Icon Brands and Why Everyone Needs One

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by: John Sviokla

Bernard Lacoste’s recent passing, is a good time to mark something that he brought to a high art – the creation of an Icon Brand.  When I was a college student, my then girlfriend, now my wife, was very preppy and she tried to update my used clothing store attire, by giving me a Lacoste shirt and some Lacoste socks.  This gave me the opportunity to salvage a second alligator, and I put two of them in a compromising position on my new shirt.  She thought I had a twisted mind.

Nevertheless, Lacoste, like Nike, Target, and iPod, have a specific thing, an icon, which communicates the entire brand.  For Lacoste, the alligator (or crocodile, if you live in France) is all you need to see.  I believe all consumer brands need to create this type of icon brand.  (Betsy Holden, former co-CEO of Kraft Foods pointed out the need for these icon brands to me in a recent meeting.) Why? Because media are fragmenting, time shifting, and space independent.  Storage – from TiVo to iPod mean the media move to the time and location of the individual’s desire – as many pundits have pointed out.  Slingbox, with the ability to space shift any TV broadcast, to any computer, and now – as was recently announced, to any broad band enabled phone.  How does a marketer make sure that their brand can be present, and have a consistent look and feel across all these different formats and interactions.  The creation of an Icon Brand makes it easy to slot in a reference to you brand, whether it is on a billboard, cell phone, TV, or other medium. 

Some observers have suggested that we are moving to a “post language world” in which we will move toward ideographs, more like Chinese, and less like our coding system of A, B, C, D…. I, for one, don’t see our civilization abandoning such a flexible, and efficient coding system of the written word, but it is true that we are now in a sea change of the visual language – which has been largely brought to us by the internet.  Why? Because if you can click on icons.  An image is active, or potentially active.  This design mentality has moved into almost all of television.  Any episode of ESPN, or Fox News, looks more like a web page than old style TV: there are tickers, icons, layered information of every sort.  It is not limited to news, it is also true of dramatic series, like Law & Order that will have a ticker, or a small picture of the stars of one of their many derivative brands like Law & Order SVU, while you are watching the plain vanilla Law & Order, they are already merchandising the next show, through use of small icons – representing the show. 

We know that all media are moving toward being addressable and interactive, interoperative, and hooked to the digital network.  So branding must have the potential to be addressable, interactive, and present all over the network.  Creating an Icon Brand, allows you to be a “button”.  Brands need to be both a noun and a verb – that is they stand for some thing, and some activity. 

So, you should ask yourself, what is your Icon?  Is it clear and clean like Target, or is does it take space, explanation, and lots of “room” to be communicated.  If too big, you are squeezing yourself out of the fragmenting cognitive space of your customer base.  The mental shelf space will not have room for you.

Original Post: http://www.svioklascontext.com/2006/03/icon_brands_and.html