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SMU 101 - Session 10: Bringing Your Brand to Life

By now we hope we've convinced you that brands are living, breathing entities. They have a life of their own. Brands are conceived and born. They grow - and they learn. They communicate and enter relationships, have values and a unique identity. They have a personality. And over time, successful brands respond to, adapt to - and even improve - their environments.

Learning Aims for this session:

  • You will develop an understanding of how to create an audience profile for your brand
  • You will understand how an audience is composed of sub-groups and how to build profiles for each
  • You will explore the practice of strategic storytelling which focuses on specific sub-groups within your audience

Learning Outcomes for this session:

At the end of this session, you will be able to:

  • Understand how reducing your audience to an abstraction is counter-productive and counter-intuitive to branding
  • Understand how to frame your strategic storytelling to engage the specific tribes and cliques that compose your overall audience
  • Approaches you can use to create focused branding experience that meet the needs of the tribes and cliques that make up your overall audience

How this Session Works:

  1. Read through the Overview that accompanies this session. This provides an overall context for the session.
  2. Work your way through the items on the Preparatory section that accompanies this session.
  3. Listen to the Lecture that accompanies this session.
  4. Work your way the branding scenario in the "Scenario" tab. The scenario is a practical exercise activity to develop your initial understanding of the branding concepts covered in this session.
  5. Work your way the template in the "Template" tab. The template will support you as you take the first steps in developing your understanding of your brand.
  6. You can browse through some carefully selected material in the "Reading Room" tab. These materials will build upon your initial Brand concepts.

SMU 101 Session 10 Study Activities

  • Overview
  • Preparatory Activities
  • Lecture
  • Scenarios
  • Template
  • Reading Room

A Living Brand relates to its audience through rational, emotional, and cultural dimensions that are relevant and powerfully differentiating. The most successful brands are engaged with an audience and tribes at all three levels. The strength of this engagement is based on the establishment of differentiation through positioning and your brand statement - in other words, the Living Brand Idea.

Beyond its rational attributes, a brand must stand for something. It not only stands for something but celebrates what it stands for every day. While it may be popular with a huge global audience, a brand shouldn't be everything for everyone. A differentiating strategic idea drives a unique voice and informs the development of all the aspects of the brand.

The Living Brand platform you create provides a tone and personality framework that inspires and guides the brand through all its touchpoints, both internal and external.

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  1. In the video below,  Kansas University School of Business Dean, Neeli Bendapud, discusses approaches to creating a living brand.

  2. Emotion is an important component of the living brand. Emotions make connections through memory and associations, a subject which is discussed below

  3. Online is one of the key spaces where we bring brands to life. Social media has transformed the way audiences engage with brands.  The following article covers the interactions between brands and audiences via social media:

    Gaulin, S. Bringing Your Brand to Life Through Compelling Content Marketing, Hotel Business Review.

  4. Furthering the points raised by Gaulin in the article above, the short presentation below conveys a simple message: a living brand is a social brand:

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  1. Cognitive anthropologist Dr. Bob Deutsch has a unique and invaluable insight into the inner workings of the human mind and how the mind frames abstract processes that lead individuals to form a lasting emotional connection with a brand. In talking about how people form these connections, he stresses the importance of understanding your audience's lives, motivations, and feelings. We learn about what his position has entailed in the context of advertising, what an individual's brand of meaning is, and how purchase decisions are ultimately made, in Dr. Bob's own words, in a spasm of sentiment rather than a dryly analytical process of pure rationality.

  2. In Part 2 of Dr. Bob Deutsch's interview, he discusses the way in which a brand is recognized and defined by the human mind. Dr. Bob tells us about how emotional attachments are initially formed through a merging of narratives between the individual and the brand, inspiring a spasm of sentiment that forms a lasting connection and loyalty. He shares examples to provide insight into the feelings behind these connections, citing work he has done for Ronald Reagan, Apple, and Harley-Davidson. He describes how data comes second to emotion, and how people recall their feelings far more acutely than hard information. He touches on social networks, and moves on to discuss the concept of a social tribe, discussing their requirements and benefits, to both their members and to the brands that manage to cultivate them.

