When most people think of a brand, they think of the logo and design, and maybe the marketing and advertising. They think of all the externally facing communications and touch points someone might have with a brand. The brand seems to be the way a company or product presents itself to the world.
But a truly strong brand is far more than that. For a brand to ring true, and have real authenticity to it, it must start from the inside of the company. It must be inextricably linked to the soul - the very DNA - of the company. The company must live and breathe its brand from the inside out.
Otherwise, the brand is just an empty promise. It becomes a hollow shell - a veneer that it presents to the world, but can’t back up. It becomes a facade, with nothing to support it.
Sniffing out imposters
Surprisingly, many companies end up building this kind of hollow brand. They hire great designers and agencies to “create” their brand. To build them something from scratch to tell the world who they are and what they’re about. This can work in the short term - it can look like the company has a strong brand. But if it’s not backed up by the company’s actions in everything it does, the brand will never really stick, and will never ring true with the target audience.
Instead, a strong brand will build off of something already within the DNA of the company. It will tap into part of the soul of the company - why it was started, its vision, its culture, its unique voice and personality, etc. Then it will bring this to life in a way that pulls in consumers, stands out from the competition, and connects to broader cultural trends. This means you shouldn’t create a brand from scratch, you need to mold and shape what you already have.
Psychologically speaking, this makes sense. Humans evolved to be able to carefully sniff out imposters, cheaters, and liars. This is why we can instinctively read people’s tiny fleeting facial expressions and body postures. These are all clues that our subconscious picks up on to tell us if this is a person we can trust, or if they’re trying to trick us. It’s why we often have a “gut feeling” if we like someone or not, even if we can’t put a finger on exactly why.
If a brand doesn’t feel authentic, it can quickly feel like a trick or scam
In fact, research has shown that our brains are constantly processing many bits of information from our environment, most of which we are unaware. Our brain only gives us conscious access to the bits of information most relevant in the moment, but it is actually processing, storing, and tagging most of the information unconsciously.
The same is true for brands. We get a feel based on how the brand, company, and its people, speak and behave that together gives us a general positive or negative feeling towards it. And if a brand doesn’t feel authentic, it can quickly feel like a trick or scam. Our unconscious “BS meter” will start going off, and we’ll be turned off to the brand. Often never giving it a second chance.
Focusing on culture
So how can a brand feel authentic? What must it do to earn this positive gut feeling in consumers’ minds?
As already mentioned, everything the company does must align behind the brand idea. This goes beyond the traditional marketing roles, and includes corporate communications, distribution, customer service, and more. Everything must tell the same cohesive story around the brand.
The other essential element is to ensure you have a corporate culture that lives and breathes the brand from the inside. In fact, the people behind the brand might be the most important brand asset, as everything that comes from the brand starts with them. And whether the marketers or consumers realize it or not, often the attitude and personality of a company can subtly influence the brand and marketing, often in unconscious - or at least unstated - ways.
Often the attitude and personality of a company can subtly influence the brand and marketing
For example, companies like Zappos and 1-800-CONTACTS have built their brands around great customer service. In today’s competitive marketplace where you can buy shoes and contact lenses from many outlets, having great customer service that delights customers is a great way to stand out and build loyalty. But they can’t just say they have great customer service, they have to actually deliver on it.
This means hiring people with the personality and disposition to be super friendly, helpful, and be able to easily put a smile on any customer’s face when they call. It also means creating a culture that empowers its employees to truly help its customers. Zappos has famously made this an important focus of its internal culture, and it has made them stand out in an otherwise commoditized online shopping marketplace.
Living your brand
Athletic brands like Nike and Under Armour are great examples as well. They tend to hire athletes, and promote active lifestyles among their employees. Nike’s campus has amazing exercise facilities, with state of the art gyms, swimming pools, a full track and trails for running, soccer fields, and much more right on campus. Employees get steep discounts for personal trainers, and are encouraged to take time out of the work day to work out. This makes everything they do feel true and authentic to athletes. They know sports, because they live and breathe it every day.
Employees get steep discounts for personal trainers, and are encouraged to take time out of the work day to work out.
Or take the beer brand Sam Adams. Despite being a large mass producer of beers, it has managed to still keep its identity (at least somewhat) as a “craft” beer. Part of this is clever marketing, but it feels authentic because of the owner’s involvement, and the way they talk about and show real employees in the marketing. It feels like a brand that really loves beer, and everyone that works there seems to love beer too. This gives the brand a friendly, more personal charm to it, which feels very different from the faceless corporate feel many of its mass beer competitors have.
Consumers relate to brands on these deep, gut-feeling kind of levels, whether they realize it or not. The human brain is programmed to sense whether or not a brand is something they can trust, and every tiny interaction with a brand will add to the feeling they have towards it. For brands to truly have this level of authenticity, it has to start from within - from the people in charge of building the company and brand.
Just remember, a brand is a reflection of the company, and the company is nothing more than the people behind it.
About Daryl Weber
Daryl Weber is author of Brand Seduction: How Neuroscience Can Help Marketers Build Memorable Brands which explores the unconscious side of brands in a way that’s inspiring for creative marketers. He’s a branding consultant whose work has influenced many of the best brands in the world, including Coca-Cola, Nike, Johnnie Walker, Gatorade, Old Spice, and many more.
As a speaker, Weber's eye-opening and entertaining talks have had profound impacts on audiences around the world. He makes the science of brains and brands not just easy to understand, but fascinating and easily applicable. Through simple language, real world examples, and engaging storytelling, Weber shows audiences the power of the unconscious side of brands, and how they can uncover and tap into this often ignored engine for brand growth.
He was formerly Global Director of Creative Strategy at The Coca-Cola Company, where he oversaw brand strategy for many of the company’s global billion-dollar brands. Prior to that, he was a Director of Strategy at Redscout - a boutique brand and innovation consultancy where he advised Fortune 500 companies on new product innovation and brand positioning. Weber has a BA in psychology from Columbia University and resides in Atlanta with his wife, Jennifer, and son, Avi. You can follow him on Twitter @BrandedCortex.