Branding is Sex

The Definitive List of Brand Archetypes

Brand Archetype

We all want a loyal following. We’re constantly looking for that magical marketing plan that will connect us to our audience and make our product an irreplaceable part of their life. What we don’t often realize is that connections are relationships. If we aren’t clear about who we are, no one is going to be interested in dating us.

In my book Branding Is Sex, I’ve devoted an entire chapter to understanding who your brand is, and how you should be starting a relationship with your customers.

The short version is this: There are 12 basic identities—or archetypes—a brand can assume. Below I’ve broken down all 12 in extreme detail to help you understand where you belong.

1. The magician makes dreams come true

The magician archetype is all about vision. Magician brands don’t build you a better toothbrush or help you keep your house clean, they bring your wildest dreams to life.

What they offer is a grand experience no one else could achieve. A magician is so in tune with the fundamentals of the universe that they can create the impossible.

Magician Archetype
Magician Archetype

Disney is the perfect magician. Disney is fundamentally a media company, but they are unlike any other.

Quick—think of the books and videos that have helped you in your career. You’re probably thinking of titles targeted to your industry, full of actionable advice and guidance.

Disney doesn’t do any of that. What they offer is a transformative experience.

They are in a category of their own because of the grandness of their vision. Imagine another brand that could build a “Magic Kingdom” or a “Disney World.”

2. The sage is always seeking the truth

To a sage, wisdom is the key to success. Everything else is secondary to the pursuit of knowledge.

A sage brand might not feel warm and cuddly. They don’t enrapture you in a fantastic world like Disney. Instead, a sage commands your respect by showing their brilliance.

Sage Archetype
Sage Archetype

Harvard University is one of the most revered universities in the world. Boasting an alumni list that includes eight US presidents, 21 Nobel laureates, and Mark Zuckerberg (sort of), Harvard’s brand is all about being the smartest.

Take this video for example. It’s not about success in life or fantasy, it’s about the power of knowledge. The video says the secrets of the universe hide in books, and that Harvard is where they are studied.

3. The innocent just wants to be happy

The innocent belongs in paradise. Everyone is free, virtuous, and happy in an innocent’s world.

An innocent brand will never guilt you with an ad or go over the top to convince you. Instead, an innocent brand will charm you with something much more powerful: Nostalgia.

Innocent Archetype
Innocent Archetype

Orville Redenbacher is the prototypical innocent archetype.

orville redenbaucher
orville redenbaucher

[source: Hammer and Rails]

What adult do you know who is that happy about their suspenders? What adult do you know that even owns suspenders?

But that’s Orville’s appeal. They sell you a childhood treat, popcorn, and their mascot is a grandpa who hasn’t stopped having fun since bowties were a thing unironically.

Nothing heavy-handed, just happiness.

4. The outlaw wants revolution

The outlaw isn’t afraid. Outlaw brands control their own life without regard for the status quo.

Where the innocent archetype touches the part of you that loved snack time in kindergarten, the outlaw archetype appeals to the part of you that cut classes in high school.

Outlaw Archetype
Outlaw Archetype

Building a cult following like Apple is the ultimate goal of an outlaw brand.

Remember those old iPod commercials where monochrome people had the best times of their lives dancing?

Apple Magician Archetype
Apple Magician Archetype

[source: Cult of Macs]

That ad doesn’t tell you to stand in a crowd or go to a concert. It tells you to be yourself, to dance whenever you like, and to do it with Apple.

If you think Apple doesn’t have a cult following, consider this. Did people wait in line for hours when the Galaxy S7 was released? No, is the answer.

5. The jester lives in the moment

The jester is all about having fun. Jester brands might not be curing illnesses, but they’re making your day better.

Humor, silliness, even nonsense are all in a jester’s toolkit. The goal of a jester brand is to make you smile with light-hearted fun.

