6 Branding Lessons you can learn from Teenagers
Brands are kind of like teenagers – they want to be popular and have everyone like them. In the effort to be the cool kid on the block, brands make many of the same mistakes that teenagers do in their quest for coolness.
- Cool but Irrelevant
Lots of teenagers and brands fall into this… they are “cool” or “popular” but aren’t particularly relevant or interesting and after a while, nobody cares.
Social media marketing provides a good example of this. If you create a ___(insert social media account here)____ with no clear purpose, you can still attract a following and become popular – on twitter you can follow a ton of people (some will follow you back), on facebook you can spam everyone you know to build up your pages. While you may appear popular, the reality is that if you aren’t doing something meaningful this popularity won’t actually result in any tangible benefit (or ROI).
Start with the objective and work your way to the tactics. You’ll know that you are doing something relevant when people want to follow you and participate. Popularity is not an end in itself. Especially fake social media popularity.
- People will Judge a Book by its Cover – How you Look Matters
I know, your parents told you “Don’t judge a book by its cover” but the reality is that most people will, which is why there is a huge industry in designing and testing book covers. The reality is that how you look on the outside does matter – and it says a lot about how you choose to express yourself.
In branding you brand identity or equity or character only comes to life in the visual cues that you present to your audience… the logo, your copy, how your product looks and feels, the fonts you choose the colors on your site. It doesn’t matter what you think your brand equity is, it matters what your audience thinks for brand is about. Much like how you can tell what a teenager is trying to express about themselves through their wardrobe – goth, punk, preppy, etc – your customers will determine what you are trying to express about yourself by the tangible and visible interactions they have with you.
- Trying too hard
Everyone knows one of these kids from highschool – the kid who tries soooo hard to fit in but never quite makes it.
Why does the kid who tries to hard not work? Shouldn’t hardwork and determination produce the desired results? Sometimes if you have to try that hard it just isn’t meant to be. In the world of branding (and the world of teens) it often means that you are trying to be something you aren’t. Typically, the kids who try to hard are actually interested in music or chess or drama or geekiness but want to fit in with the “cool kids” so they pretend to be interested in different things. The reality is that it just isn’t them. This goes for brands too.
If you find yourself trying too hard, you have to step back and evaluate the core issues. Are you trying to be something that isn’t a good fit with your company, products or services? Can you maintain a genuine brand identity in the long-term if you have to try that hard?
- Not Knowing who you are
Teenagers tend to be little balls of confusion – they don’t really know who they are or what they stand for. As a result, they can sometimes be easily led astray by outside influences.
The same goes for brands. If you don’t have a clear branding strategy and know who you are and what your brand is about, you can quickly be led astray by off-equity opportunities or unrelated projects. These can actually detract from your brand by creating an unclear picture of what you are all about.
What do your customers value? What is your unique strategy or advantage in the industry? What about your company do people connect with? Determining what you are about is important – know who you are. Once you know who you are make choices that are consistent with it.
- Doing it just because it’s Cool
Teenagers do this all the time – in music, events, clothes, etc…. They do things just because they are cool.
More and more brands are making this mistake online. They are rushing to participate in twitter, have a blog, get a facebook page (or worse an application), etc. just because they are *cool*. Start with a marketing objective and a target. Assess how you want to communicate. Look at a variety of tools. Envision your target – is there a compelling reason for them to communicate with you on that medium? Can you create one? What do they get out of it? Are you adding value?
Don’t rush to shiny new stuff because it is cool – use it because it is the best way to achieve a marketing goal and connect with your target.
- Lack of Commitment
Parents often complain that their kids show a lack of commitment – they get excited really fast and want to try something new (sports, musical instruments, etc) and after a short effort, when it becomes apparent that real work and commitment are required, they give it up, before they have really put in enough time to have any chance of making it work.
The same goes for brands. You need to have a long-term commitment to your customers and to bringing your brand identity to life. The best branding doesn’t happen over night – it takes time to develop materials and touch-points with customers that are consistent with the brand.
At the same time, you don’t want to keep on a track that will never work. Evaluate and rework often, but don’t jump ship before you give something a shot.
Remember: If it looks like a dog but swims like a duck people will mistrust it.