  3. In the third installment of his interview, Dr. Bob covers another important aspect that brings brands to life: Ideas. Dr. Bob talks about not only what makes a big idea, but also about the entire concept of what an idea is and how it is formed. In talking about the "new rules" versus the "old rules" of presenting an idea in advertising, Dr. Bob looks beyond the background of the advertising industry to the human process of attachment. He stresses the importance of this concept in all aspects of life, and talks about how it determines what small percentage of advertising breaks through to make culture. He talks about the modern world, the way people view it, the way they form attachments, and what it takes for a good idea to endure through it.

  4. In this last segment, Dr. Bob comments on the general tendency to overcomplicated matters, when the only truly meaningful promise a brand can make is to help an individual become more of themselves, to use the brand and the product as a vessel through which to explore themselves in what he defines with a yellow brick road philosophy. He shares the story of the long path that led him to advertising, one paved with serendipity, and how his background enabled him to touch upon so many areas along his route. His interview concludes with one truth: every one of us is on a journey throughout our lives, in our nature, and to be truly meaningful, anything with which we interact must play a role in that journey. Consciously or sub-consciously, these influence the development of our brands.

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Building on one key point raised by Dr Bob, we at SMU hope you had a light bulb moment when it comes to the purpose of the scenarios sections for the scenarios in the various sessions. We designed scenarios to be self-reflective in nature - to get you to dig deeply and honestly into yourself - to better understand your own passions, interests, passions and motivations for whatever it is that you do when it comes to your business. Discovering these, tapping into these, investigation these motivations - and even playing them - lead to developing authentic brands.

We have been on quite a journey from the first lesson for this course. And we're nearly there in terms of this stage of developing your understanding, process and strategies for creating an engaging, authentic brand with a character, personality and life.

Delivering on our brand promise is a key way to bring our brands to life. The short article below addresses this important point. There are a handful of case studies within the article that we suggest you familiarize yourself with - and think of ways you can incorporate aspects of their successful approach in order to inject life into your brand:

What's Your Challenge? > Bring brand to life, The Pita Group.

The scenarios below feature some of the leading creative minds from within the fashion industry. The take-away points from each are easily transferable across industries, products and services.

Inspiration is one thing that infuses a brand to life. Watching the videos below, ask yourself what inspires you, what inspires your brand? How will you establish a dynamic where inspiration and passion is a two-way flow between your audience and your brand.

Lanvin's Alber Elbaz discusses how the passion of his audience inspires him and drives his creativity - and is an essential part of bringing his brand to life.

Stella McCartney talks about what inspires her, how she's bringing social responsibility into fashion, and why making clothes for women is about emotions, not silhouettes.


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The first template is a mind map.

Bringing all of the elements of this course together, please create a full and comprehensive mind map for all of the elements of your brand. It is an effective way to see how all of the components of your brand fit together - and to see how some of these elements inform other components of your brand.

Through this, you can begin to shape which communications and content can be geared towards specific tribes. You can begin to understand how the same bit of content can be tweaked and amended to serve the individual tribes that make up your audience.

We've provided a real world example below. It's a mind map Alex di Savoia developed for his brand as an aide in the brand's re-development and launch. While the entire Mind Map hasn't been provided, you can gain a sense of the level to which this mind map can be completed to inform a strategic brand strategy.

Refer to your scenario notes and your templates. Bringing them together, you'll see how they will aide you in completing this mind map.

Create your own mind maps at MindMeister

Once you've completed your mind map (and you can always go back to tweak it), we recommend exporting it, printing it and putting it in a prominent place - something for you to continually refer back to. With Mind Meister, you can export your mind map in a number of formats: 

  • Microsoft Word file (.docx)
  • Microsoft PowerPoint file (.pptx)
  • PDF file (.pdf)

Mind Meister:

The the final template for this unit is in the form of a very useful workbook that you can download, pint and complete: The Brand Formation Workbook -

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Bendapudi, B. and Bendapudi, V. Creating the living brand, Harvard Business Review 83(5), pp 124-132.

Conner, C. 2011. Top Online Reputation Management Tips for Brand Marketers, Forbes.

Ind, N. 2007. Living the Brand: How to Transform Every Member of Your Organization Into a Brand Champion, Kagan Page, 3rd Edition.

Ind, N. and Watts, C. 2005. How Brands Determine Organizational Creativity, Design Management Review, Fall 2005,  pp 63 - 72.

Kawasaki, G. 2011. How To Bring Your Brand To Life, American Express Open Forum, 24 October 2011.

Lawer, C., & Knox, S. 2006. Customer advocacy and brand development, The Journal of Product & Brand Management, 15(2/3), pp 121–129.

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