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Iconic Brands and Identity Myths: How to Use Cultural Branding to Resolve Consumer Tensions and Anxieties



How Brands Become Icons: The Principles of Cultural Branding




Have you ever wondered how some brands become more than just products or services, but symbols of culture, identity, and values? How do brands like Coca-Cola, Harley-Davidson, Nike, or Apple transcend their functional benefits and create loyal fans, passionate advocates, and even movements? How do these brands become icons?




How Brands Become Icons The Principles Of Cultural Brandingtorrent



In this article, we will explore the concept of iconic brands and how they are created through a process called cultural branding. We will learn from the insights and examples of Douglas B. Holt, a professor of marketing at Harvard Business School and the author of How Brands Become Icons: The Principles of Cultural Branding. We will also provide some practical tips and resources for applying cultural branding to your own brand.


What is an iconic brand?




An iconic brand is a brand that has a strong symbolic meaning for consumers, beyond its functional benefits or attributes. An iconic brand represents a set of values, beliefs, ideals, or aspirations that resonate with consumers on an emotional level. An iconic brand also reflects and shapes the culture and society in which it operates.


Some examples of iconic brands are:


  • Coca-Cola: The brand that symbolizes happiness, optimism, and American values.



  • Harley-Davidson: The brand that symbolizes freedom, rebellion, and individualism.



  • Nike: The brand that symbolizes excellence, achievement, and empowerment.



  • Apple: The brand that symbolizes innovation, creativity, and differentiation.



These brands are not only successful in terms of sales or market share, but also in terms of creating a loyal fan base, a distinctive identity, and a lasting legacy. They are more than brandsthey are icons.


How is cultural branding different from conventional branding?




Cultural branding is a different approach to branding than conventional branding. Conventional branding focuses on creating a unique brand personality, a consistent brand image, and an emotional relationship with consumers. Conventional branding assumes that consumers choose brands based on their personal preferences, needs, or lifestyles.


Cultural branding, on the other hand, focuses on creating a powerful brand myth, a compelling brand story, and a social relationship with consumers. Cultural branding assumes that consumers choose brands based on their cultural identities, values, or aspirations. Cultural branding also recognizes that consumers are not passive recipients of brand messages, but active co-creators of brand meanings.


According to Holt, cultural branding is based on four principles:


  • Iconic brands address acute social tensions or contradictions that consumers face in their lives.



  • Iconic brands offer identity myths that resolve these tensions or contradictions in a culturally resonant way.



  • Iconic brands rely on cultural and political authority to legitimize their myths and differentiate themselves from competitors.



  • Iconic brands foster a community of loyal followers who share and co-author the brand myth.



We will explain each of these principles in more detail in the following sections.


How to target myth markets




The first step in creating an iconic brand is to identify and understand the myth market. A myth market is a segment of consumers who share a common cultural contradiction or anxiety that they want to resolve. A cultural contradiction or anxiety is a gap or tension between the ideal and the reality of a certain aspect of life, such as work, family, leisure, or identity.


For example, Holt identifies the following cultural contradictions or anxieties that some iconic brands have addressed:


  • Coca-Cola: The tension between the desire for happiness and the reality of stress and anxiety in modern life.



  • Harley-Davidson: The tension between the desire for freedom and individuality and the reality of conformity and bureaucracy in corporate America.



  • Nike: The tension between the desire for excellence and achievement and the reality of mediocrity and complacency in mass culture.



  • Apple: The tension between the desire for innovation and creativity and the reality of standardization and imitation in the technology industry.



To target a myth market, you need to conduct a cultural analysis of your potential consumers. You need to understand their values, beliefs, attitudes, behaviors, and lifestyles. You also need to understand their frustrations, challenges, aspirations, and dreams. You need to uncover the deeper meanings and motivations behind their choices and actions.


You can use various methods and sources to conduct a cultural analysis, such as:


  • Observing and interviewing consumers in their natural settings.



  • Analyzing consumer-generated content on social media, blogs, forums, or reviews.



  • Studying cultural trends, movements, events, or influencers that affect consumers.



  • Reviewing academic research, literature, or media that explore consumer culture.



How to compose the cultural brief




The second step in creating an iconic brand is to craft a cultural brief. A cultural brief is a document that summarizes the key insights from your cultural analysis and outlines the identity myth that your brand will offer to your myth market. An identity myth is a story that shows how consumers can resolve their cultural contradiction or anxiety by using your brand.


