The concept of hermeneutics – introduced to me by the remarkably intelligent Rodger Nishioka – is that we all have various “lenses” through which we interpret the world around us. These may be immutable characteristics such as age and race, or changeable ones such as level of education, location, or job status. The unique way we each process information is related to the combination of lenses through which we receive it.
We recently explored the potential behind a hermeneutics-inspired approach to consumer segmentation in marketing and advertising. These lenses of interpretation are a kind of inverse of the typical approach to consumer segmentation – separating people into various demographic groups (from the outside in) and targeting them with messages that are calculated to resonate. The hermeneutic approach suggests an internal lens, allowing us to attempt to see through a consumer’s eyes by understanding the factors that influence their perception.
How might this concept help us create brands that attract a wide audience and inspire ongoing relationships?
In the world of high-profile brands, there are many success stories that we return to again and again. Steve Jobs and the creation of the Apple brand – Tesla’s Elon Musk – Richard Branson and his serial entrepreneurial success – Jeff Bezos and Amazon. Other brands don’t get as much attention. This bias is so ingrained that we sometimes overlook brands that might have a lot to teach us.
I originally hesitated to write about Zumba, the global fitness brand that continues to explode in popularity despite a lack of attention from the business community. But to dismiss the brand is to fail to notice how deeply and brilliantly it has tapped into evolving trends in the fitness (and music) world and how innovative its founders’ approach to growing their brand truly is. What makes Zumba work and what can its success teach us about building our own brands?
In our exploration of successful, authentic brands, we’ve discovered a number of recurring themes. Brands that stand out in the minds of consumers aren’t shy about sharing their purpose. They’re aware of and intentional about the value they’re promising to their customers and how they deliver it. They know that a great customer experience really starts with taking care of their employees. They understand the power of words (especially taglines) in communicating their value, and they back those words up with action.
One enduringly successful brand, the outdoor lifestyle-focused REI (which is celebrating 80 years this year), has taken the concept of brand action to new heights in recent years. Their OptOutside movement boldly reshapes the status quo among retailers and provides a powerful model for brands that want to turn their brand image into a signifier of something greater.
As part of our ongoing exploration of authentic branding and how brand makers create and sustain value, we recently discussed Bain & Company’s Elements of Value. This pyramid of attributes provides a fascinating and powerful framework for discussing and determining exactly what a brand is promising its audience. By identifying the values that a brand or product seeks to fulfill, we can clarify the promise it is making to the consumers who purchase its products.
The greatest opportunity for a succinct declaration of a brand’s promise is its tagline – the short slogan that (usually accompanying a logo) provides a verbal “hook” in the brand’s marketing and advertising. Famous taglines (like Nike’s “Just Do It” or Allstate’s “You’re In Good Hands”) can become cultural touchstones that cement a brand’s identity in the minds of consumers. They also speak to the value proposition – the “promise” – the brand is making to its audience.
The first step towards delivering an authentic brand experience is creating clarity around your brand identity and character so that you can consistently fulfill it. But how does a brand remain true to its character?
One effective way to keep authenticity at the forefront is to consider a brand’s “promise” – what a company promises consumers through their brand image and marketing. This promise can take many forms. Examples might include “to provide the comfort of home,” “to enable adventure,” or simply “to make it easier to keep the house clean.” Once you’ve identified the promise that your brand is making to consumers, you need to prioritize it in your product development, marketing, and customer engagement to create an authentic, consistent brand identity.
Building an authentic, influential brand is about more than the customer experience. The best brands work from the inside out to create a positive environment for their employees as well. Of course, employee experience directly impacts customer experience, especially in industries where customers and employees must frequently interact. There is perhaps no industry in which this holds more true than in food service.
In-N-Out Burger, the fast food company we recently hailed as a “branding genius,” is in the news again. This time, the attention is on their dedication to the employee experience. From “crazy good pay” to work-life balance, In-N-Out Burger has come to be seen as the leader in fast food employee experience. Let’s take a look inside the brand and explore how its employee’s experience contributes to its success.
In our recent examination of Cohn & Wolfe’s Most Authentic Brands in the U.S., one major brand category felt conspicuously absent: fast food. This may be a result of our food culture’s recent growing focus on organic, local ingredients and seasonal menus, which leaves major chains hurting when it comes to consumer perceptions of authenticity. Or, it could be that fast food branding is in a bit of a slump. In an industry dominated by long-standing titans of convenience like McDonald’s and Taco Bell, there’s not a lot of incentive for innovation.
However, there is one fast food chain that looms large despite its relatively small footprint. In-N-Out Burger, which only has locations in California and parts of the Southwest, has nonetheless achieved an almost mythic quality among fast food enthusiasts. In fact, Nation’s Restaurant News recently ranked In-N-Out the highest in customer loyalty of any fast food chain nationwide, with 62% of respondents “saying their last visit… was motivated by the brand and not convenience.”
How does In-N-Out so successfully stand out from the crowd?