• Adam Morris


Who am I? It's arguably one of the most profound questions a person may ask. Is a person's identity based on their past, the present, their future, or a combination thereof? Is it what a person believes, or what others believe? When it comes to identity, one's sense of self is subjective; similar to the idea that "beauty is in the eye of the beholder". The brands a person makes a part of their life can influence how they're perceived by themselves and others.

The proliferation of brands in the 21st century has helped define and categorize products and services, ergo defining the very people who purchase them. Brands that allow consumers to demonstrate their sense of self (internally, to themselves and externally, to others) gain a competitive edge. Used as a strategic asset, an organization's brand drives demand through identity.

"I Shop, Therefore I Am"

There's a certain chicken and egg perspective when it comes to some consumer's buying decisions. For example, does a person who identifies with being a rebel wear clothing with provocative language on it, or, does a person wear clothing with provocative language on it to then identify with being a rebel? In either instance, a brand selling provocative clothing can appeal to this very person, as their clothing provides a tool for outward self-expression that resonates with their beliefs.

Clothing is a great example of the power branding. Since humans judge each other visually and make snap judgments, a person can say a lot about themselves without speaking in the first place. Someone in a pair of chinos and plain t-shirt may identify with wholesomeness and casualness (and be perceived as so). On the other hand, someone in a $5,000 suit might identify with luxury, elegance, and high social status (and be perceived as so). People make assumptions about others, and brands give people a tool to positively shape these perceptions – whatever they wish them to be.

Show, Don't Tell

It's one thing to say something, but it's another to show (or prove) it. For instance, a person may claim they're environmentally-conscious. While this is a claim anyone can make—and the respective person in this instance may very well be environmentally-conscious—they can show they're environmentally-conscious by driving a Tesla. By doing so, the Tesla-owner can contribute to environmental sustainability while proving his or her values to the world by identifying with Tesla's products and mission. The value that Tesla provides is that it empowers its customers to do good for the environment and advantageously signal that they are a good person because of it. Furthermore, Tesla's advantage and differentiator over competitor electric cars is that it allows drivers to look good—while doing good—thanks to their cars' contemporary design aesthetic.

Becoming Less of a Commodity

Let's explore Starbucks and the coffee industry as a whole. Commodity industries face the challenge of price wars between competitors due to significant similarities between offerings. An effective strategy to diminish similarities is to build a brand, as differentiation is a core facet of branding. What Starbucks has done is created a brand that allows consumers to buy more than just coffee. Starbucks drinkers buy into one (or multiple) components of its brand:

  • A personalized experience (think of custom drinks made to your liking and your name written on the cup)

  • Warm, friendly service

  • A "third place" (between work and home)

  • The ability to explore tastes of the world

  • Starbucks' Social Responsibility and Sustainability

  • The signal to others that one has disposable income and appreciates the finer things

However a consumer rationalizes paying a premium for Starbucks, "I'm a Starbucks person" means different things for different people. Ultimately, the personal connection strengthens the brand as a whole. Starbucks is a great example of selling beyond the product (coffee) and differentiating in a commoditized market.

A coffee drinker might say, "I'm a Starbucks person.", someone interested in computers might say, "I'm an Apple geek.", or a Justin Bieber fan might say, "I'm a 'Belieber.'"

Brand Disassociation

Gap underwent an unsuccessful rebrand in 2010, redesigning its original logo (left) to a new one (right).

On the note of buying into brands, consumers can intentionally boycott a brand if the its beliefs or actions coincide with their own. In fact, consumers often do so for irrational reasons. For example, when Gap rebranded in 2010, a significant amount of its customers took their business elsewhere – simply because they hated the new logo. Did their clothing change? No. But, consumers positively identified with the original Gap logo. Perhaps they were used to seeing it on their clothes as children. Some people just don't like change. Or, some didn't want to be caught dead holding a Gap bag with the new, unfavourable logo. Brands must be mindful of the elements its customers positively identify with. In Gap's case, this was critical since the fashion industry is notably visual.

Intuitively, humans use tools. Brands provide a tool for people to express themselves and shape their identities. While a person may know themselves best, how they're perceived by others is often at a surface level and based on the brands they associate (or disassociate) with. Building a brand that resonates with its target audience allows the consumer to best represent their ideal identity. ▲

You can also watch the "How Brand Drives Demand" speech by Adam Morris.


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