By Erika Schlomer-Fischer
If there is one lesson to be learned during this challenging time, it is to embrace core values and meaning in our lives. We have been forced to reassess and reprioritize.
In the business world, we have the opportunity to reconsider value creation and meaning for our customers. It is a good time for leaders to ask themselves the following: What do our brands stand for? What should they stand for? And most importantly, what do our brands mean in the lives of our customers? Finally, is the brand value being delivered, and the meaning created sustainable over time?
Many companies will measure selected dimensions of their brands. These may include awareness, likability, preference, loyalty and advocacy. Very few, however, measure meaning. It is not easy to capture, articulate or build. And yet, that is what successfully differentiates compelling brands.
Wieden and Kennedy is an award-winning creative agency out of Portland that builds brands that consistently resonate. Nike is one of these brands. If you think of Nike, what comes to mind? Is it “Just Do It,” a tagline from the 1980s? Or is it a sports icon? Or an image? Some of these memories may be from recent campaigns, others from long ago. Yet, they still resonate.
Why do they resonate? Based on research in global branding, psychological meaning is established and impacted by perceptions of intangible and tangible value assessed by customers in interaction with the culture. Cultural values play a large role in this meaningful interaction.
For example, studies reveal that a brand personality trait that has been shown to be uniquely valued in America is ruggedness. This trait reflects the values of independence, nature, resilience, and challenge of the status quo.
While some values are more common in certain countries, others are more universal, such as an appreciation of nature. Brands such as Patagonia reflect the global potential of identifying the universal appeal of this core brand value.
Successful brand portfolio managers for companies like Proctor and Gamble consider the global meaning of brands over time. This was illustrated in Wieden and Kennedy’s powerful ad campaign for P&G honoring motherhood launched during the Olympics: “Thank You, Mom.”
How do you find relevant brand meaning? A deep understanding of the customers’ needs, the value created and the context is necessary. Wieden and Kennedy leaders refer to the “God particle,” the idea that a universe-wide field gives mass to matter but remains unseen. Creative thinkers find meaning in human nature and universals.
Connecting the brand to these observations is the next step. Sometimes it is achieved by insight meeting serendipity, such in the “Got Milk?” campaign. This phrase was a hastily written title for a storyboard reflecting the research insight that a scarcity of milk in certain situations was particularly meaningful to consumers.
Or, famously, there was the Apple “1984” campaign launching the Macintosh, by notable Southern Californian creative director Lee Clow. In that commercial, according to Clow, Big Brother represented the control of technology by the few. In the ad, a young woman heaves a hammer and destroys this grim Big Brother image of the dismal future with the launch of the iconic Apple Macintosh.
Behind the scenes, the board of directors planned to pull funds because they thought the ad was too dark. Yet audiences identified with the vision of the role of the personal computer in democratization of our new technological world. Steve Jobs defended the creative concept, and an iconic brand was born.
Later, Clow expanded on his celebration of those challenging the status quo in his “Think Different” campaign. Today, Apple’s brand associations continue to include progress, innovation and creativity. The Apple brand is consistently ranked as one of the world’s most respected brands, reflecting the resilience of its meaning to customers.
Despite challenges, a disrupted business environment offers leaders the chance to reflect on the meaning of the brands they are building. Embracing this opportunity for strategic reflection should support your organization’s ability to build resilient and future-oriented brand strategies in 2021 and beyond.
• Erika Schlomer-Fischer is a visiting professor of marketing in the School of Management at California Lutheran University.