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Ethos: The Value of Values in Brand Building

Brands, just like people, have values –principles they stand for and hold near and dear to their heart.

These principles form the reason brands exist. Brand values influence two important business assets – relationships and reputation. Relationships are built on trust and reputation is built on delivering on your promise.

In our over-crowded, me-too marketplace, points of difference that are function and feature based are no longer sustainable. Consumers today are tuning out marketing and tuning in to those brands that represent shared values.

Clifford Geetz, the Godfather of Cultural Anthropology… put it something like this… Ethos and worldview describe how cultures create a seamless, unified system. The ethos (an understanding of how we should act in the world) is supported by the worldview (a picture of how the world really is), and vice versa. In a sense, ethos and worldview are what differentiate one culture from another. And it is the culture that traditionally gives individuals their definition of self—who they are, what they believe, and how they should act.

David Lemley

David was two decades into a design career with a wall full of shiny awards and a portfolio of clients including Nordstrom, Starbucks, Nintendo, and REI. His rocket trajectory veered when his oldest child faced a health challenge of indeterminate origin. Hundreds of research hours later, David identified food allergy as the issue and convinced skeptical medical professionals caring for his child. Since that experience, David and Retail Voodoo have been on a mission to create a cleaner, healthier, more sustainable food system for all.

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Get Leverage: Know Your Brand Archetype

Archetypal branding works because it appeals to all people. We all share a deep need to feel stability, belonging, discovery and achievement. In today’s world, many brands have taken on the role of building blocks we use to fabricate of our sense of self. For most of us, our self-identity is textured with personal and archetypal mythos.

The power of identifying a brand with one of these timeless stories is that the story already exists deep within our subconscious — it does not need to be created. The task for the brand is to simply tell the story through the lens of archetypes.

Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung identified seven of key archetypes, but said there were many more to be discovered. In their book, The Hero and the Outlaw, Margaret Mark and Carol Pearson expanded this thinking to identify twelve specific archetypes and showed how these could be used to guide brand strategy.

The athlete, the liberator, the rescuer, the warrior.

These are the universal retellings of what Jung called the Hero. The secret to the Hero archetype is that all heroes have something in common: vulnerability. Think of The Man of Steel and kryptonite, or the biblical tale of Sampson and Delilah, his lust and his hair.

The reason archetypal storytelling works so well is that throughout history all cultures have told the tale of the hero. Heroes are typically orphans called to a quest. Hero myths closely follow a recognizable story arc, regardless of the culture telling the story. In his Book, The Hero With a Thousand Faces, Joseph Campbell described this as “the phenomenon of the universal hero masked in local details”.

Hero stories have existed through the ages because they deliver on very important emotional needs we all share. The hero story helps us understand our mortality and speaks to our desire to achieve great things. Such timeless stories bring understanding and meaning to our lives.

Archetypal brand-building starts with why.

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:

How would your business change if your products and services were considered vehicles the company creates in order to keep its brand promise? The strongest organizations know how to weave a strong story into their delivery.

Think of it as symbolic shorthand for your brand beyond your logo. Iconography might include: smell, sounds taste, feel or any other indirect signal that tells a subtle and suggestive story. Iconography can be almost anything, think of the sounds your computer makes when its boots up. Author Martin Lindstrom calls this philosophy “Smash Your Brand.

Reality exists in language. Movements grow, ideas take form and empires are overthrown all because of language. Whenever we can get a group of people to agree on an idea and share it, we have the power to change the world. This could be a tagline like “Talk to Chuck”, or a communication hook like the Absolut ads campaign that hasn’t changed in 25 years.

Think about how you order coffee at your local Starbucks. First you cue up, peruse the pastry case, enjoy the artwork and then when it’s finally your turn you blurt out something like, “Quad Venti Skinny with Whip Iced Caramel Macchiato”. Look for ways to make the purchase, consumption, sharing and re-use of your offerings more intimate, more interactive, more human.

Archetypes give shape to your brand’s intangibles.

People struggle to measure the intangibles of the brand. I think this list, while not exhaustive, puts structure to the conversation and helps us see of where and how archetypal storytelling both internally and externally become powertools.

Create a vision so crystal clear of your future that everyone in your organization sees it so compellingly that your employees can scat with it.

Attract and retain the brightest, passionate peeps in your planet. Today we know that people are looking for more than just a paycheck from their career. They want to belong to something bigger. Give it to them and let them help you tell the story.

Know what business you are in, what business you should be in and which business you should get out of to ensure long term brand viability. This self-awareness becomes even more valuable when success comes in like the tide. It helps us to avoid convoluted brand architecture that can get downright unruly when mergers and acquisitions are involved.

Using archetypes to tell a brand centered story works because consumers often cannot explain their rational decisions for the emotional choices they make with purchases and the brands they favor.

Stop competing on price. Brands that consistently tell one archetypal story perform better financially. Show your customers what makes your brand different and better. Hint it’s not the features and benefits. It’s whom your loyalists get to be when they are with you.

Archetypes help brands climb out from the shadow of powerful and well-funded competitors.

It’s always challenging for a brand with less advertising dollars, fewer products and less social clout to win at the me-too game. I have seen many brands struggle for years with this.

Brooks, Tully’s, and Eddie Bauer all come to mind because they live in my backyard.