An identity myth has three main elements:


  • A protagonist: The consumer who faces the cultural contradiction or anxiety.



  • An antagonist: The source or cause of the cultural contradiction or anxiety.



  • A plot: The action or outcome that resolves the cultural contradiction or anxiety with the help of your brand.



For example, Holt provides the following identity myths for some iconic brands:


  • Coca-Cola: The protagonist is the stressed-out modern consumer who wants to enjoy life. The antagonist is the fast-paced, competitive, and demanding society that prevents happiness. The plot is that by drinking Coca-Cola, the consumer can experience moments of joy, optimism, and connection with others.



  • Harley-Davidson: The protagonist is the rebellious individualist who wants to express his true self. The antagonist is the conformist corporate culture that stifles freedom and creativity. The plot is that by riding a Harley-Davidson motorcycle, the consumer can escape from the mundane routine and join a community of like-minded outlaws.



  • Nike: The protagonist is the ambitious achiever who wants to excel in sports and life. The antagonist is the mediocre mass culture that discourages effort and excellence. The plot is that by wearing Nike products, the consumer can overcome any obstacle and reach his full potential.



  • Apple: The protagonist is the innovative creative who wants to make a difference in the world. The antagonist is the standardized technology industry that limits innovation and differentiation. The plot is that by using Apple products, the consumer can unleash his creativity and challenge the status quo.



How to leverage cultural and political authority




The third step in creating an iconic brand is to build cultural and political authority for your brand myth. Cultural and political authority is the degree of credibility and legitimacy that your brand myth has in the eyes of your myth market and the broader society. Cultural and political authority helps your brand myth stand out from the competition and gain acceptance and endorsement from influential sources.


There are two main ways to leverage cultural and political authority for your brand myth:


  • Aligning your brand myth with existing cultural codes or narratives that are widely recognized and respected in your myth market and society.



  • Partnering with or featuring cultural icons or leaders who have high cultural and political authority in your myth market and society.



For example, Holt explains how some iconic brands have leveraged cultural and political authority for their brand myths:


  • Coca-Cola: The brand aligned its myth of happiness with the American Dream, the cultural code of optimism, success, and freedom that defines American identity. The brand also partnered with or featured cultural icons such as Santa Claus, celebrities, athletes, and politicians who embodied happiness and American values.



  • Harley-Davidson: The brand aligned its myth of rebellion with the frontier myth, the cultural narrative of exploration, adventure, and independence that shaped American history. The brand also partnered with or featured cultural icons such as Marlon Brando, Elvis Presley, and Easy Rider who represented rebellion and individualism.



  • Nike: The brand aligned its myth of excellence with the sports myth, the cultural narrative of competition, achievement, and empowerment that inspires American culture. The brand also partnered with or featured cultural icons such as Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, and Serena Williams who exemplified excellence and achievement.



  • Apple: The brand aligned its myth of innovation with the Silicon Valley myth, the cultural narrative of entrepreneurship, creativity, and disruption that drives American technology. The brand also partnered with or featured cultural icons such as Steve Jobs, Pixar, and U2 who symbolized innovation and creativity.



How to manage brand loyalty as a social network




The fourth step in creating an iconic brand is to foster a community of loyal followers who share and co-author your brand myth. Brand loyalty is not just a matter of repeat purchases or satisfaction ratings, but a matter of social identification and participation. Brand loyalty is the degree to which consumers identify with your brand myth and engage with other consumers who share the same identity.


There are two main ways to manage brand loyalty as a social network:


  • Facilitating social interactions and connections among your loyal followers through online or offline platforms, events, or activities.



  • Encouraging user-generated content and feedback from your loyal followers that enriches and evolves your brand myth over time.



For example, Holt describes how some iconic brands have managed brand loyalty as a social network:


  • Coca-Cola: The brand facilitated social interactions and connections among its loyal followers by sponsoring or hosting events such as concerts, festivals, sports games, or charity campaigns that celebrated happiness and optimism. The brand also encouraged user-generated content and feedback from its loyal followers by launching campaigns such as Share a Coke, Open Happiness, or The Coke Side of Life that invited consumers to express their happiness and share their stories with Coke.



