For a while in the 2000s, straplines became extremely popular. This went so far that even some government departments ended up with a catchy two or three words after their name. Behind all this were the valiant (but sometimes overzealous) efforts of branding specialists to attach verbal associations to a name. And some slogans have worked extremely well in advertising. "Just Do It", or "Because You're Worth It" ring any bells? Of course, Nike and L'Oréal have huge budgets and global televised campaigns which go a long way towards getting their strapline known and recognised. However, their success is in principle down to association. Nike’s slogan suggests a sporty, go-getter attitude, whereas L'Oréal appeal to luxury, indulgence and our sense of self-worth.
Associations and Trust Transference
Getting your brand associated with the correct values is one of the biggest challenges in branding. In order to achieve this goal, all messages a business sends out need to be consistent. Your logo, your advertising, your customer interaction, all need to send a consistent signal which reinforces your values.
Fortunately, for those of us who don’t have millions to throw at advertising, there’s a cheeky, cheap alternative. If our brain gets confronted with something new in the context of something it already knows and trusts, that makes it easier for the brain to accept and trust the new thing. The scientific name for it is trust transference. This phenomenon lets you hop onto someone else’s popularity bandwagon and borrow the trust they’ve already built up for your own business.
A good example for trust transference would be brands using celebrities in advertising. We don’t even know whether George Clooney really likes coffee. But he’s been on our TVs for years and years as a debonair character, and we feel we know him. We know what he stands for. So Nespresso is borrowing that association of class and (life)style to sell coffee – and become the biggest brand of home coffee appliances in the process.
Pop culture references in branding
A great way of using trust transference and adding spunk to a brand is by piggybacking onto popular culture themes. Popular or pop culture is anything that’s popular or hyped in entertainment. This can be anything from comics to films, games, or tv shows. It has become cool to be a geek, and pop culture is HUGE right now. And because many of the themes have been on our (mobile) screens and in our social spheres for so many hours, they are great vessels for trust transference. Because we all feel like we know them.
I met a young man recently who is a social media and digital efficiency consultant. On his profiles, he describes himself as a digital Jedi – and then stops. No long-winded explanations of what he does. Just, digital Jedi. And it works, because even if we didn’t have a super hyped new Star Wars film in cinemas right now, the concept of Jedi has been around for forty years. Even if you have never seen a Star Wars film, you will have heard of Jedi. They have mystical powers, are proficient diplomats, great and just warriors, and above all very cool. And just by using that term, said young man has immediately associated himself with all these values. Value attribution sorted, cost: zero.
It doesn’t have to be Super Heroes
Of course, yours truly here is a great fan of this branding method. We are, after all, using the image of a super hero to convey a sentiment of competence, empathy and justice. Of doing the right thing, perhaps even against the odds, and doing it in style. We’re a bunch of geeks so it works well for us, because we can play the super hero convincingly.
But it doesn’t have to be SciFi, or super heroes. Trust transference works with anything that is perceived in a similar way to how you want your brand to be perceived. It could be Dr Who, the Muppets, the Wurzels or Peter Rabbit – so long as your audience knows your reference material. There is no point in weaving great associations to an obscure theme that nobody will understand.
Not everyone will get it – but that’s OK
Using trust transference in branding automatically means that you have to declare for a team. This in turn means that there will be people in the other camp. People who don’t get it, who don’t get you. Wearing a super hero outfit to a trade show will get you noticed – some people will come up and talk to you just because they love the outfit, and others will hurry past and not want any part of it (this is personal experience talking). It means you can never be everybody’s cup of tea.
Polarising, however, can be very powerful. Yes, you’re running the risk of alienating some potential customers. But if they don’t get you as a business, wouldn’t it be quite difficult to work with them anyway? How much are we as businesses prepared to bend to our customers’ wishes?
Polarisation automatically weeds out the prospects who are not on a wavelength with you. Instead, it attracts people who are into the same stuff as you – allowing you to connect with them on a deeper level than purely transactional, leading to greater projects and better business-client relationships. Which in turn gets you a stronger brand. Yay!
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