Is your brand relevant? Or is it just trying to fit in?

Brands are a lot like people. They have a tendency toward herd mentality. Everyone move to the left! Now, to the right! Use this catchy phrase. Now change it to this NEW catchy phrase! And depending on the industry, those catch-phrases and unspoken brand rules can get really obvious. There’s the “bank” brand. The “real estate” brand. The “medical/pharmaceutical” brand.  The “organic” brand. The “tech” brand…  Why does this happen? My opinion is that it’s rooted in the human need to fit-in. 

Fitting in is not inherently bad. Communities of people (religious, business, sport, family) are built on – and strengthened by – shared values and beliefs. Fitting-in feeds a number of primal needs, most notably, to connect with other people. Doing so builds trust and loyalty, a sense of common purpose, support and even security.  But when does fitting-in become too much of a good thing?  The answer is simple: When it stifles one’s ability to uniquely express their value. 

Like people, brands want to be seen as valuable. They want to be known for filling a void that no one else can. They want to participate in a bigger conversation. They want to influence buyer habits.  But in order to do that effectively, they need to be relevant.  And to be truly relevant, brands need to identify and meet the needs of their human customers at every interaction.  After all, it’s people who are making purchasing decisions.

This brings me to a very unique and important role that I play as a brand strategist and creative director helping brands become more relevant. Whether developing a marketing strategy, refreshing a brand identity, or designing an ad campaign, I use two tools as a barometer for whether the creative direction is relevant enough to not only the brand objectives but – you guessed it – the human needs.

Those tools are called the marketing persona and the customer journey.  As their names imply, they provide insight into the mindsets, buying tendencies, and behaviors of your target audience along different stages of their buying journey.  A persona helps us create a clear picture of one or multiple market segments (what are their ages or other demographic differentiators, how do they interact with digital devices, what are they doing on social media, what are their pain points?) while a customer journey serves as a blueprint for testing ideas that address the customer at specific moments toward the purchase goal.  

The wonderful thing about having personas and journeys is that they provide some much-needed objectivity and structure to what can otherwise become a very personal, emotionally-charged, round-about kind of process for marketing decisions large or small.  I don’t like round-about.  I like direct. I like relevant. And that’s why working through the process of figuring out your customer’s human needs – not just at the moment of brand awareness or even at the moment of purchase (because their can be many such moments before closing the deal) can be one of the most beneficial and lasting investments that you make in your brand, and ultimately in your customers and in your community at large.

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