A Brand's Potential
Most of the things I share here get pretty deep in the weeds of marketing. They're often technical or focus on the implications of a nuanced strategy move. But even the most technical marketing work is based on the foundation of the brand itself, on how that brand is perceived by other human beings. So today I'd like to share something softer, far from the weeds.
My soft spot
I recently bought a new Leatherman multi-tool. My old one, a trusty Leatherman PST II, had been with me almost every day since I got it from my dad nearly twenty years ago. It's been with me to dozens of states, and to ten countries on four continents. I went to war with it.
It's repaired houses and chair lifts. It's worked on cars and riverboats. It's serviced Humvees and it's carved marshmallow roasting sticks. It's fixed machine guns and it's assembled children's toys. It may sound strange to some, but we've bonded to the point that it's almost a part of me now.
Unfortunately after decades of countless hard uses, it got a little too broken in to do the great work a Leatherman should be doing. I also found myself being ginger with out out of sentimentality, so my family got me a new one. This one's going on the trophy shelf, never to be forgotten. And maybe in twenty years when my kids are graduating college I'll be sharing another story like this one. Who knows what my new Leatherman and I will see in that time?
To me, Leatherman represents the potential of what a brand can be. I've formed such a deep connection with it not because of what it represents, but almost despite it. After all, if I did an audit of all the times I've used that tool, 90% of them would be things I'd rather hadn't happened. Downright negative experiences.
Do I wish that toy would have come pre-assembled? Yup. Do I wish that lawn mower's battery hadn't died? You know it. Do I wish that faucet hadn't sprung a leak? Uh huh. And let me tell you, you'll never come across a situation where a malfunctioning machine gun is a good thing. I could spend all day giving examples of times I'd rather not have touched my Leatherman.
Most of us don't work at "fun" companies (I'm looking at you, Red Bull). Most of us don't work in niches that naturally inspire deep, values-based connections with our customers (Ah, to be Patagonia). But all of our customers purchase our products or services because they fill a need or desire in their lives. Even if a person would rather not have to need our product or service, that need makes us a part of their lives. And the potential of a brand lies in the extent to which we as marketers can understand how that one small part of a person's life contributes to a greater whole, and how our product or service helps that happen.
If you get that right, you'll have customers doing crazy things like taking the pliers they used to pull a stranger's hair out of their new apartment's shower drain, and putting it on a trophy shelf.