When you talk to startups, CEOs, and others, it seems like everyone wants to be the “next Apple,” “just like Nike,” or to do things “the way Starbucks does.” Admittedly, these companies are icons and have surpassed the competition to become larger-than-life brands, symbols that stand for things both larger and more sweeping than the commerce they generate. But it’s not like any of them pushed a magic icon button to make it all happen. There’s no road map to guaranteed iconic status, or our world would be vastly different, to say the least. But if we dissect these kinds of rockstar brands, and remove the lucky breaks, the passion, sweat equity, and visionary leaders, what is left? We believe there are some fundamental activities remaining that help illuminate the roads a brand must take to becoming an icon.
Here are a few of them:
You need to be everywhere your audience is. That doesn’t necessarily mean event-driven Super Bowl commercials or plastering your brand messages on every free inch of real estate. But it does require an intimate knowledge and understanding of the people you’re trying to reach, and then unobtrusively inserting your brand into their lives in useful and meaningful ways. This is less the persistent stalker syndrome and more the reliable, friendly presence. And it requires more than holding a sign that says “Remember, we’re here!” Today’s audiences want more from your brand than just a pathetic “Call me…?” Give them the means and a reason to follow you and follow up when their need arrives.
To remain in that elusive “top-of-mind” position, it requires some sort of regular and consistent presence in the lives of your target audience. It’s up to you to determine the how and who, and which messages and means are crucial elements in your brand strategy. Repeat these in a way that doesn’t feel monotonous or self-absorbed (no one likes the people who only talk about themselves!), but slowly unfolds what you’re doing, what you’re about, and why it matters. This means that your brand’s messaging, look, feel, style, voice — all need to be consistent, working in concert to provide synergy that makes it sound like your organization speaks with one voice.
This might seem silly to a company that sells toilet brushes or distributes freight containers, but the honest truth is that nearly every purchase or product decision carries some sort of emotional weight to it, however slight. The hard part is finding out what that bit of caring is, and when it’s liable to happen to your audience. Someone might care very much about getting their morning coffee quickly, so the brand touchpoint of a fast line is crucial to evoking satisfaction. Simple, bold nutritional graphics might make a harried parent’s shopping a bit easier at the point of purchase. Audience empathy will lead to the discovery of these moments of emotional connection, allowing you to use your service, product, or offering to make a positive difference to them.
This is one of the least quantifiable aspects, but no less important in stepping up the ladder to brand stardom. What is a spark? It’s that “new and different” aspect that sets your brand apart from others. It could mean providing something that’s never been seen before (a Segway?), revamping an existing category (the iPad), or just offering a completely fresh point of view on familiar products (like Method did with cleaning supplies). The commonality in all of these is some type of “unique selling proposition” in marketing parlance, but we prefer to think of it as a brand’s soul, it’s spark, or reason for being. (And making money doesn’t count as a “reason for being.”)
Something Worth Sharing
Finally, you know you’ll have an iconic brand in-the-making when you have something people want to share with others. Sharing is a highly-overused term in our sphere of retweets, Likes, and thumbs up , but this principle has been around a lot longer than social media. In fact, it’s centuries old and very simple. Your brand needs to contain something that people want to tell others about. Other than the occasional brand train wreck, what brands are truly worth discussing? You need fans and people who want to selflessly evangelize about what you do, because they love it and want to tell others. The motivation might come from wanting to be the first kid on the block with the new toy, a desire to be the resident expert on something, or just an overflow of genuine delight.
These five aspects are no magic recipe, but instead, we hope that they’re a handful of crucial steps on the painstaking road towards brand greatness. Now get going.