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Learning From The Best: 5 Characteristics of Discernible Brands

discernible writing illustration

Think of all the brands you interact with every single day. Try and list them. Odds are you have a cell phone, which means Apple is probably on that list. Unlock your screen and you’ll see Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and maybe even Snapchat. You might open up Gmail and find ten new emails from your favorite retailers. In the ten minutes you’ve been awake, you’ve seen close to 15 brands. And that’s still before you leave the house.

So which brands break through the clutter? Who becomes discernible?

To define the term, discernible brands are those who are able to be seen or understood; they’re perceptible. They’re the brands you remember, the ones that stick with you, and make you feel something when you see their logo on your shoes.

It’s not easy to stand out. But I believe that no matter the industry, size, or scale of the business, discernible brands share a few common characteristics.

Clear, Concise, and to the Point

First and foremost, discernible brands have a clear message. You know what they do. You can describe what they do. And hopefully, you can even relay why they do it—all in one or two sentences.

It’s not uncommon for brands to try packing a ton of “differentiators” into their brand mission statements and promises. But brands that are everything to everybody will never—I repeat, never—be discernible. They might be successful. And they might even be well-known within their industry. But they won’t give you that thump feeling.

Nike is a great example of a brand that effectively communicates who they are in three simple words: Just Do It. The slogan, which is nearing 30 years old, even has its own Wikipedia page.

Simply getting to the point won’t elevate your brand entirely. For example, let’s look at Walmart, whose slogan is Save Money. Live Better. Okay—that’s pretty straightforward too. Easy to remember. But it doesn’t give us the same thump Nike’s Just Do It does. Clear messaging is the first step. But building a brand people love, fight for, and get tattoos for takes more.

They’re Willing to Stand Out

Going back to Nike and Walmart, which do you think is more memorable? Think about a Nike commercial. Now think about a Walmart commercial. Which was easier to visualize? Or better, which did you prefer to visualize?

Standing out isn’t just about doing something crazy. Or using bright colors. It’s about how brands bring their true, authentic selves to life.

One brand that does this well is Dollar Shave Club. Their video—which went viral—is unforgettable. Plus, their middle finger to the status quo of overpaying for razors helped build a following fast. They drop the F-bomb, walk around their average warehouse, and include a few quirky surprises. But it’s them. Not Gilette. They “bit down on the human truth.” And people loved it.

Their Actions Match Their Mission

Discernible brands—especially those targeted towards millennials—walk the walk. They don’t just say they care about the environment or a healthy lifestyle, but they actually take action against their ideals. People begin to associate the brand with their own ideals, creating a strong brand affinity. It’s not only powerful, but memorable.

The best example of a brand that’s merged social consciousness within their business model is Toms. The shoe company’s one-for-one model donates a pair of shoes to a person in need for every shoe purchased. Their reason for being is to help those in need, creating shoes so they can give them away.

But it’s not just marketers telling us that people remember greater-mission brands—it’s science. The fact is, people are more likely to remember emotional events. And when brands are able to tap into what a person really, truly cares about—be it environmentalism, health, or activism—they claim a spot in that person’s brain.

They Tell Bold Stories

How do you connect with humans? Tell bold stories (science backs up storytelling, too). Not only do good stories break through the noise and capture your audience’s attention, they also serve to create an emotional bond. At Element Three, we believe that every employee, brand, and organization has a bold story to tell—you just have to find it.

Airbnb leverages their users to tell their own bold story—to help create a world where you can belong anywhere. Through their own site and social media channels (YouTube and Instagram especially), Airbnb features humans and real life users. They tell stories through experiences, giving viewers a glimpse into the communities and lives of their consumers. And in the end, they create not only a community, but a whole lot of brand advocates, too.

They’re Led by Dreamers

A brand cannot achieve more than the vision of its leader. It’s as simple as that. Breaking from the giant pack of brands in the world takes a lot of work. If the leader of an organization isn’t pushing for the stars, then the brand will never make it there—or to the moon, for that matter.

When you mention Apple, it’s impossible not to think about Steve Jobs. Same goes with Virgin Group and Richard Branson. These leaders weren’t surprised when their companies became case studies and the gold standard. They had that vision the entire time.

Find That Thump

The barriers for new brands and startups to enter the world have never been lower. Innovation is high, communication is fast, and you can produce content that builds an audience at a cost that’s never been lower and a rate that’s never been higher. But what will be the differentiator is brand. It’s the thing that makes you feel the thump. And to be truly discernible today, you have to find it.

Mollie Kuramoto Headshot

From competing with her brothers while growing up to captaining Purdue’s soccer team, Mollie seeks out challenges wherever they may lie. That’s why she’s perfectly suited for her role as Brand Marketing Manager at High Alpha—building a brand from scratch is a challenge, and supercharging an existing brand isn't exactly a piece of cake. Mollie knocks it out of the park every time. When she’s not hard at work, Mollie’s usually playing or coaching soccer, traveling, or drawing, and she hopes to become a part-time cheesemonger someday because “the title is funny.”