Brooks used The Jester archetype to differentiate themselves from all the big brands at specialty running, where due to size and budget, they had no choice but to behave like a cult brand. This worked really well for a long time, but as Warren buffet said in June 2013, the secret to the stellar rise of Brooks came by focusing deeply and narrowly on the needs of runners. Now do you think they would have gotten the same traction trying to out-hero Nike, Reebok and Adidas?

Tully’s enjoyed success when they realized that they could only claim territory abandoned by Starbucks: Hand crafted Coffee from the Pacific Northwest. Tully’s as The Citizen. Tully’s got clarity and power to change their reason for being from a series of lofty and un-actionable goals (which were already being met by the likes of Starbucks and Pete’s) and boiled to down to “helping people have a better day”.

And then there is Eddie Bauer. I was quite excited to see that First Ascent jackets are private label of Eddie Bauer. It warms my heart to see Eddie Bauer getting attention and breaking the bonds of what can only be described as the dark years of Spiegel. My question for Eddie Bauer is this:  what makes you different from North FacePatagoniaMountain HardwareMarmot and the plethora of premium extreme mountain top focused Explorer archetype brands currently enjoying preference?

Perhaps Eddie Bauer could benefit from carefully linking their original explorer mentality with another archetype, just not one that would make them feel like a housewares brand. I have said before, if your brand sees itself as The Explorer and the competitive landscape is such that you are getting beaten regularly by other Explorers, you may need to look for another story to tell.

Our brains create brand shorthand from archetypes.

Archetypal brands rely on the brain’s preference for organizing things to remember in boxes. It helps that these archetype (boxes) have been around for centuries, that they are found throughout the world, and that they reflect some fundamental human emotional needs. Simply said, archetypes are very strong placeholders. The story of the hero, the role of the mentor and caregiver are so engrained in our culture and the stories we hear that they create a familiar pattern.
Brands that tap into archetypes’ powerful combination of being strong placeholders organized in a familiar pattern relieve consumers of the need to remember lots of information about their products.

Strong iconic brands evoke a timeless archetypal story. This story connects them emotionally with their fans. Brands keep the story relevant by retelling it over and over again in fresh, contemporary ways. And they pay attention to the little details because the little things a brand does often comes under greater scrutiny than the big things a brand says. Strong brands are fanatical about the consistency with which they tell the story because they know that it is easy for the spell of the brand story to be broken if the details do not resonate with what a loyal customer believes to be true about the brand and has come to know and trust.

When using archetypes, the role of the brand marketer is to evoke the story through cultural cues and the emotions that consumers seek to derive from the brand. The task of an established brand is to discover and clarify its core archetypal story. The task of new or undefined brands is to identify an archetypal story and stick with it.

Do you know your Brand’s archetype?

David Lemley

David was two decades into a design career with a wall full of shiny awards and a portfolio of clients including Nordstrom, Starbucks, Nintendo, and REI. His rocket trajectory veered when his oldest child faced a health challenge of indeterminate origin. Hundreds of research hours later, David identified food allergy as the issue and convinced skeptical medical professionals caring for his child. Since that experience, David and Retail Voodoo have been on a mission to create a cleaner, healthier, more sustainable food system for all.

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The Brand Credibility Paradox

Is over emphasis on your hard-core credibility limiting your brand’s influence and growth?

I’ve seen it a lot. Brands achieving the level of success they desire by focusing on one thing for a hard-core, loyal following. They excel at specialty-store and are beloved by extreme activity junkies whether they climb, hike, run, swim, tri, skate or board. Then they get stuck by the following question:

How do we grow our brand and not destroy our industry cred?

Our friends at Sugoi are a great example. They create technically advanced gear, enjoy a great cycling heritage, and are proudly worn by hard-core cyclists. So what is the problem?

Research shows time and time again that there are people who spend upwards of $5,000 on a bicycle and another $1,500 on apparel and gear to compete at a near Olympic level. But only a few. And a few more commute on bikes. Most people are what Sugoi calls Starbucks Riders. Someone who spends a ton of money to dress the part, then simply rides down to the local Starbucks to look extreme while enjoying their carmel Frappucino.

This challenge isn’t limited to cycling. I saw the same problem with REI too. Anytime a group of individuals who are passionate about a specific set of activities infiltrate and then stay inside an organization, their marketing and advertising focuses on the most extreme expression and conditions their gear can endure.

This continual emphasis on the extreme hard-core adventurer not only limits who can belong to and then contribute to your cult brand – it ultimately dulls the senses of everyone in the organization and stifles product development, marketing, and recruitment. According to Outdoor Retailer 2013, most people sporting Patagonia and NorthFace use the gear to drive 5 miles and scale Mount Ben & Jerry’s in the freezer case of their local grocery.

I have seen this in the wellness category too. Brands with street cred for pioneering the natural, wellness and organics movement, who focused every aspect of communication, recruitment and product development on making certain that their original Hippier-than-thou positioning was preached above all else. While they wrestled with their significance, Target and Walmart offered similar, more approachable products for today’s Yoga Mom and her 28 year-old, Chia swilling, tea-guzzling counter-part. Both of these consumer profiles now get their health & wellness needs met without having to give up their love of high heels, designer jeans, enjoying a cocktail or wolfing down the occasional box of mac ’n cheese.

