Branding: What's Love Got To Do With It?

Love is the bridge between you and everything
— Rumi

Branding is the visual-story-experience bridge between you and your customer that establishes that love.

To create a beautiful bridge of deeply felt love and connective relationship between you and your customer the bridge must be strong, constructed of substantial material, and thoughtfully designed to consider all sorts of challenging conditions, or it will not serve its purpose.

Why are love and connection so important to a Branding relationship? Because they are essential and universal to any valued and lasting relationship. That’s the purpose of branding — to create a valued and lasting relationship.

Before we explore what is essential to creating a strong branding bridge of love, let’s remember what a loving experience and connective relationship means to us, personally.

Let’s explore one my most beloved experiences from childhood as an example of a deeply felt loving experience and relationship similar to what we want to establish in Branding relationships. I invite you to recall your own love and connection experiences throughout your life too, the ones that made deeply felt impressions on you. It is likely your story has a lot in common with this story.

Like many transforming experiences, it began by evoking wonder and delight, a big “Oh, Wow!”, then moved into a new insight providing a new lens of perception, an “Ah, Ha!”, and then finished with an incredibly sharable feeling of excitement, a “Hey, You!”. You may notice that all transforming experiences evoke a pattern of similar responses.

Call to Adventure

My story begins like most days I can remember as a child. I wake up and sluggishly gather all my cumbersome school belongings to begin another (don’t wanna go) day of elementary school.

As I gathered my bookbag, which always felt heaviest on Monday morning, my father stepped into my room with a strong and serious look. Based on that look, I was prepared for the familiar morning mantra, “pick up the speed, we gotta get you to school” …but instead he said, “I called the school to tell them you won’t be coming in today. We’re playing hooky today and we’re going do whatever we damn want.” Then he smiled. From a state of freeze, my alert body language softened, and a ­­wild grin spread across my face.

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Exposure to a new world

We began that day in my father’s art studio. His paint splattered boombox, blasted out the Rolling Stones, setting the high energy, rocking, rebellious atmospherics for our art creativity. Throughout the day the Stones music stimulated unexpected outbursts of uninhibited dancing and singing along to the tunes.

My father had always told me he wouldn’t teach me to draw and paint, but he only would answer any questions I had about the process or show me techniques if I asked. He wanted me to learn by doing and by the inquiry stimulated by my own curiosity.

That day I was drawing knights and all sorts of mythical entities found in Arthurian lore that deeply enchanted me. My father was painting an “abstract-something” but I had a hard time understanding its purpose. But somehow the difference in our art focus wasn’t important, creating together was.

At one point in our afternoon creativity, I remember looking over at my dad while he ripped his painting. It was heavy weight paper and he had spent all morning on it. I was thinking, “Oh Wow! he really hated what he made.” It perplexed me just as much as the idea of abstract art. Then he announced proudly, “This is now becoming what it wants to be.”

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Flipping my thinking on its head

This moment of destruction, to my surprise, was actually part of a greater creation. He reassembled the large torn pieces of painted heavy stock paper into abstract, symbolic shapes, mounting them on big boards and framing them.

At the moment my father tore up his large painted creations, my entire thinking was turned on its head. My desire had been to chase drafting perfection, but I had to confront that and instead learn to be open to alternative perspectives outside my initial vision, even going as far as my father did, to destroy it in order to create something greater. I have learned that this creative, courageous spirit can beautifully inspire and surprise people, even ourselves.

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The old world has changed

After we completed making our art that day, we paused and looked at what each other had created. We spoke openly about what was driving our creations. It was a moment of collaboratively sharing and evolving our thinking.

It was my first “art critique”. I spoke about knights and great heroes and the values of valor and courage to face adversity with faith and determination (with my 10-year-old vocabulary I might not have used those exact words, but it was what I was trying to say).

My father reflected back to me what my drawings communicated to him and what he appreciated about my stories and the renderings. I could see he loved seeing the world through my eyes.

