Your Brand Could Be a Superhero
There are vital brand and content marketing lessons to be learned from superheroes.
The Phantom was the first superhero. Created in 1936, he was closely followed by Superman in 1938 and Batman in 1939. These superheroes and many others have endured as icons of popular culture for over 80 years.
Their stories are beloved, their symbols are instantly recognizable, and their ability to stay relevant and to deeply connect with us is the superpower they all have in common. They know a thing or two about building loyal relationships that last.
What consumer or B2B brand wouldn’t want to dominate popular culture the way they do? More importantly, what can their stories teach us about becoming superhero brands ourselves?
What Defines A Superhero?
Stan Lee, the creative genius behind Marvel comics defines a superhero as “a person who does heroic deeds and has the ability to do them in a way that a normal person couldn’t. So in order to be a superhero, you need a power that is more exceptional than any power a normal human being could possess, and you need to use that power to accomplish good deeds.”
The State of Branding in 2020
Advertising legend Jeremy Bullmore once wrote, “Brands are fiendishly complicated, elusive, slippery, half-real/half-virtual things.” A company’s brand is defined by each individual it touches, and no two definitions are exactly alike.
Marketers can employ visual and written strategies and tactics to influence how people perceive their brand, but their sheer numbers make this a daunting task. Mr. Bullmore’s definition is further impacted because consumers are:
- More connected than ever
- Have access to social networks that can amplify their good or bad opinions
- More marketing averse than at any other time in history
It appears that it would take nothing short of a superhero to bring and sustain any brand.
In today’s world, those weary and wary of marketing and advertising messages are looking for authenticity, great customer service, and two-way conversations. They want to be included and recognized as individuals, not a demographic. For content marketing teams who can rise to the opportunity, there is room for small, superhero brands to challenge big brands, establishing a sizeable foothold in the marketplace.
Creating a Superhero Brand
There are many branding lessons to learn by studying superheroes. The world they live in possesses many attributes that, if applied to brands, can boost awareness and enthusiasm for the products and services they offer.
A Great Story
Marketing through stories is on-trend these days and for good reason. According to Jonathan Gottschall’s book, The Storytelling Animal, the human brain is wired to be drawn into stories. It is the most effective way to capture a person’s attention, help them remember information, and forge personal bonds.
A superhero brand story needs to go beyond a cohesive narrative that outlines your products and offerings. It goes beyond what’s published on your website or in a brochure. It is conveyed to your audiences in many ways, from the colors you use to represent you, to your policies, your staff, and what you believe in.
It’s a complete snapshot comprised of information, feelings, and interpretations made outside the company. That’s right, your brand story is not completely created by the brand.
And, don’t overlook your backstory. What sparked your company’s beginnings? Who are the people behind the brand? Where is the brand located?
Think about superheroes. They all have a story and a backstory that has been added to over time through comic books, and more recently, blockbuster movies. By staying consistent, but adding new layers, the brand is enriched with a deeper story.
The allure of superheroes like Superman or Batman is not just their superpower. They have human alter egos that have strengths and weaknesses, challenges, and triumphs. For Superman, it’s Clark Kent. For Spiderman, Peter Parker. The best brands not only have superpower attributes such as a strong moral code, they also have human attributes such as humor, vulnerability, and flaws.
Technology has evolved to provide many marketing functions. Bots that chat can provide product information and artificial intelligence steers us to additional products we may like are becoming the norm. Having real human attributes adds essential authenticity and dilutes the isolation that comes from using devices.
In a Forbes article, Celinne Da Costa supports this notion when she wrote, “The internet constantly rewards us with convenience and instant gratification, making the human touch increasingly more scarce and coveted.”
Just like real humans, human brands listen, value relationships, and care about customers.
The Importance Of Symbols
Instantly identifiable symbols are a necessity for a strong brand. Almost everyone, regardless of whether or not they are fans, recognizes Superman’s S in a shield or Batman’s bat in the clouds. A brand’s logo, colors, fonts, typographic styles are necessary elements for any strong brand.