Jester Archetype
Jester Archetype

The Old Spice Man is one of our all-time favorite ad campaigns, and the perfect example of a jester archetype.

Old Spice Man Jester Archetype
Old Spice Man Jester Archetype

[source: ePharmacy]

Some guys react well to hyper-masculine branding. Other guys don’t. By making a joke out of these super manly brands, Old Spice gets to appeal to both sides.

Guys who are into overly masculine brands get to be in on the joke. Guys who aren’t into macho brands get to laugh at them.

Everybody laughs, and everybody likes Old Spice as a result.

6. The lover wants to make you theirs

Passion, pleasure, and sensuality are the lover’s keywords. A lover brand wants you to associate them with intimate moments in your life.

What do you buy to celebrate? What do you buy your significant other for birthdays and anniversaries? Chances are, you’re buying from a lover brand.

Lover Archetype
Lover Archetype

Think of Godiva Chocolate ads. Do they ever make you think about your health, your finances, or your future?

No. Godiva seduces you. It shows off its richness and creaminess. It invites you to take part in life’s greatest indulgence: Chocolate.

7. The explorer wants to break free

Freedom is all an explorer cares about. Where other brands might try to help you build a home, explorer brands want to get you outside.

With this in mind, it makes sense that many outdoor brands are natural fits for the explorer archetype.

Explorer Archetype
Explorer Archetype

Subaru is the classic explorer brand. They don’t sell their cars based on luxury or comfort, they stress the freedom a Subaru provides.

Subaru Explorer Archetype
Subaru Explorer Archetype

[source: Tutsplus]

Blizzard? No problem. Subaru lets you decide where you’re going, no matter the circumstance. You’re free.

8. The ruler wants absolute power

Luxury and exclusivity are what the ruler is all about. A ruler brand is a gatekeeper. If a customer buys from them, they get to belong to the elite.

Being perceived as high-quality and expensive is critical for a ruler brand. Jewelry and high-end vehicles are natural fits for the ruler archetype.

Screen Shot 2016-08-10 at 12.03.40 PM
Screen Shot 2016-08-10 at 12.03.40 PM

Do you buy a Mercedes Benz because of its crash test rating? What about its gas mileage? Its heated seats?

No. You buy a Mercedes Benz because you can afford to, and most other people can’t. Whenever you park your car, people will understand your status without you saying a word.

That quietly understood value is what a ruler brand sells.

9. The caregiver wants to nurture you

The caregiver is benevolent. They want to be there for you and the people you love.

Caregiver brands are all about warmth and trust. You can depend on them when it comes to your children. It’s rare to see a caregiver brand run an ad that takes a shot at their competition. They are the opposite of confrontational.

Caregiver Archetype
Caregiver Archetype

Johnson & Johnson’s tagline line is “Johnson & Johnson: A Family Company.” You can’t get more committed to families than that.

Johnson & Johnson Caregiver Archetype
Johnson & Johnson Caregiver Archetype

[source: Johnson & Johnson]

A Johnson & Johnson ad always focuses on how their products help you take care of your children. How their products build families. This is bread-and-butter for the caregiver archetype.

A caregiver is all about instilling trust between in the customer that for the rest of their life, the brand will be there for them.

10. The hero wants to prove himself

The hero makes the world better by being the best. A hero brand isn’t concerned with nurturing you, they’re interested in challenging you.

If you want to rise to the occasion, you’re going to need a hero’s help.

Hero Archetype
Hero Archetype

The U.S. Army is the ultimate example of a hero archetype.

Think of the recruitment commercials you’ve seen with troops jumping out of helicopters, running through training courses, and protecting the country. Any of that resemble your day-to-day?

Of course not. It’s not supposed to. It’s designed to compel you to “answer the call” and rise to the occasion by joining with a hero brand: The U.S. Army.

11. The regular guy/girl wants to belong

No glitz or glamour, just a reliable product that gets the job done. That’s what regular guy/girl brands are selling.

