What Marvel Comics Taught Me About Branding

XMen: One of the most interesting comic brands of all time
XMen: One of the most interesting comic brands of all time

I have been a fan of marvel comics since I was a teenager.  My favourite comics?  The X-men series, and the line extensions such as Cable and Uncanny X-men.  It helps that my room mate then was an avid comic fan, who worked part time at a comic shop, and who later opened a comic shop of his own later.

Here’s what Marvel Comics taught me about branding:

1) You need to exercise a lot of creativity and create a story around each character.  This is the character’s branding.  Regardless of decades of time since the birth of Iron Man, the story and branding behind the character have lasted through generations.

2) You can have parent branding for individual characters by putting them in a group.  E.g. the Avengers defend planet earth from alien threats, and the members are the Incredible Hulk, Captain America, Iron Man, Thor and Hawkeye.

3) Each of the characters form a stronger portfolio (group) than if they fight enemies on their own.  Hulk provided his amazing strength and fury, Thor used his heavenly hammer to punish invaders, and Hawkeye uses his sharp accuracy to shoot enemies down.

4) The characters can change their personality to suit the changing times.  E.g. during World War 2, Captain America was active in defending US from Axis enemies.  During the 1960s, Captain America was active in Avengers defending against alien threats instead.

5) The characters each has an admirable quality that the readers can aspire to.  Iron Man was aspirational in his intelligence and passion in science, while Captain America inspired with his patriotism and athleticism.

6) The characters can change their costumes (packaging) to suit changing times.  Spiderman started off with a bright blue and red costume, then eventually turned into a dark blue and darker red colored costume.  When he turned into venom, the costume turned black to signify the shift towards evil.

7) The characters always meet obstacles along their fight against evil, but through perseverance and willpower they managed to always defeat the enemy in the end.  Likewise in branding, we may meet difficulties at times, but if we persevere, we will prevail in the end.

8) Comic characters are always full of fun, as they use their unique powers to add fun to their lives.  Similarly, branding can be fun, so always see it that way.

Verbs for Branding

You know how we always use ‘xerox’ to mean ‘photocopying’ something? “Hey, can you help me to xerox 10 copies of this document?”

That’s verb branding. Other examples are Amazoning a couple of books for my research and FedExing a parcel overnight to someone.

Does your brand stand for a verb?

Emotional Branding

This is especially important for the beauty industry. Everything needs to communicate. This includes the packaging, the way you dispense the content of the product, the secondary packaging, and the in store displays.

So is the tobacco industry. You think that the cigarette tastes real nice? How about the positive emotions of open spaces, freedom, and adventure offered by the Marlboro advertisements?

Benetton has got this a little wrong. It provoked people with shocking images of abortions and racial discriminations. Sure, it got lots of attention, but short term only. The images and messages need to be aligned to their target consumers’ values, and provides a solution to solve their concerns. Benetton has since received backlash from certain consumers, affecting its sales.

Tommy Hilfiger hit a note with teenagers when they programmed a series of shows with young kids and their love and friendships, of course wearing Tommy Hilfiger clothings. They also held singing contests that can lead to cutting albums. Response was overwhelming.

Branding is about cultural relevance and emotional connection, not hype.

Interesting Quotes related to Branding

There are quotes from all arenas of disciplines that are applicable to branding.  Branding deals with the disciplines of economics, psychology, business, accounting, warfare, intelligence, culture, journalism, sociology and many others.  That’s why I like branding, it’s never boring.

Here are some quotes that I personally like:

1) The best and fastest way to learn a sport is to watch and imitate a champion – Jean Claude Killy, skier

There is nothing shameful about copying a good competitor.  If it works, why not copy it?  The banking industry is the most notorious in this area, where competitors will copy a good marketing or new products/services offerings with lightning speed.

2) Marketing should focus on market creation, not market sharing – Regis McKenna

I am tired sometimes of trying to clobber a competitor, who may be a previous employer, or who may be employing my friends as employees.  It can be a zero sum game, where brand teams get fired because another company’s brand team increased market shares at competitors’ expense.  Can’t we all create new markets and live in peace?  I wished for world peace this year.

3) Results are gained by exploiting opportunities, not by solving problems – Peter Drucker

This quote is rather controversial.  Didn’t huge companies like P&G get big by solving problems neglected by competitors?  I think what Peter Drucker meant was to think big.  He was asking us to have the mindset of exploiting huge opportunities for business, rather than just be contented with solving problems for consumers.  Even with problems identified, a company can exploit it with a big idea by seeing it as an opportunity.