I didn’t realize it then, but I first learned about distinctive brand assets when I was a teenager in France.
There was a TV show called Les Guignols de l’info (The News Puppets) which broadcasted every evening before dinner.
It was 8 glorious minutes of celebrity puppets acting out the news.
For example, they used Sylvester Stallone with his large nose and raspy voice to depict the American superpower and its questionable decisions.
They used a nasally voice and goofy behavior to highlight George W. Bush’s eccentricity.
They went to the edge of the map, covering risky topics like the Gulf War, Osama Bin Laden, Saddam Hussein… nothing was off limits.
It was extremely memorable.
Although in real life those celebrities don’t have such big noses and nasally voices, their caricatures accentuated a few distinct traits which made it much easier for people to relate and remember.
That’s exactly the point of using distinct brand assets. Just like how you can easily remember these caricatures, you want customers to remember your brand.
Whether you’re solo or a big company, there’s too much clutter to think that picking a logo and a color will be distinctive enough.
There’s much more to it.
You need to pass through the four great filters of marketing:
But you can’t pass through those filters with only a good product, the right market, and a splashy color.
You have to be distinctive.
“Distinctive Brand Assets” is a term coined by Professor Jenni Romaniuk from the Ehrenberg Bass Institute of Marketing Science used to describe a collection of visual and audio assets that are engineered to be noticed and remembered by the people you want to serve.
"Keeping a distinctive brand asset consistent means each new exposure builds on the past, and the distinctive brand asset links strengthen in memory, making it easier for the category buyer to identify the brand in any situation." - Jenni Romaniuk
As you can see, there are different types of distinctive brand assets, and it goes well beyond logos and colors:
Yes, you can have color assets, but you can also have word assets (even specific words you use), story assets, human face assets, music assets, shape assets, sound assets...
But you can’t just pick things at random.
In order to pass through the four great filters of marketing, you have to select a few assets and augment them so that they become a caricature of the brand.
That also means you have to remove some assets. You have to do the emotional labor on behalf of your category buyers to make it easy for them to notice you, remember you, and talk about you.
...like Sylvester Stallone...
The News Puppets chose NOT to mention many details about his personality or even his face, but they DID accentuate a few traits.
You’d recognize his character in an instant.
You’d remember him distinctly.
You’d be able to easily describe him to your mom: “He’s the guy with the big nose and the raspy voice.”
As you know, I’m French, so I have the accent that comes with it.
That’s one of my first distinctive brand assets.
After I moved to Ireland many years ago, it became clear that it was something people remembered.
I also started to say “Bonjour bonjour!” all the time when I introduced guests on my podcast.
Frankly, I don’t remember why I did that, but I received emails/tweets/messages where people were saying it back to me, and so I noticed it was sticking in their minds as a distinctive brand asset.
The swearing as well...
To be honest, I don’t swear too much day-to-day, but it’s definitely something I’ve noticed people remember, so I’ve tripled down on it while remaining professional.
Fuck fuck fuck!
Finally, as you can plainly see on my website, the colors are red and black.
To summarize my top 4 distinctive brand assets...
Nusret “Salt Bae” Gökçe is a Turkish restaurateur who went viral in 2017 because of the way he sprinkled salt on a dish.
Nowadays he’s still known for that single move, and he still does it along with wearing round sunglasses and a white shirt.
To summarize Salt Bae’s distinctive brand assets…
Jean Claude Van Damme is known for doing the splits for Volvo.
Wuuuuuuut?! This is nuts…
He’s also known for his accent and the way he mixes French and English words together when he tells stories.
He clearly has a personality and understands his distinctive brand assets.
To summarize Jean Claude Van Damme’s distinctive brand assets…
The Danbury Trashers were an ice hockey team in Danbury, Connecticut, founded by James Galanti (a millionaire trash business owner) and managed by his 17 year-old son.
I love how they used distinctive brand assets.
Their logo was an evil-looking, high-sticking trash can.
Their nickname was “The Trashers.”
What I love the most?
They went all in.
Even their behavior as a hockey team both on and off the ice rink was congruent. They were tough guys who physically fought (and won) against other players most games.
They were trash talking (pun) all the time.
Everything was congruent.
And they actually won a lot of games.
They nearly won the championship by just focusing on that.
To summarize the Danbury Trashers’ distinctive brand assets…
Compare the Market is an insurance comparison website that went berserk with distinctive brand assets that were very random.
