Written by: Kyle Lin
Everyone’s got their own, self-proclaimed great metaphor to describe brands and branding. I tend to look at any brand, small or large, as a collection— a lot like something you may have collected in your youth like comic books, barbie dolls or stamps.
I was a rock and fossil guy. I loved the idea of stumbling across a great find. Whether in my own backyard or at the museum gift shop, there was something special about that feeling of adding something new and interesting to my collection. The hope that my dusty drawer of rocks would some day be worth a lot of money sometimes crossed my mind, but I mostly did it because I loved rocks and loved the idea of a set of things that were in some way connected. My dad hoped the day would come that I’d stop bringing dust in to the house.
My love for rocks faded and looking back, they were probably never worth anything more than the ground they came from, but my interest in collections as a concept only grew and I later found that it translated well into my career in advertising as an art director, visual designer, and storyteller.
Every brand, like a collection, is a set of things. These things are as much a brand’s products and services as they are a brand’s website, messaging, and advertising. And like any collection it’s silly to think that a brand’s advertising would be judged any differently than the product they’re selling, it’s all part of one large system.
Like any collection there are gems and odd balls and some of them work better than others. My drawer was filled with “cool” rocks like obsidian and pyrite, but I also had a few outliers that worked well in the set like a random clam fossil and a piece of petrified wood. Admirers would usually forego the clam fossil for the shiner quartz crystal, until I explained what the brownish, clam-shaped oval was and where I had found it. The crystal was beautiful, but just a compulsive museum gift shop buy. Once they hear the story of the clam, they understand it’s true value and were often interested in hearing others’ stories.
I later systematically boxed and labeled each rock and the clam fossil became the star of the show. Friends and family were always selecting it over others because I learned how to tell its entire, mysterious story with a few simple words, “Clam Fossil / Age: Unknown / Found: Backyard.” Looking back, the crystal was probably necessary for connoisseur street-cred but I found that people reacted most strongly to my rocks when they had an interesting story to tell.
These days, digital technology allows anyone to start a business and build a brand. To understand the impact, if you look at any parody business website, you’ll agree that the barrier of entry in terms of brand quality is unfortunately lower than ever. Your website is your storefront and might be the first and potentially the only brand engagement that anyone ever has with your product or service. For this reason you should take the utmost care in using it to tell a compelling brand story. And within your brand story each piece—product, service, advertising, or otherwise has a sub-story to tell that should ladder up to a specific emotional idea or a relatable human concept. The art of how you tell this story is the magic that makes or breaks your collection.
Sparkling quartz crystals are great and often shiny prerequisites to grab people’s attention, but once they’re in, if you can’t communicate how your brand fits into your customer’s life as a whole, it may be time to reassess your collection’s story.