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When Good Looks Aren’t Enough

You can’t rely on good looks.

It’s a lesson very few of us have been spared from learning. Be it a first date or an interview, we’ve all been in situations where we’ve had to open our mouths and add some charm in order to supplement our appearance - no matter how striking it may be. At the risk of sending readers into the abyss of total disillusionment, I have another piece of tough news. On top of our looks not being quite enough to serve us on their own, they also age. Try as you might to hang onto the patented, peak look of your 20s, time cares little about what you want and instead gives you what it thinks you deserve. Harsh, I know. But that’s life. Take a moment, grab a Kleenex if you need to.

Now before you start questioning what a 20 something knows about the fleeting nature of beauty, let's shift focus to brands.

While they may not start wrinkling and greying quite like us humans do, brands must also be wary of relying too heavily on their looks. As many brands undergo necessary facelifts to keep their mission and relevancy up to date, they not only have to consider how that new face looks, but whether or not it is protectable.

A distinctive face quickly loses value if anyone can wear it.

As brand design proliferates and continues to delve further into the abstract and esoteric, protecting a brand’s visual identity has become a growing point of concern. In fact, we’re finding that, more and more often, brands are experiencing difficulties in protecting iconic looks. Adidas just lost a trademark infringement suit in relation to its classic “three stripe” logo and Supreme is on the ropes in Europe defending it’s brand identity from a Copycat King. Both of these brands, while established and widely popular, rely heavily on distinctive looks to differentiate themselves. Now there’s nothing wrong with leveraging your good looks, but where do you turn when your "look” is under attack?

Your brand needs to be more than a pretty face to make any lasting impact. It needs both a voice and a message to go along with it. What's more, this voice must be both authentic and distinctive, promoting a message that is consistent and true to brand character.

You need a shibboleth.

You know, that random word that always shows up on password authentication pages. It’s not just technical jargon, it actually means something. In case your ancient Hebrew is a little rusty, allow me to elaborate.

Originating from the Hebrew word for the portion of the plant containing grain, a shibboleth, in modern definition, is any tradition, custom, phrasing or word that distinguishes one group from another. When a neighboring nation invaded their land, ancient Hebrews used the word as a type of password to identify comrades from the enemy. Discovering that their invaders’ particular dialect caused them to consistently mispronounce the word shibboleth, Hebrews began asking any soldiers they ran into to say the word in order to authenticate friend from foe. If you said the word correctly you were one of the good guys. If not, a measure of hostility occurred.

The fact is, given enough time and energy, anyone can look like you. It’s important to establish some type of shibboleth in your brand personality, messaging or behaviors that will allow your audience to be able to authenticate you and ignore the copycats.

Think of it like a few more tumblers in the lock. It may be easy to merely look like you, but if you’re intentional about teaching your audiences what they should listen for and how they should feel when interacting with your brand, the chances of a fraud being able to replicate the entire experience becomes much slimmer.

For some brands this shibboleth will present itself in customer service, for others it will be the “unboxing experience” and for others still it will be the mission and meaning poured into their brand and expressed through messaging. Whatever the distinct passcode may be, identifying it and promoting it to your audience is a necessary component in maintaining a brand identity that is distinct and defensible.

Find your shibboleth.

Because good looks are great, but they rarely last forever.

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Categories Branding

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