Do You Manage A Badge Brand? Think Again.

by Bruce Tait, for American City Business Journals  •  Published December 2015

Consider Gucci, BMW, Budweiser and Harley Davidson. These are some of the most powerful and valuable brands in the world, but they have something else in common. They all compete in categories where consumers believe that the brand they choose makes a statement about the kind of person they are. These are often called badge categories – where brands send a message about the person using them. If we ask consumers to imagine a BMW driver and a Ford Truck driver, they can easily tell us the differences between the two “types.” Each of these brands has a badge that is core to how it’s positioned in the market – and carefully cultivated user imagery.

The Promise of Transformation

The most powerful badge brands don’t just tell others what kind of person the buyer is; they help enhance the purchaser’s self-image. When a woman buys a Gucci suit for the first time, instead of a lesser brand, she can often tell us that the purchase feels like a type of personal graduation. It can be transformative. The same can be said of the 45 year-old accountant taking his first ride on his new Harley Davidson.

More Categories Are Becoming Badge Driven

We’ve helped brands hone their badges in fashion, autos and beer for years, but now we’re noticing that consumers are looking at more products and services as if they were badges. Unfortunately, many of the brand managers in these categories don’t realize that their badge is becoming more important than the product attributes they’ve been marketing. It’s a competitive advantage for those who figure this out ahead of others in their category. Red Wing work boots are a great example of a brand with a powerful badge that is winning in a category where their competitors sell only product benefits.

The Generational Shift Is Making Badge More Important

Research on Millennials shows that this generation is more likely to want to buy brands that fit with how they see themselves and align with the way they want to be viewed by others. Brand managers in more categories will need to think about (and manage) the badge for their brands if they want to appeal to this massive market.

Increasing Product Complexity Is A Key Driver

Many of the products and services on the market are now too complex to judge based on product attributes. We’ve noticed that consumers in technology and healthcare frequently use badge cues to make decisions. For instance, the reason people believe the Mayo Clinic is so good isn’t usually because they know anything about the way they practice medicine. It’s because of the type of patient associated with the place (the badge)…. billionaires, presidents and sheiks (even the Dalai Lama). Consumers tell us it must be good healthcare because those people choose to go there. And healthcare is far too complex to judge on other traits, so the badge is a useful shortcut.

What’s your brand’s badge? Maybe it’s time to find out.