"The theater is not an art of separate elements arithmetically cumulative, but an art which might be seen to form a single organism."
— Harold Clurman, On Directing
I hate the word 'brand'. I hear it everywhere. You see it applied to every conceivable product nowadays. Doesn't matter if the darn thing is in any way unique or different from the thousand other products hawking the same junk. I read two chilling statistics in Sam Hill's book, 60 Trends in 60 Minutes:
• 93+% of all ads push products or services which are duplicative
• Only 9% of all consumers can recall the name of the brand from the ad they just saw on TV
Gosh, that's reassuring. It doesn't stop us from focusing on new slogans or ad campaigns, as if they were the fulcrum on which your success balanced. Sloganeering is today's spam. Branding is today's spam: clichés and mindless banality extruded through a pop culture sensibility to create empty calories that lead to a kind of marketing 'mad cow' disease. And the result? 9 out 10 people can't recall the brand ad they just saw.
Let's construct a meaning to branding that does it justice. It's not just a conglomeration of physical properties, sensations associated with its use and the memory that remains. These are the separate elements to which Clurman refers. A brand becomes a theatrical whole when the retail experience delivers on the promise.
Advertisers are clever. A brand has the potential to offer a consumer an emotional short cut, so that its very name or graphic image speaks volumes. If nothing else, with our society over saturated with as many as 3000 messages a day* and ominous, color-coordinated threat levels, we want to find the consumer Morse code to help us find those bonds of comfort and safety upon which we can count.
A brand, and all the feelings, images, and perceptions associated with it, exist solely in the human brain, made cohesive by the actual retail experience. The brand either stands out amidst the chaos, or it's buried.
We yearn to belong. We hunger for acknowledgment. We've gotten to know and appreciate quality. Many good brands offer the basics of superb quality and impeccable service. These are the price of entry. The great brands tie every piece of their retail business back to the brand's central personality and story, then present 'that show' consistently. All aspects are imbued with specific meaning.
Case in Point: Jordan's in New England is famous for its outstanding quality and 'going beyond the norm' kind of service. Its two spokespeople are brothers and wonderfully eccentric Boston icons selling great furniture. But that isn't where they end it. Here's their latest grand opening ad in the Boston Globe two Sunday's ago:
Now, at the bottom of the ad, it says, "We didn't forget the furniture! The most incredible selection you've ever seen in the most phenomenal showroom displays."
What is this about? Silly theatrics? No. It's a perfect reflection of how these men think and feel. Does it substitute for quality or service? Absolutely not. Amazing stories abound of the length Jordan's goes to wow their guests.
What are these men selling? Adventure and nostalgia on the grandest of scales. The furniture is merely a memento of the experience.
So, it's a spectacular example of "Being the Brand", where the basics are delivered with impeccable exactitude, but the memory created far exceeds the product itself. Oh, and by the way, this store did over $700,000 in furniture sales its first day.
Now, before you cross yourself off the list because you're not Mozart or Spielberg, I'll let you in on a secret: you can do it. I have absolute faith in the potential of each of us to bring a powerful, unique story to the world. If that can be brought out, much of the rest is 'just showing up'. Harley Davidson did it. They went from a company with market share in the teens and a reputation in the toilet to a BRAND of renown. They have the basics covered. It's when they discovered they were in 'The brother and sisterhood of Harley-Davidson Owners' business that sales exploded. Today, they dominate the motorcycle segment once more.
So, the hardest part is acknowledging the scary truth: you've got greatness in you if you're willing to 'be your brand' and instill its meaning into every aspect of the business. The rotten truth is, if you don't, your actors and audience will fill those activities with their own mental and emotional meaning. Who do you want as captain of your brand? Think about it. Whose show you want to see?
*from "60 trends in 60 Minutes" by Sam Hill
Chief Experience Officer
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