I read an amazing story on Forbes last week.
On Saturday, October 12th, an artist set up a modest booth on the outskirts of New York’s Central Parkto sell a collection of black and white “spray” paintings, priced at $60 apiece.
Nothing amazing yet.
The artist sat beside his wares for four hours before making his first sale.
Again, nothing amazing. Street artists often spend entire days without a single sale.
Finally, a woman bought a couple of small canvases, but only after bargaining for a 50% discount. A little while later, a woman visiting from New Zealand purchased a piece. And at 5:30, just before closing, a man chose four paintings. He said he was decorating his new house and “just needed something for the walls.”
Total take for the day: $420
Now, the amazing part:
The “artist” (actually a stand-in) who spent the day on the streets of the Big Apple, was actually hawking the paintings of the world-renowned graffiti artist, political activist, film maker, and painter known only as Banksy. Banksy’s works regularly sell for tens of thousands at auction, often for hundreds of thousands, and in some cases for over a million dollars apiece.
And yet the hundreds of passersby who saw his paintings priced at $60 did not see value in his work.
Because there was no emotional context …
They didn’t have any connection to the work. It didn’t represent anything. They did not have any personal feelings about the art or the artist. The paintings were just paintings.
… and there wasn’t any social context …
There were no social cues to help people understand the work or its value. There was no “buzz” or activity – no conversation around the paintings or the artist.
… and, the physical context told the wrong story.
They weren’t seeing Banksy’s canvases alongside expensive and rare works at Sotheby’s or Bonham’s. They were seeing them in a street vendor’s booth. Based on their perception of “street art,” they assumed what they were seeing was not valuable.
Because they didn’t have any emotional, social, or physical context, Bansky’s art DIDN’T MEAN ANYTHING to the busy people walking down the street.
And that’s the crux of the thing.
It’s meaning that makes it possible for Bansky to charge hundreds of thousands of dollars.
It’s meaning that makes his customers happy to pay those prices.
It’s meaning that makes his authentic work more valuable than another artist’s, even if – on the surface – they look very similar.
Banksy has brand.
And Bansky’s brand is made of stories – the story of the artist as activist, the stories of celebrity purchases of Banksy pieces, and the story of his unknown identity – shrouded in creative mystery like a paint can-wielding vigilante for the people.
As important as these Bansky-centric stories are the stories of the people who interact with and buy Banksy’s art:
- The run-of-the-mill mobile home that, because it sports a Banksy mural, went on the market for half a million British pounds.
- The homeowners who loved the Bansky mural on their house so much that they listed their home for sale as “a mural with a house attached” in order to try and protect the artwork from buyers who wanted to paint over it.
If you think brand doesn’t matter. If you think it’s a “nice-to-have.” If you think a brand is just your name and logo.
Brand is often the only thing that makes a real difference in your customer’s mind.
And the brand that tells the best story, wins.
The story of your product’s purpose
The story of your product’s creation
The story of your company’s mission
Even more important, you need to give your customers the chance to become part of your brand story as they:
- Discover your product
- Purchase your product
- Use your product
- Share your product
Each touch point, every aspect of the experience, is a chance to create a new story and strengthen your brand.
Don’t think this only applies to artists either.
We buy with our hearts at least as often as they buy with our heads. In fact, human nature makes us much more apt to make a decision based on emotions and justify it with logic after the fact.
Brands are what tap into emotions:
- I choose where to buy my milk and produce based on the emotional need to feel a connection to my community and a sense of responsibility to the planet (even though I can buy less expensive, organic products at the local chain market).
- I buy my lattes at a local, indie coffee shop because their fair trade values are in line with my values. I want to be part of what they’re doing.
- I buy books at an indie bookstore (even though I can get them from Amazon cheaper and faster) because I believe in what the Jabberwocky brand stands for – independence, service, community, and the power of small business.
- I buy Apple products even though many of my peers and colleagues swear by their Android devices because I believe in the Apple brand’s dedication to creativity, uniqueness, and “the crazy ones.”
People buy all kinds of things based on emotional connections to a brand: cars, clothes, notebooks, airline tickets, insurance, pet food, and on and on. Businesses also buy for emotional reasons. (After all, businesses are made up of people.)
Your brand is what you stand for.
It’s what puts your product into context for your customers.
It’s what gives your product meaning in the hearts of your customers.
Without that meaning, your product is “just another product” – nothing special, nothing worth the extra money, nothing to write home about.
With meaning, your product is a must-have, a way for people to be part of something bigger than themselves, a way for people to express their own values, something to get excited about, something to talk about.
What story are you telling?
What do you stand for?
What does your brand mean to your customers?