Your brand doesn’t exist in your marketing, it exists in the minds of your customers. Simple, obvious, but it does raise a possibility: if your customer unlocks your brand meaning, that process of discovery will add a strong sense of ownership and desire.
To illustrate this idea let’s assume we have a clothing company launching a new product-line for which we’ve already developed a brand persona (a recently popular exercise involving the creation of richly developed fictional characters that embody the personality and philosophy of your brand.) Brand personas are useful visualization tools that give people permission to imagine the world through the eyes of their hero-product. Just as children who are asked “how would a smart kid answer this question?” will themselves produce better answers, so brand personas give employees the nudge to role-play beyond the professional personalities in which they’ve cast themselves and produce branding more in alignment with their brand’s values. For our example, our clothing company’s brand persona for their new product-line is targeted at young, edgy urbanites.
How do we derive the final branding from the brand persona, is it just a further derivation of the brand persona to media such as graphics and marketing materials? No, the final step is to add the customer persona, the fictional-character representation of the key traits of your customers, then find a vehicle to create your brand identity in the mind of your customer persona. Brand is not your product’s identity, it is the prism through which your customer creates that identity in their own mind.
That is exactly what A-style did, the Italian clothing company whose logo you see at the top of this post. To many, their logo appears to be a sturdy “A” with a slumping umlaut. But to their young, sex-positive market their logo in fact shows two people having doggy style sex. This was a symbol whose meaning their target market was equipped to unlock. Their customers felt a strong connection with their brand because the customer’s minds recorded it as though they thought it up.
This is an easy point to miss, and many companies don’t trust their customers enough to make the connection sufficiently and thus opt for more prima facie branding.
As an example of a company that fell into this trap, French Connection was pursuing the same market at the same time. They wanted the same young, edgy, sex-positive customers of A-style, but as their central brand vehicle their new FCUK logo required no target-market specific decoding, let alone any decoding by anyone in the world. Everyone who even glanced at FCUK reads it as FUCK, there’s no sense of personal accomplishment in recognizing it, it’s simply a here’s-our-brand pie in the face. It was edgy, it was sex-positive, but it didn’t create the same connection with its customers. It is an easy trap to create branding materials that give you the sense of your ideal brand, but it will never compete with brands that conjures the imagery in their customers’ minds.
To create a sticky brand your customers must create the brand themselves. You can bring them 90% of the way, but if they make that last 10% connection themselves they will make your brand their own.