The fundamentals of Cult Branding have the power to make humans respond viscerally, kinetically and socially. However, when practiced diligently, they create a paradox—one that is easy to see in others and nearly impossible to see in ourselves. The very elements that make us great (ritual action, social distinction, status claims and solidarity) work on us, the brand stewards, too. And these powerful forces, if incubated (and not allowed to evolve through outside influence) will stunt our growth, make us grow a beard, get weird and disappear into the mountains.

3 brand credibility sink holes and 3 ways to crawl out.

Over time, I began to see the pattern in organizations that needed brand revitalization. They kept falling into 3 problem areas (sinkholes) that plague many successful passion focused industries like sports, outdoor and wellness. When the pattern is broken, by outside influence, leadership change or the pain of failure, it actually creates a stronger, more meaningful brand that will enjoy preference, marketplace success and even more cult-like stature.

Breakthrough brands are created by people with passion and vision.  People want to follow them. It’s easy for these visionary leaders to enroll others in their quest. The sinkhole doesn’t show up until after success arrives and the followers have key responsibility. Those in the pot, accustomed to the water temperature, tend to shift focus to the financial report and maintaining the status quo by emulating everyone else in the industry rather than innovation. They risk being boiled alive.

How to crawl out.

Forget about features, benefits, and competition. They are table stakes to any category. Forget about your long-storied history and the pain you might have around eroding relevance. Reconnect your brand team with the core purpose and higher ideal the product was created for in the first place, which was likely not just about making money. Then cast a bold new vision.
Think about Apple, between Jobs (ha!). Recall that Apple seemed unstoppable. Then everyone, including themselves, saw Apple as a dying brand. They all just sat in the pot until it began to boil. Remember that they revived their business through visionary leadership, outside influence, and a renewed focus on making human experiences visceral, universally ritualized and forging solidarity. When Apple focused on computing, they tanked. When the focused on revolutionizing something everyone loves (music) they rocked.

Questions to ask.

– Who is your Chief Vision Officer?
– Is their primary job description in conflict with the concept of vision?
– Are they involved in optimizing the business? If so you need an outside influence.

Success sows the seeds of future brand failure. When something works we look for sacred cows to idolize. The brand stalls because, after everyone tires of the Facebook likes and high-fives, they focus their efforts on optimizing what worked, instead of earnestly working to evolve and adapt to our rapidly changing world. They try and win a race by standing still when they should be looking for new ways to take what they know and help more people.

How to crawl out.

Ask yourself some dangerous questions.
– What is your team doing to make cheeseburgers out of these cows?
– What does your product represent to people that is highly valued and difficult for them to replace? (Hint: it isn’t your jacket.)
– How can we flip this on its head to create a new conversation or add something meaningful to someone else’s budding conversation?
Then, once you know that you are in new territory, it’s time to craft a clear and relevant value proposition. The best example of this to me is a piece I wrote about Nike Fuel Band.

When your company has done all the right things to build your brand –from having visionary leadership that has invented good products focused around an ideology, recruited employees that want to be indoctrinated with your philosophy –there is a natural tendency to believe that you are your best customers. This creates a closed ecosystem that chokes the company vision, stifles product development and creates marketing messages that are self-focused and trite. Need evidence? Every outdoor brand has a set of athletes or enthusiasts who flood their brand’s social media channels and website with their extreme adventures. Not everyone can be a NorthFace, ProBar, or Adidas. You have to find your own authenticity. Patagonia’s “Don’t Buy This Jacket” campaign is a great example of a well known brand using its values to move away from everyone else in the outerwear category.

How to crawl out.

Talk to your customers. All of them, and their friends who cannot relate to your brand message because “it’s just a little to hard-core” (and strangely, lacking authenticity for them).

The hard questions.

– What are the hopes and dreams of these people?
– How can you help those who want to belong to your cult, but will never go on an extreme trek, live a better daily life?
– How is your team reframing what you can do to be involved in this evolution?
– Who should you be inviting to tea?

We live in an information age and knowledge is power, but information and knowledge alone will not get you to where you want to go. It takes discipline. The process of successfully navigating a landmark brand shift requires open-mindedness, a rare mixture of confidence and humility and the ability to press on with a beginners mind while seeing a future that nobody else can see yet.

David Lemley

David was two decades into a design career with a wall full of shiny awards and a portfolio of clients including Nordstrom, Starbucks, Nintendo, and REI. His rocket trajectory veered when his oldest child faced a health challenge of indeterminate origin. Hundreds of research hours later, David identified food allergy as the issue and convinced skeptical medical professionals caring for his child. Since that experience, David and Retail Voodoo have been on a mission to create a cleaner, healthier, more sustainable food system for all.

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5 Ways Cult Brands Bridge the Gap in the Customer’s Mind

It’s easy to spot the brands who seized the imagination of a small group and then taught that group how to spread the word, make converts and turn their fringe offering into a mainstream way of seeing the world.

It is another thing to understand how to use the cult branding formula made famous by BJ Beuno in his landmark book, The Power of Cult Branding. This article aims to build on these theories, modernize them and offers strategies you can implement starting today.