They use meerkats because they realized when you say “market” with a Russian accent, it sounds like “meerkat.”
Neither meerkats nor Russia have anything to do with their insurance comparison website, so it’s a very clear lesson that not everything needs to make sense when you pick distinctive brand assets.
To summarize Compare the Meerkat’s distinctive brand assets…
You can’t plan your distinctive brand asset in complete isolation within a Google Doc or at a team meeting.
You need to share stuff.
Share content. Publish things. Give your opinion.
Maybe you’re terrified of being the face of the business. You wonder, “What will others think of me? Will they approve? What if I say something stupid?”
Don’t live by other people’s standards, rules, or opinions.
It’s normal to be afraid, but you won’t “find your voice” in the shadows.
If you’re a bigger brand, you’ve probably shipped a lot of things already, so you can move onto the next step.
Their response could be about the product itself or maybe about the way you talk.
What are the things they’ve already noticed and remembered? What are the things they tend to associate with you?
Ask them in interviews and in surveys, and pay attention to what they remember and what they love.
You just might discover your uniqueness. That’s something you cannot take for granted.
...not by asking them directly but by remembering what’s come back to you like a boomerang.
What are the things they say back to you? What are the things that seem to energize them?
Especially the most random things…
Maybe one of your colleagues had a dog in the background of their video, and everyone comments about that dog.
It could be as simple as that.
Look at your favorite brands. Ask yourself, “Why did I pay attention to them? Why are they different?”
Try to deconstruct it like I did in the examples — Look at the 7 types of distinctive brand assets mentioned above, and write down how they’re using those distinctive brand assets.
As a practice round, you could try deconstructing Daft Punk.
This is how you can get a lot of ideas for your own brand.
Steps 2-4 will give you a lot of ideas.
Now it’s time to prune it down.
Pick only a few… not too many brand assets. Remember, you have to do the emotional labor on behalf of your customers.
They won’t remember everything, so double down on a few.
Keep it consistent. Don’t change your distinctive brand assets every six months because you’re sick of them. Your people won’t be sick of it.
Keep it fresh. Don’t show up only once and then leave them hanging. Show up regularly over and over again with the exact same distinctive brand assets.
People tend to use their distinctive brand assets for a few months, get sick of them, and then change them, but don’t. Even if you’re sick of them, even if your team is sick of them, you have to keep showing up consistently with the same distinctive brand assets to build memory structures.
In the words of Seth Godin in his book, Purple Cow…
Finally, another quote from Seth Godin which he shared in one of his articles more than 15 years ago at this stage… about caricatures in particular:
“Coloring inside the lines and pleasing most of your customers most of the time almost guarantees you’ll be bland. It’s a lot cheaper and faster and more effective to have a big nose.”
Being a caricature of your own brand doesn’t involve lying or misleading anyone. For example, I’m a complex human being with a lot of different interests. I have a wife. I was raised by a couple of teachers. There are a lot of things that make me who I am, but I don’t share all of those things with you except on occasions such as this. I repeatedly share a select few brand assets that I know will unite my community around a shared hate of marketing bullshit and a love for customers. Nothin’ wrong with that.
Beware of the F.W.M.T.S. hippo trap. People tend to forget what made them successful, and they go after shiny things instead of staying exactly where they’re supposed to be. Uprooting your positioning and all the hard-earned memory structures you’ve built for your customers just to alleviate your own boredom isn’t the right move.
I launched my podcast in March 2017, and I’ve been refining my brand assets ever since. Like I mentioned in this article, some of my brand assets came from talking with listeners and observing things over time. Now, even though I still very much listen to my customers, my distinctive brand assets are pretty well set in stone.
It goes deeper than changing things on your website. Distinctive brand assets are part of the DNA of your business. Think about the Danbury Trashers. Yes, they had a good logo for their website, but they let their distinctive brand assets merge with their behavior: the way they talk, the way they play...everything they do. I’d recommend you list down every touch point you have with your customers and even your team members and think about how you can make those experiences congruent with your distinctive brand assets.
I have an answer that you’re going to love (sarcasm)... It depends. That said, it’s usually best to start with one channel so that you can master its nuances and take advantage of the compound effect of being present on one channel. If you’re communicating everything everywhere, you’re bound to fade into obscurity, but if you can sharpen your focus starting with one channel, you have a good chance of building memory structures.
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