Great Branding Starts with a Promise
Recently in Fast Company Design, I read an article that claims “great branding is invisible,” and goes on to make the point that the little details, like the satisfying thunk of a closing BMW door, or the stitching in a Gucci purse, create and reinforce our relationships with great brands.
The article also makes the point that a catchy tagline or attention-getting logo is relatively unimportant in establishing that brand relationship in the first place.
I agree with these observations, but there’s something missing. Thoughtful details – the “invisibles” that create great brand experiences – are only meaningful if they come from a unique and meaningful central promise. What do you aim to provide that nobody else can? Why does it matter? If you don’t have an answer to these core questions, all those details have no center of gravity. They become tactics that can be easily copied and commoditized.
When your promise is clear, unique and meaningful, you now have a true north by which to judge all of your executional ideas. You will have a set of objective criteria by which to judge which investments, services, and product details are priorities, and which are not. When your promise is differentiated and relevant, the details are “coherent,” that is, they add up to fulfill that promise.
Virgin America is a great example of brand coherence. They are an airline with destinations, schedules and fares like any other. But they have committed to delivering beyond the basics with a sense of style that makes flying fun again. The “stylish airline” reduces the anxieties of travel and even boosts our esteem by making us feel like we are traveling with the cool crowd. Cues from music, lighting, design, and individualized drink service from your seat make you feel like you’ve just entered a flying nightclub, making travel more fun and building a great relationship with the brand. The employees are critical to delivering this promise, and from my experience, it is evident they all understand the promise and the behaviors required to make it real for their customers. They even make delays more bearable with their friendly approach to announcements, and by doing fashion promos and giveaways at the gate.
I completely agree that brand relationships, and the emotions that drive them, can be built through thoughtful and often “invisible” details. But if these efforts don’t add up in support of a clear, meaningful and differentiated promise, they could be wasted. Similarly, if the logo, tagline, and other brand expressions you agonize over don’t help to communicate your promise, they may be wasted efforts as well. Start with a commitment to the brand promise, and if it is meaningful and inspirational enough, all else will follow.