What makes an iconic brand?
There is more than meets the eye in order to make a brand iconic.
We all hear and talk about iconic brands, but what does that really mean?
Merriam-Webster defines iconic as:
1 : of, relating to, or having the characteristics of an icon
2a : widely recognized and well-established
//an iconic brand name
2b : widely known and acknowledged especially for distinctive excellence
//an iconic writer
//a region's iconic wines
From a branding point of view, being widely recognized and well established is not enough to be iconic; consumers must also see a brand as having high integrity and charisma.
To have high integrity, a brand’s origin story must be real and authentic, and the brand must remain true to that story and consistent in messaging over time. Being authentic and constant builds consumers’ enduring trust, and drives the consumer belief that these brands are the innovators and the experts; they set the standard for all other competitive brands.
To have high charisma, brands must own a distinct attitude and emotional space. These brands make people feel inspired to be part of something; they have people thinking, “I want to be just like the other people that are using this brand”. These brands form a deep relationship with their consumers, based on a solid understanding of their motivation, the insight. The connection goes so deep that if the brand were a person, they would be the life of the party, the person that everybody wants to be with.
As an example, let’s use this framework to show why NIKE is an iconic brand.
What Nike stands for is rooted in a real, tangible and rich story. When Nike began, amateur athletes received poor support and funding from sport governing bodies and had virtually no voice in gaining the resources needed to train and compete. Nike sponsored and supported amateur athletes and became their voice to get the support they needed. NIKE decided to (and still does) stand for the “voice of athletes”, carving out a unique emotional space that differentiates themselves from other athletic brands.
Nike realized that by being the voice for only “real athletes”, the brand would have integrity and charisma, but would it would not reach iconic stature. Nike would not have wide recognition; the brand would only resonate with “real athletes”. To build recognition and appeal with a larger audience, Nike adopted the philosophy that “everyone is an athlete and capable of reaching their full potential”. Nike partnered with “joint icons”, such as Michael Jordan, and put out emotional driven messages that a large number of consumers could identify with to build the deep emotional relationship needed.
To secure iconic stature, Nike has remained true to being the “voice of athletes”, and has consistently brought attention to the issues of the day, through the lens of sport. They have spoke out against racism by showcasing black soccer players, they have supported cancer research by partnering with Lance Armstrong’s yellow band program, and have spoken up for women’s equal rights by highlighting the struggles of women athletes such as Maria Sharapova.