How do some brands become iconic and what are the secrets to the staying power that enables them to remain recognized around the world for decades? In his new book Iconic Advantage: Don’t Chase the New, Innovate the Old, design innovator and innovation advisor Soon Yu seeks to answer that question by studying 50 companies, some of which were built around brands that achieved “timeless relevance” and others whose brands were once widely recognized and have since fallen out of favor and faded away. Understanding how to create an iconic brand has significant economic implications. According to Yu’s research, brands with iconic properties deliver 3 times the profits of other brands. In today’s blog, we’ll dive into 5 secrets that Yu says are behind the staying power of iconic brands, and we’ll discuss some of the implications of those secrets for POP displays.
1. Be Unique– Yu’s research suggests that being unique is vital to a brand becoming iconic and staying iconic. He refers to it as “noticing power.” Nike’s breakthrough noticing power dates back to 1987 when it introduced the Nike Air Max which featured a visible air pocket in the heal of its running shoes. In-N-Out distinguished itself as unique in the fast food industry by offering quality, fresh ingredients that were prepared in front of customers. Vans, he says, achieved its uniqueness by creating a waffle pattern on the bottom of its soles, thereby enabling skateboarders to get a better grip on their skateboards.
One of the great things about uniqueness is that you don’t have to be big to be unique. Anyone can be unique. Small brands that are unique have the basis to establish an important competitive advantage even if they don’t ever achieve iconic status.
Just as with brands, POP displays that are unique have greater “noticing power” than run-of-the-mill, boring POP displays. That noticing power can translate into increased sales, better brand awareness, and greater customer loyalty.
2. Appeal Mentally and Emotionally– Brand staying power is created when products are meaningful and useful to customers, rather than when products are just chasing a fad (think hoverboards). Yu gives the example of Google, which built its iconic brand by not only generating better search results but also creating a super simple page design. The combination of these benefits makes the product easy to use which, in turn, taps into the emotional side of users, capturing both our hearts and minds.
The same argument can be made for the purchase of any product: people buy products because they connect with them emotionally. Effective POP displays play an important role in making that emotional connection with shoppers. Great graphics, compelling video content, product accessibility and demonstrations, and tasteful design are all ways in which POP displays can help brands to connect emotionally with customers and tell a story that will give products meaning.
3. Continue to Innovate– Brands that fail to achieve enduring iconic status typically either rest on their laurels and stop innovating or overhaul their product in such a way that their product becomes unrecognizable. Instead, Yu suggests that brands’ innovation efforts be focused on returning to and enhancing the elements that made them successful in the first place. He gives the example of Nike whose air pocket was originally in the heel, then in the toe, and ultimately in the entire shoe. Perhaps another example is Apple who did not declare victory after the introduction of its first iPhone. With continued innovation and many generations later, Apple has a better iPhone, an insanely loyal customer base, and clear iconic status.
When it comes to POP displays, innovation is also important. Using the same tired display that you’ve been using for the last 5 years is likely to generate tired results. Customers are looking for new, better, different. Incorporating interactive technology into your display, embedding the latest LED lighting, leveraging newer lightweight structural elements, using sustainable materials, and printing on recycled substrates are just a few ways you can create more innovative POP displays.
4. Turn Loyal Customers into Spokesmen– You may be reading this blog thinking you are a small brand, that you will never be able to outspend the big guys, and that achieving iconic brand status is simply out of reach. Ok, listen up. The game has changed. Yu says that a classic mistake large brands make is continuing to focus on ad impressions and expensive media plans. But, bigger marketing budgets don’t necessarily translate into better marketing.
Focusing on cultivating a small group of customers who are passionate about your product and for whom your product is indispensable is of greater value in building an iconic brand that having a product that is recognized by a million people. Tim Ferriss, author of The 4-Hour Workweek, says brands should focus on creating a group of 1000 product enthusiasts, which is the number needed to really put a product on the map. With the power of social media and a core group of 1000 product ambassadors, you will be well on your way to achieving iconic status for your brand.
Effective POP displays can help initiate trial at the point of sale. Getting people to try your product is the first step toward creating a loyal group of product enthusiasts. While social media plays an important role in spreading the word about your product and generating online sales, securing product placement in physical stores is an excellent way to legitimize your product and gain increased exposure to complement your online efforts. And, maximizing product sell-through at retail is Job #1 of POP displays.
5. An Eye-Catching Logo Isn’t Everything– Great logos are important and are often associated with iconic brands since the human brain is wired to recognize icons. Studies show that the brain can recognize concepts with images in as little as 13 milliseconds. POP displays can play a critical role in creating exposure and reinforcement for your brand, and most effective displays feature prominent logo branding.
However, it is important to recognize that creating an iconic brand requires more than just having a great logo. If your logo has meaning behind it and tells a story, then it can be helpful in creating noticing power and staying power for your brand. Done right, your logo can be part of your messaging platform and building your group of product enthusiasts. But, recognizing the limitations of a logo will help you place proper emphasis and priority on those elements that are even more essential to building an iconic brand.