People often think that the impact of brand is obscure, intangible, and immeasurable. The unconverted among us might even think that all this talk of how a company makes consumers feel is nonsense, and all that matters is hard, cold marketing metrics.
Well, that is most definitely not the case. The impact that brands have on us is pretty clear.
See, brands can be so powerful that they lead us to make choices that are slightly less than rational. You know, like paying $500 extra for a technically inferior phone. Or having an actual opinion over which version of brown fizzy water you prefer.
Brands affect us deeply. We just need to recognise how they affect us to realise the sway they hold over us (and also to realise why every business must invest in brand building).
When we say that brands can cause people to make irrational decisions, you might think we’re being a little dramatic. But consider this for a moment.
Many of us have heard someone say, in a tone laden with judgement and disgust, “wait, you have an Android??”.
People have seriously strong feelings around what operating system your phone has (which already sounds ridiculous when you put it that way). People even refuse to text those who don’t have an iPhone. These folks are totally sincere in their disgust towards non-iPhone users.
Now let’s pause for a moment to think about how insane that is (and bear with us while we use the rather obvious branding example of Apple).
To be clear, what we’re talking about is a black rectangle with apps on it. A black rectangle that, by and large, does the exact same thing as all others, to a very high standard. When we strip away the branded pomp and ceremony around iterative updates, these are all just unbelievably impressive, pocket-sized devices.
But you have one with the wrong logo? You may just be condemned. Why? The power of brand.
No clear-thinking, rational person would seriously entertain that an iPhone is so dramatically different to an Android phone that it warrants disgust. But the Apple brand makes people do crazy things. Apple lovers are entrenched in their beliefs, and are fiercely loyal to the point of total rejection of any other phone brand.
And people reach this point without really researching other options. They don’t know Apple is the best. They just feel that it is. And that’s enough. They don’t need to even look at other phones, laptops, or tablets. Their conviction is that Apple always wins, and nothing will sway them.
So, these fans will buy something very expensive based on nothing but a feeling. Certainly not the most rational thing to do.
This immense brand building enables Apple to normalise a price point of $1,000+ for a phone that does the same thing as one at $500, without any negative impact on sales or growth. It means they can make your current $800 phone obsolete, with no hard feelings.
People are so invested in the brand that these things aren’t an issue. They just roll with them. They remain loyal, because they have a genuine relationship with the brand. They trust it, and listen to it, because Apple has built a brand that resonates.
But Apple aren’t the only masters here. Some other brands to note…
- Coca-Cola makes people feel something about brown fizzy water.
- Starbucks is able to charge $8 for a coffee because they added flavouring to it.
- Lego has parents remortgaging their house for a 1,000 piece set.
- EA sells barely updated versions of the same game to sports fans every year.
- Kleenex charges a premium on boxes of really thin paper.
- Hermès got away with selling a handbag for $2,000,000.
- McDonalds have created a “feel good” factor around fast food.
- Kellogg’s have made people loyal to their specific, more expensive brand of baked corn.
- Xbox and Playstation share 90% of the same games but have tribal fanbases.
By building a brand, these companies are able to become more than what they sell, and so what they sell is not defined purely by their product itself. They can create something completely unique to their brand, and add a brand premium to the value. So Kellogg’s aren’t selling you a box of baked corn, they’re selling you a better start to your day.
Now of course, these brands have to have a product to back up their claims. For example, Starbucks has to sell good coffee for people to be loyal.
But a great brand will make a solid product a world class one. It will take something good and make it irresistible.
How do brands have this power? Part 1: Purpose and authenticity
All the adoration that successful brands get, and the fact you love the brands you love, is no coincidence. They were designed to be loved.
Firstly, great brands have a defined purpose beyond just selling something or making money. They have a reason for being, and they communicate that reason. From marketing to recruitment, the brand purpose pervades everything. It becomes the North Star for every decision made.
This brand purpose is then an important part of building connections with people. It shows us that it isn’t just about money to a certain company, but that there’s something else there. And it’s the “something else” that people then connect with.
Connections, and a focus on relationships, are the next central part of brand building. Growing a strong brand relies on a recognition that the relationship between a brand and a consumer is a two-way street.
