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The Whiteboard: What branding and Shakespeare have in common

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

Hamlet never had to update his Facebook status. Romeo and Juliet never exchanged pics on Snapchat.

Yet the stories crafted by William Shakespeare remain just as compelling today because human emotions haven’t changed much in 400 years. We still crave love as Romeo and Juliet did. We value power like the numerous kings in the Bard’s plays. We can be loyal or devious and our emotions can spark laughter and joy, rage and jealousy.

Like the theater, brands can be comic (Dilly, dilly!) or dramatic, but they, too, speak to human emotion just as William did centuries ago. His stories are relevant today not because they are a curious historical reference, but because as humans we are essentially just the same now as we were then. Instead of swords and codpieces, we have iPhones and unlimited data. But advances in technology have not altered the human condition.

In a sense, the Bard even recognizes the power of a brand when Juliet utters her famous line “What’s in a name?”, lamenting that only her and Romeo’s family names are what make them supposed enemies. See, he’s Coke and she’s Pepsi. Or maybe she’s Mac and he’s PC.

Brands are based on emotional connections. Well-developed brands can spark a wide range of emotions in their customers, from pride to altruism. Brands may even breed jealousy among those who covet them.

Trust and loyalty are valued by brand managers today as much as by the kings and lovers of Shakespeare’s plays and poems. In fact, trust is the central emotion of all brand equity — the belief by the customer that a brand will deliver what it promises, the first time and every subsequent time that customer buys a product from the brand. In turn, that brand promise involves a connection to another human emotion, self-esteem. Take your kids to Disney World and feel the warmth of being a great parent. Drive a Mercedes and feel the pride of being successful.

So when Whole Foods says, “Our purpose is to nourish people and the planet,” think about the ageless emotions the company is seeking to evoke in its customers. Self-esteem factors like caring for others, being healthy and feeling safe all come into play. A tagline like “Love: That's what makes a Subaru a Subaru” may not rise to the level of Othello’s love for Desdemona, but it plays on the same emotions of caring deeply for others. (Minus the murderous rage of jealously, of course.)

To understand this better, think of a brand you love (and, therefore, trust) and consider the emotions it evokes in you when you use the product or service. It can be as simple as a favorite pair of shoes or a restaurant. If you're a brand manager or owner, think of what key human emotions your brand is focused on. All brands seek trust and loyalty, two of Shakespeare’s favorite subjects. So, while they are important, move beyond those and you may discover insights into what drives customers to your products — or perhaps what keeps them from you like star-crossed lovers in a Shakespeare play.

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

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