Let’s start by defining what we mean by ‘brand’? Brand is a term which is often used to describe a business. A brand is not the business. A brand is shaped in the minds of the consumer – through identity, meaning, and experience – so as such the brand is created and not the creator.
Here on Branding Strategy Insider, I suggest that a brand is shaped through a series of moments which people remember & associate with one another. What I term Associated Memorable Moments. But let’s back up a little and start from the early days of brand.
Brand Is Old News
Brand is far from a new concept. Part of industrial production since the mid-nineteenth century, throughout the industrial era brand was primarily used to identify – it’s how people knew which product was which. However, the concept of brand has become ever more central to the strategic organization and practice of companies.
Brands have become complex symbols representing ideas and attributes – a ‘premise for communication, interaction and experience’. So, brand is not only about what you communicate, but how people then interact and the experience they have. Your brand is dependent on whether your communication was understood, agreed, and acted upon by your audience.
Your brand isn’t what you say it is – it’s what people agree it is.
The Brand Is Not The Business
For the sake of clarity, let’s make a vitally important distinction here. The term ‘brand’ is often used when what is really meant is the business. Of course, a brand is inextricably linked to a business, but they are not one and the same thing.
Much of brand management literature persists in considering brands as internal, proprietary resources. In my 20+ years of working with businesses and organizations on their brand, this business-centric view is generally the way people inside businesses consider their brand. Of course, there are elements of a brand, such as logos, which the business can (and must) own and protect.
But businesses want total control of their biggest assets. It’s totally understandable business leaders think this way. In 2015 around 84% of the value of S&P 500 businesses was intangible value – of which brand value is a key component. So, of course, businesses want total control over an asset as valuable as their brand. But, a business doesn’t and cannot completely control its brand.
That’s right, a business can’t fully control an asset which might make up a considerable chunk of the value of the business. That’s hard to take, but it’s true. And the sooner businesses accept this truth, they can better get to understanding and working with this hugely important asset that is brand.
A Work In Progress
Consumer research literature increasingly emphasizes the importance of the productive role of consumers in the creation of brand value – and the brand as ‘shared cultural property’. People can add value to a brand – so it’s only natural that they feel a sense of it being shared property. This more productive role of people has seen brands become more emergent in nature – always in the process of coming into being.
A brand is a work in process we mistakenly think is finished.
Rather than fixed objects of exchange, brands are better viewed and understood as dynamic objects in movement that continually develop through time from the relations of multiple agents – such as people, things, or ideas. It is in this co-evolution, or co-creation, that brands can be considered social and cultural as well as economic.
An Audience Perspective
When considering their brand as internal, proprietary resources, businesses will often refer to the static ‘branded’ items (the brand codes as utilized on the ‘touchpoints’) – which often are mistakenly believed to be the brand. They do indeed form an important part of the brand, but brand is also about meaning. What these brand ‘codes’ and the ‘touchpoints’ represent and mean to people is essential to the shaping, and the value, of the brand.
Great strategy. Great creativity. Their valuable purpose isn’t to create a ‘thing’ or a ‘touchpoint’ – such as an advertisement, a website, or a logo. The point of strategy and creativity is ultimately to encourage a desired reaction and subsequent action.
Encourage people to think, feel, or do something.
What something means cannot be fixed on a piece of paper or on a screen; you can’t tell people what something means – but you can invite, encourage and direct them. Meaning is dynamic and emergent. It is temporal and temporary.
Although of course a brand is a business asset, it is also in part shaped by this experience of your audience. So, when leading and directing a brand, to better understand it we must also consider it from the audience perspective. A brand is constantly being reshaped by the experiences people are having of it. Rather than only focusing on the ‘touchpoints’ we should reframe the brand through the viewpoint of the audience – considering the reactions and actions that the touchpoints are designed to encourage.
Taking an audience perspective to brand ‘touchpoints’ – we call these ‘Associated Memorable Moments™’. A brand is shaped through a series of moments which people remember & associate with one another.
So what do we mean, and why is this important? Let’s break that down into its three parts.
Don’t kid yourself – people won’t go to any great effort to recognize your brand. Take an advert as an example: less than 1 in 5 people who see your advert will a) remember it the next day and b) be able to attribute the ad to your brand. Whether it’s an advert, or any other communication, you need to maximize the chances of people identifying and associating it to your brand. No matter how much money you spend on marketing, if people don’t realize it’s you, all that money is wasted.
People need to associate every ‘moment’ they experience your brand with their previous experiences of your brand. It is through these associations to other moments, and to your business, that an identity for the brand forms in the mind of your audience. But how do you ensure that people recognize you?
