brand inspiration

This post was inspired by a recent tweet from Gabriel Rossi, a “branding strategist” (as he calls himself) based in Sao Paulo — I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Gabriel through my blog and Twitter (one of the great things about social media is connecting with new folks like him).  Recently he twittered a question, “What brands inspire you?” and that got me thinking about what differentiates a brand that inspires from one that doesn’t.

I mean, there are some really great brands out there that don’t necessarily inspire people, right?  I’d list a few examples but I fear I might offend someone by naming a brand that does indeed inspire that person — and so that’s not my point.  Inspiration is quite a subjective, personal thing — and so, differentiating brands by their ability to inspire vs. not is probably not very instructive.

But perhaps a definition of inspiring brands might be helpful.  After all, I would think many brands aspire to be inspirational and so perhaps if we can agree on what makes a brand inspiring, that would provide some direction and guidance for brand-builders.

So here’s my suggestion — an inspiring brand is one that makes me want to be a better person.

as in, “you make me want to be a better man,” from the movie, As Good As It Gets. Thanks to Jack Nicholson’s memorable delivery of the line and the touching story of the movie itself, the idea of someone having such a profound effect on another has always stuck with me.  When someone challenges me to rethink who I am and how I think/feel/act so that I want to be a better person, I regard that person as inspirational.

And so it goes with brands.  For me, for example, Nike is a brand that inspires me.  I know, it sounds cliche, but I really feel like Nike not only “gets” me, they make me want to be a better person — they make me want to push beyond myself beyond what I think are my limits and to really accomplish something significant.  Naturally these feelings are in the realm of physical fitness and athletic achievement, but I don’t believe that diminishes their importance — bottom line, I’m inspired.

On the flip side, I realize part of my ambivalence to Frito-Lay‘s recently launched brand platform, Only In a Woman’s World, is because, for all its good, it doesn’t make me want to be a better person.  The platform is for the company’s health and wellness brands, Flat Earth, Baked, and Smartfood, which have all be re-vamped, expanded, and improved.  That a company which has been known for being synonymous with junk food has invested in such a platform is remarkable; the products themselves are quite good (almost too good!  can you pass more of those Tangy Tomato Ranch chips?!); and the communications campaign is funny and entertaining.

And yet, the platform tends to reinforce stereotypes and an unhealthy cultural phenomenon (i.e., women feeling guilty about snacking — you can read more about this on the Gender Bender blog).   So if I really think about it, I’ve come to realize that the brand makes me want to be a different person, not a better one (big difference) — it just doesn’t inspire me.

A few important points about this definition of an inspiring brand:

  1. the inspiration can’t just be an advertising message — the brand must inspire through everything it does — don’t think I really need to say more on this point.
  2. relatedly, the inspiration doesn’t have to be the advertising messageBounty paper towel’s select-a-size feature (which allows you to tear off smaller or larger pieces depending on the need) inspires me to use products (theirs and others) more responsibly; Jamba Juice‘s upbeat in-store experience inspires me to pass along positive energy to others; etc.
  3. the inspiration doesn’t have to be serious or significant — the quirky sense of humor of Ben & Jerry‘s inspires me to find the fun in every day and the eclectic collection of tastes and treats at Trader Joe’s inspires me to try new things
  4. inspiration is personal — as stated above, what is inspirational to one person may not be to another, so companies must be clear on who they’re targeting and how they can be inspired

I’m eager to hear your thoughts on this definition — comments, please!

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