Interpretive Branding

An important question to ask yourself is “what does my brand say to other people?” We all have a clear idea of the message we think we are putting out into the world. Some sort of a combination of personal history and aspirations for the future. We do this for ourselves and with our businesses. However, we often forget to consider how the messages our associations are putting out into the world are affecting our brand identities.

I live and work in a fairly small city where one of the most controversial decisions you can make is which elementary school you are going to send your child to. There is only one middle school and one high school, so everyone ends up together by 7th grade but the cultures of the different public elementary schools are all fundamentally unique from one another. When people in town discover that you have children, the first question they asks is “Which school does/will/did your child attend?” in order to assess the type of person you are based on the pre-conceived ideas of the people they have met that have chosen that particular school. These ideas don’t necessarily have anything to do with the facts of who you are, but to dismiss them isn’t necessarily wise. The need to assess a situation is a fundamental part of figuring out the world around us and it will happen every time someone encounters your brand, just as it does when they encounter you in social situations.

People will make assumptions about your brand/business based on their previous experiences with brands that identify as similar to your business. They may know nothing about what product you are selling or service you are offering, but they will already have ideas of what your business represents. If you go to a national chain home improvement to buy a home appliance, you know which products to expect and, even if you aren’t familiar with the names of some of the brands, you have an idea of what their quality, pricing, and features will likely be. You don’t expect to find a high-end Italian professional quality stove and you likely won’t find one there. The same could be said for going to the smaller showroom that carries those stoves, you don’t expect to and won’t likely see the $350 white enamel open burner stand-alone range.

Before the launch or relaunch of any brand or business, it is important to have a clear understanding of who your competitors are, what they are offering, and how consumers perceive them. It’s important to know who their target demographic is and why they gravitate toward that brand. It’s also critical to look beyond your competitors and ask the same questions about the brands and businesses that they choose to associate with as well. Once you have the answers to these questions, you will be able to address your future brand identity in a more strategic way, not just focusing on the personal view of what you think makes your brand special, but instead looking toward the things about your business and it’s associations that will create a brand identity for customers to interpret.

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