Does a jacket make you feel like you can climb Everest?

Exploring the relationship between brands and consumers.

We interact with brands every day, but have you ever thought about what a brand actually is and what it means to you? Brands are much more than just a product — they sell a lifestyle, and a mindset to go along with it.

Brands are no longer just the magazine and television ads Don Draper created in Mad Men. Brands are everywhere. They’re plastered on the ground as you’re walking out of the Metro, integrated seamlessly with your friends’ posts on Facebook, and basically everywhere you browse online. Being a brand in this digital age is about asserting your image into these new spaces — both physical and virtual — without annoying the customer through oversaturation or staid messaging. To achieve this balance, brands should adhere to three criteria:

  1. Appeal to the emotions of a consumer
  2. Create a relationship with a consumer
  3. Sell a product and a lifestyle

Appeal to the emotions of a consumer

Let’s take a look at these qualities in practice with brands who are doing this right. Patagonia and The North Face are both well-known brands that have emerged from their mountain climbing and camping origins to stand for much more. In fact, people now look at these brands as the exemplars for “outdoorsy” wear.

These brands have done such a good job of this that even people who don’t do these activities use their products all the time. Just by putting on a Patagonia fleece or carrying around a North Face backpack customers believe that they can climb mountains and go on 10-mile hikes — all while looking like a bona fide hipster that likes to do cool things outside. It’s these emotions and ideas that help create brand loyalty.

These brands are not just selling a product — rather, they are creating touchpoints with consumers by drawing on their emotions. Through their products, Patagonia and The North Face are giving their customers new ideas about what they represent as an individual.

Create a relationship with a consumer

The North Face has evolved beyond the traditional brand space to cater to its customers through many different channels. Its own social media pages on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter frequently reference their slogan #NeverStopExploring, which is also used by customers in a way to reference their own adventures — augmented by The North Face products.

Their brand is further bolstered by the creation of events and speaker series, all of which fall in line with their “Get Outdoors” mantra. These include endurance challenges, mountain athletics training, the Never Stop Exploring speaker series, and much more. They even fund grants for nonprofit organizations that are creating the next generation of outdoor explorers and conservationists. It is the events and outreach that have helped The North Face create relationships with consumers beyond material objects, and to the broad concept of what The North Face represents.

Sell a product and a lifestyle

A brand’s goal to keep its audiences’ attention beyond that first touchpoint, whether it is an advertisement, an article, or a video. If done well, people will begin to look at companies in a different light. They see them as selling a lifestyle rather than just a product. Enter the consumer benefit ladder. Products have functional benefits but they also have emotional benefits realized by the consumer. Which brings us full circle to the idea that if you buy a certain product, brands want you to automatically recognize a benefit from using it, both functionally and emotionally.

Let’s put the consumer benefit ladder to practice using Patagonia as an example. Patagonia does not want to be seen just as a functional outdoors brand, its advertisements are about the adventure of the outdoors. They show pictures of people sleeping on the side of cliffs, mountain climbing in the middle of snowstorms, and half-submerged fly fishing. It’s a brand that sells experiences, and if you too buy Patagonia, the brand wants you to feel like you’ll be able to do the cool things they show in their advertisements.

Furthermore, Patagonia sells a way of life through their environmentalist outlook and anti-consumerism mantra. This is all an interesting take on a company that makes a living off of people buying their products. They encourage their users to consider the environment and recycling their products through their “Worn Wear” channel. In short, you will personally benefit by using Patagonia both in a functional and emotional way all while helping improve the environment. How many brands can do that?

Advertisements and brands inundate people constantly, so the only way brands can find a way forward is if they get you to “buy in” to this branded lifestyle. Be wary though — you don’t want to buy a product thinking you’ll be able to climb Mt. Everest without actually preparing for the journey.

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