A brand’s symbols should add to its story. There’s a reason Batman’s costume is black and gray. Bats are black and gray and the character’s backstory is darker than some of the other superheroes. In addition, Batman, being one of the earliest superheroes, was created in a black and white world. Over the decades, those managing the brand have kept this important visual consistency.
While consistency is an important brand element, it doesn’t mean symbols can’t evolve. Change needs to be thoughtful and seldom though.
Have A Mission
Captain America was created by Jewish American comic book writers during the rise of Nazism in Europe at a time when the majority of Americans were not yet prepared to respond to the horror of this situation. Draped in the American flag, Captain America, on its first cover, punches Hitler in the jaw.
In the same era, Wonder Woman rose to power out of the flood of women who were now employed in jobs when the men went off to war. Superhero missions reflect the times in which they live. They have a decisive positive mission and provide hope for the future.
Some brands have globally heroic missions as varied as solving environmental issues, furthering medical science, or providing for those in need. But brands can have simpler missions and still become superheroes.
Superhero missions can include brands that save people money, simplify processes, and provide greater access to something once exclusive.
How will you transform lives for the better? Lady Geek’s Global Empathy Index measures the relationship between brand empathy and profitability. Each year, the top ten most empathetic brands are among the most profitable and fastest-growing brands in the world.
The Superhero In The Office Is You
Superhero brands develop superpowers that are not always visible to the public but help propel the brand to super heights. These superpowers lie within every person at the enterprise.
- Creativity is a required superhero brand trait. It takes creativity to develop a winning superhero story and set it into motion in a way that builds value time and time again. When creativity is supported holistically within a company, professionals are energized to think in a way that can push the brand further and further.
- Sidekicks serve such an important role in superhero stories and brands. Brand work is a function of the whole company. No one individual can carry or sustain a brand. Teamwork across departments and the adoption of the story and mission throughout the organization is the foundation upon which a superhero brand is built.
- The staff makes the perfect brand ambassadors as they share the positive aspects of your brand with the outside world. Even if you are a solopreneur, those sidekicks or brand ambassadors can exist within your local chamber of commerce, a trade organization, or a networking group.
- Powerful tools like Green Lantern’s ring, Thor’s hammer, and Wonder Woman’s bracelets exist in the superhero brand realm as well. Technology has evened out the playing field. Small brands have access to no-cost or low-cost tools that allow teams to work smarter and quicker.
- From content curation to SEO to analytics, and more, today’s brand teams need to arm themselves with the tools they need to gain the x-ray vision, speed, and agility of superheroes.
Building A Superhero Brand
The old way of building giant corporations no longer works in today’s environment. Brands can no longer remain faceless entities and expect to succeed in the long term.
Gillette had been a global leader in shaving razors for decades until a small, start-up Dollar Shaving Club landed on the scene. With a comparatively minuscule budget, but a mission to make shaving more affordable and enjoyable, Dollar Shaving Club has significantly shaved Gillette’s market share by promoting its lower cost and convenient home delivery through storytelling.
By positioning DSC as the David going after Goliath the founders present themselves not as a huge corporation, but as ordinary guys solving an ordinary guy’s daily problem.
Patagonia’s superhero brand status is built upon its environmental mission, and they post it right to their website. “Our mission is to build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.”
Patagonia backs its mission up by providing environmental grants and encouraging activism for environmental causes. They also champion labor practices.
Today, the general public knows a lot more about marketing and advertising. They’re looking for a more meaningful exchange with the brands they choose to support. Find your superpower and grow your brand.
Deborah was the kid who would rather write book reports and essays than play ball during recess. Although she didn’t score many points with her peers, it did lead to her career creating content for TV, radio, print and new media for companies as varied as Dooney& Bourke, Panera Breads, Visa, SUNY Ulster and Hudson Valley Federal Savings Bank.
She is also a principal of small packages – a digital design company, and past partner/marketing director of whatis.com, the world’s foremost reference on information technology. And, her love of food enabled her to become a contributing editor of both Gourmet Retailer and Food Distribution Magazines.
Deborah has a bachelor degree in fine art from the Hartford Art School, University of Hartford and a masters in higher education administration from Stony Brook University. When she’s not writing, her love of quilting, furry animals, friends, and family sustains her.