WHAT WE THINK ABOUT WHAT YOU THINK ABOUT.
Branding agencies and brand managers do well to remember that brands are squatters. They exist in other people’s heads. They must be allowed in. They have only limited power to dictate how they will be defined, perceived, talked about, used, loved, and cherished (or not). They can be shelved in favor of a new brand at any time. They can even be evicted, demonize, marginalized. Face it, I am allowed to be as fickle as I want inside my own head. So, what does that mean to a brand?
1. Brands must be consistent. A brand works its way into the gray matter by getting a bit of a foothold, and then cutting grooves. The way to do that is by appealing to all of the senses. And by doing so consistently. A brand needs to have a set (and relatively narrow) approach to color, shape, proportion, type, voice, tone, music, taste, smell, and texture. And it needs to use these elements repeatedly and consistently as it expresses itself in the marketplace. Each time a brand sends a sensory message, it’s called an expression. And each time a consumer receives an expression it’s called an impression. These impressions give your brain a way to remember the brand.
2. Brands must be intentional. Here’s the theory. People’s memories work like filing cabinets. They remember things by filing systems that their brains create, based on priorities their brains set. Sometimes, these priorities are not even conscious. The more detail they have associated with a word of concept, the more likely it is that that word or concept will have its own file folder.
You would think there would be a folder called “tap dancers,” into which all of the tap dancers are placed in some sort of logical order—chronological, alphabetical, most recent first, best to worst, shortest to tallest…whatever. It turns out,that is NOT how it works. Maurice Hines (a truly excellent tap dancer) once said of his brother Gregory’s fame, and his own relative obscurity, “The world only needs one tap dancer at a time. Right now, he’s it.”
From a branding perspective, you might have an occasional need to think about a tap dancer. But you will probably never need to know about tap dancers. And when you do need to think about tap dancers, you probably are not discriminating enough about that particular art to distinguish among good-to-excellent dancers. So, if you are like most people, you’re “tap dancer” folder is not entitled “tap dancers,” it’s entitled “Gregory Hines.” Same is true with violinists, leading ladies, instant coffees, and just about everything else you have.
For a given category, you may need up to three folders. They will be called—to go with the tap dancer analogy—“Gregory Hines,” “All others…besides Gregory Hines,” and “That kid down the street reminds me of Gregory Hines.”
In order to be the Gregory Hines of your category, you will have to be intentional in defining and targeting your consumers’ brain. You will have to be intentional about what you ask them to think about you. And you will have to be intentional about helping them attach emotion to your brand.
3. Brands must provide brand experiences that are consistent with their packaging. Everyone hates a hypocrite. Your brand will be laughed right out of your consumer’s brain if it says one thing and does another. Back in the late 1980s-early 1990s there was a campaign for the now-defunct Oldsmobile brand called, “This is not your father’s Oldsmobile.”
The campaign set out to reposition the stodgy, old, Dagwood Bumstead Oldsmobile brand as new and hip. The campaign was great. People loved the commercials. They sang the song. They talked about the spots. Problem was, it WAS still your father’s Oldsmobile. Because the campaign was asking consumers to believe something about the brand that was inconsistent with both their prior knowledge and their current experience, their brains rejected it.
4. Brands must be patient. It takes a while to cut a groove in gray matter. One big mistake marketers make is that they give up on the brand before it has time to do its work. Or, they try to cash in on brand equity before there is a critical mass of gray matter, by being overly promotional during or too soon after a brand launch. You can probably get away with asking your new next door neighbor for a cup of sugar the day you move in. But if you ask her for her hand in marriage, she’s going to think your creepy. Same with brands. You have to earn permission to ask for things.
5. Brands have to be the same wherever they go. That doesn’t mean you have to say exactly the same things. That would be the behavior of a parrot, not a brand. But you have to be the same person. That’s why it’s important to define your brand personality. Then you can determine how your brand behaves at a rodeo, a formal dinner, it’s daughter’s wedding, a sporting event, on television, on a billboard, or in Twitter. Being rigidly the same all the time is like wearing a tux to a bowling tournament (although we’ve known people who do this, it is not recommended). But trying to completely reinvent yourself for every occasion will present to problems. First, it will create brand confusion, as people will say, “so which is it?” And second, it will cause you to bounce off of gray matter because you can barely muster the energy to make an impression as one person, let alone as two.