Thursday, December 10, 2015

Using Symbols in Branding

I have repeatedly talked about brands needing to stand for something and how people increasingly use them as self-expression vehicles. Brands can become a way for people to express who they are (or who they want to become) and what they stand for (or how they want to be perceived). People aspire to high social status, wealth and power. They want to be perceived as smart, capable, nice, amiable, witty, well-travelled, well-read, knowledgable and creative. They want people to know that they care about others and that they are trying to make a difference in the world. These are just some of the ways people view themselves or want to be perceived. Let's take just one of these as an example. 

Many people like to be perceived as having high social status. What are some indicators of this? Having attended an elite boarding school or other private school. Living in an expensive, highly cultured city such as New York or San Francisco. Living in a highly desirable upscale neighborhood. Having attended an elite college or university. Having the right job - surgeon, attorney, CEO, private equity firm partner, etc. Participating in an elite hobby or sport - art collecting, yacht racing, fox hunting, etc. Belonging to the right country clubs and other social clubs. Enjoying ballet and opera and symphony concerts. Driving an Audi, Porsche, Mercedes-Benz or similar vehicle. Summering in Nantucket, Tuscany or the south of France. Having a residence with a wine cellar, a library, a home theater, a swimming pool and a tennis court. Having more than one residence. Attending the right sporting events - US Open, PGA Championship, Kentucky Rolex, America's Cup. Not attending the wrong sporting events - NASCAR, World Championship Wrestling, Monster Mudder events, etc. Fly fishing for trout, not entering a bass tournament with a Ranger motorboat. Shopping at Sacks Fifth Avenue, Bergdorf Goodman and Barney's, not Sears, Wal-Mart and Gander Mountain. Subscribing to Vanity Fair, Wine Spectator, Architectural Digest, Travel + Leisure and The New Yorker. Not subscribing to People, Field & Stream, Reader's Digest and Consumer Reports. And I could go on and on.

I could list a number of indicators or symbols for other lifestyles, aspirations and self-expressive targets. The point is, marketers need to understand the indicators or symbols for each self-expressive target, aspiration or lifestyle. For instance, there is an entirely different list of triggers or symbols for people who want to be perceived as being highly intelligent or intellectual. A competent marketer could compile this list from common sense, observation or marketing research. 

The astute marketer will pick a self-expression target that aligns with his or her brand and begin to develop indicators or symbols that reinforce that self-expression target. For instance, in the case of high social status, creating a retail environment that mirrors that of an elite country club.

I hope you can see the utility of identifying all of the indicators or symbols of a certain self-expression or lifestyle target and then incorporating those into your brand experience. They will work at a sub-conscious level with your target customers. 

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