Today, we unveiled the third installment of the Brand Dependence™ Index, our periodic ranking of brands in a category based on strength of brand attachment. Studio Chief Larry Vincent presented our findings during a keynote session at ThinkLA’s Motor City West event at the Los Angeles Auto Show. This is the third study in our series of Brand Dependence investigations. Working again with our partners at uSamp, we surveyed over 4,500 US consumers, focusing our attention on 23 leading maker brands in the sedan segment.
Run Time: about 32 minutes
Many brands aspire to a life of luxury—or rather, they wish to be positioned and perceived as a luxury brand. But luxury is subjective. To some it means a brand for the rich, to others it means a brand with richness. Because so much of our branding work revolves around the concept of luxury, we’ve developed a strong point of view on how to express it in various categories. But we decided to ask some experts how they might define it.
Nowhere is the “luxury” designation more applied (and perhaps abused) than in the world of automotive brands. Our guest, Phil Patton, characterized it this way:
It occurs to me that there are not that many products we explicitly refer to with the adjective “luxury.” We don’t say, “I’m going to buy a luxury laptop,” but people do say, “I’m buying a luxury car.”
Phil is a columnist who writes about automobile design for The New York Times. He describes a luxury car as having “design, grace and elegance.” But he suggests that some brands have a harder time defending their claim on luxury status. For example, many people ask whether or not Acura is really a luxury car?
This was a perfect jumping off point for our show, not least of which because we have just completed a new Brand Dependence Index that studies brand attachment to automotive brands (the results will be announced on November 19th at the LA Auto Show). We wanted to know why some auto brands seem to be a natural fit for luxury designation, while others have to work hard at it? And how does that interplay affect attachment?
Run Time: about 25 minutes
Brand Studio Creative Director Marcus Bartlett is fond of asking teams “what is the thing that is the thing?” It’s more than a riddle. It’s the beginning of a conversation to link a story to a brand idea—a way of avoiding the obvious and hinting at the symbolic value of a brand that drives brand attachment. In episode 002 of The Point of Attachment podcast, studio chief Larry Vincent asks Marcus to break it down for the audience.
The thing that is the thing might be a hook or a reference. It’s a way of connecting the promise–the strategy–to something that creatively attracts our interests.
Run Time: about 17 minutes
It’s often said that “you are what you eat.” In the first episode of The Point of Attachment podcast we build off of Brand Dependence research on social media conducted earlier this year to ask the question: are you what you post? Or, in other words, how much of what people display and share online reflects who they really are?
UTA Brand Studio chief Larry Vincent interviews Mimi, a power user on Fancy.com who has posted over 1,200 unique images on the service as Studio Mimi, creating a consistently rich and luxurious online world that has attracted over 45,000 followers. In Mimi’s world, it’s always a perfect day at the beach, which is interesting because the real Mimi lives in the northeast, where it’s often more grey than sunny.
Fancy gives you an opportunity to live virtually. And there is a huge part of me that is absolutely locked and loaded to the West Coast, even when I’m in the middle of an ice storm here.
In 5 Pieces of Unsolicited Branding Advice for Tech Brands Brand Studio Executive Director Laurence Vincent argues that tech brands are putting too much emphasis on awareness programs and not enough on the programs that build strong brands.
Last month, I had the privilege of interviewing TechShop CEO Mark Hatch for Live Talks LA. We discussed the underpinnings of the growing revolution known as The Maker Movement, and his new book: The Maker Movement Manifesto.
The Maker Movement is a fascinating and productive trend in our culture. With cheaper tools that are easy to use and a database of knowledge as wide as the internet, many people are discovering that you truly can build it if you can dream it. You can read more about the book and its relationship to culture on my personal blog.
There’s a phrase I often use in the studio. I remind the team to “mine the gap.” No, that’s not a typo. I know very well that the voice on the UK tube system advises passengers to mind the gap, meaning to watch their step. This is my attempt at being clever—to focus the team on one of the most important storytelling principles: to purposefully leave out parts of the story.
Great storytellers engage our imagination through subtlety. Alfred Hitchcock required a MacGuffin–a plot point or a reference in the story that the characters recognized as important but was never fully explained for the audience. George Lucas employed a brilliant MacGuffin in Star Wars: Episode IV, when Luke and Obi Wan Kenobi off-handedly describe the Clone Wars. The audience would not know what the Clone Wars were until 30 years later when Lucas dramatized them in the prequel trilogy. It didn’t matter. For most die-hard Star Wars fans the Clone Wars was much more enjoyable as a mysterious bit of storytelling that was never fully explained.
