Most marketing teams operate in a “rationalist mindset,” dominated by spreadsheets, income statements, reams of market data and financial feasibility reports. Similarly, most MBA programs train future business managers primarily in the rationalist worldview, but if the rationalist worldview is the primary or the only tool for processing a brand’s reality, it will likely smother cultural insights and soulful activism that can otherwise enliven the brand field.
The soulful branding mindset invites us instead to think like a mystic, an author, composer or movie producer, and also as a provocateur and cultural activist. Brand developers should treat their medium just like a novel or film project, wherein the goal is to deliver provocative information that both responds to and also triggers innate and authentic human identity needs, not trivial or destructive ones.
This distinction is reflected in the contrast between knowledge and wisdom. Knowledge is that which the head alone knows, the pursuit of which is the focus of the sciences, while wisdom is grasped by both head and heart simultaneously, and thus authentic and soulful communication and learning is only present when both the head and the heart are engaged and processing experiences at the same time.
The great depth psychologist Carl Jung taught us about the nature of each individual’s soul journey by pointing out that the unconscious is a co-determining factor along with consciousness, and if we live in such a way that both the conscious and unconscious are understood and taken into account, then the personality’s center of gravity shifts from being only egocentric to the point between the conscious and unconscious minds where a new type of awareness dwells. Jung names this new center of deep consciousness the “Self,” while others have referred to this as the “Higher Self.” This is in contract to the lower-self, which is a construct only of the ego and rational mind.
Everyone loves a good story, and the critical strength of heritage brands is that they have such stories in abundance. Little wonder then that as American consumer confidence starts to look up, the brands that remind consumers of what they have, where they are and where they’ve come from are doing well. It’s a timely reminder of just how much the story of a brand links to the narrative that buyers run in their own minds of the lives they lead and the lives they would lead if they could.
While we often think of heritage brands as one genre, they exist in a range of sub-categories with different emphases and visual treatments. Natural heritage branding for example is all about ruggedness, generational history and of course the great outdoors. Contemporary heritage brands take some of their cues from what has been but place the marques firmly in today, interweaving old references with bold contemporary visual themes to deliver brands that are both respectful and immediate. Craft heritage brands tell a deep artisan story – slower, older, more patient, perfectionist.
Heritage brands, it strikes me, are brands centered on legend and mythology. They deliver because they carefully work their history to link buyers to an often romantic view of the world as it was or as we would have liked it to have been. There’s an authenticity and a simplicity of spirit that consumers find intriguing and beguiling, in a world where today everything seems so rushed and artificial.
The biggest learning for storytellers from these brands is that they pace their stories, and more specifically, the recounting of their histories to the ‘speed’ of the brand’s appeal. Heritage is a slow moving story. It requires constancy first to give the brand authenticity, and adaptation second to stay current with the changing aesthetic and priorities of buyers. A Timberland boot is not as much about this year’s colors as it is about continuing the Timberland legacy. The appeal of the brand lies in the careful selection of what is spoken of, and what is not, of what doesn’t change and what does.
It’s July, which means aside from the occasional hot spell we marketers are about to be deluged by an ocean of talks, tweets and treatises on the importance of creativity and her bespectacled, more reserved brother, innovation.
Blame Cannes. Last week, 13,000 marketers descended on the French Riviera to have the overriding importance of all things creative drummed into them. If proof was needed that Cannes Lions was all about the C word, we need only consult last week’s social media analytics. Apparently, more than half of the messages emanating from the event mentioned either creativity or innovation.
But there’s more than just the annual French maritime party to persuade marketers that it’s all about creativity. The digital revolution apparent across our industry has many implications and one of them is to make creativity a more appealing focus for many marketers. In years gone by, a brand manager had to surmount several distinct obstacles to get to a point where they would interact with creative teams and partake in the creative end of the marketing conveyor belt. Today, thanks to ‘real-time marketing’ and the surfeit of digital communication platforms that marketers personally manage, many view themselves as being directly responsible for the creative act.
