How brand preference is made. What we buy is ourselves
By Tom Dougherty
Check to see if you’ve ever heard this. You’re watching a reality TV show and a contestant does something that endangers their chances of staying on the island, so to speak. Then, someone in your family says, “Oh, I’d never do that.” Or, “Mom, that’s just like you!” What that family member – what all of us – is responding to is some behavior that we intrinsically recognize as our own. It is how brand preference is made.
That identification is the basic reason why reality TV is so popular. We believe that we are seeing human behavior that is close to our own. The particulars may not be of our world. Most have not been trapped on a remote island or taken part in an amazing race across the world. But it’s the behavior during those experiences that ring true for some of us. The way the participants interact, think and even strategize. (Let’s forget, for sake of argument, that some of it may be staged.) Those shows are about you.
A Meaningful and Important Brand
This is what a meaningful brand that moves the needle in any market is all about too. It’s not about the company or the contestant. It’s about the consumer or the viewer. We recognize ourselves in them, in a meaningful and often emotional way, enticing us to buy or watch. What works in culture and what works in marketing are not all that different.
Take The Sopranos, arguably the most critically acclaimed show of the last few decades. While we may have been titillated by the “Bada Bing” and the workings of a small-time mob outfit, that’s not what kept us going back right up to the infamous black screen. We recognized the family and business pressures that even a New Jersey mobster named Tony Soprano could experience. It could be the marriage difficulties between Tony and Carmela that rang true for some of us. Conversely, it was the things we didn’t see in ourselves (think: dream sequences) that drew us away at times.
Make Your Brand Work Harder
If you think about brand the same way, you will more likely have a successful brand. Too many companies develop brand from the inside out. “We have the best quality,” they might say. Or, “We have the best technology.” Or, “We have the best taste.” They define an important brand the way they see it internally.
These definitions are merely “table stakes,” the minimum need to even play in the game. They are not the reasons why consumers choose. They choose because they see something of themselves in that brand that says something about them. The most effective brands are about “you.” The brand that may do that the best right now is Apple, which has developed such a strong emotional, outside-in brand that it can be successful across a myriad of platforms: computers, phones and (well, there’s no other word for it) iPods.
Look For Successful Models
Apple has developed an important brand that says something about you when you use it. Its original theme line, “Think differently,” taught us what the brand means: That the Apple consumer is someone who thinks differently and appreciates the simplicity, design and technology that tell the world that Apple consumers are looking ahead. (Apple has practically a monopoly on what consumers marketing firms call, “early adaptors.”).
Once we learned what that brand meant, Apple was able to drop the theme line from its logo treatments and incorporate their brand into everything they do. Have you purchased a new iPod nano lately? Even the packaging reflects the brand, from the design of the nano itself to the presentation of it under plastic glass to the simple way of storing the accessories. It is about you as the one who thinks differently and looks ahead. The competition, meanwhile, battles with table stakes. Ours work. Ours is less expensive. Ours is mobile. We’re the best. Our technology is second to none. We. We. We.
Part of the reason why companies have difficulty making their brand about “you” instead of “we” is that the company itself has an attachment to its brand. Most only see what makes up their products and it is difficult for them to see past that and believe that it really matters in the marketplace. (Read how to find real brand differences here)
Giving up what you know about your brand and leaving the definition of it to the consumer is a loss of control that is very difficult for anyone running a company or its marketing department to handle. Especially when there are often immediate pressures from Wall Street, investors and management involved. But remember why you watch “your shows.” They are your shows. That’s even how we describe them in our day-to-day life. Our shows. You see something in them that you recognize and identify with, even if you’ve never tried to build a fire with sticks on the Malaysian island of Pulau Tiga.