The archetype is focused on providing something so far removed from pretentiousness that it can appeal to everyone. It is the hardest archetype to pull off, because you have to have a product that actually appeals across demographics.

Screen Shot 2016-08-10 at 12.05.19 PM
Screen Shot 2016-08-10 at 12.05.19 PM

Everyone drinks coffee. Not every individual person, but every major demographic with the possible exception of infants. That’s what makes Folgers a great every guy/girl brand.

Folgers doesn’t market to a hip crowd. They don’t brag about their high quality, all-organic coffee. They keep it simple: “The best part of waking up is Folgers in your cup.”

Everyone wakes up. Everyone drinks Folgers.

12. The creator craves perfection

A creator isn’t worried about the cost of production or making things at scale. They care about one thing: building the perfect product.

While the magician also stresses vision and imagination, creators are different in that they don’t unlock the world’s magic and create the impossible. They create the perfect product.

Creator Archetype
Creator Archetype

Lego is a great example of a creator archetype. Take a look at this ad for Lego Vision:

Lego Creator Archetype
Lego Creator Archetype

[source: Ads of the World]

Lego recreated in stunning detail the most famous sights of the world. They didn’t build new sites, and they didn’t create some new technology that put the sites in your home.

Lego used the simplest technology possible: blocks. They took this simplicity and pushed it to its most perfectionist extreme. That’s what being a creator is all about.

What archetype is your brand?

This is one of the key questions we help clients answer at Sol Marketing. Almost every client comes to the table assuming they are the every guy/girl, but in 99% of cases, they aren’t.

Drilling down into what makes your brand special and how your customers best connect with your products isn’t easy, but it’s the most important thing you can do to understand what archetype you should be using.

The ideas in this post were inspired byCarol Pearson’s The Hero and the Outlaw: Building Extraordinary Brands Through the Power of Archetypes.

When You're Ready, It's Too Late: Brand Strategy for Startups

Startups

Ah, startups. The land where branding is everything, yet most companies ignore it. For a branding geek like me, startups are incredibly fun and rewarding to work with. In addition to Sol Marketing, I also run another business called InvestorPitches.com, where we work with early stage companies to help them tell their stories effectively.

In my work with startups, the same theme comes up over and over again:

  • Is it too early to start branding?
  • Is branding a worthwhile investment at this phase?
  • Can’t we just focus on having a great product?

Of course, having a great product is important. But it’s not a trade-off where you can choose one or the other. For an early stage company nobody has heard of, branding is absolutely essential.

It’s Never Too Early

I always say, “Brand early, often, and always.”

Startups often fall into the trap of thinking they need to grow and be established players before branding matters. That couldn’t be farther from the truth.

The truth is, whether you work on it or not, you will have a brand. There will be a set of emotions, expectations, and feelings around your brand in the minds of customers. And if you don’t intentionally decide what that brand should be, your customers will decide it for you.

For an unfunded startup, it may be too early to invest significantly in ad spend and building a visual brand. But it’s never too early to understand your brand strategy from your customers’ point of view.

Minimum Viable Brand

Branding doesn’t need to be a big ordeal. New companies without much money to spend don’t need to hire expensive outside consultants, or run costly research studies, in order to understand their brand. But they do need to think about it.

At the very least, I encourage startups in their very early phase to understand the answers to the three fundamental questions of branding:

1) What does it say about the customer that they choose your brand?

2) What is the singular thing that only your brand can deliver to your customer?

3) How does your brand make the customer the hero in their own story?

These questions are simple, but they aren’t always easy to answer. Don’t think of this as a one-time, thirty-minute exercise. Instead, think of the process of answering of these questions as an ongoing discussion that unfolds as you find product-market fit.

I spend three full chapters in my book, Branding is Sex, explaining how best to understand and answer these questions. If you implement this process early, your branding is well taken care of. Like I said, branding doesn’t need to cost you tens of thousands of dollars. The book only costs $8.99!