Regarding his own work, my father talked about the energy he felt inside himself that needed to be freed by saying, “Sometimes the art reveals its identity and story to me later. I wasn’t planning the picture so much as I was following the intuition and sensations that flowed through me.”

I told him how I liked the beautiful colors he used and how I saw that it takes courage to create something beautiful and be willing to tear it up to create something even better.

After the mutual appreciation of what we each created, we celebrated our shared creative adventure by toasting with mugs of root beer floats.

That day I was not a child nor he even an adult, but simply two rocking, hooky-playing creators who each had something to say. We were not the same people who entered the studio that morning, we were something more. We created a third thing, the relationship that elevates us and helps us hold a better sense of ourselves and each other.

That is what experiences of shared creation and love can do.

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I remember returning to school the next day refreshed and ignited. I ran up to my friends and said, “Hey you! You won’t believe what I did yesterday!”

I could see the envy in their eyes when I told my friends how my father and I played hooky to create art, and to break the rules, living like kings and maverick artists for a day.

Since that day, I replicated this creative experience many times, first with my school buddies and then later with my work teams as a creative director in several companies.


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Deepen the Love, Strengthen the Connection

Let’s use my art creating experience with my dad to explore the brand building experience that deepens the love and strengthens the connection between you and your customer.

Picture the Brand Experience & Create a Great Branding Brief

My father imagined our “play hooky and create art” day before he called the school to tell them I wouldn’t attend on Monday. He pictured an experience of listening to rock music, creating and sharing art, and having fun doing what we both loved. He set up the rich conditions for spontaneous discovery to unfold that day, sharing stories and learning how each other looks at the world. He thought ahead of time to provide rewards by getting root beer and ice cream for the afternoon celebration. He knew the love we had for our creativity and for each other would deepen and grow through an experience like this.

This is what you want to do to create a great brand experience. First, envision the experience, then plan for it, set up the conditions for it, and provide the elements that will make it memorable. This is the basis for a Branding Brief the creative team needs to guide their execution of great branding.

When done right, a Branding Brief pictures a meaningful customer experience, defines it, and sets up the conditions for it to be successful.

As a designer and a creative director, I have often experienced lackluster briefs that only give an “Ask”, a few details, and not much more. This leaves me with unanswered questions and lifeless branding objectives and “To do” lists. The inspiring vision of the experience the client and their customers/end-users will need to bring the brand alive gets left out.

To avoid this, the creative team should be in the room with the client, creating a rich envisioning experience with and for the ultimate customer, exploring the brand love they want their end-users to feel.

In other words, the creative team needs to have a rich, creative planning experience with the client and the brief that results should be agreed upon by everyone, not just the brand strategists.

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Design, Create and Provide the Brand Experience

Once you have articulated in the Brand Brief the compelling and agreed upon picture of the conditions and experiences the client wants their customer to have, you can start building the actual customer experience.

Using my story as an example, let’s translate the insights from our playing hooky day to creating great brand experiences.

One very important thing about the Experience…it is the Customer’s experience and their story that is important. Branding is the bridge that you create to what is important to the customer.

The customer is the hero in the story and experience, not you nor the things you are selling. Only when you show what the customer can become as a result of their experience with you will they give you the brand love you want.

As I said earlier, the brand experience should evoke strong responses of “Oh, Wow!”, “Ah, Ha!” and “Hey, You!” This simple mantra is what I live by with any branding adventure I embark upon with a client. It is my ultimate filter, brief, and goal for creating brand love. Use this three-part mantra to measure how well you have created a great brand love experience.

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You have to do something out of the ordinary, that surprises and triggers excitement. In my story, my father surprised me by saying we were going to play hooky and create art together in his studio. In your branding, you have to stand out in a crowded field of brand communications so do something that makes people say “Oh, Wow!”

If you look at your branding (logo, web site, presentation materials, copy, packaging, etc.) and can’t say it creates an “Oh, Wow!” response then it is time to redesign.

Remember in 2003 the first time you went into a new, radically different Apple store? If you are like me, you probably had a big “Oh Wow” presentation/design moment and then an “Oh Wow” experience of shopping in a totally new way.

