How to build a brand tailored to your Product Intrinsic Attributes
The methodologies and tools available to create a brand strategy are countless. In this blog we have written about several of these methods, which at Little Buddha we use every day to help elevating all kinds of brands. The important thing to remember is that there is no multi-purpose solution that can be applied to all cases. Each client requires a tailor-made solution. And when talking about tailor-made solutions, the methodology based in intrinsic attributes that we will see today represents a very interesting option.
The idea is simple: The characteristics of the product (or service) that we offer must be reflected in the brand. Said more technically, there is a transfer of the intrinsic attributes of the product to the brand strategy. This means that these attributes can be perceived in the visual system of the brand, the packaging, and in the tone and content of the communication, among others.
Many implement this idea on a regular basis without having a name for it or without even acknowledging that they are doing it. However, some of the marketing departments of the largest brands in the world have methodologies where this idea plays a key role. This is the case of Coca-Cola, where in the past it was referred to as the “trickle up” methodology, in reference to the fact that the intrinsic attributes of each of the beverages had to trickle or spill towards their brand strategies. But before moving on to the examples, let’s see a small illustration of the concept.
Tabla de contenido
- The Three-Layer Model
- Strategy determined by your product intrinsic attributes
- Strategy independent of your product intrinsic attributes
- Emotional benefits independent of your product intrinsic attributes
- Emotional Benefits based on your product intrinsic attributes
- Example: Burger King vs. McDonald’s
1. The Three-Layer Model
First, we have three layers: The intrinsic attributes of the product, the brand strategy, and everything that is derived from the brand strategy and seen by the customer. In the illustration that follows we can see some examples of the elements that make up each layer.
Then, there are two options:
- The brand strategy is determined by the intrinsic attributes.
- The brand strategy is independent of the intrinsic attributes.
Let’s delve into the first case…
2. Strategy determined by your product intrinsic attributes
This is the case where we use the intrinsic attributes of the product to develop the brand strategy and thus impact what the customer sees. The visual and verbal system of the brand, the tone and content of the communication, the packaging, and the label, among others, will be “coloured” by the intrinsic attributes of the product.
Let’s analyse a simple example: Fanta. Due to its sweetness and orange flavour, it is intended for a young audience, with palates that seek to quench their thirst for sugar. This, added to the fact that the color orange is associated with a cheerful tone, made Fanta the perfect brand to develop a strategy that values playfulness and humor. The result is clear. First, the name Fanta is derived from the word “fantasy”. Second, the logo is asymmetric, playful, and includes an orange leaf. And third, the bottle is twisted as if it were an orange being squeezed, with grooves and dots that represent the segments of the fruit and the drops of juice. Just looking at the bottle it is evident that Fanta has used the intrinsic attributes of the product to build its brand essence.
Now, let’s see the second case in more detail. It will help us expand our set of tools to develop more flexible branding strategies.
3. Strategy independent of your product intrinsic attributes
The brand strategy—and what the customer sees—can be independent of the intrinsic attributes of the product. However, this does not mean that these layers are completely dissociated. Almost all strategies will at least mention things such as the taste or the functional benefits of the product. The key point is that the intrinsics will not anchor or be the focus of brand strategy. Instead, as we will see in the next section, the strategy’s goal will be to communicate and represent some other thing, that may or may not be compatible with the intrinsics.
This second scenario is not bad—nor good—in itself. As we mentioned, each case requires its own solution. In fact, there are many super successful brands that do not use this methodology. One reason for opting for the second option, for example, is for the brand to communicate emotional attributes. When this happens, we have two options: The emotional benefits are detached from the intrinsic attributes, or not. Let’s start with the latter.
4. Emotional benefits independent of your product intrinsic attributes
Many brands decide to build their brand strategies based on emotional benefits not directly associated with the intrinsic attributes of the product. This is the case of Geico. A car insurance can never be “fun”, but the company created a brand that plays with absurdity and humor anyways. Why?
Geico’s strategy is probably designed to impact and thus boost audience recall, but it has a deeper rationale. A brand built based on emotional benefits and not on the intrinsic attributes of the product has more flexibility in its positioning strategy. This, in turn, helps the brand to differentiate itself from the competition, which in frequently offer products with very similar characteristics.
