Gone are the golden days of positioning, when Al Ries and Jack Trout declared that nine tenths of the law was claiming a position in the consumer’s mind and shouting “here’s who we are and why we’re awesome” to anyone who’d listen.
Back then, many more would listen.
Today? Not so much. Not when the world looks like this:
Product parity – In countless categories, stellar performance is table stakes. Sorry: your next breakthrough product feature will be copied. Easily and quickly.
Epic instant viral global fail – Confounded Internet! It’s all but guaranteed that bad behavior by companies and brands won’t go unnoticed by the always-connected consumer.
The balance of power has shifted - Companies no longer call the shots. Consumers have an inexhaustible array of information and choices at their disposal. And they’re acting accordingly.
In this reality, companies that haven’t already embraced belief-based branding have every business incentive to do so as soon as they can. Sooner, if possible.
One Patagoni-Awesome Brand
Any discussion of belief-based branding that doesn’t reference Patagonia isn’t a very good discussion of belief-based branding.
To be sure, Patagonia makes a fine product. A highly technical product. So has Patagonia grown by capturing those legions of consumers who are about to summit McKinley? Nah.
And do Patagonia’s products wildly outperform those from other brands that go for half the price? Not really.
Patagonia is winning because for years, every time they’ve engaged the consumer, they’ve made it eminently clear what they believe: who they are, what they stand for and what they won’t stand for. And they live those beliefs in everything they do.
Consumers who embrace Patagonia’s beliefs and values have demonstrated they’re willing to pay a significant premium to be part of Patagonia’s world. (Yes, those consumers who really only want to look like they embrace Patagonia’s beliefs and values are also happy to pay that premium.)
For Patagonia at least, being good is good business.
But they’re not alone. Consider Tom’s, Ben & Jerry’s, Subaru or Warby Parker. Powerhouse brands that take care to make sure we know how they see the world. It’s worth noting that not one of these brands is a lipstick-on-a-pig situation. Each delivers superb products and standout customer experiences.
Belief-Based Branding: Three Master Keys
Clearly, not all brands have the scale or budgets of the ones named above. So the path to building a belief-based brand looks different from one organization to the next.
Let’s look at a few keys to doing it right. In our experience, the following are invaluable elements of belief-based branding—regardless of the size of your company, brand or budget.
1. Uncover and articulate your “Why?”
Start with Simon Sinek’s book, Start With Why. Pressed for time? Try the CliffsNotes version, also known as Sinek’s TED Talk. It’s garnered more than 22 million views at last count.
When incorporated into a broader brand platform, an inspired “Why?” statement can make a valuable, if not transformational impact on an organization. Hanson Dodge Creative works with clients to uncover powerful and deeply held “Why?” statements. In most cases, that essential idea was always there. It just took someone from outside the inner circle to see it and put it into language for the first time.
Declaring your “Why?” can be a transformational experience for all involved. Employees see that what they do has a greater purpose than just making money. Which makes it more likely that employees will act in a manner that brings the brand to life for people outside the company.
2. Share your belief system at every consumer touch.
When brands share their compelling “Why?” with the world—as we advise our clients to do—they position themselves to connect with consumers at an emotional level based on shared beliefs.
Selling your wares and sharing your “Why?” aren’t mutually exclusive. Not even close. To wit:
- The first five or ten pages of Patagonia’s print mailer typically cover environmental concerns in the South American region that inspired the company’s name. And then the product pages begin.
- Red Bull has become an unstoppable force by focusing not on product performance, but on beliefs and lifestyle that resonate with consumers around the world. Hence the birth of The Red Bulletin magazine, and a long list of sponsored, irresistible content plays.
Experience teaches us that every time a brand engages a customer or prospect, there’s both a need and a way to share the brand’s belief system. Every time. Every. Time.
3. Don’t just sell stuff. Surprise and delight.
There may be no better recent example of “surprise and delight” than this wonderful video from Hyundai: Not a cheap proposition. But super cool and universally evocative. Hence the 60 million or so video views.
But it doesn’t take big budgets to surprise and delight. For Ragnar Relay, the overnight relay that makes testing your limits a team sport, participant-produced videos like this one go a long way toward capturing and communicating the essence of the brand.
A Closing Thought
Many would point to Patagonia’s ascent as an example of a brand that was in the right place at the time. They’d say Patagonia has fortuitously become a wearable Prius: an unmistakable badge that says “I’m enlightened.” A magnet for wannabees more driven by their desire to look good than any true affinity for the company’s belief system.
Even if that’s true, the Patagonia brand is in an envious place. Humanity nets out in a better place, too.
Think about it: brands that behave well do well financially. Along the way, more consumers are exposed to beliefs and ideas that beat the hell out of most alternatives. Other companies and brands take notice and change the way they behave for the better. Tom’s begets Warby; Warby begets countless others.
Even if their motivations are purely financial, companies and brands play a role in making the world a better place.
I’m a believer.