As a start-up, if you do nothing else, dedicate time each month to discussing these three questions. This process gives you your brand’s North Star, which gives you direction and points you toward where you’re going.

Benefits Beyond Branding

The best thing about branding at the early stage isn’t just that it will impact how customers see you. It’ll also impact how you see yourself.

By going through this exercise, you’ll identify not only what you’re going to do but also, and more importantly, what you’re not going to do. It’s really easy as a startup to be opportunistic and to try to be all things to all customers.

But we all know that doesn’t work long term.

When you start to understand your branding and know directionally where you’re going, you can make more strategic, thoughtful, and deliberate decisions about your business.

When should we brand? Early, often, and always

WorkplaceBranding

By Deb Gabor I hear one question from business owners all the time: “When should we brand?”

My answer is always the same: “Early, often, and always.”

Branding is not optional, and the risks of not taking it seriously are very real. Your customers might lose touch with your brand and leave you. A competitor with a strong commitment to branding might overtake you. Or, perhaps worst of all, the market might define your brand for you.

Brand yourself, or someone else will brand you. It’s very dangerous to let your customers, or the news media, or bloggers, or social media, or your competitors define your brand for you.

If you don’t intentionally control your brand yourself, it will take on a life of its own.

Brand or be branded For decades, cable television companies had no competition. They owned a local franchise, which allowed them to do business in a particular geographic area, and that was that. The regional cable companies had mini-monopolies because their customers had few options for home entertainment.

Hence, they often didn’t treat their customers well.

The cable companies knew their customers weren’t going to leave and, as a result, poor customer service became an ingrained way of doing business.

I don’t know if you’ve ever personally had the experience of being a customer of any of the big cable TV companies. If you have, then you’ve probably experienced the overwhelming sense of dread that comes whenever you have to call a cable company about anything. Dealing with cable companies is not a pleasant experience.

Invariably, you’ll start by waiting on hold for 30 minutes. When you do get a customer service rep on the line, you have to repeat all your account information that you’ve already entered. Then the rep will ask you a bunch of stupid questions you already answered for the person you spoke with previously. When you do schedule your appointment, customer service provides you a four-hour window of time when you need to be home. The technician shows up either early or late, or not at all. Finally, you get your cable bill, which is already too high to begin with, and discover that the company charged you way more than you expected for the service call.

When it comes to customer satisfaction—or the lack of it—it doesn’t get much worse than this.

With that atrocious level of customer service, pretty soon some of the big cable companies earned a dismal reputation among customers. You can go into a party and overhear people talking about how frustrated they are with their cable provider. “Oh gosh, I had to call the cable company the other day. What a nightmare. I’m still upset!” Everybody in the room utters a sigh of disgust because they’ve experienced the same thing.

Pretty soon, Consumer Reports or Temkin Group releases a survey and finds that the cable industry has the lowest customer satisfaction scores of any industry. Then the news media picks up the story. The bloggers start ranting. Twitter goes crazy.

Before you know it, the cable industry has been branded as an awful industry that abuses its customers. It can be very difficult to shed that reputation, and it can take years.

The cable industry lost control of its brand and let someone else—in this case, customers—own the brand. When you don’t take control of your brand’s image, and you don’t properly manage the relationship you have with your customers, the results can be devastating. And they show up on the bottom line.

What to do instead Branding doesn’t need to be complicated. You don’t need to have a major branding agency on retainer or go on weeklong branding retreats.

By answering three major questions, you can take control of your brand and understand who you are and how you fit in the market.

These are deep questions, and three full chapters in my book, Branding is Sex, are dedicated to understanding them and how best to answer them.

1) What does it say about the customer that they choose your brand?

2) What is the singular thing that only your brand can deliver to your customer?

3) How does your brand make the customer the hero in their own story?

By understanding the answers to these three questions, companies can ensure that they are sending the right message, and that their customers’ experiences are aligning with their messaging.