  • Harley-Davidson: The brand facilitated social interactions and connections among its loyal followers by organizing or supporting events such as rallies, rides, clubs, or museums that celebrated freedom and individuality. The brand also encouraged user-generated content and feedback from its loyal followers by launching campaigns such as Live by It, Ride Free Forever, or Find Your Freedom that invited consumers to customize their bikes, share their experiences, or join the Harley community.



  • Nike: The brand facilitated social interactions and connections among its loyal followers by creating or partnering with platforms such as Nike+, Nike Run Club, Nike Training Club, or Nike SNKRS that celebrated excellence and achievement. The brand also encouraged user-generated content and feedback from its loyal followers by launching campaigns such as Just Do It, Write the Future, or Find Your Greatness that invited consumers to challenge themselves, showcase their skills, or inspire others with Nike.



  • Apple: The brand facilitated social interactions and connections among its loyal followers by designing or opening spaces such as Apple Stores, Apple Music Festival, Apple Camps, or Apple Park that celebrated innovation and creativity. The brand also encouraged user-generated content and feedback from its loyal followers by launching campaigns such as Think Different, Shot on iPhone, or Today at Apple that invited consumers to express their creativity, share their work, or learn new things with Apple.



Conclusion




In conclusion, cultural branding is a powerful way to create iconic brands that resonate with consumers on a deeper level. Cultural branding is based on four principles: targeting myth markets, composing the cultural brief, leveraging cultural and political authority, and managing brand loyalty as a social network. By following these principles, you can craft a compelling brand myth that addresses the cultural contradictions or anxieties of your consumers and offers them a meaningful identity and a sense of belonging.


FAQs




What are some examples of successful cultural brands?




Some examples of successful cultural brands are Coca-Cola, Harley-Davidson, Nike, and Apple. These brands have created iconic brand myths that reflect and shape the culture and society in which they operate. They have also leveraged cultural and political authority to legitimize their brand myths and fostered a community of loyal followers who share and co-author their brand myths.


What are some challenges and risks of cultural branding?




Some challenges and risks of cultural branding are:


  • Cultural branding requires a deep understanding of consumer culture and society, which can be complex, dynamic, and diverse.



  • Cultural branding requires a consistent and authentic execution of the brand myth, which can be difficult to maintain over time and across markets.



  • Cultural branding requires a balance between staying relevant and staying distinctive, which can be challenging to achieve in a competitive and changing environment.



  • Cultural branding requires a careful management of the brand reputation and image, which can be vulnerable to crises, controversies, or backlash.



How can I apply cultural branding to my own brand?




To apply cultural branding to your own brand, you can follow these steps:


  • Conduct a cultural analysis of your potential consumers to identify their cultural contradictions or anxieties.



  • Craft a cultural brief that summarizes your key insights and outlines the identity myth that your brand will offer to your consumers.



  • Build cultural and political authority for your brand myth by aligning it with existing cultural codes or narratives and partnering with or featuring cultural icons or leaders.



  • Foster a community of loyal followers who share and co-author your brand myth by facilitating social interactions and connections and encouraging user-generated content and feedback.



How can I measure the effectiveness of cultural branding?




To measure the effectiveness of cultural branding, you can use various metrics and indicators, such as:


  • Brand awareness: The degree to which consumers recognize and recall your brand name, logo, slogan, or myth.



  • Brand equity: The degree to which consumers perceive your brand as valuable, unique, credible, or desirable.



  • Brand loyalty: The degree to which consumers identify with your brand myth and engage with other consumers who share the same identity.



  • Brand advocacy: The degree to which consumers recommend, promote, or defend your brand to others.



  • Brand impact: The degree to which your brand influences the culture and society in which it operates.



Where can I learn more about cultural branding?




To learn more about cultural branding, you can refer to these resources:


  • How Brands Become Icons: The Principles of Cultural Branding by Douglas B. Holt



  • Cultural Strategy: Using Innovative Ideologies to Build Breakthrough Brands by Douglas B. Holt and Douglas Cameron



  • The Hero and the Outlaw: Building Extraordinary Brands Through the Power of Archetypes by Margaret Mark and Carol S. Pearson



  • The Cultural Code: An Ingenious Way to Understand Why People Around the World Live and Buy as They Do by Clotaire Rapaille



  • The Power of Myth by Joseph Campbell



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