Before I share what I am about, I want to take a moment and let you know these aren't original ideas. They may be packaged with our branding, but I believe true progress comes from standing on the shoulders of giants that have stood the test of time with evidence to support their truths.
Branding has definitely evolved over the years. It can be felt like the “gut” feeling that creates a connection of resonance with us to get us to take action. It can be the difference between us choosing a product/service or allowing logic to dictate our decision.
The brand model has shifted from creating a brand to creating clients, or better yet… attracting clients. Since we have a strong desire to understand our purpose, we tend to make decisions based on the meaning that aligns and supports the purposeful narrative we strive to live out.
In the early days, there was less competition, you may have had three to five brands at max to choose from for any given product. As a result, companies built brand products that attracted clients. This was never a sustainable brand model in my opinion, and it was doomed to fail. However, there are still brands today that have adopted this old model, and they are quickly realizing the changing landscape.
From the image on the left, we see a company creates a product or service to attract clients to sustain the growth of a company. This is the old model, and it primarily relied on the differentiation of the product to build a brand through repeated transactions. This will still be moderately successful to a point, as advocacy is important in both models.
The image on the right focuses on the company attracting clients to build the engagement of the brand. The brand is sustained through advocacy or brand ambassadors. The new model is about drawing them into your solution by connecting with what really matters to your clients. Through this advocacy, you start creating a powerful synergy around your tribe or community.
Put another way, the model on the left is more transactional and the model on the right is relational. The model on the left is logical, while the model on the right is emotive and logical. The model on the left meets the need, while the model on the right meets the internal pain/struggle/conflict. The model on the left is all about the company, while the model on the right is all about serving the clients’ needs.
Both models need visibility and advocacy of WOM (Word of Mouth) to be successful.
Some brands saw this and were able to make the transition from the model on the left to the model on the right.
Coca-Cola is a great brand example of this. Yes, I realize their debacle with the “New” Coke, didn’t sit well with consumers, but they were able to recognize why. Without getting into it too much, there were a few reasons why, including that new Coke may have been received well in 200,000 taste tests, but too sweet to be enjoyed in the way consumers drink it in the real world, by the bottle or can. Vox details more reasons here. Coke humbled themselves to make the change back to their roots and that’s why we have Coca-Cola Classic. I also realize that out of blind taste tests that people still prefer the taste of Pepsi, but that’s not why Coca-Cola currently dominates the soda market. The people at Coca-Cola realized there were very strong emotional feelings attached to the design of the bottle based on nostalgia.
The reality is that the bottle design was familiar to all of us if we were born before the mid-’80s. I remember RC Cola and Pepsi being a similar bottle design as Coke was, and maybe there were some significant differences to the glass design, but I can’t recall at this time.
Coke’s bottle design is reminiscent of warm memories with parents and grandparents. Maybe it was sitting on the porch with your grandpa or grandma on a hot summer’s day in August. Maybe it was working on the car in the garage with your parents or grandparents. Maybe it was at a sporting event where you shared your common interests together. The point is that we don’t just see it as a brand. We tie it to the familiarity of the experience and the warm memories it evokes. It’s timeless, generational, ageless, and when we hold that bottle it stirs in us those nostalgic memories. When they attached those feelings to the “American Dream” the desire grew to be a part of this globally. Coca-Cola became a brand without borders, and by sharing a Coke wherever you were in the world, the American Dream transformed into “The Dream”.
Other brands have done this as well. Nike doesn’t sell shoes and apparel, but tools to empower you to be better. Again, not focusing on the products to differentiate the brand, but the feeling. Remember the campaign “Like Mike”? The phrase, “I want to be like Mike” was referring to Michael Jordan, and by wearing the same gear he wore there was a feeling of empowerment to take action. This attracted clients to the idea Nike represents.
Some brands have transitioned to the new model, while still being out of alignment or balance. This is because they took “creating clients” to be synonymous with the client is always right. This created a client-centric culture, but one that gave permission for the customer to push to the extreme. Which I believe reinforced the entitled attitude present in today’s society.
I want to share something personal, and I hope it helps you learn from my mistakes. The story begins with a memory from the first job I paid taxes on. I was a bag boy at Roth’s IGA, and we were strongly encouraged to give “bow-tie” service to every customer who came through that door. We would go above and beyond to meet the needs of our customers to create a positive and memorable experience. This would create a foundational belief I would carry throughout my life until this truth was challenged.
Years later, when I had a creative agency, I had major boundary issues with my clients. I bent over backwards to please them at the cost of my own health, my family and the well-being of my staff and subcontractors.
On the surface, we had an amazing reputation, and in the eyes of everyone, I was very successful. We had a lot of clients, and we were getting great results. The reality is this wasn’t a sustainable business model. Although I was creating clients, I wasn’t attracting the right people to work with, and I made decisions based on financial responsibility to take care of my team.
I created unnecessary bottlenecks by thinking I needed to cater to all of our unique clients’ brand needs. As each client’s vision is so different, you can see where things started to go off the rails. Even though we had well-thought-out processes and procedures in place, I didn’t enforce them as I should. I ended up personally eating these losses and took on debt to keep things together. At the same time, this was happening, internal and external sabotage was happening to my agency as well, and I was blindsided by a series of events that lead to the downfall of the company.
Now, even though some of these events were beyond my control, this was necessary and the best thing that could have ever happened to me personally and professionally. It brought so much alignment and balance to my life and I don’t regret the hardships I faced as a result. I even had the most gracious team that believed in the vision so much they would do what they could to help.
This led to a deep reflection of all the introspective questions you can imagine.
I realized I allowed my boundaries to be compromised for the best interest of my client and that the client isn’t always right. We as a team analyzed all the client relationships we had and I listened to everyone’s feedback. We found a common thread between our aligned clients.
I was already in the process of opening BAM Create Inc. when all the above was happening, and the goal was BAM would be the catalyst with the strategy, and the agency would be the execution of it.
I wasn’t able to save the agency, but I was able to preserve BAM and the ecosystem it represents. It allowed me to really focus and work with the clients we are most aligned with and be who I was meant to be.
I am grateful for the hardships and adversity that allowed me to be a better guide for transforming others’ visions into reality.
The lesson is a good design or model taken to the extreme can be just as unhealthy as the old design. The reality is the truth is somewhere in the middle of where the pendulum swings.
Now, let’s get back to the brand model and how it has shifted and simplified in a way that will bring your brand alignment.
It seems so simple, but you would be surprised how many brands are following the old path or even taking the new path to extremes.
Remember, your clients have more choices than ever, which means as a brand you need to leverage the collective internal motivations of your aligned audience. If you don’t appeal to the collective internal motivations, you risk your audience making a logical conclusion about their choice.
I hope you find this helpful to get a better brand alignment. Let me know your thoughts as we journey together to build better brands.