Branding is not a step-by-step process I want to be clear: Companies cannot just answer those three questions once and then hang up their branding hat. Answering the above questions is an ongoing exercise that should happen throughout the life of the brand. Branding is not something that takes place at a single point in time.

The answers to these questions will always be evolving and, even more importantly, living your brand and ensuring that customers experience your values is a constantly ongoing process.

You are in a competitive environment with changing customer needs and market forces that are beyond your control. Your brand needs to be constantly evolving to meet these challenges. You have to be in constant touch with your customers and your customers’ needs or subject yourself to the risk of becoming irrelevant.

Create your ideal customer profile

IdealCustomerProfile

By Deb Gabor

What’s the one thing that should always be at the center of your brand?

It isn’t design, color schemes, or masterful copywriting.

It’s your customer.

Some business owners have a hard time understanding this, but your brand isn’t about you. Your brand exists to bolster your customer’s self-image, lead them to achieve their goals, and help them become the kind of person they want to be.

To accomplish this requires you to think carefully about who your customer is. You need to understand them better than they understand themselves.

First, ignore traditional marketing advice Traditional marketing has always taught us to think about segmenting and dividing markets.

When you’re bringing a new product to market, the traditional textbook methodology is to think about who are all the potential people who could possibly buy this product, and then segment based on the potential use cases, the possible purchase channels, and their reasons for buying and not buying the product.

In other words, traditional marketing methods tell us to identify as many potential audiences as we can and then divide them further based upon demographics or shopping behaviors or desires and attitudes.

Using that old way of thinking often means taking your brand message and dividing it rather than multiplying it. Segment marketing suggests that you’re going to create a different brand experience for each of those different audiences. When you start dividing and segmenting your market, you start creating more and more marketing messages that are dissimilar from each other. If not managed, that practice can dilute your brand’s impact.

I’m not against segment marketing. In fact, part of my company does quantitative psychographic research with the goal of creating and identifying market segments and then coming up with marketing strategies and tactics for companies to go after those segments.

But when you create your brand, you need to look to what’s similar among all of those segments to create a singular brand for a singular customer archetype. That customer archetype is called the ideal customer, and it’s an in-depth profile of the customer who is most highly predictive of a brand’s success.

Who is your ideal customer? The ideal customer archetype is something that serves as a guiding principle for everything you do in branding and gives you a singular, highly identifiable customer persona toward which to point your brand’s story.

The ideal customer archetype is a fleshed out, detailed, hypothetical profile of your absolute ideal customer.

This doesn’t need to encompass anyone who might engage with your brand. I like to think of the ideal customer archetype as the profile of that single customer who will spend the most money with you over the longest time because he or she has so strongly bought-in to your brand experience.

Create your ideal customer profile This is where your creative skills come into play. After you’ve spoken to enough customers and people in your social networks who use the product, it’s time to write down a description of your ideal customer.

Close your eyes and conjure up a vivid image of who the perfect person is to buy your brand. Who are they? How old are they? Are they male or female? Married or single? What is their income?

Conjure up an image of who that person is, and write down everything you can think of.

Once you’ve written down everything you can think of, dig deeper.

The best trick I’ve found is to try to imagine his or her lifestyle. For instance, for a hypothetical online grocer in the Northeast, the ideal customer might be a thirty-five-year-old mom with two school-age kids at home.

That’s great as far as demographics go, but we can dig deeper by picturing the rest of her life. She works thirty hours a week outside of the home. She lives in the New York suburbs. She shops for groceries once a week in a big shopping trip, and then she does fill-in shopping every other day. She’s a technology user — she has a smartphone and a laptop and a tablet. She wears high-end casual clothes with designer labels when she shops. She carries a gigantic pocketbook. She keeps a yoga mat in her expensive European SUV, and she does not like minivans. Her total household income is around $200,000.

