– James Mahoney, Razor’s Edge Communications

Brands are all about resonance; specifically, resonance with the individual. As I see it, the brand inclinations of individual people fall into three categories:

Each of us gives primary loyalty to brands that we feel represent “who” we are. These brands have been described as “choices for which there are no other options.” Hell or high water, we are not going to shift out of that brand, or more accurately, that segment of the brand bandwidth. We might switch from Mercedes to Lexus, but aren’t likely to switch from Mercedes to Hyundai as long as we can afford it (or vice versa even if we can afford it).

A branch of this category includes those we find so satisfying that we don’t consider any other. We always come back to these brands even if we try a different one.

Then there are the second-tier brands. These are the things that are not that important to our self-image, but that we want to be “good choices.” The point of this category is that we want to be assured of a certain level of predictable quality and performance. McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s … doesn’t matter which if you’re on the road and not a “McDonald’s only” person. Predictable quality expectations; unimportant personal statement.

At the lowest tier, brand matters least to the individual. I need some sneakers that fit well and feel good. I don’t care if the label is swooshes, stripes or stars, but I might care that I like the design. The decision process goes something like, “These look pretty good. Oh, Nike. That’s a good brand. Hmmm, $29 … well, okay. Oh, wait, there’s some other ones that are $20. They look okay and fit good.” Sold.

In the second and third tier, brand presence works as a reassurance of a quality level, and contributes a feeling of familiarity that makes us more inclined toward that choice when the main thing that matters is that we don’t want to buy a pig in a poke and have to come back the next week to replace a crummy choice—or for durable goods, to live with an expensive mistake.

An adage from the corporate world best embodies this: “Nobody ever got fired for choosing IBM.”

The interesting thing about brand resonance? It influences decisions across the board, from the simplest to the most complex, product or service, personal or business, commodity or custom, pennies or millions…

And that’s why a distinctive brand presence and a clear understanding of the target audience matter.