at the intersection of brands, media and culture

Brand Strategy: Mirror Brands vs. Beacon Brands

In advertising, Brands, communications, Consumers, market research, marketing, research, strategy, trends on January 7, 2008 at 10:51 am

one tree

Originally uploaded by distillerymedia

Sometimes marketers get confused about what their brand is vs. what their audience would like it to be. While the latter philosophy is logical to the point of wanting to please customers, it can be problematic since customers rarely give two bits about the state of your marketshare, your margins, what your brand is capable of, or the general health of your business.

Thinking that brands should mirror the lives or desires of their audience, marketers often enlist the use of focus groups, IDIs, ideations, expert panels, surveys and the like to try to figure out what the market wants. The basic problem with this is that customers inevitably want brands to be “faster, stronger, more reliable, cheaper, easier to use” etc., and they’re often short-sighted on how they want your brand to serve them. And why shouldn’t they be? Do they want your brand to enter into a new category? Maybe, but not if they have a brand there that they already trust. Do they want your brand to retool? Maybe, but not if they already like it. If used as input and inspiration, this type of research can be invaluable in opening up lines of thought and creating possibilities. But if used to find actual answers, you’ll likely end up with a very bland brand with all of the edges buffed off since the majority of the audience will find this acceptable. It’s the law of averages.

The real question should be: how can you use the market and insights to achieve your business and brand objectives? How can you create a Beacon brand that represents your audience’s unspoken aspirations and drives them to you? How can you use your competitive advantage to create a marketplace advantage?

The advantage of Beacon brands is that they take a stand. They connect deeply to your audience in a way that is differentiating and unique. By comparison, as the name implies, Mirror brands simply look to mirror the audience. They can succeed, but the task is much more difficult since Mirror brands only reflect what is on the surface and not the deeper, underlying values of an audience. They can also be more easily replicated by everyone else in the market.

  1. I get where you’re trying to go here, but I think that you’ve misidentified the issue. The issue lies more directly in execution than it does in branding, in that proper execution of production, identifying opportunity, giving an audience (not necessarily “your audience”) something that they want will result in a brand image.

    You’re right – no one cares what MyWidget’s market share is. They do care about how MyWidget helps them fix their problems.

    I think what you’ve identified not two different types of brands, but the reality that “focus groups, IDIs, ideations, expert panels, surveys,” etc. just don’t work anymore in getting business to where it needs to be to achieve greatness (not just goodness).

  2. You may have me there to a point. I think my frustration arises when a client asks customers what they want and assume that they have any idea. AND, the fact that once they get that widget produced the audience has moved on. I’m far more impressed by brands that take a stand and serve as a beacon for customers (Burger King, Red Bull, Aveda). I think it is rare that a brand like Dove can get it right by doing both.

  3. Dove chocolate or Dove soap?

  4. Dove Soap. When creating the positioning for Dove it was clear that there was an audience that wanted a “real beauty” brand. One that didn’t simply show beautiful models but one that embraced it’s audience as it was. As an insight, not earth-shattering. You’d find similar things talking to women about everything from lingerie to clothing to magazines. But what I was impressed by is how the brand (and agency) really took the insight on as a mantra, moving away from communication that simply reflected the audiences pov but really toward a brand that championed it.

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