Now dial in your vision even further. Imagine her getting out of her SUV wearing one of her pairs of high-end designer jeans that cost around $200. She’s wearing a puffy down vest from North Face because that’s what all the other moms are wearing when they pick up their kids from private school.

Continue to go through the process of envisioning who this person is and what their life looks like. Write it all down. Even draw a picture of her if you have to.

Identify the Ideal Customer’s Needs Once you’ve created this ideal customer profile, the next step is to think about that person’s needs.

This is the hardest part of the ideal customer archetype process. This is the part where you have to really dig in.

Let’s go back to our suburban, working mom with two kids. From that detailed description, I can probably deduce some of her needs. She needs to feel like she is the best possible parent she can be. She also needs to look like the best parent in comparison to other moms at her kids’ school. Since she works outside the home, she likely feels the strain of balancing her job and spending time with her kids at this critical age. So she has needs for activities and services and products that give her as much time as possible to spend with her kids in the way that she wants to that also makes her feel like she is fulfilling her potential as their mom.

We also know that she values quality in the products that she buys because she doesn’t have time to drive around town making returns. In thinking about food, for instance, she probably wants to have the healthiest, most nutritious meals she can get for her children without the need to do a lot of shopping or preparation. She certainly doesn’t have time to shop at multiple grocery stores, and sometimes she doesn’t have the time to cook everything that comes to the table for a family meal. However, she still wants to feel like she’s the provider of tonight’s dinner and that the meal meets her very high standards.

Understanding your ideal customer in depth enables you to understand what that person needs most from you and your brand. By getting inside the head of your ideal customer, you’re able to extract from it the story that the customer wants to tell themselves and the world about who they are.

Eventually you’ll get a clear image of who your ideal customer is and, ultimately, whom your brand is for.

The ideal customer profile exercise This is great, but how do you actually do it? How do you figure out who your ideal customer is?

The ideal customer archetype exercise is ideally done in a group brainstorming session with the staff in your company who are most involved in customer-facing roles.

Don’t just invite the top executives! Often it’s your salespeople, customer service reps, returns processors, and delivery drivers who are closest to the customers. They actually know more about your customers than your marketing team ever could.

What I’d recommend is bringing a group together with a big roll of butcher paper, and dividing up into smaller groups to answer the following questions:

  • Who is our ideal customer?
  • What does their average day look like?
  • What are the needs they’re looking to fulfill?

This seems easy enough, but companies often struggle with these branding exercises because the conclusions are sometimes difficult to swallow. It’s hard to leave behind the myths and beliefs that are part of the company history.

But, ultimately, this ideal customer process is extremely galvanizing for companies.

I’ll give you an example. One of the companies that I worked with for a long time was iVillage.com. Back in its heyday, iVillage was probably the largest online destination for women. At the time I started working with the company, it had just become part of NBC Universal. With a mid-2000s onslaught of “mom media,” iVillage struggled to remain relevant and knew it had to reinvent itself in order to compete. Additionally, the proliferation of highly focused digital media sites in passion verticals, such as food, entertainment, parenting, fashion, and beauty, was stealing their readers.

By late 2011, iVillage was struggling to figure out how to both narrow its focus and grow traffic. As part of a branding engagement, I had them do the ideal customer exercise.

For iVillage’s ideal customer exercise, we did exactly the process described above. My team brought out a big roll of butcher paper and cut it into six-foot lengths. We divided up the staff of about one hundred employees into smaller groups. We gave each group markers, art supplies, magazines, photographs, glue, and scissors. Then I gave them the assignment of creating an image of iVillage’s ideal customer, using all that stuff.

One group actually had one of their team members lay down on the butcher paper, and they traced her body with magic marker. They gave her big eyes and big ears because they wanted to communicate, “Our ideal customer is somebody who has a curiosity about the world around her and is seeking information from other people.”

