Brands live in our heads. They are shortcuts we all use every day to decide whether to listen to, trust, engage or buy.
As such, they are more useful than ever. They help us simplify decision-making in an increasingly complex and noisy world. Most of the time this is an unconscious process, the result of years of training as 21st century consumers. Here’s how it works.
Brands are the result of two different sets of associations: brand experience and brand reputation. The combination of these enables the shortcuts we use to decide everything, from where to eat tonight to the car we drive.
Brand experience is everything we know first-hand about the brand. It’s what we feel when we see an ad, buy a product or use a service. It works for traditional brands but also well beyond. Think of how you feel when you visit a city, watch a movie or use an app.
All these experience-related associations are largely measured in terms of perceived value: Did I get what I was looking for? Would I come back for more? Would I recommend it to a friend?
Brand reputation on the other hand is everything we think we know about a brand. It’s what we’ve been told, what we can infer pre-experience from reviews or hearsay. It’s measured in terms of expectations: Is this brand for me? Would I consider it or discard it without a second thought? Would I even remember it tomorrow?
All of these associations are stored in our head, working as layers. Some are thicker, some are thinner. Some rise to the top, some will never be seen again.
Associations accumulate over time, shaping our opinion of any given brand. Whenever a new interaction happens, it goes on the ‘pile’ so that, the higher the pile, the more nuanced a brand perception.
The idea of brands as a collection of layers is crucial to our work as brand strategists and designers. This is because most people care very little about the brands they buy. Despite all the talk about loyalty and shared values, most of us don’t really think about the choices we make. They’re automatic. And it takes something rather extraordinary to change our mind.
Bear with me. This doesn’t mean we personally care about them, or at least not as much as the companies behind them want to believe. Rather, it means that our perception of any given brand is ours and ours alone.
Brands are personal because we all value different things. Some of us are driven by price, others by aesthetic, convenience, quality, exclusivity or durability. Our associations (our layers) reflect these preferences.
My Woolies brand is different to your Woolies brand. Same with Audi, Foxtel, Melbourne or Uber. Even Kanye. Especially Kanye.
Different Brand Experience + Different Brand Reputation = Different Brand.
And so on for every brand and every person on this planet.
Our job at Designate is to help shape brand perception. Our work ensures that the most relevant parts of a brand’s story rise to the top and become impossible to ignore (and forget). This is why brand strategy is an integral part of business strategy: it determines what is relevant to your target audience and how to best get that across.
Building brands is therefore a subtle effort, one that combines creativity, consistency and craft to cut through our built-in skepticism as consumers. It takes time and it’s a non-linear effort, but when done right, it can turn a brand into the most valuable asset for any company.
At Designate we build brands by managing a number of levers such as positioning, story, visual identity, messaging, tone of voice, social media presence, website, advertising, etc. Our goal is to ‘layer’ positive associations to inspire engagement at every touch point.
We want our clients’ audience to listen, trust, engage, buy and believe