Brand Nirvana

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How do you know when your brand has truly arrived? When your brand has completed its path of enlightenment and reached a state of “brand nirvana”? This is a question I put to some colleagues recently. One measurement that we all agreed to is when a brand becomes a form of currency, more appealing to your target audience than currency itself. Let me explain what I mean with some examples.
A couple of years ago my team was planning a campaign for our company (“epost.ca”:http://www.epost.ca/) and we wanted to include compelling prizing that would drive interest in signing up for our service. We wanted something more original than just giving away cash so we engaged our agency at the time and got back advice that we eventually used. No surprise to anyone, it was “iTunes”:http://www.itunes.com/ downloads, “iPod”:http://www.apple.com/ipod/ giveaways and for a grand prize, a “Mini Cooper”:http://www.mini.ca/.
Each of these product brands we felt had a value in the eyes of our target audiences which would exceed their cash value equivalent. This hunch seemed to be confirmed in our campaign results. After we ran that campaign I started to notice how many other organizations were using these exact same products as giveaways in their campaigns. That was almost two years ago.
Today, you can’t swing a cat without hitting someone giving away a free iPod or iTunes downloads or a chance to win a Mini Cooper for signing up for their service or buying their products. Haven’t noticed? Go to your favourite search engine and punch in “ipod giveaway” and watch what happens. I got “over 2.2 million results on Google”:http://www.google.ca/search?hl=en&q=ipod+giveaway. As marketers, we copy this idea because *we want cash with better branding.* It’s kind of like hanging out with the cool kids in high school. We believe that our brands will increase in value by their association with what I’ll call “currency” brands.
This takes me back to my hypothesis. I hypothesize that you have truly reached brand nirvana when the value of your product is so well understood and generally desired that its market value exceeds its cash value in people’s minds. I ask you, what higher attainment could a brand achieve?


So how does a brand reach this state? As a marketer, what would you do if you intentionally wanted to have your product become a more current currency? Well, I don’t think I have a complete answer but here’s my initial list of at least some of the attributes that I think it takes:
*Brand ubiquity:* Like currency, your brand needs to be understandable to everyone in a target market, immediately. You’re not better than currency for me if only 10% of the market I’m trying to incent know what your product does. When we ran our campaign we knew that a lot of the people we were targeting wouldn’t necessarily be candidates to use an iPod but we knew that they would all know what it was.
*Instantly redeemable:* Like currency, you need to be able to get the immediate value from the branded product once you get it. The minute I award you that Mini or iTunes download, you could start planning the road trip or browsing your favorite songs. Of course this attribute works much better for products with actual cash value. That said, in some cases I would guess it could also work if there was a supply constriction on the product, like what Google did by needing to be invited to join their free “Gmail”:http://mail.google.com/mail/ service.
*Your perceived value exceeds your cash value:* Here’s where I would suggest you know you have arrived. Everyone gets your brand, everyone wants your product and the market sees more value in that brand that the cash equivalent. Let’s go back to iTunes downloads as an example. What do you think motivates more people to sign up to a new service, telling them I’ll give them the latest Arctic Monkey’s single for their cell phone or mailing them a check for $.99? Exactly. I noticed recently that TD CanadaTrust is “giving away an iPod shuffle”:http://www.tdcanadatrust.com/accounts/ipod/ for signing up to an account. They could have just as easily leveraged their own brand and placed $150 in the account but they didn’t. They clearly felt that the iPod would be more valued than the cash equivalent as a customer motivator. And for a bank to recognize that your product’s brand is better than cash, that is saying something.
So, if becoming better than currency truly is at least one measure of “brand nirvana”, and if, consistent with “Buddhist teaching”:http://www.buddhanet.net/e-learning/qanda09.htm, that it is never luck but specific dedicated actions that achieve this path to enlightenment, then what brands will be the next to reach this exalted state? Will it be some new “IPTV service?”:http://www.iptvnews.net/ Or perhaps selected real estate at online reality sites like “Second Life”:http://www.secondlife.com? Or maybe just some new gadget that everyone wants. Who knows. But for those of you aspiring to this lofty goal, here’s my advice. Hurry up. Many of us marketers are running out of people to give iPods to.

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