We all know that a brand is a central component of a company and its products or services. But what exactly is a brand? How do you communicate your brand and what are the best ways to do it?
A brand can be thought of having two parts – the physical and the symbolic.
Physical Brand Identity
Physical brand elements are things that you can directly see and sense. So for example, things like the brand’s logo, colours, visual style. In the case of Starbucks, you have the classic Starbucks logo, the classic cups with the colors that more or less stay the same, and the interior that has a similar theme no matter which location you go to.
And the idea behind doing physical branding properly is consistency. You want your brand to be recognizable in whichever context its presented in, and that’s best achieved by being highly consistent. It’s also worthwhile because you want to have a tight connection between the physical brand elements and the symbolic brand elements – which is the second part of what makes up a brand.
Symbolic Brand Identity
A brand’s symbolic meaning isn’t something that’s directly physical, but rather it’s made up of concepts or feelings that live inside of consumers’ minds. So things like the kind of emotions the brand gives off; it’s personality, whether it comes off as a serious brand or a light-hearted brand; and the social values it stands for and the principles it believes in.
In the case of Starbucks, the symbolic associations that most people have are that it’s a hip, cool brand, that’s inclusive; it allows customers to come sit down, spend time there, maybe catch up on some studying – with no pressure or judgement. It also stands for certain things like social corporate responsibility, and individuality.
These are all things that most people “feel” that Starbucks stands for, but for the most part the brand never actually explicitly says these things – it’s more just an association that consumers get. And this is exactly what a brand’s symbolic meaning is about.
Ok so that’s all nice and all – but why does it really matter? It matters because research consistently shows that the strongest and most loved brands are ones that have these strong symbolic associations formed in the minds of consumers. And brands that appeal to consumers on these symbolic levels are ones that those consumers are most likely to choose.
So beyond just having your brand’s logo be recognizable, you want consumers to build a concept of what your brand is about, what it stands for, and what it believes in.
So how do you do that? There is one major effective way to get your brand’s symbolic meaning across, and that is through storytelling. Here are two examples to demonstrate this.
“Neuroscience has shown how a powerful narrative can stimulate emotions, builds engagement and long-term memory encoding of the message.”
First is from the watch brand MVMT. In the video the founders explain how they stand for particular principles – of giving consumers the ability to buy quality watches at fair prices. They go about this by telling their brand story – of how they started up their company to fill this void in the market. After watching the video, you gain a complete symbolic conception of what the brand is about and what it stands for. And if these principles matter to you, you are likely to think of this brand when in the market for a watch.
The other is from Dove. This particular video doesn’t go into talking about any of Dove’s products at all. Instead it tells a story – of common issues & experiences that women face, that Dove is passionate about addressing. Even though it doesn’t talk about Dove’s products at all, because of their method of storytelling, you immediately know what Dove as a brand stands for and what greatly matters to it – which may very well connect and align with its consumer base.
So these are just two excellent examples of how brands can control and form the symbolic associations that consumers have of them, through storytelling. And this doesn’t have to be done through just videos. It can be through simple social media posts, by consistently using a specific tone, language, or style of communication.
Or it can be done through the brand’s website, by having sections of the site that communicate points related to what the brand stands for and what it’s about.
Regardless of how you do it, it’s without a doubt highly critical that your business and it’s brand clearly communicates its values, and creates these symbolic associations.