On the topic of brand identity, Marty Neumeier, a well-known authority on this subject, once stated, “It’s not what you say it is. It’s what they say it is.” In essence, he meant that brands truly exist in the mind of the consumer. Brands are all about perceptions, all about how the public perceives and judges the goods or services provided by each company. And as a result, when a brand is first introduced on the market, even with all the most modern advertising and promotion strategies at work in your favor, it isn’t easy to influence consumer opinion. What’s more, once a brand has established a place in the market and built up a certain reputation, whether good or bad, it is even more difficult to direct that brand’s identity.
That’s because brands today live in a world in which consumers can share their feedback about a brand experience through a variety of mediums, anywhere and everywhere. Thanks to the Internet, communication has become an instantaneous and constant force. No longer do we need those so-called experts to tell us what is worth our time and money. Instead, we trust the everyday shoppers who have been given a voice and the opportunity to share their experience in a flash.
With all that being said, brands must still continually try to shape their image in order to attract new customers, as well as to keep the ones they already have. Still, whenever a company introduces new measures to improve brand image, you might find yourself asking, what were the motives behind this change? Really, it comes down to a question of hype vs. heart. Is this scheme merely a publicity stunt designed to increase market value? And who is setting the agenda – corporate heads crunching numbers from behind desks, or the actual customers, those to whom the brand actually means something?
For example, take the recent branding initiative by casual wear retailer Abercrombie and Fitch. The company has gained a lot of media attention in the past few weeks based on their latest move – an attempt to salvage their brand image by paying a certain reality show personality not to wear their clothes. While this maneuver may not reap many long-term benefits for the brand, it will no doubt cause a small ripple and, hopefully, help their back-to-school sales. But for all that, the problem remains – how much control does any brand actually have over its image? Come November, Abercrombie and Fitch may very well be asking themselves a familiar question, “What gimmick can we pull now, to drive Christmas sales?”
On the other hand, the world’s most popular soft drink company has taken this lesson to heart, and consumers have responded in kind. Their worldwide success is evidenced by the fact that they the second most popular page on Facebook, with over 33 million fans. Although a brilliant marketing strategy, the page did not originate within the company, but rather was created by two everyday consumers who happened to love the brand and wanted to start a Facebook fan page. With little effort at all, the page soon exploded to millions of similarly dedicated fans. And even though this may be an unconventional approach to managing brand image, the company has embraced the passion of those first two fans. They eventually transformed the customer-created Facebook page into their official page, thereby heightening their brand equity through a very human response. At the heart of this approach was a respect for consumers and their point of view – a principle that many other brands would do well to adopt.
Craig Johnson is the chief strategist and co-founder of Matchstic, a premier brand identity house. His Atlanta branding agency helps organizations create passionate brands that are memorable, relevant, and lasting. Specializing in brand development through brand strategy, positioning, business & product naming and brand identity services, Matchstic’s brand architects forge positive change and accomplish business objectives through creative thinking and smart design.