2 Steps to Making Brand Transformations Stick
My wife and I are big fans of the new "Queer Eye" on Netflix. We’re into the second season, and the guests have been a splendid variety of people from Atlanta and Kansas City. From an older, single, heavily-whiskered straight gentleman to a young, single gay woman redefining her space, all the people featured fit into the paradigm of a great story.
Like I wrote about in "5 Aspects of Storytelling," the essential element of a story is a hero who faces a villain, meets a mentor, and then transforms. In each of the Queer Eye episodes, the Hero (the guest), has an internal villain. There’s a block or a weight that prevents the guest from moving on to the best version of themselves. Then through discovery, love, compassion, and talent, the Mentor (“Fab Five”) help to pull the person out of his/her funk through a Journey, and arrive at a visibly better transformation. It sure seems authentic to me, and the follow-up articles online seem to reinforce that the transformations seem to stick.
It’s a remarkable show about a fundamental, and beautiful, part of our human nature: an innate ability to transform.
We — all of us, at our core — want to transform to a better version of ourselves. Every healthy person I’ve ever known wants to get better. We often don’t know the path forward, are perhaps too scared to make a first step, or are possibly afraid of failing to transform. We frequently get in our own way.
Yet the keys to personal transformation — as evidenced in Queer Eye — is calling upon the best part of our nature. Each person’s backstory — and their struggle point — is revealed through the discussions s/he has with the mentors of Queer Eye.
And what is also revealed is his or her salient positive quality. Whether it’s kindness, tenacity, devotion, it’s there. Everyone has one. What the Fab Five do is artfully amplify that positive quality to push the transformation powerfully forward. At the end of the show, the person's transformation — driven from their salient positive quality — is visible to their cohort, family, and friends.
I’ve mentioned before that I believe brands are like people. They have the same traits — personality, trust, a purpose — and are subject to analogous journeys. And one necessary journey that a brand will go through is transformation.
Since an Immutable Law of The Universe is that everything changes, brands need to adapt. Yet just like people, they need to adapt while remaining true to their core traits. So when a brand goes through a transformation, look at two simple steps that Queer Eye teaches us about personal transformation: Shine a light on Your Salient Trait … then Amplify.
Step 1: Shine a Light on Your Salient Trait
Brands like Coca-Cola have the challenging job of remaining relevant in a world that recognizes that Coke isn’t healthy. We all know it’s not physiologically good for you to drink it. It has syrup, carbonation, and a degree of unnatural chemistry. There isn’t a single medical professional today who would recommend that you exclusively drink Coca-Cola instead of water.
Coca-Cola has had to continually transform its brand to stay relevant. It does this by continually revealing its salient quality: people feel happier when they drink it. It’s fun. It tastes yummy and bubbly. It’s a pleasure and a treat. Coca-Cola’s purpose is not to make you healthier … it’s to make you happier.
If you search “Coca Cola Happiness” on YouTube, you’ll find dozens of consistent, focused ads that speak to what they’re about. This is an older one, but one of my favorites, and it’s all about Coca-Cola’s salient trait:
Step 2: Amplify
Every brand has something they do well. And if you’re transforming your brand, you need to make sure that everyone knows the transformation is real and authentic. Everyone you know who has made a real, deep, lasting positive change in his or her life proudly communicates that change one way or another.
Brands need to do the same thing when they transform. The best ones continually remind the market — and their audience — of who they are, what they do well, and why they should be remembered. They simply don't let up.
Southwest Airlines does a brilliant job of amplification. While they had a run marketing low fares — which is helpful to most travelers — Southwest’s salient trait is that they treat everyone just like folks.
Their positioning and messaging reinforces that their brand is not about a luxurious, special, stylish airline travel experience. It’s about folks getting other folks to places to meet folks. Just us and everyone.
Check out their ads. New digital ads show their employees in travel destinations. The walkways to the plane show photos of real, happy Southwest employees, with their names, who welcome you on the plane.
YouTube commercials that are focused on the trips we all take, and why we take them, are consistent with this. They continue to transform — some might say evolve or refine — their brand and continue to amplify their salient trait.
If your brand is going through a transformation — and I’d argue that it should be continuously transforming — remind yourselves what your brand’s salient trait is, and make sure you’re amplifying it. If you do, you’ll make your audience believers. As always, I welcome your comments.
Chris Foster has been teaching Brand Strategy and Positioning at UCSD Extension since 2009. He has lead professional workshops and presented at numerous San Diego Marketing Association events as well as national events for the Direct Marketing Association; been guest lecturer at SDSU Marketing Courses; and participated in numerous professional panels.
For the past 20 years he has worked in all aspects of marketing and creative direction for start-up, growing, and established business environments. He has a passion for helping any-sized business transform their brand so they can more authentically connect with their audience.