Back in the day when marketers realized that their main challenges revolved around market research, brand positioning, product strategy and pricing there was a much clearer awareness that creatives were a separate species. Few made the mistake of thinking they were the creative ones. But today, many marketers believe that their main challenge is content marketing and traditional strategic work has been replaced with a more abject emphasis on creativity uber alles.
That’s troubling because in my experience most marketers are hopeless at creative work. I say experience not because I claim any personal creative talent (I have none) but because I have worked for several large, creative businesses at the height of fashion and luxury. It’s difficult not to sound like a braggart in that last sentence but it’s true. I worked for several companies famed for their creative prowess and the irony was that I, and the marketers I worked with at these brands, never thought for a second we were creative in any way. We knew our place – which was at the analytical and strategic end of the process that then fed the creative teams.
As this article in Entrepreneur reminds us, plenty of brands try to re-set the market’s understanding of their brand and are well and truly spanked for doing so. If rebranding is the hot topic of conversation at your place right now, here’s 10 reasons to leave things as they are:
- You don’t need to change – yes, I know it seems obvious…but it needs saying, because there are still brands that rebrand for reasons that escape everyone who missed the slidedeck. In many cases, the decision is taken not because the brand needs to change but because there’s been a change in role or people internally are bored with the brand they are responsible for. Neither reason flies with consumers of course – and they quickly voice a view for things to revert to how they were.
- You’re guessing what change is needed – too many brands come to believe that any change signals refreshment and therefore any change will do. So they make changes to their brand that mean something to them or that they feel comfortable with, or that the agency has talked them into, but that are neither as significant nor as interesting as the brand itself believes they will be. The fact is that unless you are rebranding for a reason and to achieve a specific goal, change for its own sake achieves nothing good.
- The strategy is wrong – a rebrand that misreads the market can do a lot of damage. Read the assumptions and market analysis around your rebrand carefully. Ask for proof, look carefully at the opportunities, evaluate the need for change (and the nature of the change required) from the point of view of the consumer. Working with the right consulting or agency partner is vital. You need them to be objective, well versed in your sector dynamics and committed to getting you results not just taking you through their process. As Galen DeYoung points out, “Marketers and corporate executives get consumed with what they would ultimately like the company to be versus the position it can reasonably attain in the marketplace at the present time: i.e., the next permissible step in the company’s evolution.” I love that word ‘permissible’. It’s a potent reminder that the power to change the brand rests with different people than those who must accept the new brand.
In this fast-changing world, companies cannot afford the luxury of a brand positioning that ties them down to a narrow set of features and benefits. What they need is the ability to quickly take advantage of new opportunities when they emerge and shift away from old business models when they are no longer relevant. They need branding to support their need for speed.
To accommodate this business imperative, brand positioning has to offer a broader perspective with fewer constraints. Narrow positioning won’t work for companies that have to reinvent themselves over and over again.
That’s why you see companies taking a broader perspective, associating themselves with higher-order values rather than what-we-do detail. One approach is to talk about brand purpose, a more general and flexible concept that seeks to establish differentiation by identifying the unique benefit that the company brings to the world. This approach doesn’t just work for companies like Patagonia or Ben & Jerry’s —it works for companies like LinkedIn too, which is guided by its true north vision “To create economic opportunity for every member of the global workforce.”
But whether companies choose to focus on their purpose or simply develop a more general brand statement, there’s still a branding gap—the focus and clarity and fact-based differentiation that would be covered by a: “In a market characterized by (consumer need), only (brand) can (meet that need) by (how it meets the need) giving consumers (the benefit)” type statement.
One way to bring back specificity is to inject branding into the products and services that the company offers. By developing a brand architecture where products and services are positioned against tangible features and benefits, companies can bring back brand focus and detail as they talk about how they serve particular market needs.