Creating an Admired Brand

Creating an Admired Brand

We attend a dozen or more conferences throughout the year, and while we find all of them to be interesting and informative, every once in a while a speaker comes along who really strikes a chord with us. Fabian Geyrhalter, author of the book Bigger Than This: How to turn any venture into an admired brand, was one such speaker.

Fabian looks at how to create a brand identity that connects on a deeper, emotional level with today’s consumers. It allows brands across all industry segments – even those considered commodities – to take their brands to the next level both in the marketplace and in the hearts of their customers.

Fabian’s goal was to make his book enjoyable and actionable. He invites you to adopt one or many of these traits, and notes that many great brands rarely stick to just one: they connect to their customers or clients in many different ways.

In today’s marketplace that’s driven by technology, consumers are embracing brands that convey simplicity, caring, and craftsmanship. The brands that Fabian uses as examples in his book embrace what he calls the “AND?DNA.” He explains that the “AND?DNA is the search for something that was not inherent in the DNA of their offering, but in the DNA of their carefully crafted and authentic brand story.” The idea is that the brand should answer the question in the consumer’s mind “And why should I care?”

Fabian asserts that people find comfort in associating with a brand image that evokes an emotional reaction. They are also likely to share it, which, in turn, attracts like-minded people to the brand.

The brand has to live up to the expectations it sets and deliver what their customers anticipate. The why and how you do something becomes greater than what you do.

Fabian outlines eight commodity brand traits that can help brands achieve this deeper level of connection with their customers, and “stand out in a sea of sameness.”

1. Story: when the background story is bigger than the product
Fabian explains that stories are a powerful way to align customers around its message and give them a reason to believe in your company. Fabian has found that stories can change perceptions more than data analysis, and they are the best way to launch a brand not based on innovation.

Some of the story commandments include going back to the roots of your company and the determination of your initial launch. Fabian also recommends weaving a good story into everything you say and do.

2. Belief: when values are bigger than the product
The belief trait is based on the idea that you and your customers share the same beliefs and that you’re in this together. It’s the idea that you’re offering honest products or services, made or provided by honest people that they can trust. Ultimately, it’s about helping people improve their lives. This means that you and the company have to “intentionally live the story that embodies the brand’s values.”

Some of the commandments that support the belief trait are that shared values will always have a bigger impact on your “tribe” than just your product or service offerings alone. You also have to deeply understand your customers: this means listening to them and conversing with them.

3. Cause: when the cause is bigger than the product
Fabian points out that over the past five years, it has become fairly common for startups founded by millennials to identify a social cause that becomes part of the purpose of their product or service. Namely, they aren’t working for money alone, but also to advance the cause they support. One example is Tom’s shoes and their “sell one, donate one” model. Fabian cautions that you must ensure your cause can only be seen as truthful, and not perceived as an ego-boost for your company.

Some commandments of the cause trait include basing your cause on a logical extension of your product or service, which makes an immediate emotional connection with your audience. Be certain that your cause can grow with your business as you diversify. Also, look at whether the cause directly impacts your staff in order to foster purpose within your company culture.

4. Heritage: when a sense of location is bigger than your product
Fabian asserts that “formulating a brand story based on heritage can be an extremely rewarding proposition if you can connect your product with the desire of consumers to formulate a deeper connection with the place your brand will be known for.” He calls this establishing its “brand aura.” The idea of tapping into heritage when it comes to your brand is also a way to evoke nostalgia for a place or time.

In Fabian’s commandments for the heritage brand trait, he cautions that you also need to understand the risks and be prepared to turn negative associations around as you become the unofficial spokesperson for that location. He also emphasizes that expanding a brand heritage needs to be well planned to keep the aura of authenticity. “Buy / support local” may be another immediate benefit to your brand.

5. Delight: when the small delight is bigger than the product
Providing small, but thoughtful delights can set your brand apart from others with the same product or service. To be successful, it should be fully embodied in your customer service and the overall friendly tone of your “brand voice.” Fabian suggests that the next time you make a sale, think about what you can give in return aside from the product or service you just sold. If the customer isn’t expecting anything, the “small unexpected gesture will lead to them seeing you as a friend, and that’s the basis of any relationship.“

Within Fabian’s delight commandments, he recommends identifying a part of your audience or customer base that is not having fun, and when they least expect it, “shake them up” through delightful surprises. A small gesture can go a long way. He also recommends taking your most mundane communication and turning it around to create a delightful experience, and also simplifying complex tasks. It’s all about bringing a touch of joy when customers least expect it.

6. Transparency: when trust is bigger than the product
The transparency trait is essentially a commitment to honesty. Fabian notes that, “if you are in a space known for opacity and complexity, transparency can go quite a long way with your audience.” He cautions that once a brand commits to leading with honesty, there’s no going back.

The transparency commandments encourage you to “reveal it all” when it comes to your brand, and that doing so will create instantaneous trust with your customers. You must commit fully to the transparency brand trait path, including creating a strategic plan as to how far you will take the idea of transparency and where your brand will draw the line.

7. Solidarity: when solidarity is bigger than the product
The solidarity trait means that you align your commodity brand empathetically with someone else’s dream. As Fabian explains, “This is about them, not only for them. Your brand becomes the enabler of their goals.”    

The solidarity commandments include studying your potential target audience before your brand launch, and then find and wholeheartedly support a subgroup’s feelings and actions, despite the fact that this will restrict you. However, it can ultimately make you a niche leader. Fabian recognizes that you may sacrifice profits initially, but with solidarity you’ll gain fans and then financial returns are almost guaranteed to follow.

8. Individuality: when customization is bigger than the product
Fabian points out that, “Today, personalization is easier than ever before and has a powerful impact when executed in a sea of sameness and catered very specifically to a hungry audience.” He offers a variety of real-world examples of businesses who are creating unique brands by offering personalized products and services, including Volvo, Fanatics, Rareform, and more.

The individuality commandments encourage you to customize whenever possible. Fabian recommends starting by simply using your collected customer data to create personal experiences through customer service or product interactions. Ask your customers to submit their stories of who they are and how they use your products or services, from which you can learn to cater your offerings in a more personalized way.

There is so much more to this book than what we’ve covered here. Each trait has countless real-life examples of successful companies using the traits to make deeper connections with their customers. The commandments are quick, bullet point lists of pointers and actionable steps to consider when implementing that specific brand trait. It’s a quick read, but one that makes you consider how you connect with your customers and how to do so on a deeper level – something that we all strive to do.