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Authentic Expressions

By: Aniko Hill
Posted: June 9, 2008, from the June 2008 issue of GCI Magazine.

Branding is practically inescapable in today’s culture. Everyone has an idea of what a brand is in our marketing-savvy climate, and the words “branding” and “brand” have become a familiar part of most adults’ vernacular. But the reality is most don’t have a grasp of what these concepts truly mean or how they are being influenced by them on a daily basis.

A successful brand is effortless in communicating its message, subtle and often indescribable. Most think that a brand is a logo, ad, great tagline or a combination of these. Although it is true that these are all parts of a brand campaign, the concept of branding as a whole is bigger, broader and much less tangible. This idea is similar to the theory of gestalt in art: the whole is bigger than the sum of the parts. Any singular part of a brand campaign may be great on its own—but when combined with a solid, consistent brand strategy executed across all touch points, something much bigger and more magical happens.

The best way to really grasp this abstract concept is not to think of a brand as a “thing” but as the living, breathing organism that it is. To be successful, a brand should always be changing, evolving and growing—much like a person. In fact, branding experts often think of a brand as a person when conceptualizing about that brand. What is her personality? In what voice and tone does she speak? What values are important to her? What makes her unique? And, most importantly, do you trust her?

Ultimately, branding is simply the public’s perception of a product, service, company or even an individual. It is about an emotional connection and a consistent relationship. The best brands stand for something—a big idea, a strategic position and a set of values. They are an authentic expression of the product or service behind it. As marketers, you help your clients create the most targeted expression of the brand possible, but when all is said and done, the brand expression, or the visual and literal messages the company is putting out into the marketplace, has to be completely true to the product itself. Otherwise, the audience will discover the brand communication is not accurate, and their trust and confidence in the product will falter.

One of the best examples of a successful brand today is Apple. The brand starts with the product, a consistently beautiful and smart industrial design that is executed with top quality and attention to detail. The user interfaces of the operating systems and programs are simple and accessible, and the customer service experience is effective and approachable. So, the words that one could use to describe the product may be “smart, sophisticated, authentic, friendly.” If you step back and analyze the brand expression, it is easy to understand why Apple is considered one of the top brands today. Every piece the consumer sees or interacts with, from the packaging to the retail environment, communicates the same consistent message. The packaging is artfully implemented with clever structures and high quality construction, the Web site is clean and simple to navigate, and the advertising is authentic and clever—all tying back directly to the concepts behind the product itself. Customers trust the brand, and are proud to be associated with it because their experience meets their expectations, which makes Apple a great example of a consumer lifestyle brand.

Creating a Lifestyle Brand