Paramount to any discussion of marketing will be brand, branding, identity, etc. Often within that discussion comes logos, trademarks, slogans and other elements that comprise the sense of a brand.
Any brand is so much more.
Conceptually understanding brand seems easy enough, especially with my physical description of head, heart and guts. Wrapping one’s head around how a brand exists just might elude the most adept executive or marketing professional.
And that’s because a brand exists within this space between the author of the brand, the customers and the larger target audience.
Allow me to explain this with TenCate Protective Fabrics and its mascot, the rhinoceros.
Just prior to my arrival, an agency decided to declare mascots for each market with the rhinoceros earning the fire service honor. Because of my prior experience with the rhino, I happened to know a lot more about how the horned pachyderm might fit well as a mascot for firefighters.
A video explains the story I created around the rhino.
Beyond this, we had other stories like the following:
- The rhino’s skin is among the thickest and most protective, which would be fitting for the fabric the company makes for firefighters.
- The horn of the rhino isn’t bone, but is a twisted mangle of hair (and a similar material to human fingernails). TenCate took fiber and twisted it to make it stronger, turning it into the yarn that made the technical textiles.
Immediately, the rhino became popular among the fire service, unlike of the other mascots introduced (which also lacked any backstory I could generate).
We generated a variety of materials to help support the rhino story. We created t-shirts…
We added the rhino to trade shows…
All of this campaign underlined the toughness of TenCate fabrics within the fire service. The rhinoceros very much embodied this quality for which TenCate Protective Fabrics had developed over more than four decades of creating and manufacturing textiles for firefighter turnout gear.
In one moment, it all changed during a 2014 trade show, when a firefighter visited our booth and showed me this:
You might notice the tattoo is the exact design from the 2013 Rhino Tough t-shirt.
Great for a brand, right?
In a way, yes. Over the course of the next year — through some additional research — I discovered firefighters were not thinking of the rhino as representing TenCate Protective Fabrics.
Firefighters saw the rhino as representing themselves.
Rhinos charge forward, as do firefighters, who head toward danger when most people run away.
Just a year into the introduction of this iconography, the targeted audience altered the intention of this element and how the company intended to use it.
The brand evolved.
Good, bad or indifferent can be debated. I didn’t stick my head in the sand. I recognized how the brand was embraced by our target audience. Marketing professionals must be cognizant of these changes as they occur and adjust the course of marketing and advertising as appropriate.