Creating a brand image is a tricky thing. Some businesses spend very little time thinking about how they are perceived, yet find great success. Some businesses spend ridiculous amounts of time and money constructing a brand that can’t make up for the business’s shortfalls. Somewhere between these two cases, most businesses need to find a balance in their approach to branding.
Your brand image often includes a balance of the literal and the symbolic. This is the balance between a simple presentation of product or service and the construction of the desired perception of the brand.
The Literal Benefit of a Brand
Many businesses do just fine focusing on the literal benefit of the products of services they provide. Often the appeal to the felt needs of their customers. Need your foundation leveled? We do that! Need investment advice? We offer that! Many of these businesses thrive on their word of mouth marketing and understand the value of every customer relationship.
Pro: Many customers need to know quickly and directly how they will benefit from your product or service. Why beat around the bush?
Con: Are you the only one who offers what you do? If not, it may be difficult to differentiate yourself in the market. It may also mean that your default method of competition is to undercut on price and that leads to razor-thin margins.
The Symbolic Benefit of a Brand
A more popular approach to branding among agencies and designers is to emphasize the symbolic value of a brand. These are the images that show us a lifestyle benefit or status benefit to using a particular product or service. These messages can be subtle or overt. Think of the soda commercials of the 80’s that showed elderly individuals partying hard because of their appropriate choice of Pepsi over Coke. Communicating intangible benefit can also be a tricky endeavor, so symbolic statements or images are often all a brand has to work with.
Pro: Symbolic communication is flexible to meet a particular desired demographic and can fill in the blanks for a customer with a focus on a lifestyle benefit that superseded the particulars of a given product.
Con: Finding the appropriate image for a brand can be tricky. You don’t want to overshoot the proverbial runway here and create a image your product cannot fulfill. You also have to be careful not to alienate one demographic as you appeal to another. It’s often difficult to meet the expectations of multiple audiences with one symbolic message without it being to generic.
Balance is Best
Whether you choose to emphasize the literal or symbolic nature of your business’s products or services, finding a balance between the two is essential. Somewhere along the continuum between these two poles, your particular product or service will find a comfortable home that reflects the character of the business and the customers you seek to reach.