03 Oct 2018 20:18 IST

Building iconic brands

Brands make a lasting impression by figuring out their DNA and creating deep relevance for consumers

Years ago, when we were travelling to Sri Lanka on a family vacation, my two-year-old toddler misplaced his small toy truck, possibly at an elephant orphanage. Traumatised, he ensured that we were looking for the toy for the rest of the holiday. I could have bought him a similar looking toy but decided to do something different. We extended our trip by two days, went back to the orphanage and stayed there until we found the toy!

After that, the toy acquired more significance for all of us. As a family, we had a story to tell about that yellow mini truck.

Unconventional marketing

The process of building iconic brands is not too different. One needs to build meaningful stories or conversations around consumer experiences with regard to a brand. Once a buzz is created, it gets around so much that it may become ‘legendary’. The aura that develops through all this is what makes a brand iconic over a period of time.

Brands do not become iconic just by market leadership numbers. They need to hold a deep emotional connect for consumers. When Coca-Cola realised that it was losing popularity in Australia among the teenage population in the early 2000s, it embarked on an exercise that has now become teaching material for unconventional branding.

Coke short-listed the most popular names among teenagers and labelled a huge inventory of their stock with these names — there was an ‘Alice Coke’, a ‘Jane Coke’, a ‘Jim Coke’, and so on. When Australians next went shopping at their local supermarkets, they found so many personalised Coke bottles with their names on them that they were floored. A simultaneous TV campaign nudged customers to buy these bottles for themselves or their friends. Of course, the entire promotional idea was a super hit. Something so simple, yet so personal...

Power of symbols

The key is to attach meaning to brands. They have to be something more than just products meant for consumption. The first step is to understand why people love you and stick to that. Many brands, in their quest to recreate themselves, end up tampering with this aspect and, hence, consumers fall out of love with the brand. Another example would be the launch of New Coke in 1985 which challenged everything the company stood for in the US. It was rejected outright by consumers. So, it is important to know what makes you special to consumers.

A good example of an iconic brand is Nike Air Max — it showcases its strength — the air bubble in the shoe. It will never lose its bounce even if trainers lose their support and, hence, the brand highlights its point of difference.

Reinforcing symbols is a powerful way to create iconic brands. The Catholic Church does this well. The cross has become the symbol of Jesus’ sacrifice, while the bread and wine symbolise his body and how he shared it with mankind. The Church has an amazing way of creating reminders with these symbols and celebrating them in a way that is timelessly relevant.

Smell the cheese

Amazon is on its way to becoming iconic. It started off as a book store and now it owns the idea that you don’t need to have patience while shopping. ‘Ask Alexa’ is a step in that direction. Supported by the Internet of Things and predictive analytics, Amazon will probably know that we need even before we ourselves do! . In the next 20 years, my son will not remember Amazon as a website but as something that understands his needs better than he does. Such is the power of building relevance.

Creating stories, adding personal meaning and building deep relevance are some of the ways in which iconic brands can be built. The essential thing is to figure out your DNA and work around it. It isn’t the biggest or the fastest mousetrap that gets the mice; it’s the one with the stinkiest cheese. So, if you want to make your brand iconic, go figure out what your cheese is.

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