Marketing Strategy - Brand First, Consumer Second

The Journey to an Iconic Brand Identity Starts From Within

One of the most frequently heard mantras in modern marketing strategies is that of ‘Consumer First’, ‘Consumer is King’, ‘put the Consumer at the heart of everything’. Like every mantra there is some truth in it. To an internally focused organisation it is a useful reminder to look outside.

But it also reminds me of the apocryphal story of the tourist lost somewhere in rural Ireland asking the directions to Dublin. The farmer’s classic response, “if I were you, I wouldn’t start from here”. Starting your marketing strategy with consumers is the road to mediocrity, the road to sensible, professional but ultimately dull, but sound work. It is not the route to iconic messaging or great branding.

Any journey into the foundations of western culture, especially the Greeks, is likely to encounter a very different starting point. Know thyself ‘gnothi seauton’ was carved on the temple of Apollo in Delphi for Socrates to know thyself is the beginning of wisdom…. What this translates into is a very different mantra – Brand first, Consumer Second – Know Thyself.

Know Thyself - Marketing Strategy
Know Thyself

Why is Brand First so central in the Journey to Iconic? The primary reason is that once our basic appetites and needs are met, we don’t know what we want any more, but we long for something. We only know what we long for when we see it in the longings of others. So there is no point asking consumers – they don’t know what they long for. All you ever hear is sensible, predictable and prosaic.

Last week when I posted the ‘Crazy Ones’, within a week it had 150,000 views. Nobody waking up that day knew they had a longing to be a crazy one. It was only when they see the longings of the crazy one, the hunger to make a difference, to challenge the status quo, that they too uncovered a longing.

So Brand First should be the starting point for all marketing strategies. It begins with storytelling, oral storytelling at round table, where like King Arthur, “all are alike at the breaking of bread”. And you listen to story and you tell story and you hear ‘calls to adventure’ and listen for the ‘twinkle twinkle’ and you look at films.

And going Inside Out you find the longings at the heart of your Brand, the deep desire. Then and only then is it time to engage with the consumer, the customer, the client. And again at ‘round table’ you listen to story and you tell story. There is no substitute for the live oral tradition.

And then having gone Inside Out, and Outside In, the Journey to Iconic can begin in earnest. Marketing can so easily become, research led, process driven, fact fuelled and politically focused.

Iconic Brand identity work is intuitively led, driven by passion, guided by instincts and the brand is always first!

Journey to Iconic Brand Identity
Journey to an Iconic Brand Identity

What this means is a Heroic Journey. The hero responds to a call to adventure, finds guides and new strengths within, confronts demons (fear, the status quo) before crossing a threshold of adventure into the unknown.

Many tests and trials await, at times it is a dark night, a supreme ordeal. But just as things are falling apart, they all come together and the reward, falls into place.

You know you are on to something special, something iconic. The hair on the back of your head tells you, your gut tells you, cab drivers will be talking about ‘ads’ again.  

But then, you realise you have a tough return journey. There are warriors to be encountered. The ones that don’t leave the safety of the homeground. The ones that need to be taken on board.

And not all heroic journeys succeed. There are casualties, dead heroes!


But a few do! And to be able to do that, even once in your professional life, inside a large company or not..... to do something so special it becomes the "stuff of legend".... to make a bit of brand history....

That’s the choice we get, maybe once or twice, perhaps more, in our professional lives. This is a ‘call to adventure’.

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