Have you ever wondered what is so cool about sipping from that paper cup with the green mermaid emblem? Or why has it become a measure of class to rock a shiny smartphone with the unmistakable bitten apple on its back? Why are some brands perceived exceptionally higher, while not necessarily offering the best? The world is full of hidden gems and overlooked talents that are actively trying to innovate and provide a better value. But if you fall short of having one of those fancy logos that most people are dying to show off, you stand a little chance of taking your brand above the ‘average’ spot.
From my experience in branding, I understand that there is much more to it than the physical package you pay for. There is this emotional connection that only a handful of brands succeed at developing and maintaining for long enough, until one day they become engraved in people’s subconscious. To do them justice, multi-billion-dollars brand names are never built overnight. Which, in a way, explains why they might be entitled to charge more for less. Yet, there is still part of me that just won’t let it go easily. It is an unsettling fact that no matter how excellent you are at doing what you do, you may still not receive the recognition you deserve. And it is all because the people whom your success counts on are self-isolated inside big glossy bubbles, lining up for canned utopia.
You’re not a villain, you’re just too prevalent.
Let’s face it. Isn’t it the dream of every brand to become — fingers crossed — the next Apple or Starbucks? Don’t they all wish to take over and smash the competition if they ever had the opportunity? Well, that is likely the case. And therefore, I take it with a grain of salt that the audacious dominance of the few big boys — or girls — is perhaps fair play, at least from a business perspective. This is how free markets work: you can always hop in, but there is no guarantee that you will ever make it to the top, regardless of your skill or effort. This is neither good nor evil, but just like most things in life, it is both together.
The people whom your success counts on are self-isolated inside big glossy bubbles, lining up for canned utopia.
Perceptions are everything.
The iPhone is widely regarded as the one thing that has forever transformed Apple, but there is a lot more to the story. The first model was technically criticized for lacking major features, which even some mid-rangers and non-touchscreen phones at the time had. On top of that, there was this hefty, unjustified price tag which only kept getting higher over the years. The original iPhone could have died quietly if — hypothetically speaking — all consumers were strictly making rational decisions. But luckily for its makers, that was not the case. The godfather of the iPhone was cunning enough to understand that many people are willing to make a few sacrifices if you gave them something else to aspire to: something intangible. The key was to shift people’s perceptions to see the product beyond being just a physical piece of hardware, and instead, to think of it as a privilege: one that you would most certainly love to acquire and be seen with.
That was only one step forward in a long-term plan to reposition the company as a lifestyle brand. Think of the fashion industry and the way designer clothing is perceived higher compared to fast fashion, and apply that same exact concept to any other category of consumer products. Only then may things start making sense, sort of. Today, Apple is hardly seen as the computer manufacturer that it used to be known as in the eighties and through the nineties, and Starbucks is no longer just another coffee shop franchise selling java and some sandwiches. The secret for these two was managing to evolve beyond the point of selling products and services, entering a new arena where they could confidently charge a premium for the emotional experience.
Status is value.
Not only that we often buy things we do not need, but we do not necessarily buy things because we wanted them in the first place. Like it or hate it, the modern world is a materialistic place. And even for people who do not approve this way of living, I would assume that nobody is entirely immune to peer pressure. The desire to be perceived in a certain way, or to fit in your surroundings can have a dramatic impact on day-to-day decisions. Some brands provide status out-of-the-box: a sign indicating that you belong to a certain social class. To some people, that status can be more valuable than any practical benefits they could have with another brand which does not offer the same privilege. While trying not to pass judgement, but I see how this point can be ethically problematic. Even though social labels such as ‘elite’ or ‘lower class’ have already existed all along, but sadly enough, branding can be often found guilty of amplifying these labels and stereotypes and cementing them deeper inside people’s minds.
To some people, status can be more valuable than any practical benefits.
The thing about loyalty.
While it is generally deemed a virtue, however in this context, what if loyalty is causing you to miss out on better or more important things? Or worse. What if that loyalty is giving a specific brand the opportunity to rip you off, knowing that you, and of their customers, have become either too loyal or too locked-in to go anywhere else? To survive a money-first world, you always need to stay vigilant, and to constantly reassess the value you receive from your interactions with businesses, whether they are physical, emotional, or social benefits. Is it still worthy? Is it still relevant? Or is another brand offering something that makes more sense to you at a given point?
People do influence each other, and for that, consumers can practically make or break a brand. The more love you show to a brand, the more popular and influential it gets. Which, as a result, would convert in even more people. The next time you make a purchase, think about which brands deserve your support, and which ones perhaps need to show more respect and appreciation to their customers or to the whole society. Rooting for the wrong team may only encourage them to become greedier and more vicious.
Brands are as flawed as human beings themselves. We should never expect otherwise.
A few years ago, I had a thought-provoking conversation where I was honored to speak in front of a group of amazingly talented people. I asked whether they ever questioned the boundaries of branding. It was interesting to hear their thoughts, with some of them being relatively more concerned about the ethics of branding and how far it can go before crossing the line. Personally, I love seeing brands, and I love crafting their identities. But I have also accepted the fact that brands are as flawed as human beings themselves. We should never expect otherwise.
Le brief is a non-periodic series of short articles where I share snippets of my personal perspective on topics related to visual design, branding, marketing, and technology.
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