Do we actively brand ourselves without even thinking about it? Are we putting messages out there about who we are with the clothes we wear or the car we drive? Recently, at a social gathering where I only knew one person, these questions occurred to me. While I was there, I managed to meet a few people, but ended up spending most of my time socializing with one person, the guy I most identified with because he was wearing a Burton t-shirt (a snowboard and apparel manufacturer). I wondered if he put on a Burton T-shirt because it was the only clean item in his closet, or did he intentionally choose it because he wanted to brand himself to the outside world. I immediately looked at what I had on – a Gap t-shirt with no markings to reveal where I got it; very simple. Maybe I wore that to avoid conversation? Or was it to make myself appeal more to the masses? Knowing myself, I would have to say the latter. Either way, I find it fascinating that everyday choices such as these can be so heavily driven by how we want to market ourselves to a certain group.
As I continued to ponder this notion, I began to think more broadly about how marketing plays a role in how we brand ourselves. Take for instance a simple apparel item, sunglasses. When I wear a pair of Oakley sunglasses am I displaying a certain type of image? Do I believe in that image because a famous golfer signed an endorsement with them and the eyewear is now deemed cool again? I’d like to say that quality, style and comfort make them my sunglass of choice, but I’m wondering if the marketing behind the product has left an impact and inadvertently steered me to purchase. Most marketers would say, of course!
Love them or hate them, one such company that is a firm believer in marketing, image and identity, is Abercrombie & Fitch. There’s no misunderstanding the message that CEO Mark Jeffries put out “good-looking people attract other good-looking people, and we want to market to cool, good-looking people. We don’t market to anyone other than that.” Yet, while he may have offended the public, from a pure marketing perspective he has done several things right. You can’t deny he has developed a well-defined brand that seems to draw in those whose characteristics are a clear representation of the target market Jeffries wants to attract. And in large part, those who do not fit within the confines of his target market that are shopping at A&F do so because they aspire to be like this group of individuals (i.e. the halo affect). Putting on something from A&F says something about that person – young, hip and attractive – and it all ties back to the marketing.
What is interesting is that branding ones self is largely a function of the marketing behind the products we are choosing and how that fits with who we ideally want to be and the image we want to project. In reality, marketing is influencing what you think these brands mean in ways you might not even consciously realize. In a microcosm of the consumer world where every company is branding itself one way or another, every individual is mimicking the same story.