Building An Obsession Based Brand

Mark Di SommaOctober 27, 20142 min

When you apply the concept of provenance to brands, it becomes a concept centered on systematically and competitively ‘localizing’ what you’re about rather than diversifying to try and meet the generalized needs of the wider world.

So it’s about having a narrowcast brand: one focused to the point of obsession on a specific area of passion. Provenance is also about those other valuable ideas that the word in its original meaning conjures: focus; love; purity of thinking; authenticity; deep knowledge. That obsession can then be marbled through every aspect of the brand: language; environment; innovation; strategy …

People may worry that such devotion to a single idea will stifle adaptability, but my experience is that brands that see the world through the lens of an idea they subscribe to passionately are also able to find latitude and opportunity within that idea while growing a strong and devoted following. Far from being restrictive, being obsessive provides a framework for creative approaches.

The way I see it, brands increasingly have three powerful emotive strategies going forward: they can rule the world (scale); they can seek to change the world (activist or cult); or they can kiss the world (obsession).

And all of that drives what you then ask your people and your customers to do. They can get on the highway. They can get in the bunker. Or they can get in the tent…

Of course there are crossovers. Whole Foods for example combines scale with obsession. So does Red Bull. And BMW. Apple, one could argue, combines all three. And it would be very hard to be a cult or activist brand without obsession. But an obsessive brand can differ from a cult or activist brand because it’s not necessarily fighting anything. It just loves what it’s about to bits. And that optimism and sense of celebration, combined with a just-on-the-verge-of-unhealthy commitment, is what makes such a brand magnetic. That’s what draws the hunters and collectors.

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Mark Di Somma


  • Paul Madden

    October 28, 2014 at 7:35 am

    Hi Mark, a good article thank you.

    I can see the power in a brand that is obsessed by staying true to its reason for being and values, localising and not trying to be all things to all people really resonates.

    I like the concept of 3 emotional strategies, but I am left a little unclear about what you mean by ‘kiss the world’ as the definition for obsession. It feels a bit fluffy and lightweight.

    Can you explain how a brand might kiss the world? Is it that a kiss is highly personal and that is how you think a brand should connect with its customers – by being personal customer by customer?

    Thanks Paul

  • Mark Disomma

    October 30, 2014 at 2:02 pm

    Hi Paul – thanks for your question.

    The three strategies: Scale is all about presence. It’s about being where customers want and need you to be. So it’s defined by proximity.
    Activist/cult is about indignation. It’s about looking to right something that the brand believes is inherently wrong, unfair or untrue.
    Obsessive brands seek engagement. They literally seek to get people to embrace them and what they stand for. Obsessive brands seek to use their obsession as the connecting point for strong, personalized relationships. We’re all drawn to people who think and sound like us, according to the behavioural scientists. Obsessive brands call on that inclination to build out a customer base that is passionate about the same things as them.

    In some ways, being a single-minded brand can feel very narrowing and companies can be nervous about it for that reason. But companies like Tesla have shown that when you focus on one thing, and you progress it one step at a time, you not only draw people to what you offer emotionally, you also include them on the journey.

    I hope that answers your question. Thanks for being in touch.

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