Before we begin, I need to simplify and update the opening statement that Doug Atkins makes in his book The Culting of Brands:

Special Thanks to STEAL LIKE AN ARTIST

How to Build the Bridge Between Customers I Need and I am

First let’s understand that this article refers to I need as tactical and I am as how one identifies themselves within the context of that need.

It’s a non-linear process but this is what happens in the human mind:

I need to lose some weight,
I am not competitive.
I need to start jogging.
I need running shoes.
I am a light-hearted, non-conformist.
I am a Brooks runner.

Top running shoe brands and their achetypes. Courtesy of The Hero and The Outlaw by Margaret Mark and Carol Pearson.

1. Know why your brand has stark-raving fans

Understand what needs your brand fulfills in your best customers. Know who loves your brand and why. Be specific. Let’s look at some brands that really understand who loves them and how their brands can return the favor.

REI and Nike

REI provides the knowledge and confidence to explore and discover new adventures for people of all levels, but for those whose identity is Outdoor Enthusiast, Cyclist, Climber, Hiker, or Skier, REI is Mecca. REI knows its followers are active, environmentally concerned and eager to share their passion for the outdoors with others. The co-op returns their love in ways that create stark-raving fans by providing opportunities to contribute to the brand in multiple ways: joining the co-op, taking an oath to “leave no trace”, community education and outreach programs, and even a garage sale.

Phil Knight said, “Nike’s culture and style is to be a rebel. The company was built on a genuine passion for sports and maverick disregard for convention, hard work, serious sports, and performance.” But there is more to the story. It wasn’t just gear – Bowerman and Prefontaine were the genesis of life coaching.

Nike cares about its customers’ lives not just their bodies. It doesn’t just promote sales, it promotes sports for the benefit of all. Nike coaches you to deepen your passion for whatever sport you choose, relying on education, lifestyle management and inspiration rather than selling gear. As a stark-raving fan, my experience quickly moves from “I am a runner” to “I need gear so that I can go faster, be stronger and rush into the waiting arms of the goddess of Victory”. Over the course of time it has evolved to become “I am Victory’s lover, I need to be worthy.”

2. Identify your brand’s archetype

The use of archetypes in branding has become its own phenomenon. An archetype is a universally familiar character or situation that transcends time, place, culture, gender and age. It represents an eternal truth. Books and articles abound. The reason for the popularity is simple: By using the concept of the archetypes, management can protect itself from developing a brand that is inconsistent. Archetypes make it possible to deepen the customer’s relationship with your brand because doing so fulfills an unconscious ambition that is linked to who they get to be when they are with your brand. Using archetypes in your brand development helps delineate the marketing process while helping to keep your brand’s value system firmly intact.

The most common archetype used in sports and outdoor is, no surprise, The Explorer, but comes under many names, including Seeker, Pilgrim, Wanderer, Pioneer, Individualist, Iconoclast and Adventurer.

Explorers are authentic, fulfilled, curious, individual, unique, ambitious and always true to themselves. Their goal is discovery, to experience a more authentic and fulfilling life by using their freedom to explore the world.

The Explorer is a perfect archetype if your brand helps people be free, is pioneering, is rugged and sturdy, is used on the road and in the wild, helps people express their individuality, can be purchased and consumed on the go or if you want to differentiate yourself from a more conformist brand. This might explain why it is the most common brand archetype used in the outdoor industry.

The Explorer isn’t limited to outdoor brands.

Starbucks leverages the Explorer archetype to great effect. Think green logo and Siren as sea goddess. They also emphasize choice and customization for every customer. Even the name was taken from Herman Melville’s Moby Dick – Starbucks is the name of the first mate on the Pequot. Even their packaging and retail experience reference exotic places where coffee is born. Yes born, not grown, but that, Dear Reader, is another tale altogether.

Starbucks leverages the Explorer archetype to great effect as demonstrated in their first India location.

There’s no rule that a brand can’t have multiple archetype personalities. And in a space where nearly all brands are leveraging the same archetype I encourage adding a second archetype to bring distinction and clarity in how you write, design, and communicate for your brand.

Go ahead and try it with your brand management team. Unorthodox combinations are a great starting point for brand strategy and communication.

3. Create a single brand voice

Establish a single brand voice that allows for many to chime in, transmute, interpret and re-forge your vision. Focus your efforts on ways to share that vision with like-minded people and keep your message consistent. Knowing what your business stands for (besides selling things) makes it easier for people to commit to your brand.

Lululemon is quickly becoming a Beloved Brand, with an extremely loyal following that loves not only how the brand makes them feel (healthy, comfortable, free) but also love the product which is reliable, ethical and high quality.

Lululemon‘s manifesto has quickly become a guide to life for the modern woman.

Centered in the core values of traditional yoga, their manifesto is translated for our modern world with statements such as “this is not a practice life, this is all there is.” The core of Lululemon’s DNA is Yoga. And all of the voices in their choir are singing from the same songbook.

4. Create places for your brand to build community

Use the insights gained from your customers’ attraction to the brand as inspiration for developing programs to support community. If you are just starting a brand I might suggest the best way to reach people is to look for topics and causes around which they are already gathering and align one’s brand with those topics or causes. Since most of us are already on the path, I suggest the following:

  • Sponsor events that reflect your brand’s mission.
  • Acknowledge the community. Strong communities provide a sense of identity to their members and become an integral part of their lives.
  • Support the community to reinforce the affinity customers have for your brand.