Another group drew their ideal customer as a woman with a gigantic pocketbook filled with items from different categories, such as parenting, beauty, fashion, and health. Their idea was, “Our ideal customer is somebody who is super engaged and productive in her world and needs inspiration, information, and connections in all of these different areas of her life.”

Another group drew this Picassoesque Cubist version of a woman with five arms and six legs and ten eyes. This was their version of a woman who is doing a lot of things at once.

Each team presented their ideal customer diagrams to the rest of the teams. Then I challenged them as a larger group to combine those traits to come up with a singular ideal customer profile. That group of one hundred people used all of those inputs to create the North Star version of their ideal customer.

Although it was difficult for them to give up some of their company’s tribal knowledge and assumptions around who their audience should be, it was extremely galvanizing for them to narrow their focus to align on a singular profile.

What’s next? The ideal customer profile is just one exercise I recommend for companies to align their focus on exactly who their customer is and what deep needs they are fulfilling.

For all the tips, tricks and exercises we use with our Sol Marketing clients, as well as a deeper understanding of how to think about your customers’ needs, check out my book, Branding is Sex.

 

The brand values pyramid: get to the top

Brand Values Pyramid

by Deb Gabor In Marketing 101, professors taught us that customers make rational purchase decisions. However, as a student of branding and marketing over the past 25 or so years, I’ve learned that reason informs, but emotion persuades.

The practice of branding requires digging a lot deeper into your customers’ needs, wants, and desires and then trying to uncover the inner stories customers tell themselves.

Marketing 101 was a good start, but to really understand branding, we need to leave the business school and walk across campus to the psychology department.

Maslow Was a Marketer If you think back to Psychology 101 class in college, you probably remember studying Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Maslow shaped his hierarchy like a pyramid, with the most basic human needs—food, water, shelter, air—at the base and loftier, more emotional needs at the top. The theory is that all humans must first solve for the lower levels of the pyramid before moving to the upper levels.

Once a person is no longer worried about finding food and water, he or she can move up to solve the problem of safety. Once that person figures out safety, he or she can move up to love, and so on.

brand values graphics for blog-04
brand values graphics for blog-04

Just as Maslow’s hierarchy explains human motivation, the brand values pyramid illustrates the idea that, when a person makes a decision to purchase or use a brand, they are motivated to achieve certain needs. After fulfilling one need, a person seeks to fulfill the next one, and so on.

As customers move up the pyramid, brands must meet more of their customers’ emotional needs, and as those emotional needs are met by more and more companies, the best brands must support customers’ process of becoming self-actualized.

Branding Lessons from My Garage Currently, I have two cars parked in my garage. I drive a sweet midsize Audi SUV, and my daughter drives a midsize Hyundai SUV.

Baseline Requirements The things that make both of these products midsize SUVs are what we call baseline requirements, which equate to the base of Maslow’s hierarchy.

In Maslow’s pyramid, those basic physiological needs are food, water, shelter, air, and so on.

In midsize SUVs, the baseline requirements are wheels, an engine, and a steering wheel, as well as seats, mirrors, windows, and the basic functional benefit of getting you from point A to point B.

The basic things that these two cars have in common with one another that make them function as midsize SUV’s are the baseline requirements for anything in the midsize SUV category.

All cars must meet these baseline requirements and deliver these functional benefits, or today’s market of SUV buyers will not take them seriously.

Emotional Benefits The next levels up in Maslow’s hierarchy are safety, belonging, and affiliation and esteem needs. These are the benefits that make you feel like you’re part of a group and protected.

In the brand values pyramid, these middle tiers describe how certain features make the consumer feel. In car talk, these are the options. In branding, we refer to them as emotional benefits. Emotional benefits can provide a competitive advantage, but they are not your brand.

The options packages in the middle of the pyramid for today’s cars are things such as Bluetooth, voice-activated navigation, heated seats, self-darkening mirrors, bi-xenon headlamps, and a variety of other cool things.

