxury
  • Estates
  • Resort


It’s not that the concepts that the words stand for are undesirable. It’s just that so many brands are claiming these, even within the same product/service categories, that they have become hollow and meaningless. So, here is what I would recommend regarding these words and phrases. By all means, embrace them as a way of conducting your business and perhaps even as a point of difference. In support of this, even include them in your internal brand strategy documents. But, don’t integrate them into your taglines, elevator speeches or marketing campaign themelines. These are admirable qualities to possess so by all means strive to possess them, but don’t scream to the world that you possess them. Let your actions scream that for you. Think of it this way – those that are always claiming that they are trustworthy may be trying to overcome self-doubts about how trustworthy they really are. Or those who are claiming to be green may be doing so just to ride the wave of a popular trend. Don’t claim these things, just be them.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Brand Taglines

We have been asked on many occasions to create taglines for brands. In fact, I believe that developing brand taglines (and elevator speeches) are the most important next steps one can take once a brand has been positioned or repositioned. 

A tagline should achieve all of the following:
  • Communicate the brand’s unique value proposition (promise)
  • Be succinct
  • Be memorable
  • Cause a person to want to know more about or interact further with the brand

Achieving all of the above is more easily said than done. Over time, I have found that the less sophisticated the client, the more they are primarily interested in a tagline that sounds good, even if it doesn’t really say the right thing or anything at all about the brand. Many relatively unsophisticated clients would choose a tagline option that sounds great but that is completely off brand strategy over one that just sounds good but perfectly communicates the brand’s unique value proposition.

Yes, it is up to the brand consultant or marketing agency to create the perfect tagline, one that does all of the above, but I am amazed at how many clients are willing to walk away from their brand strategy to embrace a cool sounding tagline that means nothing. I have heard clients say, “I like that tagline because it could mean anything” or “I like that tagline because it could mean different things to different people.” Or worse yet, “That sounds so cool. Does it really matter if it communicates our brand’s promise?” Yes it does. Why bother with a tagline if it is not helping position your brand the way you want it to be positioned? Don’t settle for a tagline that just sounds good. Wait until you have found one that achieves all of the above criteria. You will be glad that you did.