Branding is like dating… well, sort of…
Rather a trite statement, but inherently true. Just as dating is a process, branding is the process of establishing a positioning and identity that people will trust, value, and even love in so much as they commit to the brand through repeat purchase, continued usage, brand advocacy etc.
When people date, they do so in an effort to find “the one”; a partner that offers a similarity in values, experiences, aspirations and lifestyle to potentially form the basis of a committed relationship. So, from a consumer’s perspective, branding is very much like the process of dating; seeking out the brand that best fits with their specific motivations for “shopping” (experiencing, visiting, using etc.) a particular category. However, from a brand’s perspective, branding is more a polyamorous love-fest where “the one” is, in fact, multiple committed partners all wanting that one thing only the brand can offer.
In the past, branding was more like Tinder rather than the traditional notion of courtship; look good, say the right thing, post some “cool” photos offering a glimpse into an idealised lifestyle, act confident and you just might find yourself being swiped right (or left, or down, I don’t know!) and the “relationship” starts.
However, in today’s hyper-competitive, hyper-connected marketplace, branding is very much like a traditional courtship where depth and meaning, values and attributes, story and purpose, personality and worldview inform the expectations that consumers place upon their choice making (brand or otherwise).
No longer can a brand simply look good on shelf or online, it has to either represent or reflect (or both) a consumer’s identity by reinforcing their sense of self and/or reflecting this image to the rest of the world. If branding was simply about looking good, it would be more art than science, whereas branding is a mix of both; it’s a robust strategic undertaking requiring care, consideration, craft and consistency before design can deliver this unique and compelling narrative through relevant experiences.
Brands should aspire to form meaningful connections with consumers by offering more than “just” a good product and a “sexy” label; if the business behind the brand is at odds with what a consumer values or covets, the brand will be replaced by something more in keeping with that consumer or audience’s motivations.
The role of “branding” is, therefore, bringing to life the purpose behind the brand; the totality of product, business, promise and actions where the resulting relationship is more than just a physical experience, but an emotional connection where “feeling” is the basis of the commitment between consumer and brand.
That’s not to say that looking good isn’t fundamental for a brand; consumers will, more often than not, experience the brand before they experience the actual product or even the business behind the product. The brand’s “profile picture” needs to ensure people want this experience, learn more about the business, perhaps explore the portfolio; every visual, verbal and physical expression should be designed to help the consumer “get to know” their brand. Just like swapping numbers that lead to first, second and third dates:
“They like the look of each other. He dresses smart, has nice shoes, is tall, dark and handsome. She’s got a lovely smile and is wearing a pretty dress. He makes her laugh. They exchange numbers. He calls to arrange a date. Date one and he picks the restaurant, which just happens to be her favourite. The conversation is light and easy. She finds his humour compelling. He finds her personality engaging. They have similar backgrounds. They’re both dog people. Date two and she’s chosen a café near the local park. She finds herself telling him things she finds slightly embarrassing. He finds her honesty and sincerity very attractive. There’s a genuine connection forming and they want to dig deeper. It’s his mum’s birthday party this weekend, would she like to be his “date”? Date three and he picks her up from her house. She’s brought a birthday card for his mum and a bunch of flowers. His dad gives him a nudge and a wink. She feels like she’s known his family her whole life. A relationship is forming…”
And so on.
However, for FMCG brands, the “dating” process can happen in a matter of seconds, so brand owners need to establish the foundation of purpose, values, characteristics and personality before bringing this positioning to life through design. By understanding competitors and defining a target audience seeking what the business “sells”, the brand’s visual, verbal and multi-sensorial language will target the motivation at the heart of what the consumer is actually looking for in a language that stands out from the crowd.
So, while branding can be compared to dating, it’s more eHarmony than Tinder. Both can be fun, but branding is about establishing deep, meaningful, valuable and valued relationships rather than short-term hook-ups and flings. If a person finds “the one”, it’s because they share similar values and aspirations, not because they look good while tanned and wearing sunglasses in their carefully curated photographs.
But that being said, make sure your consumer would “swipe right” if they could.