Meaning is a core value of humanity. The great Abraham Maslow already noted this and placed affiliation, recognition and self-realization at the top of his famous pyramid (Maslow).

On the other hand, we know that behind every great product there is a strong brand, built through a strategy that defines a specific DNA, all wrapped in a clear idea of what it represents, why it is meaningful and how it makes us feel. For this reason, brands strive to occupy in people’s minds a meaning framed in their own symbolic and distinctive territory.

Having meaning involves possessing a deep set of mental associations for the brand. These partnerships relate to the innate needs of customers. The brand will create value as partnerships are activated. Each source of meaning can trigger an emotional connection for customers, making it easier for them to choose one brand over the others.

The consumer paradigm is moving from having to being and signifying.

The need for brands has shifted from seeking to be ubiquitous to trying to be someone for the people to whom it is intended. It is no longer a matter of getting an overwhelming appearance in the media, so that as many people see you as possible; but to become, for the audience you want to address, consistent, coherent, different, clear, credible, notorious, flexible… and meaningful.

Notoriety alone would be fine if the world didn’t change. Due to volatility, the determining factor in increasing value is ensuring that the brand has the broadest possible set of positive associations that are meaningful to customers. All those brands that are growing in value are seen as more significant than brands in which the value is stable or in decline.

It is not that notoriety is not necessary, but now we have to introduce some nuances, so that it is no longer just a question of sending messages, but of their reception and, above all, of their perception. Herein lies one of the main challenges that brands face at the moment: being able to move from “being” to “signifying”.

Brand meanings can be grouped into 3 categories:

  1. Personal meaning. It is key to the intrinsic motivation and fulfillment of each individual. Values are primarily responsible for the construction of that meaning, located at the back and front of the business, they act as a propellant of everything that surrounds the brand. They have the powerful ability to transform the way relationships with customers and other stakeholders are configured. It is from values that it is possible to identify purpose and build a culture of shared beliefs.
    Today’s consumers expect brands to be in line with their values, to truly commit to them, and to uphold them with the same passion with which they take care of their sales. In 2004, Dove commissioned a report, “The Authentic Truth About Beauty,” based on concerns that depictions of female beauty fueled a definition of beauty that was inauthentic and unattainable. The brand theorized that in Western culture women are so valued for their physical appearance, that this negatively affects their self-esteem, happiness, and overall well-being. They identified a need for a broader and more inclusive definition of beauty: 68% strongly agreed that an unrealistic standard of beauty was aspired to and 75% wanted the wide range of women’s physical attractiveness, including size, shape and age, to be represented. Moreover, the components of true beauty extended beyond mere physical attractiveness to happiness, goodness, wisdom, dignity, love, authenticity, and self-actualization. With this information, Dove saw a great opportunity that materialized in its “Real Beauty” campaign.
  1. Social meaning. We are constantly influenced by our environment. We often buy those brands that identify us with a particular social status, becoming members of a group.
    We all want to belong to something bigger than ourselves. A clear example is the legendary Harley Davidson brand. Feeling authentically part of it starts the day you buy one of their fantastic bikes, but then it continues day by day generating a complete brand experience that everyone can take wherever they want. Harley He has managed to make his customers not only loyal to the brand, he has managed to make them identify with it. These are people who acquire such a sense of commitment that they will spend a lot of money on accessories (up to 24% of the company’s revenue comes from the merchandising and accessories) and that, seeking to further intensify these ties, they will no longer only relate to the brand but also to the large group of people who share their same passion.
    As if that were not enough, and from another point of view, to appreciate the strength of the motivation generated by belonging, it is only necessary to consider that one of the reasons why people do not feel comfortable in their work is not their salary or their position, but the feeling that it means nothing to the company. It should be noted that in 2021, in the US, up to 38 million people decided, of their own accord, quit their job. It is the “Great Resignation” and it seems that the figure has not come to an end.
  1. Cultural significance. The really meaningful connections happen with those authentic brands that have been able to build their meaning around why they exist and why they should matter to someone.
    The Ecoalf brand It was born from the desire to manufacture the first generation of fashion products made entirely from recycled materials of the same quality, design and technical properties as the best non-recycled products on the market. In recent years, Ecoalf has shown that we can meet our current needs without continuing to indiscriminately abuse the planet’s natural resources and jeopardize the needs of future generations: “Because there is no planet B”. With more than ten thousand publications of #becausethereisnoplanetb and hundreds of people joining the movement by signing the manifesto and sharing their photo, the campaign is giving a voice to all those who care about the oceans and who, like Ecoalf, fight to find solutions and help raise awareness.

And how do you make a brand generate meaning in the minds of its audience?

It is always the case that the leader in a product or service category is always better perceived than the rest of its competitors. But as a leader there is only one, the other brands have to focus their efforts on correctly choosing differential and relevant attributes and communicating them, not only consistently but also coherently. So, every time the customer sees the brand, then they associate it with a concept or an idea. This is the case of Volvo, which within the automotive industry has managed to appropriate “safety” as a differential meaning. It’s not that it doesn’t incorporate technology or design into its vehicles, it’s that its main association is linked to the concept of safety. When a brand owns a meaning in the customer’s mind, that concept is no longer available to others. What matters is that the perceptions generated are more appropriable and attractive than those possessed by competitors.

But the meaning is not owned by the brand, but by the customers and the general public. Even if we see their communication or even experience the brand physically, none of them is the brand itself. They are simply expressions of the brand, whose objective is to influence the perception of it in the minds of each of the customers who experience it directly or indirectly. In other words, the brand manifests itself in the public’s mind, shaped by those experiences. The brand lives (and dies) in the public’s mind through their perception. And this is not built on the basis of marketing or advertising, but must give way to
branding
.

These are the main elements of the brand strategy that contribute to the construction of a concrete meaning:

  • Brand Territory

Embedding your brand in the vital context of culture and society, through the symbolic territories that your brand generates in people’s minds, is the best way to create a positive perception that resonates with people based on their values and beliefs.

  • Brand Positioning

Brand positioning defines why the brand is different and important from its competitors. In essence, the positioning strategy establishes exactly the meaning we want the audience to associate with the brand.

  • Brand Personality

As human beings, we connect with others based on the characteristics and personality and behavioral traits that appeal to us or not. Brands that make a conscious effort to understand their audience have a distinct advantage when they use that understanding to shape brand communication through personality.

  • Storytelling

Storytelling is about emotionally conveying why we are important, how we do what we do, and what we offer. Bringing stories to life humanizes business and actively collaborates in generating a positive perception.

Finally, let’s not forget that brands are promises to keep. And, as we were taught as children, what is promised comes true. If not, sooner or later it will backfire.

 

Carlos Puig Falcó
CEO of Branward