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How Brands Build Character: Unearthing the enviable strength and depth of intentional brands.

Some of the most dynamic figures of our culture today possess remarkable depth. In a world where everyone competes for attention in our social media feeds, a combination of extraordinary qualities and ordinary vulnerabilities cause certain figures to break out in the zeitgeist. For example, at 19, Billie Eilish is perhaps the most precocious artist of our time. Yet, she’s also been dubbed by EOnline as, “your relatable best friend” because she admits she, “almost pooped my pants” after discovering Britney Spears dances to her songs. She also is open and transparent about her mental health struggles, giving a voice to similar issues that afflict many of her fans. In the fictional realm, Joaquin Phoenix’s deep, textured take on The Joker was one for the ages. This award-winning portrayal brought to life the story of Arthur Fleck, the man behind the Joker, who battled mental health struggles, suffered from a nervous condition that causes him to laugh uncontrollably at improper moments, and faced unending ridicule and torment. This backstory creates sympathy and a new dimension to the Joker’s origin story. Why does our culture reward depth? Here at Egg, we’re curious what this cultural penchant for character depth means for brands who seek relevance.

First off, we’re processing far more information than ever before. According to a 2015 article from Fast Company, in 2011, Americans took in five times as much information every day as they did in 1986. The key to being memorable in today’s world of information overload is to increase mental availability. In a recent AdWeek article, JoAnn Sciarrino, Executive Director of Creative Sciences and Measurement for Hearts & Science, defined mental availability as, “the propensity of a brand being noticed or coming to mind in as many buying or consumption occasions as possible, fueled by a vast array of associations in consumers’ mind.” Billie Eilish comes to mind not just for her artistry, but also for her refreshing humanity. The Joker is conjured not just from associations as a villain, but also from associations with mental health struggles and sympathy for his tough road in life. Being memorable in today’s culture of information overload requires both strength and depth of associations.

Nike is one of the strongest examples of how a brand can build strength and depth of associations. Nike exists to move the world forward through the power of sport, and the brand has achieved cultural juggernaut status by bringing this brand purpose to life for decades. More recently, the Nike team recognized that many athletes struggle to find a suitable hijab for sport, and acknowledged this inequity prevents equitable progress. Recognizing the opportunity, Nike launched a line of hijabs and swimwear for women who wear a hijab. Positive press coverage helped Nike strengthen its association with sport and performance and brought new dimension to Nike’s purpose and persona.

For brands to win consumers’ mental availability, brands must possess depth. It’s easy to immediately turn to new brand campaigns as a solution, but the effort ought to begin with brand foundations, namely brand archetypes. Born from Swiss psychologist Carl Jung’s assertion that all humans have one dominant trait that characterizes motivations and outward perceptions, brand archetypes help brand teams define a brand’s personality with clarity. This brand archetype framework can help teams establish a brand purpose, evaluate and develop creative communications, and even assess new product opportunities. Historically, however, these brand archetypes have been one-dimensional, focusing on one dominant trait with little room for the depth of character that’s so vital today. Within the limited confines of a one-dimensional archetype, it’s hard to align on how a brand comes to life in response to the ebb and flow of culture, creative briefs become diluted regurgitations of past work, and brands struggle to build and maintain mental availability, as a result. If cultural relevance demands depth, it’s time our archetypes evolve to set a better foundation. Here are some provocations for how to evolve several popular archetypes to help brands create stronger mental availability through greater depth of character:

  • Outlaw: The rule-breaking radical who takes the path less traveled
    • Build: What does an outlaw brand like Harley Davidson see that others are
      missing out on
  •  Creator: The artist, innovator, and dreamer who is driven by free-flowing creativity
    • Build: Where does a creator brand like Kodak find inspiration?
  •  Innocent: The optimist who seeks simplicity and happiness
    • Build: How can an innocent brand like Toys R Us break down barriers in the way
      of our happiness?

Like many things in marketing, this practice is both an art and science. The purpose of this exercise is to encourage creative thinking that paves the way for flexible, responsive, multi-faceted expressions of brand purpose that keep brands memorable over time. Wondering how to make your brand more memorable? Let’s chat.