When I say “mine the gap” I’m encouraging the team to rely on a MacGuffin or two; to hint at a part of the narrative that we leave to the imagination of the brand’s audiences. We can hint at these unexplained storylines through design cues, through messaging, and through details incorporated into a brand experience. The Starbucks logo is one such MacGuffin.
Connecting a Siren to Coffee Beans
The mermaid is clearly a nod to the heritage of the name, which is inspired by the name of a character in Melville’s Moby Dick. To really tap the Melville narrative, you might be tempted to use a large whale in the logo. But that’s not mining the gap. That’s not playing with the audience’s imagination. That’s not good brand storytelling. Here’s what Starbucks has to say about why they chose the mermaid:
There was something about her–a seductive mystery mixed with a nautical theme that was exactly what the founders were looking for. A logo was designed around her, and our long relationship with the Siren began.
So, the mermaid/siren became an emblem precisely because she connected to the story the brand wished to tell while still being somewhat ambiguous. She hinted at a mythology–a back story that is never fully explained but deeply sensed.
Why the Titanic Brand Still Draws Us In
A new paper in a soon-to-be-released issue of the Journal of Consumer Research validates this approach. In “Titanic: Consuming the Myths and Meanings of an Ambiguous Brand,” authors Stephen Brown, Pierre McDonagh and Clifford J. Schultz argue that the missing details can often provide a brand with a long life. Their case in point: the Titanic. It continues to capture our imagination even though the disaster at the root of its mythology occurred more than a century ago. They argue that the many unanswered questions about the ill-fated steamship have fueled an appetite for interpretation and imagination. That’s why the brand is still powerful enough to inspire a billionaire to propose building an exact replica to take the seas again.
As first reported in the online journal Live Science, this research challenges some of the most sacred notions in branding–that everything should be clear, concise and coherent. Instead, it brings us back to the MacGuffin. It suggests that the power of myths can elevate an otherwise unfinished story.
the Titanic’s consumer appeal is partly explained by the myths it embodies. The myth of nature trumping technology, the almost biblical lesson that great riches are worthless in life-or-death situations, and the accumulating layers of myth that have been added to the sinking by the Titanic’s portrayal in pop culture.
From new math that can help us identify the most influential audiences for our brands, to a retrospective of historic fashion photography and its influence on current brand images, there was plenty of branding related news nuggets to consider this week. Here were 5 that piqued my interest.
I had the privilege of speaking at The Drucker Business Forum with KPCC’s Matt DeBord on Thursday. The topic was Brand Real. We had a sold out audience who asked fantastic questions. Here’s video coverage of the conversation.
Unless the word is in their job title, if you mention the word selling makes a lot of people squeamish. Part of the reason we feel this way is because so many of us have had bad encounters with sales people. Who hasn’t felt trapped by the salesman on the car lot, employing tactics we know very well are intended to part us from our money as quickly as possible. We don’t want to be that guy. For others, it’s merely the notion that we might have to ask someone to do business with us. Maybe we’re introverted. Maybe we’re shy. Maybe we just don’t like asking people for money. No matter our reason, a lot of us don’t like the idea of selling.
In his new book, To Sell is Human, Daniel Pink asserts that more of us are sales people then we realize. Pink asserts that the majority of people who work in the US are in positions designed to move others. In other words, they’re selling. They might not be literally titled as sales people, but their function is to support the closing of a transaction.
Consider: The United States manufacturing economy, still the largest in the world, cranks out nearly $2 trillion worth of goods each year. But the United States has far more salespeople than factory workers. Americans love complaining about bloated governments–but America’s sales force outnumbers the entire federal workforce by more than 5 to 1. The U.S. private sector employs three times as many salespeople as all fifty state governments combined employ people. If the nation’s salespeople lived in a single state, that state would be the fifth-largest in the United States.
This week I had the pleasure of interviewing Dan for Live Talks LA. Always an engaging personality who doesn’t shy away from statistics that make his points even more compelling, Pink said he wrote his new book because there is a surprising dearth of good material on what it takes to sell, especially given the fact that selling is something each of us has the potential to do well. I always enjoy hearing Dan speak, and I really enjoyed To Sell is Human. It is filled with great insights and stories of lovable characters like Norman Hall, the last Fuller brush man.
Norman Hall is, no doubt, the last of his kind. And the Fuller Brush Company itself could be gone for good before you reach the last page of this book. But we should hold off making any wider funeral preparations. All those death notices for sales and those who do it are off the mark. Indeed, if one were to write anything about selling in the second decade of the twenty-first century, it ought to be a birth announcement.
Check out the video and buy the book. It has something for everyone.