Photo: Me with Sad Rabbit, circa 1980
Sad Rabbit wasn’t always sad.
Originally, when his smile was still stitched on properly, his name was Fluffy and he wasn’t tatty but caramel coloured with velvety ears. He was my most beloved childhood cuddly toy.
I still remember standing with my nose pressed to the window at bedtime, tears rolling my face to see him pegged mercilessly on the washing line after I’d given him an ill advised bath in Flower-Fairies rose perfume.
And 35 years later, I still think you can catch a whiff of that sickly scent if you inhale into his old, threadbare fur deeply enough.
Yes, I know that sounds gross and if you ask anyone else in this house - Sad Rabbit is definitely fit for the bin. But I can’t quite part with him yet. I think you can understand why.
Chances are, you had your own Fluffy when you were a kid and maybe, like me, you still have them stashed in a cardboard box somewhere. Do you remember how you came by them? Did you pick them out (rescue them) from a shelf of identical bears at the toy shop? Or were they a gift from someone who loved you?
You knew that underneath it all, your beloved childhood bear, rabbit or elephant was just a pile of factory-made stuffing, synthetic fibre and plastic button eyes - the same as any other. But to you - they were so much more; a dear friend, family even. It didn’t even matter that they couldn’t show any love in return. Your imagination was enough.
In the same way, your favourite winter jumper, your shiny bike or ‘special’ mug looks like random stuff to other people. But they are far more than mere things to you. Perhaps there is a story behind who gave it to you? Or you always wanted one and saved up to buy it? Or you just fell in love with the look of it?
From a young age we are primed to attach meanings and emotions to everything around us, even inanimate objects.
That is all any brand is; a collection of emotions, meanings and impressions that live inside our hearts and minds.
It’s outside of our conscious control but it affects the way we approach in everything our world.
So if you run a business or you work in marketing, even if you’re in ‘B2B’ or a hard-nosed industry and you haven’t ever seen the need to ‘do branding’ you might be missing an important opportunity.
Whether you intend it or not, your company is always communicating its identity anyway – from the way you treat your customers to the way in which some employees seem to fit in so well and others just don’t work out.
You already have a brand and we’re already attaching deeper meaning to what you do, what you say and the way you make us feel. That’s just the way we’re programmed.
So you may as well approach it with your eyes open and get clear on how to create the right impression and the right meaning for the people you care about; your customers.
Get that bit right and you increase your chances of becoming a meaningful brand that they give their loyalty to. Other people might tell them they’re crazy, that they can get the same thing cheaper somewhere else or that it’s time to try something new. But they won’t want to.
Remember, our attachment to brands, like our attachment to our childhood toys, isn’t rational. But it doesn’t happen by accident, either. You have to intend it and you have to earn it.
So where do you start? You start with understanding what matters to your customers, the things that they care about and how you can make their world a happier place.
As my favourite marketing and branding writer, Bernadette Jiwa, puts it “the job of every single business on the planet is to do just one thing - to make people happy. When you find ways to do that, you win”.