During my 10 years in advertising and media I’ve thought a lot about Brands. Maybe too much. Most of those 10 years I tried to understand what all that advertising and media was doing for a brand. Many times I lamented the fact that many of the brands were just too hard to advertise. The products had no real distinctiveness. Brands are aspirational in their uniqueness -- and advertising has to fall back on propaganda-like manipulation tactics to create a perceived difference.
There are countless ways to measure the value of a brand. Valuable brands can maintain higher prices, retain customers longer, and/or spend less on marketing as a percentage of revenue. But, if you survey some of the most recognized brands out there, they are valuable because they have created perceived differences (advantages). Coke, Nike, Apple -- the brands all signify something beyond rational product benefits.
What does this mean? Good branding makes you feel more for a product or service beyond its rational characteristics. That’s not a bad thing. In a world where meaning is hard to come by, brands that mean something to a consumer are perhaps a good thing. The distinction worth considering is how the brand came to this meaning. Did it start with something new, different and better? Or did it come about via sustained superior communication reach, relevance, and influence?
With my son starting preschool today, I got to observe an hour of 3 year old group interaction. There’s no such thing as “popular” in preschool. It’s simply a question of: do I want to play with this other kid or not? All the fake stuff around popularity comes later (when you’re a tween).
That’s the part of branding I’m mulling over now. Do you want to be a brand that wins like a pre-schooler? Or do you want to be a brand that wins like a 15 year-old? Do you want to be a brand people are better off for having in their life? Or do you want to be a brand that makes people think they’re better off with it in their life.?
I’d hope you’d choose the former. If you do, then you can start thinking -- how does a 3 year old let other kids know he/she is fun to play with? You don’t make friends 10 at a time. You do it in a much more intimate way. You laugh. You share. You make the “now” seem more interesting and new. You help do things the other kids can’t do alone. I saw this when my son sat on the teeter totter. I ended up pushing him up and down. But it wasn’t until another kid got on the other side -- and they watched each other, adding sounds, speed, variation, and feedback -- did they really light up and have fun.
Be authentic, novel, empathetic, different, surprising. Make people feel better. Does your marketing do all that? Or does it fall back to teenage notion of popularity -- do you fit in, are you rich, are you beautiful, do a bunch of other people like you?
And the funny thing about popularity: it’s a one way street. Liking someone who is popular doesn’t make you any more popular. Brands that use “popularity” marketing won’t ever be able to deliver that popularity for their audiences and customers. If you’re a brand making people smile, laugh, connect, delight, find meaning -- then you’ve already won.