Don’t be a control freak. Communities aren’t focus groups.

Don’t waste energy trying to control the community. Instead, participate as a co-creator. View communities as a chance to stay close to your stark-raving fans. Look for ways to innovate around their needs and to help them fall deeply in love with your brand.

Nike+Fuelband is the poster child for branded community.

Nike Fuelband not only encourages customers’ active lifestyles, it encourages community engagement. It allows people to track performance through a wristband and compete with friends by climbing up the leader board. Users share their success on facebook and call out friends when they lose. Nike knows that their stark-raving fans are highly competitive individuals so they built a community to leverage this using social media to strengthen their brand.

5. Know thy enemy to deepen the brand rivalry

Differences help define group identity. Watch your competitors to see how they can be leveraged to reinforce the culture of the community. Nothing unites a group like having a common enemy. In the words of Scott Bedbury, “Everything Matters”.

Brand rivalry means competition, and competition means never-ending improvement of service, products and brand relationships. This leads to more transparency, more collaboration, better socially responsible and environmentally responsible actions and a greater incentive towards good in all industries.

Case in point: Puma and Nike have been meeting each other’s sustainability standards, and are producing more and more goods and services that are for good. Nike encourages social responsibility and sustainability through their ‘Better World’ manifesto.

Puma edged ahead recently by being named the world’s most sustainable large company. Puma is the first company in the world to put a value on the eco services it uses to produce its gear, signaling a radical change in the way business will account for its use of natural resources. Puma committed that half its collections will be manufactured according to its internal sustainability standard within four years. Clearly the rivalry is good for innovation and mankind.

What can you do you leverage your brand’s rivals to make the world better and create stark-raving fans at the same time?

Get on the path to constant and never-ending brand improvement

The path to elevating your brand to cult status is not linear, but I’m giving you tools that you can experiment with and put into practice today. My goal isn’t to claim this territory as my own, but to simplify and modernize it so that more people can believe in and be empowered by belonging to something bigger than themselves.

What are you doing to elevate your brand’s cultability?

David Lemley

David was two decades into a design career with a wall full of shiny awards and a portfolio of clients including Nordstrom, Starbucks, Nintendo, and REI. His rocket trajectory veered when his oldest child faced a health challenge of indeterminate origin. Hundreds of research hours later, David identified food allergy as the issue and convinced skeptical medical professionals caring for his child. Since that experience, David and Retail Voodoo have been on a mission to create a cleaner, healthier, more sustainable food system for all.

Connect with David
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From Bland to Grand: Packaging that Does More than Sport a New Look

You’d think that when it comes to sports and outdoor merchandise, packaging would pack a punch. But we’re just not feeling it. Can’t even bear to look at the sea of wimpy, tired-looking packaging examples out there that trying to drown consumers with feature and benefit claims. So much packaging to refresh; so little time to get it done before the products they contain—and their brands—fail.

Rather than pointing to failures, we’d rather focus on packaging that’s gone from tired to inspired hoping that brand managers might reconsider their own packaged products and take them from bland to grand. Caveat: adopting the latest graphic design ideas and pretty imagery might give packaging a face-lift but as we all know, that’s only skin deep. Refreshing a packaging system is about more than proving one’s design chops.

The brand has to be at the core of new or refreshed packaging to be meaningful. To speak with an authentic voice. To clearly illustrate why it’s unique. To engage consumers and hold them in thrall. The right packaging has the power to do all of this. But first it has to appeal to customer emotions quickly and convincingly prompting purchase and loyalty. In the case of sports and outdoor gear, it’s crucial to capture the most emotive elements that tie the customer to the activities themselves via packaging. As marketing researcher Martin Lindstrom points out: aligning fans’ emotions about favorite sports and aligning them with sports-related products triggers the same response in the brain and cements their importance and desirability by association.

The Universality of Archetypes

Brand implementation based in an archetype has great power. Archetypal brands have compelling stories that are universally or globally understood, memorable, and persuasive in their appeal to specific consumers who become emotionally invested in them. Storytelling is as old as mankind, yet there are only a small, finite number of universal themes, so it is crucial for brands to first identify themselves by archetype and then to weave a unique story within that framework. For example, there are a number of cult brands that are based on magician archetypes, but there is only one Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soap; only one Disney.

They have unique stories based on their founders’ visions. Those visions grew as posthumous chapters were written that began to weave their founder’s unique point of view and history into brand’s new frontier. Even with new, invented landscapes Dr. Bronner’s and Disney magician archetypes success comes from being so single-minded that they are willing to ignore everyone for whom the brand’s core values and belief systems don’t resonate. Instead of trying to be all things to all people, they have built their brand by focusing on a small, but dedicated group who value what’s important to the brand, and who strongly believe that, through and with them, dreams do come true.

Lindstrom daringly declares that this has the same effect as religious imagery for fans. Preach on, Brother Lindstrom!

Revitalization comes in different forms: repackaging the blasé and ineffective that’s already out there; rethinking the utilitarian turning it into something more; reimagining the way the entire category is packaged for better functionality. When it comes to sports and outdoor activities having the right gear to achieve performance goals matters. So why doesn’t the packaging that’s selling the gear perform?

