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Human Brands – Once a Harley Guy, Always a Harley Guy

November 29, 2016

I have referred to some brands over the years as “Adored” brands like Harley Davidson and Converse All Stars. But, more often today, I see certain brands as becoming “Human” brands. These are the companies and products that have become badges or ego boosters. Sometimes it can become a way of life brand – Dolce & Gabbana, Porsche, Tiffany and Luis Vutton. These brands define the person identified with the brand as being the brand. Now, it seems most are high end, but look at Vans skate shoes, Schwinn Bicycles, or Levi’s and Diesel brands

When a brand becomes an identity, a great brand value is derived.

My dad was a Chrysler man. I don’t remember him owning a ford – ever. He advertised his social standings by the brands, or badges he associated with.

What’s the difference between adored and human brands? With human brands, I think it has more to do with a relationship while adored brands are a shared values thing. For instance, I really like BMW’s – I love performance and have had many over the years. However, I just switched to another brand of SUV. For my dad, it was “Once a Chrysler man, always a Chrysler man.” Chrysler was a human brand to him while BMW is an adored brand to me.

So, why does one brand become so humanized while most barley achieves commodity status? I believe the root to a relationship is satisfaction. Many companies and their brands have built long-lasting accords with their core audiences by placing an emphasis on customer satisfaction. What makes Southwest Airlines such a human brand? 50% of Southwest’s marketing budget is allocated to internalizing its brand and promoting a company-wide concept of “Just plane fun.” They spend inordinate amounts of time and resources getting feedback; they survey flyers, flight attendants, gate people and pilots to make sure that they have their ear to the ground and are aware of changing attitudes and preferences. In other words, Southwest has dialog with their audience, not just monolog.

Other airlines, like US Airways are so caught up in protecting shareholder value (trying to make a profit) that no amount of money could be allocated to assuring customer satisfaction. (By the way, Southwest is consistently one of the most profitable airlines in the world) I’m held hostage by US Air because of my frequent flyer status. This year is the first time I received something other than marketing materials from them. I got an email holiday card. How human!

And so it goes with other human brands – Apple vs. Del. Disney vs. Six Flags. Big banks vs. your local Credit Union. Whenever shareholder value is held supreme to customer satisfaction, commodities are in the making.

This is all good, but what about humanizing Ajax Ball bearings? Size doesn’t matter. B2b or B2C, it doesn’t matter either – a brand is a brand. It can be humanized or left to just plain goods status where price is the only measurement of value. I happen to be a Ryen Spooner Aloha Shirt man – have been for decades – small brand, but very human to me.

So how do we create and build human brands? It starts with discovery. We cannot do branding without first doing brand development. You must facilitate a brand discovery session to determine who the brand is, what it does differently and most importantly, what it is capable of becoming. The Brand Establishment and its member agencies provide a trademarked brand discovery process that always uncovers the brands critical, unique attributes.

From those outcomes, we must internalize the brand, or operationalize it. This means we must get every employee, outside sales person and channel partner to, as Scott Davis and Michael Dunn say in their book “Building the brand driven business” move those folks from hearing about the new brand to believing there is a new brand to becoming the new brand. Now, and only now can we begin to create relationships with our customers.

The magic of social media can play a huge role at this point by letting your happy, satisfied customers spread the word. But beware, consumers can make or break your brand in digital platforms. And don’t leave out traditional media – with clever, memorable messages a broadcast or print effort can help substantiate the validity and personality of the brand.

I wear Sperry Topsiders shoes too, always have. And yes, it’s because I’ve been a sailor most of my adult life. But, sailors don’t just wear topsiders while sailing. No, we wear them before and after sailing as well. Why? I guess its because they tell the world that we and the shoes sail. Very human of them don’t you think?

About The Brand Establishment

The Brand Establishment perfected the first contemporary brand development process specifically for small to mid-sized advertisers more than two decades ago. These tools and procedures have been utilized by companies in virtually every business sector – hundreds of times.