I’ve heard a lot of different ideas about what constitutes a “brand” -- that it's about trust, perception or a relationship. But in the end, a brand is ultimately about affecting behavior by influencing decisions, and trust, perception and relationships are all means to that end. Companies want people to decide to buy their products or pay for their services. Nonprofit organizations want people to decide to donate time or money. Educational institutions want people to decide to enroll and pay for that enrollment.
The tendency of most organizations is to attempt to influence decisions by touting what they have to offer and focusing on what is generally referred to as “differentiators.” This is understandable because organizations tend to focus on and think a lot about their competitive advantages. But this ignores a basic truth: People don’t really care about competitive advantages or differentiators. What they do care about is themselves and how they stand to benefit.
The key to effective brand-building, then, is to focus on the decision itself and the people making the decision. Who are they? What do they care about? What are they trying to achieve? What are their other options? And, perhaps most importantly, what’s driving their decisions?
The decisions we make have two basic drivers: utility and identity. Decisions driven by utility are all about achieving an objective, such as choosing a dentist. In the end, we want a dentist who is competent and able to provide good care and a positive overall experience. We don’t really care about the name of the dentist or practice, and we don’t feel any need to advertise those things to others.
When it comes to decisions driven primarily by utility, the person making the decision wants to believe that the brand understands what it’s going to take to achieve the ultimate objective. We don’t choose a dentist because we want to have a new friend; we choose a dentist because we want to have healthy teeth.
Decisions driven by identity, on the other hand, are all about how we see ourselves and how we want others to see us. People don’t buy Lamborghinis because they need to be able to go from zero to 60 in less than three seconds -- they buy them because of what that purchase communicates about wealth and status.
When it comes to decisions driven primarily by identity, the people making those decisions want to believe that the brand understands how they think about themselves and how they want to be perceived by others. Lamborghini buyers choose the Lamborghini because they believe it’s a symbol of success, and they want others to see them that way.
Most decisions, however, lie somewhere in between those two extremes. People who shop at Whole Foods are satisfying a utilitarian requirement -- they need food -- but they’re also making a statement about who they are and what they stand for, even if that statement is only for themselves.
Understanding whether a decision is driven primarily by utility or identity allows a brand to focus its messaging on the thing that really matters to the brand consumer. And it’s this understanding that allows Lamborghini to make commercials like this one and this one, which have all the trappings of success: wealth, power, beauty, status, being above the rules and in control, etc. It’s not a message that will appeal to everyone, but Lamborghini is betting that it will appeal to its ideal consumers. And the millions of views those videos have racked up suggest that it's exactly right.