Case in point: LIV Organic

The USDA certified energy recovery drink for athletes had a good product. But its original packaging didn’t do anything to sell the product or brand. In fact, it worked against it. Since organic drinks don’t feature neon, artificial colors, they fade with light exposure. Even worse: a non-descript bottle structure and generic-looking labels did nothing to reinforce the brand, merely stating: “Organic Sports Drink” under the brand identity, followed by the flavor. A package refresh was needed.

LIV Organic’s original packaging might have passed for artifically flavored juice drinks.

We love the new packaging. Shrink-wrapped sleeves over PET bottles are color-coded to flavors while protecting the integrity of the product. The sleeve literally has sports written all over it. Action verbs like “pedal”, “score”, “pump”, “swat” and “rappel” tell the story at a glance. On the bottom of each label: “Re-fuel”. Enough said. Genius. The newly designed package structure is easy to hold and drink from, even in the midst of activities. Yeah! Now consumers see all the good stuff about this branded product at a glance—in a few seconds flat. That’s all the time brands have to make an impact on retail shelves, so how cool is this?

LIV Organic’s new packaging makes a promise that the recovery drink inside will get you back into the action.

Speaking of cool, who saves the packaging after purchasing new athletic shoes? What happens to shoe boxes? They end up in the recycling bin. PUMA reimagined the utilitarian with more sustainable packaging that would prompt reuse. Now its athletic shoes come in box bottoms that get tucked inside of a reusable “clever little bag”. Lidless is beautiful. So is the bag in brand signature red with white puma. This makes us wonder: why hasn’t this solution been thought of before? Every time consumers reuse the bag they’re walking ads for PUMA. Nobody sees the packaging until they buy the product but everybody sees it afterward. Think of the buzz this can generate. This works: love it.

Puma’s Clever Little Bag is a great example of packaging innovation that gives the container an afterlife.

Athletic and outdoor gear packaging brands ought to be champions of innovative packaging. After all, they’re all about innovating products, even the most basic, so why should packaging lag behind? Perfect example: what’s exciting about fishing line? Pretty mundane, huh? Not to Pure Fishing of Iowa. Its Berkley brand NanoFil fishing line is pretty innovative: minimum diameter, maximum strength, it was awarded top new product overall at ICAST 2012, the world’s largest trade show for sports fishermen. Now for the best part: innovative new packaging. A twist-off blister is caught between two paperboard halves with a flange. This allows fishermen to replenish line on a fishing reel and easily return the rest to the package for future use on additional reels. No impossible-to-open clamshells. The package is easy to open, stores the product and allows consumers to recycle each portion: paperboard and blister very easily. The graphics on pack separates the man from the boys, too. This is terrific translation of branding on the package.

Berkley’s NanoFil follows the notion that form follows function.

Better functionality for basic, heavily purchased needed products? Yes! Creating brand preference among consumers and turning them into fans? Yes! Rocking an entire category and taking ownership of it? Priceless.

David Lemley

David was two decades into a design career with a wall full of shiny awards and a portfolio of clients including Nordstrom, Starbucks, Nintendo, and REI. His rocket trajectory veered when his oldest child faced a health challenge of indeterminate origin. Hundreds of research hours later, David identified food allergy as the issue and convinced skeptical medical professionals caring for his child. Since that experience, David and Retail Voodoo have been on a mission to create a cleaner, healthier, more sustainable food system for all.

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Great Packaging Delivers on a Brand’s Promise

There’s a lot of adequate packaging out there. But it’s the reason why so many category products don’t stand out. What we ought to be aiming for is disruptive packaging. It garners immediate attention and sells the brand because it connects with the consumer. Well-executed package design not only appeals to consumers’ rational thought process but to their emotions which trumps features and benefits every time.

Decision made, the consumer’s choice is reaffirmed when the packaged product delivers on the brand promise. The process begins to build trust and loyalty as the consumer consciously looks for the brand when repurchasing products within the category and in new categories.

Great packaging isn’t status quo. It doesn’t blend into the appropriate product category; it transcends it, often in a highly disruptive way. Translation: it makes the brand stand out in a highly differentiated manner. Standing out and standing above the competition creates category leaders. Not only that: it makes the competition irrelevant to brand devotees. The behemoths of the CPG industry, like Procter & Gamble, Nestle, Johnson & Johnson and Unilever, have understood this for a long time.

Before package design is developed, a strong brand, well-positioned and offering articulated value, must be in place. A go-to market strategy with clear focus of the targeted customer is the next order of business. Research uncovers the brand’s key drivers as well as the customer’s. Package design can then be developed that aligns with the core brand, its values and the consumer. A hierarchy of visual cues and brand communication is developed to support the brand and to cue the targeted consumer that this is a “fit” with their lifestyles. The correct imagery and key words make the point quickly and efficiently.

Every component of packaging: substrates, structure, color, imagery and texture should come together to tell the brand story. This is achieved by using imagery and targeted and selective brand communication to show the consumer why this is the only brand for them. Remember that packaged products are an important representation of the brand for consumers, so it’s crucial to get this right.