Geico is not tied to the characteristics of its insurance (its price, response speed, transparency, etc.). This means that the company can communicate a wide spectrum of emotional benefits that, in principle, have no obvious relation to its product. In Geico’s case, the constant use of humor tries to communicate an emotional benefit associated with lightness, simplicity, and good vibes. A way of suggesting that this is how its clients live. However, the connection with the intrinsic attributes of the product is not clear as in the case of Fanta. Therefore, we say that the strategy is anchored to an emotional benefit regardless of the intrinsic ones.
The potential risk of a strategy like this is that the brand’s value proposition may not credible. By being focused on emotional benefits unrelated to the product’s intrinsics, our audience may doubt our promise. In fact, this is one of the reasons why some years ago Coca-Cola transitioned from “open happiness” to “taste de feeling”. While the first slogan promises happiness without a clear rational to back its promise, the second anchors the emotional benefit to the intrinsic product.
5. Emotional Benefits based on your product intrinsic attributes
In this section we will look at how brands can communicate different emotional benefits, all based on the same intrinsic attributes. This flexibility that intrinsic attributes give us is particularly important for those products that tend to be a commodity. In other words, those products that do not differ significantly from the competition, as is the case with deodorants.
What is the difference between an Axe and a Dove deodorant?
At the intrinsic level, there is hardly any: both smell good, and both protect against sweat. In fact, we would not be surprised if the chemical composition of both products were very similar. After all, they both belong to Unilever. However, their branding strategies communicate very different emotional benefits, aimed at very different audiences.
Axe is intended for teens, and the connection between the intrinsic and the emotional benefit is clear: “the scent of Axe will make you more attractive”. On the other hand, Dove Men targets an audience of super active men: “Our super resistant and skin-friendly deodorant is what you need to live a full and successful life.” The emotional benefit and its connection to the intrinsic product are clear, but clearly different from the Axe case.
Having developed all these analysis tools, let’s make a comparison between two brands of the same category that we all know.
6. Example: Burger King vs. McDonald’s
In the fast-food category, part of what makes the Burger King vs. McDonald’s battle so epic is that these brands have very different strategies. We cannot specify in detail the elements of each strategy, but it is evident that Burger King has decided to impregnate all visible aspects of the brand with its intrinsic product, while McDonald’s has taken the opposite position.
From the name and the isologo to the visual system, everything in the Burger King brand screams burgers. This may be the result of a strategy that aims to present the company as more natural than its main competitor (with burgers made on the grill, larger, more “real”). Meanwhile, with the clown Ronald as its symbol, McDonald’s historically chose to place more emphasis on the emotional benefits of eating at its restaurants. It makes sense that the brand has taken a different track.
In case it was not clear…
McDonald’s clearly communicates a much more emotional value proposition. Its “happy meal” is the perfect display. Instead of coloring the packaging with the intrinsic characteristics of the product, we have an anthropomorphized and “happy” box. In addition, the box includes vibrant colors meant to arouse strong emotions, but that have nothing to do with hamburgers.
Burger King’s value proposition is less ambitious and, in a sense, less risky. The brand strategy communicates features that the customer can easily verify. It is just a matter of eating a hamburger and checking whether it is true or not that it is more “natural” than the competition. On the other hand, McDonald’s strategy is more ambitious and riskier. What does this hamburger have that is going to make me happy? What is going to make me love it? It is not explained; there is no clear tangible rationale. Everything rests on the persuasive power of the brand. A power of persuasion that is strongly tied to the brand’s reputation and not to the product.
In this article, we presented an analysis of the role that the intrinsic characteristics of a product can play in brand strategy. As we can see in the examples, there are brands with very successful strategies based on the product’s intrinsics. However, there are also those who decide to take another path, such as communicating a series of emotional benefits. This strategy, in turn, can be connected to the product’s intrinsics by making clear how the intangible benefit is derived from tangible characteristics. As always, there are no formulas. Creativity coupled with strategic thinking is the only way to produce a tailored solution.