I am by no means a seasoned marketer.
I’ve never built a billion dollar business, nor orchestrated an IPO roadshow campaign. I have not led a major brand overhaul or released multiple product lines. No one has ever invited me to speak about marketing on their podcast or at their conferences.
But none of that makes me under-qualified to speak at length about my experiences with legendary marketing, lastings brands, and world-changing products.
Before I was ever a marketer, I was a consumer. And a legendary consumer I have always been.
When I encounter a brand that makes me feel like a different version – an aspirational version – of myself, I latch onto it. I promote it. I tell everyone I know about it. I preach its gospel from the mountain tops.
Brands that do this so-so occasionally convince me to part with a few dollars. But the ones that do it in a legendary way become part of my own personal brand story arc. That story arc makes up the fabric of who I say I am.
My Logo-Bar Identity
Like a NASCAR driver, my personal brand bears a tapestry of logos, slogans, and points of view that help define and describe who I am as a person. Powerful brand’s logos offer symbolism for explaining my identity to others in ways words often cannot.
The most effective brands deliver more than products into the world. They shape the backdrop of many stories of my life. In many cases, these brands affect nostalgia of former, better days. In other cases, they lay a path of possibility for who I’d like to become.
But here’s a secret I’ve learned as a consumer that lays the foundation of my core belief a marketer:
The best brands don’t sell products. They reveal a version of ourselves who we aspire to be.
Brands That Describe Me
So many brands inspire me. But the ones I really love act as a proxy for one aspect of my personality or another. Every brand that achieves some aspect of this does so because of the story I associate with the brand – and what that story means to my identity.
Consider some brand examples and the stories that surround them for me:
What many people don’t know about Jeff Bezos is that prior to selling books on the internet, he worked as a successful quant on Wall Street in at a well-respected firm. When Jeff decided to leave, people laughed at him. They told him all the reasons it wouldn’t work. Even after he proved them wrong, when set his targets on other industries, experts still scoffed. They told Jeff to stay in his lane. Incumbents tried to destroy his company. Regulators attempted to interfere. And analysts underrated stock. Still, Amazon persisted, kept innovating, and continued beating prices. When some punk asshole tried to blackmail Bezos, he rose above it. Through every trial, Jeff Bezos proves he remains committed to the customer and to building something lasting. Amazon provides the de facto example of how I think business should be done.
Steve Jobs was not always the legendary innovator or product and design genius many revere him as. Long before the first iPhone or app, many found Steve to be a disagreeable asshole. But Steve did not care – he saw something different, something that would change everything. Steve believed every encounter with the brand that became Apple deserved to be special and human. He did not believe in following the mainstream. He believed in creating a new way of doing things, and in giving access to world-class technological experiences to a class of people the incumbents disregarded. Steve believed in bring revolutionary ideas and change to the world by empowering the individual. While everyone else focused on serving the business class, Steve brought personal computing – and free, democratized information access – to the masses. His legacy empowers BILLIONS of people to this day.
I drank my first beer at age 13 (If you’re reading this, sorry, mom). Alcohol was not allowed in my house growing up, so sneaking beers served as an act of rebellion at that time in my life. When my brother would leave his ice chest in his truck bed after trips to the lake during summers, I used to pilfer a few beers and share them with my friends. He and his friends drank Budweiser and Bud Light. The first drink out of every Bud Light takes me back to a specific time and place in my life of skirting rules and seeking thrills. Of being too big for my britches and wishing to be as cool as one of my biggest, earliest role models: my older brother. No craft beer can recreate the era of my life and sentimental, freedom-seeking experiences that are owned by Budweiser.
We didn’t have money growing up. Designer jeans were, as my mother called them, ‘a want, not a need.’ My dad wore jeans. But not just any jeans. Dad wore Levi’s. I remember curiously perusing through stacks of various-colored denim in my Dad’s closet as a kid. I marveled at the dark blues and the light, frayed almost-white fabric. I realized in time that my Dad viewed jeans as an investment. As a contractor, these were essentially part of his uniform. And as someone whose job requires trust, my Dad has always looked the part: jeans, a belt, a collared shirt tucked in, and work boots. When I got older, Mom outfitted me with Levi’s. I wore the hell out of them until years later when I could afford to buy designer jeans. And buy designer jeans I did. But here’s what I found, I’ve rarely found a pair of designer jeans that ‘fit’ me right. And I’m not just talking about the way the cuff breaks at the heel or the breathing room in the crotch. The jeans didn’t fit me because they felt impractical, overpriced, like a waste of money, and rarely lasted a justifiable amount of time considering the cost. As a brand, Levi’s has always dominated my denim market share – both as a provider of a reliable, comfortable option, and a brand whose identity represents values of practicality and reliability that equal my own.
(PS – your boy here likes to rock those 501s and 505s)
Before we wore “Just Do It” emblazoned on shirts, or shoes ever had shox, Phil Knight labored for decades to bring his vision for a new brand of shoes to life. What he achieved likely outpaced his wildest dreams. Nike has since become a powerhouse brand, both provocative and empowering. It’s a brand for athletes, for dreamers, for those committed to never give up. And it’s the first brand of basketball shoes I remember putting on my feet when I took the hardwood for the very first time. Nike is a reflection to the years I spent waking up at 5 am to get a two-hour workout in before school. It’s the thousands of suicides, dribbling and shooting drills busting my ass to earn a spot on the Varsity team. It’s the first jersey with my number on it. It’s the sound of the swishing net when I made a winning shot, and the sound of the buzzer when we came up short. Today, it’s the comfortable brand I turn to leisure and workout wear – because when I wear Nike it reminds me of a hard-working, focused, relentless version of myself I still want to be.
What It Means For Marketers
Most marketers obsess over the latest tools. They scurry around like coveys of quail chasing “best practices” and Gartner magic quadrants. Seasoned- and new- marketers alike burn cash and demo products like schizophrenic maniacs trying to discover the latest growth-hack silver bullet to magically lift their business into the marketing stratosphere.
But what most marketers completely miss is how what they create makes people feel.
From content, to product, to company, most marketer overlook the experience of their customers at each interaction with their brands. And when this happens, their businesses fail to create lasting relationships with their customers.
As legendary CMO and godfather of category design Christopher Lochhead puts it:
“The most exciting companies create. They give us new ways of living, thinking, or doing business, many times solving a problem we didn’t know we had – or a problem we didn’t pay attention to because we never thought there was another way.”
The marketers (and companies) who succeed at this don’t just capture a big share of the market, they create a lasting legacy customers latch on to. Those experiences go on to shape more than their customers’ opinions of the brand. The most legendary brands give their customers a way to make a powerful statement of identity to their peers and the world at large.
And it doesn’t take a marketer to recognize that is a beautiful thing.