There are basically three levels of a brand with each level building on the previous level. Many brands will only ever reach level one or two and build successful businesses just the same. Success is not limited to reaching the highest level of branding however, brands that reach the highest level are usually leaders in their categories and often command a premium value and price.
The base level is grounded in logical connections (think left brain) and the expectation of the customer is that the product will simply work the way they expect it to. The next level goes beyond the functional level and introduces an emotional connection to the brand. Brands that operate on an emotional level are companies like car brands, fashion apparel brands, cosmetic brands and so on. More than what these products do for you (functional), it is about how they make you feel (emotional) about using the brand. The third and highest level is immersive (think right brain) and more than how these products make you feel it is about how they define who you are – sort of a badge of honor. These are brands like Nike, Apple, Disney, Starbucks.
The first brand level is functional meaning how a product or service works. Every brand has a basic promise they are “selling” and sort of a nonnegotiable position the product or service is expected to deliver. Virtually every business and brand begins with a foundation of functional capability and many build successful businesses that never move beyond this level. Every business must be a solid functional brand to be successful.
Imagine a beverage company where nothing was consistent and the flavor was always changing, the ingredients were changing and it was difficult to rely on them. You would lose confidence in the brand and very likely stop using and buying the product. Think of commoditized products like hardware nuts and bolts, shampoos, generic store brands and so on. These products build their relationship with the customer based on a simple expectation of “how they work.” It’s not that there’s a lack of opportunity to move to a higher brand level it’s just the business operates fine without being more than their promise – in almost all cases these brands mainly focus on price and distribution.
The second level is emotional and introduces emotional feelings the customer associates towards the brand about the benefits the product delivers. This emotional level is where many brands live and they spend a lot of time and money positioning the brand and communications to build their image to reflect those feelings. Brands like United – “Fly the Friendly Skies”, Chase Bank – “Freedom”, Bounty – “The Quicker Picker Upper” or even Walmart - ”Always the Low Price Leader, Always.” Most of these types of companies spend significant investments on media like TV, radio, print through advertisements that deliver there message. Brands know they are successful as an emotional brand when customers begin reciting their brand messages whenever they see their brand logo or hear the brand jingle.
The third and highest level is immersive and more than how a product/service makes you feel these brands begin to define who you are and what you stand for. Brands like Disney, Apple, Starbucks, Nike, Under Amour, Lulu Lemon and so on are great examples of companies that build meaningful enterprises at an immersive brand level. These brands have solid functional products and services that create positive feelings for the customer and on top of that they immerse their customers in a sense of purpose – something meaningful that the customer believes in.
Among the attributes these brands and companies have is a very clear vision of who they are, what they stand for and why they exist. Many of these brands have products that are means to something of a higher purpose. For example Starbucks purpose is to be the “Third Place” between work and home. Apple provides products that unlock people’s creativity. Disney entertainment creates experiences that deliver life long memories. All of these companies are connecting with customers at the highest emotional level and become important parts of people’s life stories. These brands understand the power of story telling and how their story helps customers to connect to them, derive meaning and purpose and build memories in which those customers recruit other like-minded customers (word-of-mouth marketing) to the brand.
Immersive brands always trigger a sense of “love” for and to the brand and what they mean in the customers lives. Whenever you ask someone about the brand they almost always respond with “I love that brand!” You also sense the love is not unlike how they feel about certain people. To a large extent these brands occupy a similar space in their minds. This means their trust for the brand, their expectations for the brand and their advocacy for the brand are so high they reach a point of vulnerability. Should something go wrong with their relationship with the brand the customer always take it personally and their expectations of how they should be treated are very high – they expect better service than any level one or level two brand.