The Permanent Brand

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Have you ever read a book about branding?

When you study the art of branding, any good book on the subject will – at some point early on – turn to the neologism of the word "branding" in terms of marketing and communications. Inevitably, there is some quaint reference to cows being branding with a hot iron stick as an identifier. Because branding is all about leaving a mark (emotional, physical, you name it). An impression. A feeling. A sentiment. We live in a day and age when people not only tattoo their bodies with brands (everything from corporate logos like Harley Davidson and Budweiser to Apple and the rock band KISS), but have what Kevin Roberts (CEO Worldwide of the advertising agency, Saatchi & Saatchi) dubbed a "Lovemark" (a brand that delivers, "loyalty beyond reason"). If you have ever waited in line for an Apple product, you know what this means.

The unreasonable penchant of being attached to something.  

There is no doubt that great advertising can inspire us to do more. To be more. There are only a handful of brands that have truly transcended traditional advertising to become iconic embodiments of our zeitgeist. Whether it was the inspiration of Nike‘s simple sentiment of, "just do it" for the mass majority to get up off of the couch, put the Doritos down and take on some form of daily exercise, or Apple’s ability to encourage us to "think different" by using technology to help us create and connect more to a greater society. It wasn’t just about sneakers or computers after those ads hit the airwaves, it was about becoming something more. What happens when brands can create something more than an advertisement to sell, engage and connect with consumers in a much deeper and more profound way? We are in the midst of this discovery, and while the line-ups may not be that much more significant at the tattoo parlor, it’s clear that consumers are lining up to get more personal, connected and have a moment-by-moment connection to a brand. Something more permanent. It’s something that few brands could have done without a multi-million dollar advertising campaign, but now it’s coming down to technology, social media, big data and utilitarianism marketing.

The age of the permanent brand.

"When did you hit your goal?" The question was asked more times that I could count last week in Las Vegas while attending a conference. They were talking about their NikeFuel goals, of course. It seems like people everywhere have traded in their Livestrong yellow wristbands for Nike’s latest innovation, the Nike+ FuelBand. Much has already been written about the technology and gamification of an active lifestyle that Nike delivers with this hybrid of watch, accelerometer, online social network, and digital physical activity drill sergeant. So, if you’re not meeting your pre-defined physical activity for a day, expect your wristband to blink you into action or face the shame of having your feeble points posted to your Facebook timeline. What’s even more fascinating is how there, on your wrist, each and every waking (and sleeping) moment lives the Nike brand. It becomes even more a part of you then when you slip on your swoosh-emblazoned runners for your daily jog. The brand is permanently there, jolting you into action, applauding your accomplishments and branding you for all eternity.

The next generation of the connected appliance.  

While Samsung was busy debuting their T9000 refrigerator at CES that features an-iPad like, connected screen built in to the fridge that can serve up recipes based on what’s inside or allow you to use Evernote to create a communal shopping list with the family (lest we forget the Unilever tie-in for coupons!), the true evolution of the connected appliance could well be something we wear (along with those things that make our toast and clean our dishes). Just last week, The New York Times, ran an article titled, At Disney Parks, a Bracelet Meant to Build Loyalty (and Sales), which gave consumers a first glance at the pending vacation management system called, MyMagic+. Guests at Disney will wear their MyMagic+ bracelet which will include everything from their credit card information and hotel room key to alerts for when it’s their turn on a ride and being able to pre-select from the Web certain VIP experiences prior to travel that will be embedded in the MagicBand. All the while, Disney gets to track your every move: "MagicBands can also be encoded with all sorts of personal details, allowing for more personalized interaction with Disney employees. Before, the employee playing Cinderella could say hello only in a general way. Now — if parents opt in — hidden sensors will read MagicBand data, providing information needed for a personalized greeting: ‘Hi, Angie,” the character might say without prompting. “I understand it’s your birthday.’"  

Marketing towards the permanent brand.

Advertising is starting to feel slightly stale, isn’t it? From branded apps on smartphones to connected appliances, we’re now starting to see brands creep on to our bodies with robust and personalized technology that people not only don’t seem to mind, but that they are generally enthused about. Consumers love having their Amazon Price Check app at the ready to ensure that they’re getting the best price possible while at the store level and, in doing so, seem to have little issue with Amazon capturing all of this highly personal and usable data about retail, pricing and how we flow through a store for them to capitalize on. Privacy and hacking concerns notwithstanding, brands that have emotional connections with consumers will be doing everything they can (and more) to further deepen this direct relationship as technology, data and our inherent desire to be connected continues to blossom.

Are you starting to feel a little bit more like that cow being prodded with a hot iron stick? 

The above posting is my twice-monthly column for the Harvard Business Review. I cross-post it here with all the links and tags for your reading pleasure, but you can check out the original version online here:


  1. Welcome to the world of the subconscious human spirit. Creators of all religions have known and practiced Permanent Branding since immemorial times. Never mind the hassle of an overnight stay in line to satisfy your inner soul, or the painful long lasting scar of a red hot branding iron. How about going to war and killing others that don’t agree with the brand of your “spiritual” brand. Strange, primitive creatures we are.

  2. All great stuff yet thousands of companies still think advertising through plastering their name on any flat surface, asking for likes, and counting up followers is branding. Now, what’s for dinner?

  3. It reminds me of a statement I once heard at a conference regarding Harley Davidson (paraphrased), “you know you have achieved your goal when your customers tattoo your brand on their arms.” Being a technologist and marketer, I appreciate the connectivity to the customer in the Disney example yet as a consumer I bristle at the privacy invasion which is summarily dismissed by the author’s comment, “Privacy and hacking concerns notwithstanding…” But I’ve never been one to run with the crowd

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