The best brand builders know that marketing is not about shouting a message to a consumer until they listen, but that it’s a mutual dialogue. These brands always do more than try and sell you something. Even if they just make you laugh, they give something back and don’t simply demand attention.
Treating people as humans, and not just faceless consumers with a bit of cash, is an important degree of respect necessary to start that relationship. And by showing this respect, and seeking to genuinely start a rapport, brands become more authentic. This authenticity in turn fuels the relationship. Just as with people, we build relationships with those we think are being sincere.
Authenticity and rapport are then enhanced when brands engage with things that their audience cares about. They know what their audience values, and present a brand (and brand purpose) that aligns with those values and that culture. They invest in the relationship by taking the time to work out what matters to their audience.
And so, authenticity is key. By first defining and integrating a true brand purpose, and then focusing on establishing connections with an audience, a brand can make people truly believe in what they do (and Aritzia are a great example of how obsession with purpose, culture, and values can help drive explosive growth).
We answer more questions around brand on our FAQ page.
How do brands have this power? Part 2: Consistency
Another big part of building a brand is being consistent. Purpose and authenticity are vital, but amount to very little if they aren’t communicated consistently.
Through consistent visuals, messaging, and brand voice, companies can create a single, unified persona that people connect with. And by creating this consistent persona, people will feel like they know and understand a brand. And again, just as with people, we build relationships with those we feel we know. If a brand communicates inconsistently, people will struggle to understand it, and so it will be hard to establish that connection.
Visual consistency in our brand identity for H.D. Cleverdon.
But by always looking the same and sounding the same, this will reinforce how a brand is perceived and how people feel about it, which in turn deepens relationships and keeps a brand top of mind. A consistent message and a consistent brand purpose are also easier to remember, and are more believable.
Through brand building, then, companies can create an identity that makes it as effortless as possible to form relationships with their audience. This way, people listen to them and trust them, and they are able to stay in the mind of consumers even when those consumers aren’t shopping for what they’re selling.
So, by having a purpose beyond selling something, being authentic, and staying consistent, brands are easier to remember, and drive loyalty and trust.
You can read more about branding and our own branding process here.
An imaginary example to demonstrate…
To illustrate what we’re talking about, imagine this for a moment.
You’re walking down the street, when a random person starts shouting at you and others about their shoes. They’re yelling how comfortable they are, how great they look, and how perfect they are for running.
Now in this scenario, we’re pretty sure you wouldn’t listen to this person. You wouldn’t even absorb the information they were telling you. Instead, you’d be so put off by the intrusion that your first reaction would be to distance yourself.
And importantly, even if you tried to remember the message, you’d just remember the shouting person. You have no idea what they told you, just that you had a negative experience with them (note: this is exactly the same with a bad advert).
Now, imagine the same conversation but with a friend of yours. You’re talking with them, and during conversation they recommend the shoes they are wearing. There’s 2 very crucial differences in how this situation compares:
- They are having a conversation with you, not just shouting at you about their shoes.
- There is a relationship established before the recommendation.
In this second situation, we’d actually listen to our friend. We’d absorb the message, engage with it, and remember it. We’d be much more receptive to the recommendation, because trust and respect have been established.
It’s exactly the same with a brand and a customer. We listen to brands that we trust, and we believe what they say. We process the message, because that brand invested in a relationship before pushing a product.
Without caring about a relationship with its customers, and without authentically aligning themselves to their audience, why would anyone believe a brand or care what they had to say?
Great brands recognise that you earn the attention of your customers; you don’t demand it.
To genuinely build a brand, a company must grow from a clear purpose, and value the relationships they have with their audience. Authenticity, integrity, and consistency are fundamental to making a brand that resonates.
And companies don’t need multi-million dollar marketing budgets to start doing this. Building a brand begins with an understanding of what customers value, and authentically showing them that you value the same things.
It requires using a brand’s purpose as the focal point, and building relationships based on it.
By simply defining why a brand exists, keeping true to that purpose, and focusing on connecting with people, a company becomes more than what it sells. It becomes a living, breathing entity that people associate feelings and experiences with. It becomes a brand that consumers become attached to and grow loyal to. It becomes a brand that an audience will listen to, believe in, and trust utterly.
Take this far enough, and it becomes a brand people abandon rationality for.