I admit that articles like this discourage me somewhat.
The Spiteful Critic: Branding, Games, and Films
In this particular article, Lewis Pulsipher emphasizes the game world. It’s a great discussion of the realities of the power of brands to attract audiences. There is tremendous power, credibility, and trust in known identities. For large segments of audiences for every kind of media, they are attracted to the known. Even a person’s perception of quality is influenced by brand awareness (see the article’s study on McDonald’s food and kids in taste-testing). It is more difficult, and expensive, to introduce something new and different, that’s why game companies and film studios turn out ‘based-on’ products and sequels. They hesitate to take a chance on a property where they have to introduce entirely new characters and stories when they can exploit the existing interest of a large group of people who are already fans. This makes perfect sense.
But, most of us don’t have access to those kinds of stories and properties. Where does that leave us?
Of course, there are segments of audiences that actively seek out the unknown. These people might even intentionally avoid major brands. For these people, the idea of eating at McDonalds, buying coffee at Starbucks, or seeing a film in the ______ franchise is anathema. I would say that I tend that way, but I do have my brand favorites, like my Mac computers. I probably respond to Apple’s marketing in much the same way a kid might respond to McDonalds’. They have me hooked in some way. Is that an entirely bad thing?
For smaller content creators like me it can be a daunting task to even imagine cracking a general audience market. However, every creator, no matter how small, should take the time to understand and develop a brand identity. We live in a world, if guys like Seth Godin are to believed, made up of tribes – each with identifiable interests, needs, and places where they hang out.
It should be possible for almost anyone to create products that speak to specific tribes, that are of value to them, and products that develop trust and credibility with them. As we create for that niche, we have the chance to create a brand out of products that speak in similar ways, have similar values, and give that audience the same feeling that kids get when they eat at (or think about eating at) McDonalds; or, perhaps, the feeling I get when I enter an Apple Store. The best brands feel like home, or even better, to their audience. They make you feel like you, or like you want to feel if you were the best you there was.
So what am I doing today to develop that level of trust and comfort and influence with a specific audience, through the things I create?