Where have all the icons gone?
Building your brand in the new age of marketing
They are perhaps the grandest example of classic rock. In an era defined by a diverse set of musical interests (rock, disco, punk), even today, more than 40 years since Led Zeppelin's self-titled album vaulted the English band into the mythical stratosphere of rock stalwarts, the band stands as an iconic brand like no other. The music and aura of Led Zeppelin-guitarist Jimmy Page, singer Robert Plant, bassist and keyboardist John Paul Jones, and drummer John Bonham – is everywhere still, its amazing body of work forever inspiring a new generation of musicians and fans.
In many ways, it seems as if the brand of Led Zeppelin is even more iconic today. And it makes you wonder. Where are today's prolific brands? In a new landscape driven by the likes of Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, has how we communicate and market today made building sustainable, iconic brands impossible? Are we taking the mystery out of marketing?
Andrea "Andy" Coville doesn't think so. While building an iconic brand today is harder than in generations' past, the CEO of global public relations and communications agency Brodeur Partners doesn't think it's impossible, but it sure is hard. "Authenticity doesn't come naturally to a lot of organizations. Marketing has trafficked successfully in façade for centuries. And façade is still necessary, to some extent. Do you really want to know everything about, say, your heart surgeon and how he spends his free time?"
Coville prefers the ultra-professional façade. Sure, we all want authenticity, which not only entails revealing the practical value of what an organization offers, but also the way it is trying to connect from social, sensory and values perspectives. Today's customers want to know: If we buy into your brand, who do we become? What will we feel? What will our action say? Can we trust you are what you present yourself to be? Iconic brand status ultimately is possible because everybody wants to join a tribe and has a need to belong. Coville says. "You always yearn to be connected. You just yearn to connect to different things over time. Connection creates community, and in community you find meaning. Brands that present that opportunity for connection, community and meaning will be relevant. And with time, they might just become iconic."
Not your father's brand
Ask Rob Frankel about the notion of building iconic brands today, and then step back. The noted branding expert and author of the book, "The Revenge of Brand X: How to Build a Big Time Brand on the Web or Anywhere Else," says too many people think branding is about identity and awareness, but it isn't.
Frankel says neither of those do anything to build real trust or revenues. "My definition is that branding is about 'getting your prospects to perceive you as the only solution to their problem.' You don't have to be the only solution; they just have to perceive that nobody else will solve their problems."
Marketing experts like Frankel believe that the world's "disposable" mindset is why many brands rise and fall so quickly. When the public is given nothing to invest in, they don't. "The way we communicate would actually enhance a well-built brand," says Frankel, a regular contributor on programs such as "NBC Nightly News" and "Fox News." "But because some confuse media, graphics, identity and awareness for branding, the job never gets done. It's a 'garbage in, garbage out' thing."
Make no mistake about it – there have been myriad iconic-like brands that have been created over the years. A recent Ad Age report shows that some of the biggest and most popular brands today are ones that have been around for a while, including Apple, McDonald's, Microsoft, Samsung, Toyota, GE, IBM and Coca-Cola, to name a handful.
"The same brands that existed before this generation are the most iconic, which is why this generation's brands seem so temporary," Frankel says. "As evidence, look at how many retro brands are being exhumed. It's happening because this generation has no idea of why brands are created or how to nurture them. Our grandfathers and great grandfathers built brands to represent the value they stood for. Their descendants have no such experience."
15 minutes and out…
Roger Beahm doesn't subscribe to the "15 minutes of fame" theory. In fact, the professor of marketing and executive director of the School of Business Center for Retail Innovation at Wake Forest University says the theory is a myth. Beahm believes it takes multiple exposures to build awareness and brand knowledge.
"Building iconic brands is not a function of the media, it's a function of the product. How well the product informs and satisfies customers' needs in the long run is what makes a brand iconic. If you're not able to deliver on that, you're not able to get the funds to spend on media. Branding is more than media. It includes your brand name, logo and any icons, graphics [etc.] you might associate with your brand. It includes the product features, benefits and positioning. All affect how we perceive a brand."
The bottom line is that a brand must be immersed into pop culture. Beahm says that means you must build broad unaided awareness, have significant volume and market share, create strong emotional connections with the target audience and garner respect among your peers.
So, what does it take to reach iconic status today? Coville refers back to authenticity. Take Bruce Springsteen, who while having reached iconic status decades ago still continues to add swarms of new fans spanning every generation. "He is not only standing the test of time, he is passing new tests with every show. He's the real deal, and he has earned his iconic status through his authenticity. He believes in what he does and it shows."
Coville says the variables that drive a great brand are measurable. Once measured, they can be adjusted. And once adjusted, the variables will help the brand make a bigger impact. The main variables of brand relevance are its functional benefits, sensory appeal, social meaning and values. "Too many brands rely too heavily on their functional benefits as if logic alone drove customers to action. Logic is highly overrated. If it weren't, everybody would go out and buy whatever car J.D. Power or Consumer Reports rated as best value."
Building iconic status today means making your brand stand for something, Coville says. "The goal is not buzz or eyeballs, or hits or likes. It's relevance, which is more substantial. When a brand is relevant, people want to connect to it."
10 ways to be iconic now
Branding expert and author Rob Frankel knows a thing or two about branding. He believes branding is not about getting your targets to choose you over your competition – it's about getting your prospects to see you as the only solution to their problems. Following are his 10 laws for branding success:
Law No. 1
Law No. 2
Law No. 3
Law No. 4
Law No. 5
Law No. 6
Law No. 7
Law No. 8
Law No. 9
Law No. 10