Great Packaging isn’t Status Quo

Method Home presents great brand packaging. Unique structures, minimal materials and pared down brand communication deliver the brand’s core assets: our products are lean, clean and green. As cool as their brand packaging has been from the start, Method hardly rests on its laurels. The company mission of sustainability moves forward with its latest packaging coup. Its new “2 in 1 Hand & Dish Soap” is packaged in recovered ocean plastic and post-consumer recycled plastic. The “ocean water droplets” molded into the packaging communicates this very well. Environmentally sound products in pioneering environmental packaging: great storytelling or what? Consumers have flocked to this brand and still do, passionate about its values.

Brand values and stories don’t only hinge on sustainability as their core. How about getting the idea of clean food products across with few, simple ingredients sans a hodgepodge of impossible to pronounce chemicals via packaging? How is the message delivered? With clean, simple packaging that tells the story to a contemporary audience that is ever-more conscious about what they’re consuming. Great visuals, selective brand communication tell the story. The Haagen-Dazs “Five” line is a perfect example. Nabisco Shredded Wheat and Nutella are a couple of others.

Luxe and High-end Brands?

It’s tough to beat Godiva chocolates in those beribboned gold-foil ballotin boxes. Luxurious packaging opens up to reveal equally luxurious inner wrappings. Unfolding them leads to a great deal of anticipatory pleasure for the brand’s fans. The same is true of Apple. Sleek, black packaging says “cutting edge tech” rather than “decadent luxury”. Unfolding the layers of packaging to get to that new iPhone or iPad is part of the experience. Minimalist packaging isn’t the focus of these kinds of brands. In both cases, the packaging tells the brand story and aligns with the core of each very well. It’s no accident that these brands have such powerful fan bases. The people who love these brands are true zealots; these are brands that align with their lifestyles perfectly.

Starbucks packaged coffees deliver the brand perfectly, as well. Pared down white packaging intimating the purity of the product, features the mermaid cartouche more prominently than the Starbucks brand identity. At this point everybody on the planet knows that the iconic mermaid stands for Starbucks and only Starbucks. The name of each coffee variety, a short descriptor and the words “whole bean coffee” keep brand messaging short and sweet. Imagery does the rest. Veranda Blend features a lovely porch swing. Pike Place roast features the Starbucks at that historic location. Fair-traded Italian Roast features a motorcycle in front of the Coliseum. Brand and product messaging: perfectly delivered.

Retailers are catching up as they market and package their store brands in a meaningful manner. Aligning private label packaging with core brand values and their customer’s lifestyles is the goal. Think Zara. The high fashion Spanish retailer’s clean fragrances appeal in simple, contemporary packaging with beautiful fashion illustrations, of course. Simple one-word perfume descriptors simply state: Iris, Violets or Rose. As an international brand, Zara’s simple package designs are elegant and break language barriers. This is packaging that delivers the Zara brand and meets customer expectations.

Brand of the Street?

H&M is terrific for its urban chic and the way it incorporates that arty edge when it comes to packaging. What else would you expect from the European retailer that specializes in quick change artist fashion apparel, accessories and fashion for the home? There’s nothing snobbish about H&M. Responsive to new fashion trends at price points that the street can bear gives the brand plenty of cred among the hip youth of the world. So why shouldn’t the retailer’s packaged items reflect the brand’s arty attitude?

It’s really crucial for brand owners to get it now; packaging isn’t about selling products. It’s about selling the brand as the one and only.

Part of turning consumers into brand fans and then into zealots is the ability to align core brand values with their own; and with their lifestyles, becoming indispensable to them in the process.

What is your packaging saying? Is it selling the brand? If it isn’t delivering its core values or telling the story, it’s time to repackage.

David Lemley

David was two decades into a design career with a wall full of shiny awards and a portfolio of clients including Nordstrom, Starbucks, Nintendo, and REI. His rocket trajectory veered when his oldest child faced a health challenge of indeterminate origin. Hundreds of research hours later, David identified food allergy as the issue and convinced skeptical medical professionals caring for his child. Since that experience, David and Retail Voodoo have been on a mission to create a cleaner, healthier, more sustainable food system for all.

Connect with David
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Use Design as Theater to Create User-Centered Packaging Experience

It is no longer enough to be merely purchased and consumed, products have to relate to customers in a way that creates brand loyalty and longevity as an expression of the consumers’ life.

If “all the world’s a stage,” then brand managers need to think like playwrights, CEOs need to become producers and brands need to become actors. In their 1999 book, The Experience Economy: Work is Theater and Every Business a Stage, B. Joseph Pine and James H. Gilmore implored us to recognize that products and services must become “theater” for consumers in order to make a meaningful, emotional connection and to avoid commoditization.

“Businesses are no longer selling goods and services-they are staging experiences.”

Consumer product marketers may think retailers or service providers have an easier job in creating “theater” within a fixed venue. Certainly, retailers may have more opportunities to convey the brand message through multiple touchpoints. Yet, this also requires greater coordination in accurately delivering the brand message across all channels. Everything from the signs on the door, to the front line associate, to the product itself, to the shopping bag, to the displays, must consistently embody the brand message. With consumer goods, the primary touchpoint is the product itself. So, it’s the package and the product that must deliver the “performance.” The product must project itself into the lives of the consumer in a meaningful way. So, how can a product and package become theater?

