In Kafka’s Metamorphosis, a man wakes up one morning and discovers that he has become a bug. What if your brand woke up one morning and discovered it had become a human? And let’s say the human came to your house and knocked on the door. Who would you meet? What kind of person does your brand look like?

I was recently involved in a project where we created some boards of photos of different people, and brought them out to the streets of our little town. We asked people: If such-and-such brand came to life, who would the brand most look like?

The results were surprisingly consistent. Starbucks was compared to a woman best described as a soccer mom. Google was a hip and young Asian guy. And BP was a grumpy middle-aged businessman. This last was, perhaps, a loaded question given that this was months after the oil spill; it’s possible that if we had shown an illustration of Beelzebub, people would have chosen that image instead.

What this simple exercise illustrates is that people project personalities onto brands. Freud was very into the idea of projection – we project onto others what we’re not allowed to feel, or are ashamed to feel. Jung took it further with his concept of archetypes. My hunch is that the complex sensory machines that are humans need to project, simplify, and think in terms of archetypes in order to make sense of the complexities of modern life.

Brand types

I’m thinking there are three different types of brands:

  1. The brand that we sort of take for granted. We don’t swoon when we see the logo but we trust it. If it were a person, we’d say hello, and perhaps go for a beer at the local bar. I go to my local grocery store every week and like it well enough. But if a competitor opened up down the street, I’d have no hesitation in trying it out.
  2. The sort of brand that we really, really like. We would like to have dinner with this brand, even go on a date. I feel this way about my Marvis Toothpaste and my Happy Socks. I’ll go out of my way to buy it.
  3. The sort of brand that we’d bring home to meet our parents. We want to marry this brand. Harley Davidson, Apple, and even Crayola Crayons. People get tattoos of these brands’ logos inked onto their bodies.

As a brand steward, you have to ask yourself: If my brand came to life, who would it be? Who would I like it to be? This is an important question to be asking yourself. Brands are not humans.  But people do project human qualities onto brands. And brands have real humans to help them speak and to act on their behalf.

Speaking through social media

There may be no place more important to the development of your brand voice than social media. August Wilson, the playwright, was once asked how he made his characters speak with such strong voices, and he said, “I don’t make them speak; I let them speak.”

It’s more important than ever for brand managers to identify the passion points behind their brand. A perfect example is Nike on its Facebook page; not one post is self-promotional. Instead, each and every post speaks to the passion behind the company.

One might argue that Nike has an incredible marketing budget so it could afford to talk from its passion points; a company that makes dish soap, on the other hand, would have to be more overtly promotional.

That argument just doesn’t hold. Martha Stewart’s magazine and television show, for example, proved that people could be very passionate about homemaking, something one might consider just as mundane as soap.

Every decent book on marketing, business and strategy talks about differentiation. What better way is there to differentiate your brand than letting it come to life and be a voice for the issues that matter to your customers?