Not every model of car in a category offers those features, so they’re still somewhat differentiating and can command a premium purchase price. However, these features are easy for other brands to imitate, so they don’t define the brand and certainly aren’t sustainable long-term brand differentiators.

Like the functional benefits we discussed before, emotional benefits alone will never be enough to create and sustain a brand. As today’s options become tomorrow’s standard equipment, these emotional benefits aren’t enough to differentiate your brand.

brand values graphics for blog-02
brand values graphics for blog-02

Self-Expressive Benefits Self-expressive benefits—the stuff at the top of the brand values pyramid—enable customers to complete the statement, “When I eat/drink/drive/wear/use this brand, I am___.”

This is where brands become transcendent, symbolizing their customers’ self-concept and giving consumers a vehicle to express themselves.

When brands provide self-expressive benefits to their users, they can engender deep emotional connections. For example, consider the difference between the self-expressive benefits associated with Heineken beer, which may heighten a person’s self-concept of being a sophisticated, discerning, worldly person, with those of Budweiser.

Back to the two cars in my garage: the Hyundai and the Audi both meet the baseline requirements for midsize SUVs and provide some similar and compelling middle-of-the-pyramid features and emotional benefits. These two cars are so similar in their physical makeup, features, and benefits, that if you were to take the brand names away, they’d be virtually indistinguishable.

But everyone can agree that an Audi is an Audi, and a Hyundai is not an Audi. It’s a Hyundai.

Each of these two brands is unique and singular in what they let their owners say about themselves. For me, driving an Audi makes me feel powerful, cool, and in control. For my daughter, driving the Hyundai makes her feel responsible, stylish, practical, and safety conscious. Those feelings connect us to each of the two brands in very powerful ways, and elevate our concepts of ourselves and support us in telling a story to the rest of the world.

The most powerful brands are the ones that say something about their user. The key to successful branding is to make self-expressive benefits part of the brand value proposition to add richness and depth to the brand and the experience of owning and using the brand.

brand values pyramid for blog-01
brand values pyramid for blog-01

How to Discover Your Brand’s Self-Expressive Benefits There are three questions that every brand must be able to answer in order to understand how the brand values pyramid impacts their brand. These questions can be difficult to get to the bottom of, but once you understand them, they allow your brand’s strategy to flow naturally.

The three questions are:

  1. What does using your brand say about your customers?
  2. What is the singular thing your brand delivers that customers can’t get from anyone else?
  3. How do you make your customer a hero in their own story?

These questions may seem simple, but very few companies are able to answer them clearly. Those who can are usually the brands who win.

How to accurately answer these questions is beyond the scope of this blog post. In fact, there are three full chapters in my book, Branding is Sex, that focus exclusively on better understanding these three questions.

If you’re a brand struggling to deeply understand your customers, that’s the best place to start.

Branding is Sex: Get Your Customers Laid and Sell the Hell Out of Anything

Brandind_is_Sex-cover
Brandind_is_Sex-cover

If you hate making money and the feeling of a mind-blowing, toe curling orgasm—stay far away from Deb Gabor's new book.

In Branding is Sex: Get Your Customers Laid and Sell the Hell Out of Anything, the Sol Marketing founder and "brand dominatrix" explains how proper brand positioning gets your customers in the mood.

In just seven short and sweet chapters, Deb covers these juicy topics and more:

How the most successful brands in the world get their customers laid How to never fail The Bullshit Test Who your brand should hop in the sack with (and it’s not who you think)

Don’t rot in the brand graveyard like Blackberry, Oldsmobile, Circuit City, Compaq, Blockbuster Video, and Pets.com.

Get your sexy back and move from being “just friends” with your customers to being long-term “friends with benefits.”

Branding is Sex provides you with a concrete foundation and a basic how-to plan for building or re-igniting your brand without needing a PhD.

Buy your print or e-reader copy here, or read more about it at brandingissex.com