All too often, a product's branding has absolutely nothing to do with the product itself. The drive to create a positive image around a product is such that marketing strategies are often separate entities from the actual thing the company is attempting to sell or the service it provides. This isn't necessarily a problem - if a brand can create a catchy character or catchphrase that becomes synonymous with the product and becomes part of the public consciousness, you'd consider the campaign a success, whether or not that campaign is relevant.
These campaigns have the potential to get inside audiences' heads and encourage them to associate a need with a particular brand, but they only connect on a surface level. There is a growing trend among marketers that say that the product itself is the brand, and the two should be intrinsically linked to support each other. Rather than presenting a brand to audiences, present them with a product or service that becomes a brand in of itself. One example of this is Uber: the ride-hailing service has built its entire brand around getting people from A to B for a low fare. Anything on top of that is additional and unnecessary, and this focus on succinctness has helped the word 'Uber' become synonymous with 'taxi'.
Speaking at the Content Marketing Summit in December of last year in New York, Uber's head of product content, Eric Schlakman, presented on the convergence of product and brand in marketing and the ways in which brands can marry the two. Eric began by examining three products for which the story is an important part of the product as well as the brand itself. The Pet Rock, the 'I Love NY' t-shirt, and the Miracle Mop are all products intrinsically connected to a story, and the story is much bigger than the product itself.
In terms of the Pet Rock, Eric says, 'you have a rock but, because it became the Pet Rock, there is a story about how you would take care of it, it became a part of your family. It is a rock, and yet it became one of the greatest toy trends of the last 30 years.' 'I Love NY' t-shirts are sold on every street corner in the city, and the value attached to them is the wearer's memory of their time in New York, rather than the fabric of the product itself. In this sense, the t-shirt's story is its brand - it's as much a souvenir as it is a piece of clothing. And, finally, the Miracle Mop was a product 'that did a lot of what other products did,' but one that told the story the value it would give to consumers, rather than bogging them down with product details. All of these products worked because they told stories bigger than the products, and the conflation of the two became the brand.
You'll have noticed that almost every brand has heavily bought into the idea put forward by Simon Sinek that 'People don't buy what you do, they buy why you do it.' It's fine to focus on what your product is, and it's fine to explain how it's made or the impact it can have, but the ultimate goal is to translate why you are making it. 'Explaining why this is important, providing the value of why this is important, this is what touches on that part of your brain called the limbic brain,' Eric says. 'The limbic brain is the part of your brain responsible for trust, emotion, and ultimately the reasoning behind a purchase. This is extremely important for brand storytelling, for advertising, for marketing.' You can see this in Uber's own advertising, in which it shows people seamlessly passing through different scenes with the back seats of an Uber ride as the transitionary space. Its marketing explains why Uber exists - to get you seamlessly from A to B.
But there is, as Eric explains, also opportunity to have this *why* inbuilt into the product itself, rather than just the brand. 'The importance of story not just about your product, but within your product is becoming more and more important.' Eric and his team then took this idea one step further and put together their own system for product content specifically. The first is the feature of the product you're proposing, in Eric's example a push notification that tells not just the person who ordered pizza that the food is on its way, but their entire family. The second is the function, how this feature is happening. And the third is the 'future', the why. 'The future that we are creating [in this example] is that we believe that Uber Eats should help you spend less time around the stove and more time around your family. So we're going to send a push notification 10 minutes before the food arrives so everybody can get together and set the table together. It's not just about sitting down and eating, it's about delivering a restaurant experience.'
It's from Eric's example that we can see how the why of the product, its story, can be inbuilt into the product feature itself. Rather than just presenting new features or products to customers, show them how it will impact their lives or what they will be able to achieve now that the product exists. And, crucially, show why this is important. Going back to Uber's advertising campaigns, the company mission of facilitating good times and getting people A to B is intrinsic within the product itself. One particular campaign featured a couple clearly on an initially awkward first date, yet hopping between locations seamlessly. Yes, Uber exists to facilitate this, but the advert goes further, showing customers why. We are led through the evening, at the end of which the two are clearly comfortable with each other and the date has been a roaring success - Uber's message here is that, while it's a functional and useful app, its real role is to take the hassle out of traveling so that you can focus on enjoying your evening, and it's well put across within the space of a minute.
In an age where almost any product can be reproduced or bettered with only a talented development team and easily obtainable investment, it's the brands that tell stories that will stand out. By linking the product to the branding, companies can encourage customers to associate the two, as in the case of Uber, a strategy that has more longevity than one catchy marketing campaign.