The Value of Being True to the Story of Your Brand

Posted by Sarah Chew on June 27, 2012  |   No Comments »

Should a brand’s message try to be all things to all people? Not according to David Brooks, op-ed columnist for The New York Times, whose article, “The Power of the Particular” provides great insight into how people identify with artists and creative works. Not coincidentally, his observations also apply to brands.

Brooks had his revelation during a Bruce Springsteen concert in Madrid, Spain, where he was amazed by two things: the youth of the crowd (most American fans are closer in age to The Boss), and the passion with which they embraced the very specific American references in Springsteen’s music. The most surreal moment for Brooks came when the 56,000 Spanish fans in attendance pumped their fists and sang, “I was born in the U.S.A.” at the top of their lungs.

Brooks wrote of the experience, “Did it occur to them at that moment that, in fact, they were not born in the U.S.A.? How was it that so many people in such a faraway place can be so personally committed to the deindustrializing landscape from New Jersey to Nebraska, the world Springsteen sings about? How is it they can be so enraptured at the mere mention of the Meadowlands or the Stone Pony, an Asbury Park, N.J., nightclub?”

His theory? These fervent European fans had embraced the world Springsteen created, a world that had taken on a mythic dimension in their imagination. The word Brooks used to describe this phenomenon is “paracosm,” a term from the field of child psychology. It refers to detailed imaginary worlds that children invent, complete with fanciful beasts, heroes, villains and rules of conduct.

Brooks attests that we never outgrow our need for a paracosm, which is why Springsteen’s emotional, detailed depictions of the America he knows – although based in reality – took such powerful hold among young Europeans.

“If your identity is formed by hard boundaries,” Brooks wrote, “if you come from a specific place … if your concerns are expressed through a specific paracosm, you are going to have more depth and definition than you are if you grew up in the far-flung networks of pluralism and eclecticism … your identity formed by soft boundaries, or none at all.”

So here’s the message for brands: know your identity and your origin, and tell your own story through all channels – advertising, interactive, social media and collateral. Be specific and true to yourself. Your brand has its heroes, its cast of characters, its own landscape and its own mythology. Trying to latch on to whatever is in the popular culture at the moment is a good way to lose your identity and represent nothing that consumers want to buy into – either emotionally or literally. The most successful brands encourage citizenship into their particular world.

In the parting words of Brooks on the subject, “Go deeper into your own tradition. Call more upon the geography of your own past. Be distinct and credible. People will come.”


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