My daughter is learning an impressive amount of new words by the minute. Most recently, she learned how to say “butterfly” in French: Papillon. (French is her first language as it seems…)
She knows by now to differentiate the birds from the bees - literally - but not yet the butterflies from the moths. She’s still too young to receive a full biology lecture on their differences, especially when it comes to what they symbolically represent. However, her “brand-new word” inspired me to write this article about what I call Pseudo-Brands and their position in the Brand Power Pyramid.
Pseudo-brands are usually the kind of business you don’t remember by their brand name, but perhaps by a location or who provides the service. For instance, you need to paint your house. So, you ask around for recommendations, and a random phone number is sent by a friend. The business might have a name, a logotype — not necessarily pretty. However, despite providing a good service, it’s nothing but an extra contact on your agenda. This means the level of engagement and identification generated is not enough to extract that brand from the world of commodities.
Of course, we know other brands, which do dazzle with better experiences. A good name and appealing logotype are part of the deal. Perhaps a communication embedded in a somewhat brand-centric design also adds to the equation. But at the end of the day… It’s hard to remember them. This is the stage where most brands are, not in the hot or cold zones, just in the plain middle. To prove my point: Can you name all the brands that presented themselves to you yesterday? Or… that advertising on Instagram today… which Brand was it again?
Those are the Regular Brands. They are either on their way up for stronger equity, or a bit shy to entice deeper connections.
They might be following the branding textbook and all marketing must-dos, but if they disappear from the world tomorrow, similar brands will soon take their place. That might sound like a harsh truth, but Carl Jung can help me explain why that happens, and why so very often.
(SIGNALS VS. SYMBOLS)
The father of Analytic Psychology once said that signals are different than symbols. While signals are a conscious and deliberate construction that is usually linked to a particular object, symbols arise naturally from our subconscious and unconscious in order to communicate with us on a profound level, because they are heavy — oh so heavy — with meaning.
The collective unconscious seeks to help us understand our real selves, our desires, values, our society, history and complexes. It talks to us in many different ways, most of the time through our dreams. However, they may also reach the surface when we’re wide awake, in the form of intuition or inspiration.
Have you ever entered a room in your home, and completely forgot what you were about to do in there? A few minutes later, the answer comes back to you like a lightning strike: The car keys!
To picture an image of how our mind works, imagine a well. You are looking down at it, and all you can see is the surface of the water, that reaches out the extremities and touches the stones, forming a full circle. There’s a limited space if you think about that thin pellicle: it’s a two-dimensional area, a mirror reflecting your image.
But the well goes deep, meters and meters down, making it impossible for us to see the bottom. So, whenever we need, we throw the bucket, in order to bring us water for good use. When we are thirsty, water comes up. That’s how our consciousness and unconsciousness work. Consciousness is the surface, where water competes for space, whereas the unconscious lies below, reaching the center of the Earth.
If we apply these elements to the world of Brands, it’s easy to understand that many brands are actually signals and not symbols. As elements that remain on the surface of our consciousness, they might share interesting levels of awareness for a brief period of time, with high chances of being easily forgotten.
Brands that reach interesting levels of meaning transcend from signals to symbols; from the object they represent to a qualified subject.
Strong Brands are the ones capable of fully leaving the universe of signals, becoming favorite choices to the majority of their targets (and other stakeholders). This means they become a destination choice, or will most likely win battles against other players by comparison. Not only their tangible features are well perceived, but so are their emotional benefits.
On the top of the Brand Power Pyramid: the Loved Brands. Those equally share all the elements from strong brands, with a few additions. They’re capable of really touching people’s minds and hearts, becoming an element of people’s identity. Moreover, they also become a powerful element of our culture. Et voilà, butterflies.
So the question you must be asking is:
How to help a Brand transition from signal to symbol? In other words, how to leave the realm of moths, and become a butterfly?
Well… I wish the answer was simple. If there’s one fact business leaders have to deal with, is that the human mind can’t be controlled. The unconscious allows inspirational triggers, but its nature is insubordinate.
Nevertheless, if we focus on the items we can control, we should start by understanding that symbols represent the most human of all aspects. So, in order to have a chance to touch that realm, we must get in touch with people and their needs.
Apart from solving operational issues, management and value chain difficulties, and poor marketing tactics, a symbolic Brand wannabe needs to root itself in its Purpose: the ultimate definition of its role in creating a better society. Purpose is a light that guides Brands into a path of inspiring cultural transformation, igniting economies and growth, thus building better lives.
To thrive to reach a Brand’s full power potential is a challenging decision, to say the least. Not every brand out there can make it. However, those who feel they have what it takes should gather courage and gear up.
Not just because we need good trade as a mechanism to amplify peace and a comfortable life, but because humans are guided by the quest for evolution and perpetual movement. People crave experiencing journeys towards their personal ideals - which in most cases, can’t even be rationally explained. Symbolic brands are able to peep in that small window of people’s unconsciousness and build their legacy, but no Pseudo-Brand will ever get close to such accomplishments.
Ana Van de Werf is a mom and branding professional. She’s the founder of Branding Aurora, a consultancy for entrepreneurs that is currently on pause mode since she took a role at essencedesign - a branding and design agency located in the heart of Lausanne. However, she promises to keep on writing articles on her favorite subject: motherhood and the world of brands.