Building a strong brand is one of the most difficult tasks in business.  There are so many ‘moving parts’ that marketers must get right - from the strategy to the tactics and the creative.  The good news, though, is that despite the myriad of details, there is critical guidance that can meaningfully direct all branding.  In fact,  the brand model featured in my new book "Bridging The Gaps: The Love of Marketing" suggests that all consumer touch points should support just one broader consumer objective.  

o that end, there are two things that first must be uncovered:


Know your consumers' current identity.


This is a foundation of consumer marketing.  Beyond the demographics, really get in your consumers’ heads.  Understand what they think and what their values are.  What drives them physically and emotionally?  What keeps them up nights?  What gives them joy?  

Moreover, understand what role your brand plays in their lives. It’s easy to know the physical interaction.  Dig deeper to really understand the emotional relationship that they have with your brand and your category.  


Know your consumers' aspirational identity.


To connect most deeply with consumers, you've got to also understand the aspect of their identity that's focused on their hopes and dreams.   

Identity is a complex blend of “who we are” with “who we aspire to be”.   Understanding these nuances is critical to marketers because identity is like a "chip" that processes our experiences and produces emotions as a result. What we think and feel about something is a result of how it impacts us - both individually and socially.  And how something impacts us is a function of who we are (our identity) - driven by a variety of defining characteristics. 

So herein lies the consumer behavior rub. A huge part of our behavior is motivated by our desire to live out our aspirational identity.  We surround ourselves with people, products, and experiences that help to transform us into that vision.  Why?  Because actually being 'who we want to be' is one of the strongest and most positive boosts to self esteem.   It makes us feel great about ourselves; so we do things that put us in that emotional space as much as resources and circumstances allow.

With this established, here's the (rather logical) next step:

Figure out how your brand can transform your consumers into their aspirational identity.  

Think of identity as points on a number line.  If "A" represents current identity, and "B" represents aspirational identity, then - all things being equal - brands that create an emotional experience that transform consumers farther along from "A" to "B" will be the strongest brands with the greatest economic opportunity.  

So, those things and experiences that most aggressively put us in the emotional space of our aspirational identity are the things that make us feel the best about ourselves.  As a result, we are drawn to do more of those things because of it.  


Now, of course, some product categories have greater 'brand potential' than others.   If you’re marketing a car, cell phone, apparel, or some other product with high social visibility, then your job is easier.  The products that make us look the best in front of others have the greatest potential to positively impact self esteem and therefore have the greatest brand power. 

If, on the other hand, you’re selling pens, chewing gum, or paper cups, then the task might be more challenging.  Either way, leveraging your brand to help consumers realize their aspirational identity - whatever and however strong those brand assets are - is the key to maximizing brand (and business) opportunity.  

How does this play out in the marketplace?  The better a brand makes consumers feel, the greater consumers engage with that brand - financially, emotionally, etc.  

For example, if someone aspires to be a hip, tech savvy, creative sophisticate, then Apple might be the brand that best confirms that identity to the world.   It's an obviously strong brand that adds meaningfully to their consumers' identity in a positive way and, therefore, makes them feel great about themselves.  The strength of these good feelings explains why people pay inflated prices, stand in lines all night to buy their new products, and willingly display their logos on their cars.  Consumers get a lot from Apple, so they are willing to give a lot back in return.

Conversely, brands that confer less in the way of physical and emotional benefits, logically, get less back from consumers.

Bottom line: consumers experience and evaluate brands through the emotional filter of their identity.  The key to maximizing any brand’s business opportunity lies in 'bridging the gap' between your consumers’ current and aspirational identities.  As such, every consumer touch point should be in service to the objective of advancing them closer toward their aspirational identity.  By doing that, the good feelings that your brand will create in your consumers - like hits of a powerful drug - will be addictive and get them coming back again and again for more. 

This was an intentionally compressed post.  If you’re interested in learning more about this, click here.  If you’d like to discuss how to uncover the opportunities with your consumers and brands, please contact me: or 404.939.3004.


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Tags: aspirationalidentity, brand, brandstrategy, consumerbehavior, identity


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