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The Whiteboard: Why brands are as human as the people who buy them

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David Taylor, president of Taylor Brand Group
David Taylor, president of Taylor Brand Group - (Photo / )

Fact One: Rolex sells a lot of $5,000 watches.

Fact Two: No one needs a $5,000 watch.

Don’t get me wrong; Rolex watches are very well made. They are accurate. And they can be stylish in a classic kind of way among watch designs.

But no one really needs a Rolex watch.

For $50, you can buy a digital timepiece that is just as accurate and waterproof, and likely has more functions. For that matter, who even needs a watch at all? Most us are never far from our mobile phones, which, when touched, present us with accurate time. There is a clock in every car, microwave and computer screen. “Hey, Alexa, what time is it?” works well, too.

No one needs a $5,000 Rolex watch. So why do they continue to sell? Why is Rolex considered one of the most valuable brands in the world? (No. 69 on the “Forbes” top 100 brands list in 2017.) The answer is simple.

Because people want Rolex watches.

And here’s the thing: The same principle that makes Rolex a globally ranked luxury brand can be found in the formula of almost any successful brand in the world. All brands are a mix of rational and emotional appeals. But because brands are bought by humans, the emotional side of a brand is always stronger and determines its success.

Brands start by appealing to the self-esteem of their customers. These are not just a pile of demographics, but real people who want to feel loved, smart, safe, practical, responsible, respected, charitable, powerful, masculine, feminine, attractive. You get the point.

So, brands are as human as the people who buy them. Rolex knows this. Its brand incorporates a sense of performance, adventure and status. It uses celebrities like Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson to endorse its products, and its ads often feature adventurers who climb mountains or race cars or dive to the bottom of the ocean.

A brand like Disney offers extravagant experiences at its theme parks, but Disney knows that, ultimately, a large part of its customer base simply wants to feel like a good parent. For several hundred dollars a day per family, the company will deliver that feeling complete with Mickey, Minnie and Goofy, or perhaps Han, Leia and Luke.

The same principle holds true for business-to-business brands, as well. Here there is usually a more balanced mix of rational features versus emotional choices. The executive who is purchasing a complex computer system for his company that costs several times his annual salary will certainly want to see a lengthy list of specifications and deliverables. He will likely evaluate numerous companies and seek multiple bids. But having done all that, will he choose the lowest bid?

Maybe not, because the emotional factors of reputation, past experience, references and trust will highly influence the final decision. The executive might choose a firm run by a friend because he trusts that friend. Or he might dismiss a low bid from a newcomer to the business for fear that it will end up costing more in the long run.

Ultimately, this executive probably wants to feel like a smart businessperson who makes good decisions. That’s his drive. That’s what will connect him to the brand he chooses for the computer network. And when the job is done and up and running smoothly, he might just buy a Rolex to celebrate.

David Taylor is president of Lancaster-based Taylor Brand Group, which specializes in brand development and marketing technology. Contact him via

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