Rekindling the powerful hidden stories behind brands

Gabriel Cohen
March 28, 2023 By Gabriel Cohen

Have you ever noticed the hidden arrow in the FedEx logo? Or the surreptitious bear in the Toblerone mark? Most brands have a hidden story that connects a specific brand element to a bigger narrative. Like a brand easter egg. Usually, the only people that know about these hidden signals are limited to the brand team the agency that did the brand work. The story is frequently told at the big brand reveal, but over time, the mythology can get buried, and its emotive connection lost amid the rubble of the one-off launch presentations.

It’s common practice for brands to write a press release and publish an article such as this one to tell the brand refresh story.  Some are going even further. BBVA, a global bank has a dedicated page on its website that chronicles a number of stories related to the rebrand that goes further than any case study you’re likely to find from any brand agency.  No doubt, part of the strategy is to have the stories directed at internal employees and the marketing community to build pride and engagement.

Learn more: A better brand experience – for every team

But what will happen two to three years after launch once the excitement of the rebrand has faded away?

Showcasing the brand and the story behind your brand codes and cues is a way to build a deeper connection with employees, customers, partners, potential recruits, and the media and making it easier to identify with your message, and ultimately your brand story.

When it comes to building a narrative or myth around brand codes, Mark Thwaites, Monigle’s Chief Creative Officer says,

If thought through when designed and told correctly, these codes and cues are a great opportunity to build recall and connection with the audience. With it, the a to z of amazon, the hidden people celebrating in the Tostitos wordmark, or the 31 flavors promise of the Baskin Robbins letterforms, these brands are conveying personality traits, reinforcing product promises, and most importantly expanding the role of their logos from pure identification to an opportunity to create conversations and “in the know moments” with their audiences.”

Rie Bridges, a Director of Strategy at Monigle and PhD in religion goes on to add,

“There’s no such thing as a “general” human, and so there’s no such thing as a symbol or story that’s “generally” powerful. We’re moved by specifics. the most powerful symbols emerge from—but then remind us of—the stories that bind us together into communities. The best brand symbols create intrigue that makes us want to learn more: they invite us into the story that inspired them.”

For ages, brand guidelines have lived behind a firewall of protection and buried within various PDFs. However, brand guidelines are an inadequate conduit for storytelling. Recognizing the power of perpetuating an enduring story, many leading brands have created public-facing versions of their guidelines, allowing a new way of experiencing brand with real-world examples for everyone to see.

To tell these stories in more engaging ways, the best ones have gone beyond the traditional ‘guidelines’ reimagining the content to fit a digital first environment. That means infusing video and animation to make the content more interesting and engaging.

The days of arguing that your logo must be kept hidden behind lock and key have been rendered outmoded by the existence of Google images. Increasingly, many companies are realizing that transparency is an opportunity to build trust, both internally and externally. By influencing the use of the different elements of the business, a brand can maintain open, honest, and accessible communications and relationships with stakeholders.

Learn more: Diving into the shifting mentality of modern brand teams

Smart brand teams from leading global organizations like Salesforce, Optum, Lenovo, and Starbucks are leading the way and building brand centers, like BEAM, that allow brand teams to use back-end permissions to create a limited set of tailored pages designed for a public audience, and still keep a lot of other content and assets behind a login. This allows teams to use brand as a storytelling mechanism whether it’s to attract marketing and creative talent, raise their profile among future audiences like business school students who are always looking for public information. In addition, partners, community organizations and non-profits and the media are target audiences for public facing content.

The benefits of public brand content: 

  1. Increased brand awareness and approval
  2. Stronger brand equity
  3. Attract new talent
  4. Showcase industry expertise

Karen Sommerich, Director of Brand Strategy at Salesforce summarized the rationale for making part of the brand center site (build by BEAM) public.

“We want people to know what makes Salesforce the brand it is, and to understand why we make the decisions we make. So, it was obvious to us to include in the public pages our brand origin story and brand promise.”

When done well, the brand center experience should serve as a best-in-class articulation of the brand. Even a comparison of the login page provides an indication, as seen when looking at Peloton’s login page for its brand center (also built on BEAM) and comparing it to its external facing website.

By making your brand story publicly accessible, you not only establish a single source of truth, you create a new avenue for storytelling and engagement around your brand values, inspiration and brand codes. One that will allow your brand myths to live beyond the limited time surrounding a brand launch.

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RECOMMENDED READING: Why are brands no longer keeping their guidelines under lock and key?