Defining and creatively applying key brand assets, you can build a set of identifiable elements which maximize the chances of people associating the brand with you. These elements are often called ‘brand codes’ or ‘distinctive brand assets’. A considered use of these codes or distinctive brand assets means you can make it as clear as possible for people to realize which brand they are experiencing – otherwise even the most positive of experiences is worthless to the business.
These assets could range from a sound, to a logo, to a tone-of-voice, to an employee behavior, to a celebrity, to a product shape. Depending on your sector or even what competitors are doing, these elements can greatly enhance how likely people are to recognize your brand. An Ipsos study of 2000+ ads examined which assets are the most effective in improving branded recall, identifying sonic cues and brand characters as being the most effective.
Your audience needs to be able to recognize every communication as your brand. Maximizing the chances of brand recall and recognition is vital. Just make sure these brand assets are distinctive, ownable, and protected. You may not be able to control fully or own the meaning of your brand, but it’s vital that you own and protect what you can.
When considering Associated Memorable Moments, take your audience perspective – will people associate this moment with other moments, and so with your brand? Are you clearly recognizable and identifiable?
A Second Meaning Of Associated
It’s also essential to consider whether you’re shaping a brand that your target audience will want themselves to be associated with. A role of brand is to create some meaning for your target audience. This meaning might be practical, (such as a pair of shoes being comfortable) or aspirational (such as liking what having an iPhone means to me and also what it says about me to others). A brand that people want to associate themselves with, and that they identify with, moves an offering away from being simply a commodity.
Again, come back to your audience perspective – are you giving people a reason why they should see value in being associated with your brand?
We live in an ‘attention economy’. For most of human history, our access to information was limited. In our digital age, access to information is no problem. As long as you have an internet connection you have access to information on a massive scale. However, the amount of information we can mentally process, and the hours in our day, remain as they always have done.
Attention, not information, is today’s limiting factor.
Of course, the scrambling for people’s attention has led to all sorts of social issues in regard to clickbait and social bubbles, but that’s for another time. It’s always been important to grab attention. But getting someone’s attention is only part of the challenge. You then need them to remember you. To be remembered by people, create moments that engage and interest them. In order for a brand to mean something to people, they have to remember their perceptions and previous experiences of the brand.
The value of a brand is in its shared and agreed meaning.
It is what your brand means to people that will encourage desired actions, so make sure your value proposition is clear. The clearer you are about your value to people, the more likely you are to be remembered.
Say one thing. Say it well. And say it often.
Whatever your views on former President Trump, his oft-repeated message of Make America Great Again has been a memorable rallying call for his supporters.
It is vital to maximize your mental availability. Appeal to the heart more than the head. By leading with emotive messages you can improve chances of cutting through the noise. Citing IPA research, campaigns that claim to have an ‘emotional’ strategy are nearly twice as likely to report large profit gains over the long-term as those that don’t.
Diagram: The advantages of emotional strategies over the long term – Binet & Field, IPA.
Creativity And Reach
Be remembered by being creative. Creativity is your competitive advantage in an attention economy. 47% cite creativity as the primary factor in gaining new market effectiveness. Second on that list, at 22%, is reach.
Diagram: Gaining new market effectiveness, Nielsen.
As well as maximizing mental availability, you must also maximize your physical (and digital) availability. Make sure you are seen. On shelf or on screen. On the side of the road or a side of a bus. Be loud. Make a noise. Be remembered by being everywhere. If possible, investing in what is termed Excess Share of Voice (ESOV) not only increases your chances of being remembered, but also your Share of Market (SOM).
For a brand to mean something to people, they first need to remember their perceptions, previous experiences and associations. Being memorable can help improve brand awareness and affinity.
Return to your audience perspective – will this get peoples’ attention, and are we being clear on what we would like them to remember of us from this moment?
Our life is lived temporally, but intellectually we cut up temporal processes into static things in order to see them – photographs are a great example of this. We don’t remember our lives as a continuum, but instead we remember ‘moments’ in time. Think about your last holiday, or the last book you read, or story you heard. Do you remember the whole holiday, book, or story? Or do you remember key moments, which together form your memory of that event?
People experience your brand through ‘moments’ in time.
These moments might be seeing a logo, speaking to a member of staff, or landing on your website homepage. The meaning of your brand will be shaped by the experiences people have of them. These ‘moments’ people have need to encourage desired reactions and actions.
Dr. BJ Fogg founded the Behavior Design Lab at Stanford University, and his Behavior Model suggests that three elements must converge at the same moment for a behavior to occur: the Motivation to do the behavior, the Ability to do the behavior, and a Prompt, the thing that says; ‘do this behavior now’. If any one of these elements is missing the behavior will not happen.
Moments can encourage short term action or sow seeds for long term perception. Sales activation or brand growth. A memorable moment could be a promise of something to come in the future (such as advertising) or a reminder of something that happened in the past (such as a personal experience).
