6 Things You Must Do to Crack the Badge Brand Code

09.04.13 / David Lemley
Who are we? Who do we want to be? When the vision, passion and values of one-of-a-kind brands inspire us and make us want to make their statement our own magic happens. These are badge brands.

Badge brands have soul and character. They own a position; one that no other brand can own or ever will own. They’re unlike anything else we’ve ever seen and they make us want to be a part of the whole experience. Badge brands aren’t only about the image we want to project to the world; they’re a lifestyle choice with a definite POV and not in a tepid way. They bowl us over and we’re eager to join them.

Badge brands should not be confused solely as luxury brands a la Louis Vuitton, either. Sure, status is a badge. But not all badge brands and not all people need or want to project the “I am rich” image to the world. There are so many more visions that resonate!

We want to belong; to become members of communities.  Badge brands seem to effortlessly make that happen. We don’t even stop to think about it: we just belong. This is what we do think about: we can’t live without our badge brand. Wouldn’t even consider it. Badge brands are as elemental to us as breathing. Powerful connection or what? Every brand has the possibility to conjure up emotion at this level, rather than the yawn that most elicit.

A new brand world with no room for mediocrity.

Now let’s talk about athletes, outdoor and wellness enthusiasts and how specific brands elevate their experience. Badge brands in these categories are statements made with exclamation points! Think of them in this way. They’re the difference between motorcycles and Harley Davidson. Between yoga gear and Lululemon. Between sneakers and Nike. Expressing ourselves with badge brands is like being on steroids without any harmful side effects.

There are so many outdoor and wellness brands that have the potential to become great badge brands, it makes me salivate just thinking about it. The thing is: many haven’t put it all together to make it happen yet. That’s because they’re too timid. Brand owners that think they ought to appeal to as many people as possible are wrong. They end up with brands as bland as vanilla; they’ve missed the point about how to create a one-of-a-kind brand with rabid fans, aka, a cult.

In point of fact, they need to take a stand, narrow their view, and mean a whole lot to a select community and they can’t be afraid to say so in every visual and verbal expression of the brand. That’s what makes the big picture marketers who create badge brands so admirable. They don’t get caught up in fads, trends and the minutiae; dismissing everything that could potentially dilute their brands. Everything is analyzed through the prism of the brand: does it make sense to embrace it or not? If not, it’s jettisoned. And that’s why they have powerful brands on their hands.

So here’s how to crack the badge brand code in six not-so-easy steps. . . If it was that easy, every brand would do it.

All strong brands share a set of common elements: A Foundation story, Brand Pillars, a Defined Brand Personality and, most importantly, a Brand Promise.

Addressing these elements through the lens of your brand’s archetype helps everyone deepen our answers to why our brand exists and why our employees and fans should care.

Look for ways your archetypal story might show up to the world:

Stand for something

Dare to take a stand that will ensure your brand isn’t for everybody. Stake out a position. Just make sure that the people you want to connect with get it. Taking a stand will make your audience sit up and take notice, stand up and applaud and then run straight for your brand. To stand for something you’ve got to make some tough decisions, mostly about what you will not be doing: you cannot be the lowest price, highest value, premium anything. This is heady stuff.

Do you have the courage and sincerity to make it happen?

Stand in the bullring

Badge brand owners have to be able to stand up and fight—against wrong-headed ideas, fads and ideas that might seem cool but don’t align with your brand. This takes more determination, focus and sticktoitiveness than you think it does. It helps when you stop thinking like a marketer and have empathy for the humans you want to to buy from you. You’ll quickly realize that in our time-compressed days, most of us have little time for things that don’t really help us. For brands to matter, the customer must believe the brand is bringing something more valuable to them than the money they spent.

Do you have the guts to stick to the values that define your brand?

Stand out-or stand aside

We all know how many “me-too” brands are out there. Ask yourself: do you want your brand to take a small piece of the pie or do you want to bake a whole new pie that belongs only to you and your brand? Differentiation really does matter. Giving it personality is huge, but remember you won’t succeed just because you have a story. You’ll succeed when you have a story that inspires people to connect with your brand at the expense of someone else’s. In today’s world, authentic soul matters most of all.

Does your brand have humanity-connecting soulfulness?

Standardize

Get the look, feel and tone of your brand down. Brands must define and own their brand voice. Stay clearly focused on protecting your brand with a standardized style guide. This not only keeps your messaging on track, it helps reduce the emotional subjectivity that can paralyze even the best marketers. Don’t get me wrong, I am all for using emotion to tell a good story, and evolving it regularly to remain relevant. Be careful that your brand’s POV or mission doesn’t get tweaked to match the new creative. And please, don’t change messaging out of boredom or hubris.

Can you commit to your brand and say “I do”?

Stand tall

Know from the get-go that your brand will be the object of love and devotion, as well as some potential animosity. After all: you will not become a badge brands without a strong POV. Leaders swim against the current of banality and the status quo; they’re category disruptors so they can become targets. The brands that will own the world tomorrow are embarking on the journey towards a more sustainable and socially-responsible future.

Can you get on board and stick to your vision—even if it makes some people uncomfortable?

Stand toe-to-toe

Achieving badge brand status is one thing. Retaining it for the long haul is another. Look at the brands that have blazed their own trails and resolve stay relevant. Rule Numero Uno: Never follow. Cut a new trail and lead.

How will you walk the line between staying true to your brand while evolving with the modern world to remain relevant?

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