Marty Neumeier, Director of Transformation at Liquid Agency, has contributed one of the most significant pieces of literature for aspiring marketers and advertisers in the past decade. The Brand Gap successfully communicates the essence of brands and the implications of branding for marketers, designers, and advertisers in an easy-to-read whiteboard overview, only 147 pages long (plus extras).
Neumeier’s first discipline in bridging the gap between business strategy and design is ‘Differentiate’. He gives us three simple questions:
1) Who are you?
2) What do you do?
3) Why does it matter?
The first two questions are much easier to answer than the third, but compelling answers to all three are necessary to communicate an irresistible brand. Whether a communication problem involves marketing products and services online, or building an online community these questions offer a glimpse of brand personality and character so that consumers can decide if they want to belong to its tribe.
Neumeier uses John Deere to demonstrate a brand that gets differentiation. Here are their answers:
“We’re John Deere.”
“We make farm tractors and related equipment.”
“It matters because generations of farmers have trusted our equipment.”
According to Neumeier, brands that want to achieve “charismatic” status—any product or service for which consumers believe there is no substitute—it is fundamentally necessary to get this discipline right. In emerging media, such as online marketing and blog communities, consumers are taking more and more control of brand conversations. For this reason it is imperative for brands to tell their story in compelling and transparent ways that build trust with consumers.
What makes Neumeier’s suggestions compelling to me are his consistencies in regard to differentiation and telling brand stories since his earliest conversations about branding. In a 2003 interview he said, “A thing doesn’t need a circle-R to be a brand. It just needs to be differentiated in a way that has meaning in somebody’s life.” For online communications to avoid the failure of branding exhibited by dot-com companies in the late 90s, they must begin with an understanding of what a brand actually is. Then answer three simple questions in a compelling and transparent way.