Building a Brand into a Cultural Phenomenon - Part 2

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Posted May 16, 2012
Susan Gunelius

In Part 1 of the Building a Brand into a Cultural Phenomenon series, you learned about the five stages of brand growth. Now, it's time to learn about the primary ingredients that go into a brand that becomes a cultural phenomenon. As you read through this article, you'll notice that many of the ingredients are fundamental parts of building all brands. However, brands that become cultural phenomena take these ingredients to a higher level of importance and better integrate them into the framework of their brand strategies.

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Consumer Wants and Needs

The key ingredients of a brand that becomes a cultural phenomenon are really quite simple. Think about how a person becomes loyal to another person and why he or she wants to integrate that other person into his or her life. The same process works for brands. That's because humans have wants and needs that are inherent in all of us and apply to all aspects of life, including brands.

In 1943, Abraham Maslow published a paper about the psychology of human motivation that introduced a concept that is still used today and is taught in every college-level consumer behavior course -- Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. You can see his theory visually in the image below.

maslow hierarchy of needs

Maslow explained that all humans are motivated by base, physiological needs (like food and water) and safety-related needs (such as health, employment, and shelter) as well as by "higher" needs that are more psychological and emotional. These higher needs focus on the need to belong and the need to be loved as well as the need for esteem. At the top of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs is the need for self-actualization, which refers to a person's need to succeed and reach their potential in all areas of life.

Maslow argued that if a person hasn't achieved the lower levels of needs, then he won't be able to move up the hierarchy and achieve the higher level needs. For brands that become cultural phenomena, it's those higher level needs that matter. Any brand can satisfy base needs like hunger, but not every brand can satisfy higher level needs like feeling a sense of belonging. It makes sense that building brand communities (the second stage of brand growth) is a key stage in a brand phenomenon's lifecycle.

Emotional Connection

As Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs conveys, higher level human needs are psychological and very emotional. They're driven by feelings, not physical needs to survive. Therefore, they can vary from one person to the next. However, the fundamental psychological needs wrap up into the need to belong, the need for esteem, and the need for self-actualization.

Brands that can identify the primary and common psychological needs of consumers can better develop and focus on the best target audiences. Using market research (which will be discussed in Part 4 of this series), those brands can create the right messages and brand experiences to evoke the right emotions and connect the brand with the right psychological needs.

Branded Experiences

Brand experiences are the third ingredient you need to build a brand into a cultural phenomenon. As mentioned above, experiences elicit emotions, and they allow communities of brand customers to enjoy the brand together. In simplest terms, brand experiences can easily fulfill two of Maslow's higher needs -- the need for belonging and the need for esteem.

Of course, brand experiences can evolve and serve a variety of purposes, but most importantly, they satisfy inherent human needs. A brand that doesn't clearly satisfy those higher-level needs will achieve minimal success (if any at all).Stay tuned for Part 3 of the Building a Brand into a Cultural Phenomenon series where you'll learn about the secret ingredient that the most successful brands understand and you need to understand it, too. In the meantime, if you missed Part 1 of the series, follow the link to learn about the five stages of brand growth.

Image: Laura Leavell, Wikipedia

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