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In the marketing world, branding is a high-value endeavor. These amorphous ideas of brand personality, voice, and values have become so important that for some companies tangible assets now comprise only 30 to 40 percent of their total value (Simon, M. [2011, March]. Brands in Context. Journal of Advertising Research, 51. 189-194).

Let me say that again. For a company like Apple or a company like Jeep, their physical products and stores and factories and so forth are the smaller factor in how much those companies are worth. The bigger factor in today’s economy is the connection that consumers feel with what these companies represent. This is the power of branding. If your business can embody the values of an active community and integrate your products into that community’s identity, you now have a brand that is far more valuable than the features of its individual products or services.

The battle to build a meaningful brand in competitive markets is a fierce one. Consumers have a limited capacity for supporting brands that they love, and that capacity is even more limited if you want your brand to become an intrinsic part of that person’s identity in the way that a brand like Harley Davidson or Lululemon. When you buy one of these products, you aren’t just buying into a lifestyle, you are also buying into something that you feel represents you as a person. In this way, the brand is not only giving you a product; it is giving you an experience.

Brand value is more than a logo on a piece of packing. Brand value is in the way a consumer can actively engage with what a brand represents.

The New Approach to Old Spice

Certain industries lend themselves more readily to explaining and executing brand experience. For example, an Apple device has to feel like it’s different from other devices in the space. It has to be just as elegant to look at as it is to use, and that simplistically elegant brand experience has to extend to every facet of the brand. This is what drove the unique design of Apple stores and the now well-known Apple Geniuses. Apple knew that to stay competitive in a market as cut-throat as technology, it needed an approach that looked beyond products and into the end-to-end cycle of buying and maintaining a computer or mobile device.

But everyone uses brands like Apple and Harley Davidson to explain the power of branding. Let’s look at another classic company that transformed its brand: Old Spice.

Before Old Spice doubled-down on its swagger-based rebrand, it was the deodorant brand for old men, at least that’s how the brand was perceived when I was entering high school and starting to worry about things like what I smelled like to women. For a brand that first hit shelves in 1938, this is not an unusual challenge, but it can be a difficult course to reverse.

In 2010, Old Spice began their “Swagger” re-brand, using celebrities like LL Cool J to counter the uber aggressive ad campaign of the quickly growing Axe Body Spray. That campaign soon evolved into the now infamous Old Spice Man, a move that turned Old Spice into a viral marketing machine. Sure, part of the brand experience here is sharing funny commercials with friends, and there is merit to that, but the Old Spice brand experience goes beyond that. Old Spice has been using interactive branding campaigns to turbo charge their most loyal and most vocal fans.

Brand Ambassadors

Before we get into the what, we need to understand the why. In marketing, the Holy Grail for driving conversions is word of mouth—people telling their friends to buy your products. The people most likely to do this are the ones who are not only the most passionate about what your business does but also have a platform from which to broadcast their love. This is part of the reason why viral marketing has become such a big focus: messages spread quickly across the internet, and anyone with a social media account has a megaphone that could be used to advertise your product.

Where Old Spice got exceptionally clever was taking the runaway success of their Old Spice Man commercials—viral hits in their own right—and pushed that momentum into the relatively new but incredibly active Imgur community. To give you some background, Imgur is the community behind some of the web’s most viral images. They love to share photos of all sorts of things, and they enjoy original content from the simplistic humor of a meme to a step-by-step of an impressive DIY project. And GIFs. They love animated GIFs, especially the funny ones.

The Imgur campaign began with this post and challenged Imgur users to settle a GIF war between dueling Old Spice spokesmen Timber and Bearglove. For a full summary of the campaign, check out this DigiDay article, but for our purposes, the key takeaway is that making the Old Spice brand interactive took brand loyalty to new levels for the once struggling brand. When Old Spice not only spoke the language of a powerful community but went as far as to empower them to engage with the brand in ways that were both creative and fun, the result was a hugely successful viral hit.

Interactive branding, when done well, can pay off in a big way.

The Video Game Connection

In terms of interactivity, video games are the ultimate, and we are seeing more and more brands tap this potential through simple gamification as well as through full-fledged brand-based video games. If you’re interested in exploring this avenue for your brand, we’d be happy to talk to you about your goals and share our insights with you.

This article originally written for Synersteel Studio.