Truly iconic brands, just like iconic characters in movies or novels, possess a certain something that is difficult to describe.
This brand essence is played out over time in what is called a brand story, something that should not be confused with the story of the founder or the story of how the brand came to be.
The story in this case is the the narrative of the brand itself. It is the protagonist doing battle in a sea of hostile competition for the public’s attention and affection. The story always has three distinct elements, which mirror the rules of classic narrative. The interesting thing is that without fail, the most compelling brand story creates the most iconic brands.
Here are the three essential elements of a great brand story:
The Outsider Phase
What do the movies "Star Wars" and "Moneyball" have in common? A protagonist that just doesn’t fit in.
Luke Skywalker is a young man yearning to leave the planet Tattoine for greater adventures, while Billy Beane is striving to change the game of baseball. They, like all great brand, begin as outsiders. Whether the brand is Zico coconut water, standing out among sugary sports drinks or flat, crunchy Pretzel Crisps, not a pretzel or a chip, a great brand always has a differentiator that sets it apart and makes it an oddball out of the gate. This differentiator will wind up being a brand’s greatest asset because it is the essence of what will make that brand unique and as a result, iconic.
The Discovery Phase
When the outsider brand enters the space and the public has a chance to interact with it, all sorts of new information is discovered, including competition. While competition may at first seem like a negative, it really isn’t. A great brand needs competition to evolve, just as a great warrior needs an antagonist. The battle for mind and market share helps to sharpen a brand’s messaging in terms of its differentiating attributes. In other words, it begins to hone a real point of view and begins to exclude certain values in favor of others.
The discovery phase is the growth period where a conversation begins, and people choose sides. The more passionate the consumer becomes about a brand’s point of view, the more they start to dislike the rival brand and it’s opposing message. This is natural and born out of the value system that each brand represents. If a brand does a good job communicating a point of view, the detractors will only serve to make the brand’s followers more committed and passionate.
The Warrior Phase
Once the main players’ values and fan bases are identified, the iconic brand confronts its strongest competitor head on. When the brand is confronted with a seemingly insurmountable challenge to its belief system, the brand must not falter, rather it should stand behind its core messaging and fall on its proverbial sword for it. Great brands often take some sort of hit or fall during this crucial phase. Coca-Cola was even subjected to it. Its branding team succumbed to the pressure of Pepsi’s call for "newness," and it released the famously misguided NEW Coke line. This was directly in opposition with everything Coke fans held dear.
The big question during the warrior phase, however, isn’t whether the brand is knocked down, but whether it rises back up again. Just like a great hero character, when a great brand betrays their own values to fit in, it can still be redeemed if it rediscovers its true motivation and gets back on track. NEW Coke was discontinued, Coke Classic was born, and the Coke brand became stronger.
Your product is not a commodity, so don't describe it like one. Bring on the drama by giving it a journey with plot and twists and turns. One day, it might even become iconic because of how it fought and endured during challenges.
Originally published Feb 5, 2015 12:00:00 PM, updated February 01 2017