Have you ever tried to explain what you do to someone who works in an entirely different industry? If your experience is anything like mine, this conversation usually ends with a conclusion that may sound something like this: “Oh, you’re an advertising guy.” We love to put people in boxes.
It starts at a young age. “What do you think of Jimmy?” “I don’t like him.” “Why?” “He’s a stoner.” How do we come to this conclusion? What Jimmy says, how he looks, whom he hangs out with, and what he does, collectively influence our perception. This process is very similar to how we form an opinion and draw conclusions about companies, products and services.
What if you see Jimmy hanging out on Smokers’ Corner, but he sets the school record in the high jump? Inconsistencies create tension in terms of how we perceive people as well as companies. In these instances, we struggle with which box to put Jimmy in. I believe this struggle dilutes our opinion and thwarts engagement. In this example, I want common ground to approach Jimmy, but I’m not sure if he is a stoner or a superstar.
I have heard CEOs of some companies say they don’t invest in branding. In my experience, these companies are usually start-ups. (See, I can’t help it. There’s another box.) If you don’t want to invest in branding, then you need to be okay with the box that people put you in. This doesn’t always end well.
The reality is, you cannot NOT invest in your brand. However, your investment in your brand can manifest in two distinctly different ways: intentional and unintentional. Both scenarios can be funded (or not) in a traditional sense, but the result is unavoidable – the desire to place your brand in a box.
Does anyone remember any of these? TiVo was “DVR” box. AOL was “Internet Access” box. Blockbuster was in the “Movie Rental” box.
For smart brands, it’s time to define (or in many cases redefine) this box before someone else does. It takes hard work, but there are countless examples of companies that have strategically put themselves in boxes that enable them to lead industries, transform minds and dominate markets. IBM is in the “Smarter” box. GE is in the “Innovation” box. Coors is in the “Cold” box. The list goes on and on.
Also remember that as a brand, what you do, what you say and how you act will define you. So pick your “friends” wisely, because when your customers define you, it’s much better to be considered a superstar than a slacker in the Smokers’ Corner with Jimmy.
Luke Bemis is a senior planning strategist at gyro Denver.
Follow Luke @Bemis411