The New Bucket List For Brands

If people can have a bucket list of things they want to do in life, why can’t brands? We have shortlisted some things that we have learned this year that might help you get through next year.

Acknowledge what you’re not. This is the flip side of “Stand for something.” It’s just as important to cite what you never want to become. During its founding years, Google had signs on its walls that said, Don’t be evil. (They meant don’t be like big, anonymous IBM.) Apple was computers for the rest of us. Declare your place in the universe.

Instead of mass markets, seek niche audiences. Products produced at mass harm markets and the ecology. Look at the mass dumping of fashion products each season. We waste one third of the food we produce. Look around and you’ll see fistfuls of smaller companies selling clothing, cheese, bikes, beauty products, even media. If you find it’s harder to connect to these niches, it may be because they don’t want you to.

Create your own bubble, own your audience. Apple pioneered this “walled garden” model long ago: own the community of fans and advocates that surrounds you. Water them and help them grow. It’s fine to be on FB and IG (in many cases it’s a necessity) but email and other content tactics can feed more people straight to you.

It’s not a media plan, it’s a media ecosystem. Share content across social, digital and traditional media networks to create an amplified media chorus. Synchronize content engagements with advocates to feed their zealotry and build positive word of mouth. In an era where the public view is that whatever the company has to say as a lie (over 80% think you’re baiting them) your responsibility now is to feed them the facts. So when trolls and haters arise, your zealots define and defend you. Brand affinity and advocacy (word of mouth) come for free.

You’re not a Brand, you’re a belief system. People are attracted to others who believe in the same things they do. This “just like me” constellation of parts builds audiences, fans, ecosystems. Belief systems function from seven data points: they all have a creation story, creed, icons, rituals, lexicon, nonbelievers and leader. This systematic approach is the simplest, surest way to build any brand around people, places and things — your products and services.

Be amazing online. Build your own team of content creators — and solicit others who can help you build more content. People are willing to opt you into their lives if you provide the information, entertainment and adjacencies they desire. (Example: People who like artisan cheese, also like artisan bread, wine, travel, photography (and other arts), music and more.) Think about other companies that you can partner with.

Be amazing offline. Tweak out your user experience so that is friendly, frictionless, fantastic. Terrific online experiences can be dashed by horrible delivery or other reasons specific to your category. Since customers may not be able to see you in person, single out other experiences that might be possible. Some beauty companies throw free samples into their boxes. Grocers throw in free food samples. What can you do?

Don’t get lost in the FOMO. Each day, we can get lost in the chatter of bullshit metrics, AI, VR, AR, B2B2C, chatbots, brand safety, virtual assistants, growth marketers, rankings, updates, and more. Stick to your brand. We have a tendency to mimic — to assume that what was right for another company will work for us. Lemming love. The folly of paying Instagrammers for their thousands of followers — just to get a mention, has been revealed as a quick fix to replace the millions of viewers lost from massive T.V. exposure. Forget the possible fraud, it was fraudulent strategy. Make your own audience, make your own numbers.

The year 2021 puts us fully two decades into the new century. Legendary brands founded upon 20th century need-states are in a precarious position and should take a second and third look at their methods and motives if they want to remain relevant, resonant and desired.

Search the metrics for new markets, fresh strategies. Make Google your friend for life. Their analytics can help you uncover what customers are searching for — before and after they look for you. (Many consumers under the age of 35 are searching for new companies, new products that answer to their own ideals. Be aware.)

Toughing it out on old models is a perfect solution to puttering your way to extinction (e.g. Sears, Kmart, Payless, who’s next?).

Marketing by rote is over. The fragility of traditional enterprise has never been greater. The opportunity for digital-first enterprise has never been stronger.

The pandemic will be with us at least the next 18–24 months. But listen up, the plague of the Middle Ages was followed by the great rebirth known as the Renaissance. We hope that with the help of the concepts above, you will be reborn too.



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Patrick Hanlon

Patrick Hanlon


Author of “Primal Branding,” “The Social Code,” writer on Forbes, FastCo, Inc., East Hampton Star. Founder