Moments also allow for an emergent strategy – shaping a brand over time but with the flexibility to shift direction or focus. Thinking in terms of moments in time allows for iteration and evolution of the brand.
Where these moments happen is also important. You need to identify and select the places and ways you can create ‘moments’ for your audience that best suit your business, the specific message, and the desired reaction and action. Think about the type of business you are, and prioritize the places and times in which you can have most impact with your audience.
Remember, as Marshall McLuhan said, the ‘medium is the message’. As well as what you say and do, where your ‘moments’ are experienced has an effect on how people will consider them. The same advertisement viewed on a cinema screen or on a website will be perceived differently, by the nature of the vehicle of delivery and how that itself is perceived.
Go back to your audience viewpoint – where can we give our audience moments on the brand, giving us the greatest chance for them to think, feel, or do what we would like them to?
Associated Memorable Moments™ – Grand Or Simple, Planned Or Spontaneous
So, what does all this mean in reality? What is an example of an Associated Memorable Moment?
In July 2020, Qantas retired its final 747. Having flown more than a quarter of a billion Australians, the final goodbye was a big deal. Flying out over Sydney Harbour Bridge supposedly on its way to the airplane graveyard, the 747 took one unexpected turn, then another, then another. Over 40 minutes the plane’s flight path created the outline of the ‘flying kangaroo’ – one of the distinctive brand assets of the Qantas brand. When it comes to Associated Memorable Moments, this is clearly a grand one, but still a great example.
- The use of the flying kangaroo ensured you associated it with the brand.
- The scale and unexpected nature ensured it was memorable.
- It was a moment in time that will surely demand attention and cause a reaction.
But these moments can be much simpler (and cheaper).
On a family day out last year we popped into a small, independent toy store. Their impressive selection of toys kept our young son entertained, but leaving time became a problem. Have you tried persuading a toddler to walk away from a room full of toys? Not an easy task, and one I was failing at. Then, a shop assistant approached us, and encouraged my son to come and see the bubbles outside. Bubbles were one of the few things more appealing than toys. This promise of bubbles had done the trick, and we headed happily outside for 30 seconds of bubble blowing, then carried on our day. This simple intervention left a lasting memory with me of that person, that store, and that brand.
- The store and assistant ensured brand association.
- The relief and gratitude ensured it was memorable.
- The calming of your toddler is a moment to savor.
Make Sure You Matter, Today
‘The biggest brand challenge is not sales or loyalty or conversion. It’s being noticed. Repeatedly noticed. Constantly coming to mind.’ Mark Ritson
When remembered, and associated with each other, these moments will help to shape your brand. In considering your brand in this way, you keep the brand in perpetual evolution and development, meaning you are better able to flex it in order to best work for its current context.
Associated Memorable Moments isn’t designed to ‘rip up the rulebook’ – in fact, quite the opposite. It references a number of important ideas from brand, media, and even philosophy, but attempts to frame them from the perspective of the most important people for a business – the audience.
In the creative industries we can tend to celebrate those things we create. But what clients really pay us for are the behaviors those things we create encourage. The aim of Associated Memorable Moments is to act as a reminder to bring our focus from touchpoint to moment. Where and how are people experiencing us? Are we communicating and behaving so people remember us how we would like? Are we maximizing our chances of being identified?
To summarize, I leave some guidance by which to consider Associated Memorable Moments.
- Create moments that keep the brand alive.
Treat your brand as a fixed entity, and it will grow stale and die. Life is temporal but is experienced and remembered as ‘moments in time’. So too is brand. Although the vitality of brand is in its fluidity and dynamism, you can affect the brand through encouraging ‘moments’ that encourage desired actions by your audience.
- Have a voice and be memorable.
If you’re not prepared to have a voice, you will be ignored. It’s an attention economy – have a view, make an impact and be remembered. The most difficult thing for a business is for their brand to be noticed – and making sure you come back to mind.
- Make it easy for people to associate every moment with you.
If people don’t realize it’s you, then you’re simply wasting your time and money. Ensure people always know it’s you and can identify you easily. A clear proposition, identity and use of distinctive brand assets help people associate every experience they have of the brand with each other.
- Make your brand mean something to people.
Brand is, at least in part, about meaning, so taking an audience-centered view is vital to understanding what your brand actually means to them. A shared meaning encourages people to want to associate themselves with it.
Rethink brand through Associated Memorable Moments™
Keep your brand relevant, appealing, and your biggest business asset, by considering it through Associated Memorable Moments.
Contributed to Branding Strategy Insider by: Paul Bailey, Strategy Director at Halo
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Branding Strategy Insider is a service of The Blake Project: A strategic brand consultancy specializing in Brand Research, Brand Strategy, Brand Growth and Brand Education