The Method method

The foundation of theater is the human-to-human experience and connection. Package design must convey the human experience and “perform it” authentically. Package and product designers should, therefore, think like Method actors embodying the brand identity and personality within the design.

When the great acting theorist Konstantin Stanislavski developed the notion of a “believable truth” for actors (and his Method), he was asserting that theater was only going to be meaningful if it went beyond external representation and into emotional connection. The objective was to create truthful and deeply felt performances that were equally believable and meaningful to the audience. The same holds true for branding.

The believable truth is that which the customer sees, experiences, and remembers. The brand, therefore, needs to connect with the customers’ own feelings, memories, and experiences in order to be recognized as genuine and meaningful. In order to accomplish this, a designer must utilize and internalize these memories, feelings, and experiences to create the brand “performance.” This performance, or presentation, is how the customer will ultimately experience the product or service.

The journey for the Method actor starts with researching and assembling all external facts about the character before he can then use his own feelings, memories, and experiences to create a complete and believable individual. In branding, a designer must assemble all external and internal facts about both the product and the customer in order to find the common bond that will create the experience and make the emotional connection. Then, using intuitiveness and expertise, create it. For an actor, the character traits are internalized to project the true nature of the character. If these traits are not incorporated into the performance, the actor can only present a one dimensional character-offering nothing to which the audience may connect.

For the brand designer, the character traits, or “pillars,” are those unique core values that must be internalized and embedded into every aspect of the design process in order to project the genuine personality of the brand. If these are not present in the design elements, then a one-dimensional presentation is the result-one that has no emotional, cultural, or intrinsic value to the consumer. It is merely a product, not an experience. Embedding the core values into the overall design enables the product to project those genuine, unique values to the consumer. The result is a meaningful connection and brand loyalty.

As an example, outdoor retailer REI realized that their store brand products were perceived as having less value than the various name brand products they carried. After an in-depth character analysis (therapeutic brand evaluation) the specific traits that the company embodied were defined; among these traits were rugged, gritty, and authentic associations. Once identified, the product and packaging were transformed to match these qualities. The entire interior visual branding system and environmental graphics combined all elements into a cohesive message speaking to their customers’ outdoor enthusiast culture. It’s about how the customers see themselves-and they see themselves in the REI brand.

Personality profiling

While demographics, sales, and customer data can provide an overview of customers and how the brand is integrated into their lives, those will only provide an external perspective of the brand’s character. Understanding the underlying psychological realism that constitutes the emotional connection between the brand and consumer is crucial to understanding how best to communicate or portray the brand message. One of the best ways to understand this is through the use of personality profiling.

Personas have been used in a number of ways since Carl Jung defined the term in the early- to mid-1900s. In the realm of branding, the use of personas has evolved into a way to develop unique brand identities and create emotional connections. At its core, the persona is what is presented to the outside world around us in order to relate with others. This is exactly what the actor does on stage or on film. It becomes that which is identifiable with other people.

To maintain the psychological realism required the make the emotional connection, the persona must have both negative and positive characteristics. In developing personas, it’s key to look at both sides in order to develop a unique, holistic and genuine personality. For instance, being self-centered may be considered a negative trait, but it may be exactly that with which a core customer might unconsciously identify.

Creating personas involves both qualitative and quantitative research in order to have a complete and reliable model on which to base the personality categories. The qualitative information can best be gained through direct observation, in a cultural anthropological research model, in order to gather the traits, characteristics, goals, behaviors, needs, wants, desires, etc. of core customers. The customers can then be divided into several persona types-each with their own unique characteristics. These defined types can then be tested through quantitative research analysis tools, such as customer sales data, to confirm that the category assumptions are correct. It’s important to have both. As we all know, human beings don’t always say what they mean or want, nor do what they say!

Creating the entire experience

Categorizing persona types can be used for any consumer product, retail operation, or financial service. By creating a holistic and realistic “character,” the brand designer can then create an experience that best presents those traits to the consumer.

An actor connects with the audience based on a truthful expression of the character through personality traits brought out through his own feelings, memories, and experiences. Where an actor has the use of his body, face, and voice to bring this to life, the brand designer has color, texture, shape, size, font, message, etc., to accomplish the same thing. The brand designer must become the brand. By internalizing the core characteristics of the brand with the persona of the consumer, the product will become that character. And the customer will see themselves as they want to be in that product. Hence, the ultimate consumer-brand connection is created.

A differentiated, believable brand experience is developed from a realistic psychological foundation utilizing the unique personality traits of both the customers and the brand. The meaningful experience that will ultimately connect the brand to the customer is created through designing the unique-yet genuine-brand character and creating the experience around it. Just as the actor portrays a character that creates a meaningful theatrical experience, the brand becomes a meaningful experience by projecting the believable truth.

David Lemley

David was two decades into a design career with a wall full of shiny awards and a portfolio of clients including Nordstrom, Starbucks, Nintendo, and REI. His rocket trajectory veered when his oldest child faced a health challenge of indeterminate origin. Hundreds of research hours later, David identified food allergy as the issue and convinced skeptical medical professionals caring for his child. Since that experience, David and Retail Voodoo have been on a mission to create a cleaner, healthier, more sustainable food system for all.

Connect with David