Brands are loaded. With meaning that is. Having recently worked on a brand project I got to thinking about brands and their significance to us as people and to our businesses.
I like the straightforward side to branding, on many levels it just make sense. On the other hand, I also like the irrational side brands bring out in us – like the desire to cling to a brand because of a long attachment to it even though there are other superior options available. So I want to look a little closer at what lends some brands to have a mysterious pull when others don’t.
They let us play favourites.
Firstly, I haven’t met anyone that doesn’t have a favourite brand, or many. Favourites can change over time. Change as we grow up. Change as our taste changes. Regardless of any changes there’s always likely to be a brand that tops our list for most of the products/services we have to choose. Favourites matter because they make decision making easier. And when we have enough things to remember why wouldn’t we take the stress free option?
2. Deliver a feel good factor
Brands let us reflect in their glow. We seek them out because on some level they make us look or feel good. We want what they can do for us. We want to be understood. A brand has more chance of being a favourite if what it stands for matches what we stand for. It’s personal, but when values match then brands can serve us best. It’s also at this time that relationships can form.
3. There's meaning
Brands help to ‘telegraph our intentions’ to others. We buy the brands we want to represent who we are. We signal to others what we’re about through our choices. Even when we don’t think we’re choosing a brand, think we’re opting out, we still make a decision and that decision says something about us. Choosing a ‘no name’ brand is still a choice. And that might be to signal an anti-establishment sentiment. There’s always meaning in our brand choices and because of that meaning we can be passionate about our brands. Whether we choose a brand for business or personal reasons, we still want our choice to reflect well on us.
4. They evolve
Brands need to be shown love to evolve over time. The most successful are crafted and nurtured. Neglected brands are unhappy brands and in a work context can indicate larger workplace issues. They can signal the health of the business they represent. We, as consumers, decide if they work or not. Employees of a business are also powerful stakeholders in a brand’s success.
“A brand is a living entity – and it is enriched or undermined cumulatively over time, the product of a thousand small gestures.” – Michael Eisner, former Chairman and CEO of The Walt Disney Company
5. They connect to experiences we want to remember
Experiences drive our memory and positive memories create moments we want to remember. In Chip and Dan Heath’s book The Power of Moments they share how creating milestones helps to create memories. There is brand power in memories. Companies like Qantas or Apple know how to craft ads that pull at the heart strings and connect us to our past memories. Other brands like Coke use a feel good association to create a positive mood and create a longing in us to be part of a movement or crowd. The strongest brands know they are in the business of making memories. The stronger our memories around certain brands, the stronger our connection to them.
6. Emotions matter
Not all memories are equal though. Memories that stick are the ones that are laden with emotion. Without feeling something in the moment there is little likelihood of a memory forming. Brands are at their best when they evoke emotion. The strongest brands don’t care for rational sentiment. That’s why we love them. It’s hard to love something that doesn’t move us. Sure brands must give us rationale reasons to buy them but that comes after they hook us in. There’s a time for feeling and a time for thinking as Daniel Kahneman of the Thinking Fast and Slow book explained. They go together and are stronger in partnership than in isolation.
7. They’re connectors
As already mentioned, brands help us to connect to other people that share a similar outlook. They help us find our community, our tribe. Brands signal identity and belonging. If all the technology and busyness is taking us away from being with one another, brands are the glue to connect us once more. We are social creatures primarily. Because we need the company of other people brands are socially very significant. All through the ages there were brands that reflected the time. As our collective desire changed so too did the brands we favoured. It’s not fickle. It’s progress. Some brands are adept at making the change with the change in social mood. These brands are the long term players. They recognise the need to evolve with their customers and reflect the mood of their market. They are the embodiment of the term ‘brand new’.
There’s no escaping that our brand choices say much about how we feel, how we see ourselves and signal our desire for connection with each other. I can’t imagine a world without brands, it seems impossible. They will always exist so long as they mean something to us.