Most companies start off being known for their products and services. If they are good, they develop a positive reputation around their tangible offerings. But, over time, great companies do something more and, as a result, transform into something more. They become known for their idea.
Not ideas in the sense of innovation and concepts, though those contribute to it. Idea. Singular. They become a concept in the minds of their audiences, an intangible notion that may be hard to explain in full but is recognizable when people experience it.
Apple is a familiar example. Sure, people love their products. But what makes Apple a great brand is that it has become an idea or even an ideal around design. So, the simple answer is that: design. But people don’t stand in lines for the latest iPhone for just the rounded corners and sleek interface. Apple has created a mystique that transcends design alone. It’s really a bigger idea about how great design makes you look and feel.
Sure, Apple’s products help you accomplish tasks easily. (I’m told you can actually make a phone call on an iPhone, though it’s not a widely used feature except, it seems, by very loud people on planes before the door is closed.) But it is the cumulative effect of the bigger idea that makes people raving fans of Apple.
The funny thing about Apple is that there are far more people in the world that hate Apple than those who love it. Worldwide, Apple has about 28% market share of smartphones and 7% of personal computers. That means there are a whole lot of non-Apple fans out there. Does that make it a bad brand given the animosity toward it? No. Just the opposite. It means that those who love it are deeply passionate about it.
Almost all great brands are divisive. They aren’t intended to appeal to everyone. Which gets us back to this idea of the big idea, the one your brand is known for. Most people who aren’t fans won’t “get” the idea of a brand. They won’t have experienced a brand enough to take them from the product or service level to the idea level. But the key point here is that great brands—and the big idea behind them—know their audiences. They don’t see their customer base as “everyone.”
What does all this mean for you?
- Know your audience. Find some people who love what you do and talk to them. You could even use a phone to do this. Listen to them. Discover what it is they love most about your brand. Ask questions like, “If we disappeared tomorrow, what would you miss most?” or, “How does our brand make you feel?”
- Understand the emotions you want to evoke. That last question about how the brand makes a person feel is more vital than most companies realize. Brands can generate many emotions, but try to distill it down to one or two. Ask yourself (and then test with your customers), “What’s the main emotion we want people to feel when they interact with our brand?”
- Determine your own big idea. This takes time and usually requires help from the outside (shameless plug here for calling us to assist). But we’re usually too close to our own offerings to see the big idea lurking behind them. In branding, we call this the “essence” of the brand. Examples include “Love” for Subaru, “Adventure” for Jeep, “Optimal Athletic Performance” for Nike, or “Freedom” for Harley Davidson. All intangible ideas that also connect to emotions. These usually aren’t taglines. Instead, they serve as the foundation for taglines and all your messaging. But the big idea is essential if you want to stand out from your competition and be known for more than just what you produce.
It takes time and effort to figure out your big idea. But once you do, you can start charging more since people pay an average of 15% to 20% more for great brands than they do for generic ones. Most of all, knowing your big idea will make all your marketing and sales efforts easier because you won’t have to compete just on features. You’ll become one of those rare companies about whom people will say, “Oh them! I love them! They’re the ones who ________________” And that blank is your big idea.
Steve Brock is a brand strategist who has helped everyone from Fortune 50s to international non-profit organizations discover their big idea. His firm, Brand:Wallop, helps organizations stand out, get noticed, mean something, and move someone.
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