Monday, October 5, 2009

Will the Real Brand Please Stand Up?

Authenticity is an often-used term in our branding vocabulary. It's frequently the toughest thing for brands --to simply be authentic. There's a lot of discourse and deep thinking devoted to uncovering authenticity and defining brand truths. And in almost every case there's a moment in the process when it's imperative to step back and take a look from a different perspective.

I had a non-smoking professor who said he preferred sitting in smoking sections at the airport (yes, they used to exist) because the people were more interesting, more real, and had better stories. I've always used this anecdote to shape my approach to branding, to defining authenticity. What does a brand look like if polite convention is stripped away? What stories would it tell? Would it sit in the smoking section? And, if not, how can we make it more interesting to consumers based on its natural inclinations as a brand.

Now, I swear I am not looking for a Philip Morris sponsorship. In fact, I am a vehement non-smoker, but there is something brilliant in that insight. People who are true to themselves, despite consensus and common convention, see the world more clearly and are possibly more open to the adventures of life. They are more interesting. They create a legacy of stories. And that's exactly what we are trying to do as marketers, create legacy.

What if our brands were boldly true to themselves despite convention? Where would that take them? Some on a trippy ride through Crispin's creative department, yes, others possibly through Lady Gaga's closet. (The two might be one and the same.) For all, the destination is a strong place of truth and freedom.

Brands that are free are joyful and easy. And creating for them is natural and inspiring. Think of the brainstorms you've been in that sit stagnant as everyone tries to fabricate an aura that strays from the intent of the brand. I'm sure the brainstorm for KFC's "Unfried" campaign was a tough one. So, in the spirit of freedom, I've put together a smoker's lounge guide to getting to the heart of a brand:
  1. Define a lexicon. How does she speak? What's her voice sound like? Most brands have a distinct tonality and cadence to their language.
  2. Observe her style. How does she express herself? Define her cultural dress.
  3. Analyze her hopes and dreams. Where is she going? Speak to to her and understand what inspires her.
  4. Listen to her stories. Where has she been? There's something in her DNA that shapes her view of the world. Uncover this and state it simply.
  5. Get to the emotion. What moves her? Knowing this will provide the closest clues into her true self.
  6. Let her be free. Sometimes a brand just needs some breathing room. Especially under this new world order, she will follow her most devoted fans.
Put down the cigs. You're done. Now inhale and be authentic.

Photo credit: bwmw, Flikr


WILLIAM said...

The reason that the smoking section people seemed more real...because they had something in common..smoking. And being put in the smoking section.

Smokers feel the need to ban together and join in the conversation that is forced by having to be together in the same are. Every one else in the airport could do go wherever they wanted. Smokers had to go their specific area to fill a need.

Maybe brands need to be put in a specific area to see how they behave before they are set free to roam around the airport all willy nilly.

Gretchen said...

Brand segregation? Ha! We are segregated in a sense by the cultures we choose to follow. Just look at the crowd in Starbucks. The point is some brands constrain temselves. Lady Gaga as a brand is a perfect example of creative brand freedom. The smokers really are freer, despite their addictive habit, because they are living an unpopular, less consensus-filled, life. Another topic for our meeting...

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