Building a brand universe

1 December 2021

While brands used to be synonymous with their products, the definition is constantly expanding and breaking borders. Today, brands can be their own communities – followed by millions on social media and recognised more by their trademarks than their products. The Link spoke to Eleonore Säll, Executive Vice President of Global Brand at GANT, about the secrets behind a good brand story. “Brands will just continue to grow. They are becoming communities, movements and role models that people look up to”.

“The brand identity is so important. First of all, there are numerous studies showing a clear correlation between a strong brand and consumer willingness to pay more for the product. Second of all, it leads to a more stable and loyal customer base. You are kind of building a brand universe that customers want to be a part of.”

Eleonore explains that the story and feeling around a brand is just as important as the products themselves – if not even more so. “When you buy something from a brand with a strong identity, you do not only buy the product, but you buy into the complete atmosphere of the brand; you become part of something. If you have worked a lot on building a strong or well-perceived platform, it will lead to consumers wanting to be part of it. This means that your attraction is broader than the products you sell, you are all of the sudden a community that people want to be a part of.”

In other words, brands build trust and trust drives sales. A survey by Edelmann shows that 81% of consumers say they must be able to trust the brand they are buying from. But it is not only the customers being influenced by the power of branding. Research shows that 82% of investors want the companies they invest in to have a strong brand.

Building the brand
According to Eleonore, the identity of a brand is much wider than its product lines – it is a set of different parts, all together constituting the whole image. “It is like the brands personality. For us, it is a mix of many things including our legacy, our heritage, the craftmanship, our timeless style and our values. For example, our strong connection to the Ivy League Universities is part of our identity, just like the fact that we are premium brand. All these parts of GANT are just as important as our products.”

This “brand personality” can include everything from its visual identity and logo, to its history, values and collaborations. Just like a person being the sum of everything from clothing, perfume and physical traits to its values, characteristics, and background – a brand today is the result of various things combined.

The story of the story
It all started in 1907, when GANT founder Bernard Gantmacher arrived in New York City as a Jewish immigrant from Ukraine. While studying to become a pharmacist, Gantmacher was working tirelessly in a clothing factory at night, producing shirt collars. Fast-forward some 100 years and we all know that Gantmacher never became a pharmacist but came to found a massive clothing brand.

In reality, this story might have little to do with the products you see on display in the web shop or your local GANT store. But by nurturing this story, it has become an important part of GANT as a concept. Eleonore says that it all comes down to the storytelling you choose to use in the communication. “We definitely use this in our storytelling, both to show our history but also to highlight the values that we have brought along ever since the founding of the brand. We try to look for ways to show the link between us today and our heritage in everything we do, by using stories and visual cues.“

She thinks that this mentality is as important as ever when planning communication and campaigns. “This is not least true for our marketing campaigns, where we always try to channel our identity. In our current brand campaign ‘The future of American Sportswear’ for example, our style, personality and values are very evident. It doesn’t have to be evident every time, but we always use ‘markers’ – things that consumers associate with GANT – as components in our marketing. For example, the backdrop of a shoot might look like an Ivy League dorm room, playing on the strong link we have to Ivy League Universities. Then the next dimension is to play with the decorations seen on walls in that room, to make sure they strongly communicate our heritage and our values – for example, that they are challenging conformity and not the traditional white men winning a rowing race picture in a frame.“

Old but not outdated
While looking back and highlighting the brand history can be an efficient tool within storytelling, it is just as important to find a balance between keeping the old and making room for the new. “There is a fine line between keeping a quite classic profile year after year and failing to feel up-to-date. We don’t want to be too nostalgic, but we try to find a balance between our history and identity and to add a modern feel to it. Or when things that are already a key part of our identity becomes a trend, such as the current preppy trend, we make sure to ride that wave by bringing that trait forward in our marketing.“

The task might be tricky, and Eleonore admits that it takes a lot of work to build and retain an image. However, she thinks the value it brings to the brand and the positive effect it has on the business makes it worthwhile. “It is more important than many might be aware of since the results are not visible or measurable from one day to another. The brand identity takes time to create, build and cultivate and the effect it has on the sales or success of a brand is hard to measure. But it adds an emotional value to the customer’s perception of the brand and builds a very important value in the long run.”

No matter the effort, Eleonore thinks that a brand’s identity will become more and more important with time. We have already seen global giants such as Google, Apple, Nike and Coca-Cola growing from simple brands to multisectoral brand empires. As the competition increases, the brand identity will continue to grow in importance when it comes to standing out from the crowd. “Brands are becoming way larger than the products they provide or sell, and they will just continue to expand. Brands are becoming communities, movements and role models that people look up to and imitate. Their messages can travel across borders as people are following them on social media, or as they have collaborations with influencers reaching millions of people. In other words, brands are becoming their own universes.”

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