Look Inside the Target’s Head: Seeking Inspiration Within Brands & Products

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Reaching your target is a lot easier when you know the brand well. It can be tough to nail down exactly what a brand is nowadays, though. Brand legend and American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA) medalist Walter Landor puts it this way: “Products are made in the factory, but brands are created in the mind.”

In the Harvard Business ReviewCase Study: Brands and Branding,” author Douglas B. Holt defines a brand in personal terms as “the product as experienced and valued by the customer in everyday life.”

However you best understand what a brand is, these quotes help clarify the marketing and business objectives you’ll encounter as you work on a brand. You’ll likely hear terms like brand differentiation, brand preference, and brand loyalty—these are some of the most sought-after goals in branding. Understanding what’s behind a brand will help you and your team tell stories using the tangible aspects of the brand.

You can break down the brand into a few components:

  1. The identity of the brand is expressed in its logo, typography, color palette, packaging, and retail environment. These elements often have some overlap.

  2. The tone of the brand is expressed in the attitude of the copy, voice-over, or composition of the layout.

  3. The values of the brand are expressed in the channels the brand’s messaging is communicated in, the associations or partnerships it fosters, and the processes the brand uses to do business (think recycling for environmental values, or charities the brand donates to for social or cultural values). I love this quote from publisher and author William Feather: “The philosophy behind much advertising is based on the old observation that every man is really two men—the man he is and the man he wants to be.” When you look closely, you can see that companies do indeed play to both the actual and aspirational components within their consumers. Be sure you are taking your client’s values into account when you think of creative solutions.

Always Focus on Your Target

Now for the target. When they need to be reminded, I’ll ask my creative teams, “Why do jeans have two legs?” Sensing that this may be a trick question but unsure why I’m asking something I clearly know the answer to, they respond with the obvious answer. The point is my version of the modern architectural and industrial design principle “form follows function.” The reason you design a print campaign should be that your target reads periodicals in paper format. The reason you create an app should be the quantifiable fact that a significant portion of your target uses smartphones.

It all starts from an intimate knowledge of your target. Their media behavior, or how they access their information, should determine where you communicate to them. With this understanding, it’s important that you research or are given a clear picture of whom you are talking to. This may seem obvious, but I am often surprised at how vague descriptions of the ideal customer for a product or service can be. I’ve seen targeting information written as “everyone who…” or “anyone that…” which are both the complete opposite of the definition of targeting and the word specific. If you aren’t given exact specifics in the form of demographics, psychographics, and behavioral and attitudinal characteristics, you are basically stabbing in the dark. Seek clarity from the appropriate people when your target isn’t clear or you may have to break the target down into segments yourself. You could do this by determining why the ideal customer seeks the brand product or service out in the first place and segmenting based on the pain point they are seeking to solve. You could determine whether you are reaching the target through an influencer as in the case of targeting a woman in order to drive purchase for a product made for her significant other. Its also possible to approach this by targeting a particular behavior that is desirable to the client. Doing this will save you and the creative team countless hours of execution time. Do it right or do it twice.

The Reasons Behind the Purchase

Maslow's Hierarchy[1]

As you get to know your target through studying their behavior, now you can seek to understand the values and psychology behind why they do what they do. Most marketing and business programs mention Maslow’s hierarchy of needs when delving into consumer behavior. If you look at the diagram, you’ll see that at the most basic level are the needs that sustain life itself, or biological and physiological needs. At the top is the more abstract need of self-actualization. When brainstorming creative approaches or developing potential solutions, try to understand the underlying motivation the target has for the product. This approach may inspire some interesting questions. For example, think of the “Reassuringly Expensive” tagline used by the Belgian lager Stella Artois from 1982 to 2007 in the UK. Though this was the creative business solution to turn a negative (higher prices due to import duties) into a positive, it makes the point that there is something deeper driving the outward behavior.

It also wouldn’t hurt to mention the Maslovian approach in your pitch, justification, or strategy if it helped you arrive at an insight. This could even raise trust (and eyebrows) among the suits when they hear that your creative solutions are rooted in principles of psychology. For example, if the target has an underlying need for esteem or status based on their lifestyle choices and purchase history, we would justify a crest design element, gold foil on the packaging, or the strategy to position the product as higher quality because of the price. It’s our job to understand and then leverage underlying motivations within the target to build a connection with the brand and be able to speak for it.

For more on this topic, check out the new book Creative Strategy and the Business of Design by Douglas Davis or visit thinkhowtheythink.com to see what’s inside.

About Douglas Davis

Brooklyn-based Douglas Davis enjoys being one of the variety of voices needed in front of and behind the concept, marketing plan or digital strategy. His approach to creativity combines right-brained creative problem solving with left-brained strategic thinking. His unique mix of creative strategy, integrated marketing and art direction is what Douglas brings into the boardroom or classroom. He is a former adjunct professor at New York University in the M.S. in Integ
rated Marketing program, current HOW Design university contributor and author of Creative Strategy and the Business of Design. Douglas holds an M.S. in Communications Design from Pratt Institute and a M.S. in Integrated Marketing from New York University. www.douglasdavis.com

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