Being “Oh Wow” doesn’t mean it has to be flashy or strange or provocative. It can be quiet but unexpected. It might be an unusually beautiful design. It might convey a deep emotional or aesthetic value especially important to the customer. It might zag when others zig, doing something that surprises and delights.

In creating an “Oh, Wow!” experience, do it with the customer, not to them. In my story, I did art with my father, I wasn’t having it done to me like many classroom instructional experiences are offered.

Focus most of your energy on setting up the conditions for the customer to own the experience.

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A great branding experience is a transformative experience that provides an unexpected insight into a new world, into a new way of looking at things.

My father took the heavy painted papers he had been working on for hours and tore them into big pieces. It transformed how I looked at creating. I shifted my thinking about creating art. l got the “Ah Ha” insight that instead of a progressive, linear act of continual perfection, sometimes creativity is a cyclical process of creation-destruction-creation.

People want more than information, they want experiences and insights that improve their lives, make them feel good about themselves or motivate them to change the way they look at things. People want your brand to help them make a better world for themselves. In short, they want to feel the transformation vs just purchase the thing you are selling — “I’ve now gained pride in my cooking” vs “I took a course and bought nice pans; “I am a more confident speaker” vs. “I learned 12 new rules for good public speaking”, “I’ve taken control of my finances and I feel less stressed” vs. “I bought new investment software and services”.

To be effective in doing this, “Show, don’t Tell.” My father showed me what creative destruction was all about, he didn’t tell me. When someone shows you and creates an experience that gives you a new insight, it connects faster and has greater impact than if they simply gave you information or data.

When you design a branding experience you want to ask yourself… “What insight and felt transformation will the customer value most from this experience?”

If the insights are obvious or superficial, you need to rethink the experience. If the insights disrupt a bit and give your customers insights, they can’t get anywhere else, you are on the right track.

Giving valuable insights and transformations are ways of providing love, and when Love is sent out and returned, it grows in size and strength.

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The story of great branding experiences that evoke love is bigger than creating delight, insights and even transformation. It also builds motivation and urgency to want to share and expand the experience with others.

After my experience of skipping school to become an art colleague with my father, I couldn’t wait to tell all my friends about it.

That’s the impact you want to have on your customers after a great brand experience with you. You want them sharing their experience with the people in their lives both at home and work. You want them to be your best brand advocates.

If you find your branding experiences are not evoking a big “Hey You!” response, then it is time to revitalize your branding.

When your revitalized branding is eliciting a strong “Hey You!” response, then you need to channel it, reinforce it and help it grow. This means continuing and expanding on the branding experience.

Things only grow when we nurture them. You nurture your branding experience by keeping it fresh, adding more insight “nutrients” that continue to improve the conditions. You create conditions for your brand advocates to join in community with other advocates.

In the ’80s, Harley Davidson famously created a huge “HOG” community when it created its “Reasons-to-Ride” program. Tens of thousands of Harley riders gather across the country at riding events to share their riding experiences and enthusiasm for the brand. The “Reason-to-Ride” became a major branding factor in revitalizing Harley at a time when Japanese imports were diminishing Harley’s leadership role.

If a person has a great experience, they want to extend that experience, expand upon it and share it with others. Your job is to set the conditions for that to happen.

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In closing, everything I have said here comes down to a very simple process.

Find the love you, your clients and their end users share. Create rich experiences to expand that love and tell a great story that makes others hungry to join in on your next adventure.

Brand Building and Branding are really the art and science of building a love bridge to your customers and your future with them.

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My father and I continue to co-create. We have exhibited our work in art shows together for several years. Later this year we are staging a three-person art show, at a large community gallery, with another “Hey You!” friend and an amazing artist.

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Above are the creative artifacts that remain from that special day when I was 10 years old, my father 40 years old.

 — Written by Drew & Dan Beam, graphic illustrations by Drew Beam

Screwing up the status quo to create value and enrich life