Tangible Branding


‘Seeing is believing.’ The idiom above, which first came on the scene in the early 17th century, intends that “only physical or concrete evidence is convincing”. In other words, it is the substantial that is perceived and readily accepted as real. To distinguish the physical from the spiritual, the palpable from the impalpable, the form from the formless, the human mind heavily relies on the senses. What is definite to the faculties exists and is tangible.
Lairesse’s Allegory of the Five Senses
However, it is not an impossible task to capture the obscure outline of a shadow on the wall and transform it into an expressive graffiti. That is to say- what is intangible can be made tangible.

Tangibility as an induced characteristic manages to lend substance to an otherwise elusive entity, bringing it into clearer existence. Brand is one such entity.

With so many rival brands offering competitive products, providing similar and frequently superfluous experience in a market, it is all too easy for a brand to get lost in the noise of commonness.
I do not admire greatness that has no substance. ― Mary Balogh
To truly come alive, the brand needs to gain a foothold in the customer’s perception of the physical world. For that it must aim to deliver utility. The brand must become tangible.

Tangible brands cultivate a deep distinctive connection with the consumer. There is a tactile sense to each interaction. The brand comes across as a living, breathing person, ready to help with its unique tools to solve or satisfy.

Such tangibility, when associated with a brand, provides many opportunities to augment customer loyalty. The customers tend to invest more, both emotionally and financially, once they think of the brand as singular.

Brand Tangibility is vital in order for a brand to convey itself as being ‘of this world’. A tangible brand is coupled with a definable feeling which is unique to the company. The more useful and relevant a brand, the more customers are likely to get attached.

TOMS presents shoe-shoppers with a chance to absolve their social conscience by participating in a philanthropic purchase. For each pair of shoes sold, the company donates a pair to someone in need. The details are shared with the buyer on his phone, post purchase. Customers have noted a feeling of accomplishment wash over them when they see the physical proof of the donation in their name.

The presence tangible brands seek to maintain is long-term and personal. Brand leaders chose to provide utility by staying up-to-date with their customers’ needs and attitudes. They embrace technology, acknowledging it as the reshaper of the human experience, and master online and offline marketing strategies.

The need to integrate tangibility is even greater for a service brand. Service brands struggle with brand penetration since their product offering has little or no differentiation. The senses are deprived of things to touch, feel, hear and experience.

Moreover, consumers take notice of the service only when it malfunctions, finds a study conducted by Utility Week. A tangible aspect, when incorporated, allows the service brand to differentiate itself on the basis of an identifiable physical presence and emotional connection. To enhance the brand tangibly, the goal should be to educate, entertain or inspire the consumer.

Tangible Branding can be defined as the art of making the brand seem more tangible to its customers either by way of inciting the utility of the brand or by giving the brand a uniquely interactive voice or face.

Building a tangible brand requires an Industry Analysis, that is, a fair assessment of tangibility of the product/service provided in comparison to one’s competitors in the market-place.

Uber managed to take a tough-to-please service like transportation and give a favorable cost-to-experience ratio by delivering solutions for the common industry headaches like driver unreliability.

Design is another important marketing strategy employed by tangible branding.

Smart-e set up an Energy Conversation Centre in Guilford, giving a brand with previously no tangible value a chance to physically interact with its consumers. The founder, Dave Nugent says they try to provide services that suit customers’ every day usage and that convey an energy ‘harvesting’ or energy generation message. Since no customer likes the hard sell, the centre incorporated tangibly expressive elements (infographics, light-up tiles, see-through heat converter pipes) in the centre’s décor to resonate with the idea of energy consumption and conservation. The centre also boasts of a gym which shows, for instance, how much cycling will power one hot shower. The play area has a conveyor-belt slide which lights up from the kinetic energy of the children’s movement. The company created a place where their customers actually wanted to be! What is more, the centre’s hard work made the real value of the brand visible to the customer. The intangible was made tangible through innovative design which could be felt and seen. Tangible Branding also resorts to Tangible Marketing, which is the use of promotional items (like branded stationary or personalized items) to contribute to brand recognition and customer loyalty. Going above and beyond shows the company’s willingness to put efforts to earn and keep a prospective client.

Creating a memorable marketing piece requires selection of a creative Gift and/or attention-grabbing Tagline. A good example of tangible marketing would be the silicon Livestrong bracelets. The custom statement-on-a-wrist turned out to be very successful as a fundraising tool for the cancer awareness cause.

In order to highlight tangibility, most retail brands nowadays propose loyalty cards to their customers, inviting them into the exclusive club that is their brand.

Furthermore, the Social Media platform has proved very useful for improving tangibility of a brand through customer networking. Brand forums online readily offer help to consumers and deliver speedy solutions. The idea is to expose their target audience to their tangible brand elements and what they stand for.

The literal personification of the brand results in Mascots. Where logos are the tangible elements of a brand, mascots are their tangible representatives. Think of a Ronald McDonald and you inevitably think of McD burger/fries. The mascot and the product by association, both embody the brand value of happy times.

In this way, extending to a physical presence can amplify the commercial and competitive value of your brand. More substance, more shine.
A question arises, however.
How do you know that you, as a brand, are in fact tangible?
People today are bombarded with so much Advertising and in a world where a plethora of brand choices prevail per vertical. It really is hard to get the true picture of tangibility. What makes you real is the tangible of intangibles which, however easy to materialize, is difficult to measure. The real question to ask, therefore, is Will they miss you when you are gone?  Answer this and you will know where you are on the brand tangibility scale. Tangibility is not a wishful thinking. It can be brought into the daylight out of the shadows. It is just a matter of filling in the outlines. It is just a matter of showing.

For, seeing is believing.

Contributed by Ankita Verma, (Class of 2009, IBS Hyderabad)

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