A brand is a combination of mutually beneficial memes – a memeplex – formed in the consumers mind. Much of a brand’s perception evolves naturally, through experience with the product. However many memes associated with a brand are crafted deliberately by marketers, with the goal of increasing consideration at the time of purchase. If they choose wrong, and a brand’s memes are too radically different from existing associations in the brain, they won’t feel familiar, and will risk rejection. You’ll lose potential customers to confusion. They won’t know what ‘bucket’ to put you in. If you adorn the entrance to your rock venue with sparkly fairy lights, you’d be sending mixed signals to heavy metal fans.
However if all products in a category tap into the same memeplex, there’s no way to differentiate one competitor from another. When everyone looks the same, the tie goes to the market leader who wins by being more recognizable to more people. One path to solving this, is to remix an existing set of associations. Employ memes that work for your target segment, but in a different product category. Hotel Chocolat took inspiration for its brand not from fellow chocolatiers, but from high-end fashion. It advertised in Vogue and designed its packaging accordingly, to capture the more discerning customers that value beautiful design. This allowed them to scoop up the top end of the market, propelling the little known brand to open over 70 stores in the UK and internationally, even opening a high-end hotel in St. Lucia, a ‘real’ Hotel Chocolat, for fans of the brand to vacation at.
The key is choosing where you differentiate, and where you keep things the same. The product must be obviously of its category, and that means most things will be non-negotiable. However you can get creative with 1-2 elements that help you stand out, which form the basis of your strategy. In Hotel Chocolat’s case, it was the interior design of their stores, and where they chose to advertise. It was still obvious they sold chocolate (it’s in the name). The important distinction is that the strategy must not be easily copy-able by competitors. Thorntons, or other chocolate brands, didn’t have the creative team necessary to pull off a Vogue-style photoshoot, nor the dressing of a consumer space. If they did, the vast majority of their customer based would miss the magazine ad, and walk into the store confused as to whether they were in the right place.
We see this playbook almost everywhere a new challenger brand is described as ‘innovative’. Monzo Bank’s stand out ‘hot coral’ card reportedly came from the color of their designer’s Nike sneakers, helping them stand out in the stuffy banking industry. Slack’s friendly design was inspired by styles common in the gaming industry, bringing emojis to workplaces that didn’t know they needed them. Even Jobs’ much vaunted design of the Mac was inspired by a Cuisinart Blender that he saw in Macy’s (which itself was a copy of a higher priced French product). “Originality is the art of concealing your source.” – E. M. Joad ...and Albert Einstein, Nolan Bushnell, Coco Chanel, Conan O’Brien, Franklin P. Jones, Charles Moore, Bruce Sterling, Joe Sedelmaier, etc.
REFLECTIONS #005 – HOTEL CHOCOLAT ART OF SEDUCTION
Slack’s $25 Billion Dollar Secret Sauce
The Origin Stories Behind 5 Famous Brands
The Secret to Creativity Is Knowing How to Hide Your Sources
The untold origins of Apple’s groundbreaking design