Seven or eight years ago I found myself running into the same predicament over and over again. Our advertising agency would present our branding and marketing concepts to our clients and they would want objective assurances that our ideas would work. Although we were quick with pithy retorts to their requests such as, “Testing creative is like dissecting a frog. It’s bloody, messy, and not real good for the frog,” we had no real answers. So over the next two years we set out on mission to decipher the subjective cues and figure out objective ways to look at marketing. The result was our book Building Brand Value: Seven Simple Steps to Profitable Communications. The seven steps are:
All About Them.
Hearts Before Minds.
Make It Simple.
Make It Quick.
Make It Yours.
All Five Senses.
Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.
As I traveled and lectured on how to build brands, I would always challenge my audiences to tell me if I’d left any steps out. Most groups, including professors and practitioners, agreed that the list was complete.
But as I continued to use and teach our principles, and as I continued to study consumer behavior and human nature, it became more and more clear that one point — coincidentally our first point, All About Them — was the most important. And as we looked into this even more, what we found was that if a brand fully focuses on, and resonates with, the consumer then the rest of the steps — and the rest of branding methodology — might not even matter.
While it’s easy to believe that the best brands are always clear about who they are and what they stand for, what’s often less obvious but more critical is that the best brands market themselves as mirrors that reflect their consumers’ images in the most flattering light. And when those brands sell to younger and younger consumers who fought no battles and endured no real hardships, this becomes even more important. In other words, our parents’ generation defined themselves by the wars they fought. We define ourselves by the things we bought.
“Previous generations defined themselves by the wars they fought.
We define ourselves by the things we bought.”
In this environment, a product’s actual competency suddenly becomes cost-of-entry. Sure a product has to function for us to buy it, but just because it does work doesn’t mean we will purchase it. Thanks to modern design and manufacturing techniques, virtually all products function they way they should. Remember the days when TVs used to break? Picture tubes would blow, the gears inside dials (remember dials?) would strip, and remote controls would fail. Today, thanks to computer design and digital signals, TVs work like they’re supposed to and consumers don’t feel the need to replace them very often. In order to stimulate sales, manufacturers had to create new features — giant flat screens and 3D TVs, for example — just to get their customers back into the stores.
Cars from Korea’s Hyundai and Kia used to be considered cheap and tinny transportation. But just as with televisions, computer-aided design and manufacturing changed the abilities and durability of the cars, bringing them into line with other, much more expensive automobiles. The manufacturers telegraphed these changes with cutting-edge design that helped drivers feel good about themselves and today their beautiful Sonatas and Optimas are rocketing up the sales charts.
The most successful brands know that until they become badges that their consumers use to tell the world who they are, their brands are interchangeable. But once the brands become an integral part of their users’ identification cues, they become irreplaceable. After all, we used to say, “You are what you eat.” We now say, “You are what you consume.”
“We used to say, ‘You are what you eat.’ We now say, ‘You are what you consume.’”
The way we accomplish this is by not creating brands that talk about themselves but by creating brands that are All About Them.