Think of your favorite brands of clothing, beverages, restaurants, or insurance-any product or service you like and purchase. You could probably name two brands or more in every category in addition to competitive brands that you’ve chosen not to buy, or haven’t bothered to try. Take a little bit of time with your personal brand list and I’ll bet you could list two hundred or more brands for which you harbor a basic, binary opinion as in “good/bad” or “buy/don’t buy”– the decision that is making or breaking marketing careers all around the world at any given moment.
And yet every one of those opinions is likely being carried around locked in your brain, accessible only by you. It isn’t in writing. It isn’t in a database anywhere. (A credit card statement is the closest indicator, but a vague one at best.) As much as the marketing world think it knows about you, it really doesn’t know that much about your total brand preferences. They get only slivers of information when you register for a warranty, join a fan club, post a comment, or take an in-depth survey. At least for now.
Imagine the power of being able to create an in-depth brand profile around you or me or a billion or so other consumers. To be able to look inside our heads and see this secret mental list of yes/no, good/bad, buy/don’t buy. It’s happening. Google and Facebook are in all out dash right now trying to figure out a kosher way to excavate and sell this information. I expect they’ll both find a way.
Until then, if brands are all in our heads, what does this mean to marketers who are building and nurturing their brands?
Keep it simple: Simpler is easy to remember. That’s why so many powerful brands have a simple concept at their core. FedEx is reliable. Disney is fun. Apple is cool. Simple brand ideas are more likely to stick in the mind. A good example is the new brand of mobile phone from Motorola, the Droid. Barely more than ten months old, it has done a great job of portraying its versatility with the simple slogan “Droid Does.” The two-word tagline states a simple brand promise. And judging by its success, the Droid brand experience delivers on that promise.
Brands are not just mental, they’re tied to our emotions: Every powerful brand has a direct connection to the self-esteem of its customers. Going back to the examples above: Using FedEx means I’m a smart employee (who won’t get fired), taking my kids to Disneyland makes me feel like a good parent (with a lot less money than before we went), using an iPad or iPhone means I’m hip and leading edge (and when my iPhone drops a call I feel a little bit stupid). These emotions don’t have to be learned or remembered, we just feel them. They’re always there.
Messages build on each other over time: Now think of a brand you really like. One you’ve bought repeatedly over a period of time. Maybe you read a book or a few articles about it (a car brand, for instance) or you have t-shirts or other badges that proclaim your allegiance to the brand. For that brand, you are likely to know quite a bit. How did it get that way? It took time. You probably didn’t take real notes, but you’ve made a lot of mental ones over the years. You may know something about the history of the company, and you’ve probably even noticed which of your friends and family are using the same brand. These little nuggets of information accrue over time. A marketer can try and list 20 reasons to buy a product, or hope that you will listen long enough to learn a bunch of bullet points about his latest new widget. But the fact is, since we’re memorizing all this, it’s easier to learn a little at a time.
Yogi Berra famously said, “Baseball is 90% mental and the other half is physical.” In the case of building a memorable brand, all this brand knowledge and all these preferences reside exclusively between our ears. It’s 100% mental. And so is the other half.