Notes from Bigger Than This, by Fabian Geyrhalter

by | Nov 24, 2021 | Study Notes | 0 comments

I discovered Fabian on the Futur’s Youtube Channel, talking with one of my biggest influences in design, Chris Do. Fabian was talking about becoming a brand strategist and I was immediately curious for more, so headed to Amazon to pick up his latest book.

The book Bigger Than This (how to turn any venture into an admired brand) is on the short side but is well planned out, referenced, and illustrated (not with pictures, but examples). I’d say it should have a home on the shelf of anyone doing brand strategy (or even marketing or design).

Not all the concept in the book were equally relevant, but that only helps me realise more what type of brand strategist I am. There are eight commodity brand traits introduced, I think I comment on 4 below.

Sometimes the most relevant passage isn’t the leading paragraph, but something buried in a section. What follows are highlights (literally, the bits I highlighted) from the book, along with why I thought they were relevant.

Brands in Costumes

Brands are being forced to leave the costumes to humans during Halloween. Instead they opt for complete transparency and engaging, open conversations because of the rise of social media and the birth of a generation ready to participate…

p. 13

Since I was a teenager, a major problem I had with everyone everywhere was the level of disingenuity. Marketing, and by extension design, never really attracted me at a young age because of the discernible scent of smart. I still smell it today, but I realise there is room for integrity.

The worst thing is having a front takes so much more energy.

“And why do you and, if applicable, your employees devote your time to this particular offering, turning it from simply a day job into a daily passion with all of your heart and soul?”

p. 26

If you’re going to invite your market to be invested in your product at a deeper level (which you should be), you should be too.

I’ve actually altered my chosen brand strategy framework in order to incorporate more of Why. We start with internal Whys, moving quickly to how those Whys are shared by customers.

Personally, the question of Why is the most important one of all. I’m 41. It’s taken 20 years for me to realise I can’t do things I’m not aligned with. After a few weeks or months, I’ll suffer stress.

“It’s not what we do but how we do it.”

The IOAN Team – Wall graphic at the Industry of All Nations flagship store in Venice, CA. (in p. 26)

Practically speaking this sounds like nonsense. The intention behind this idea, I think, is that how you do something makes up so much of what it is. How you speak matters more than what you say. It’s a lie that at our best we are rational, logical animals. We are empathetic, intuitive and emotionally intelligent, at our best.

… we like to share what we want to be associated with because it formulates our own personal brand.

p. 29

I think this is a consistently understated factor in brand strategy. This aspect of branding deserves much more attention in planning and design. It’s social psychology: impression management.

We are experiencing a remarkable moment in marketing and branding when brands that either don’t have the resources to “put on costumes” or, more likely, don’t want to do so have an edge.

pp. 31-32

Very much the case. Increased access to markets with new and constantly expanding communication technologies mean people are in business with less capital, doing things on the cheap with little access to tailored third party marketing advice and design. A costume they put on is very unlikely to fit well, so the more realistic course, obviously, is to just be authentic.

The downside is that’s scary as fuck, feeling very intrusive personally, and risky.

A better idea than no costume, I guess, is a costume that is an accurate representation of what’s under it. So it’s real but it’s not direct access. Having the costume defined by a brand strategy process is still hugely important, so it can be upheld. It will be representative, but will still be an entity that exists between the business and the world. (or, an entity the business tries to have exist because brands only exist in people’s heads, yada yada yada.)

I guess what I’m saying is that doing things on the cheap, or guerrilla branding if you like, shouldn’t mean not defining and maintaining your brand… it’s just that the brand should be a transparent reflection.

Story

Give consumers a reason to believe in your company, and they will give you their loyalty and their activism,” states MWWPR chief strategy officer Careen Winters in Adweek.

p. 48

It’s actually not a small thing, finding something in this world that gives you hope, or makes you feel more like you want to feel, or be more like you want to be.

Jim Signorelli, author of Storybranding, says the new USP is the “Unique Story Proposition.”

p. 52

As the speed of the world increases, stories – once the vehicles of culture itself – are left behind. But stories, which represent meaning and Why, need to be part of us, and without them, our identities, which we need to operate in this world sometimes, can sometimes feel like castles built on sand.

“If I can pick any flip flops, I might as well pick Combat because I want to be part of their story.”

p. 53

Cause

The best way to tap into the cause-related marketing trend is to think unselfishly. If you are an entrepreneur considering selling any product, whether a commodity or not, ask yourself why it matters to bring it into this world at this very point in time (and for the long term) and why your audience will deeply care about an often otherwise labeled “so what?” product.

p. 80

Yeah, there’s not too much point in all of this if your actual product is uninspiring. In the past, all businesses that create value by filling a need would satisfy this criteria. However the role of business is changing, especially as governments are proving themselves to be ineffective partners in crisis on the scale we have today. We should stop and think for a bit: even without climate change, the world is so much bigger and faster than it was when most of the concepts about business, marketing and social responsibility were formed.

We now know that global problems need to be solved at a global scale, just as they were created at a global scale. Traditionally the role of business has been to make money by providing value – but as generations pass, this idea is seen as part of the old, selfish, small world that got us into this mess. We need new types of businesses that think and act responsibly.

Solidarity

This is about them, not only for them.

p. 145

This concept extends the idea that brands should fulfil their customers needs on not just a product level, or psychological level, to their actual needs. Aligning a brand with the literal dream and ambition of the customer, or in a way that shows without a doubt that the brand stands for something.

If you manufacture this, like a costume from above, it could feel a little cheap. To be honest, when I see this it often does. But if the cause comes from your own values, and matches your audience, it’s probably going to really rock. Put your money where your mouth is!

To be honest a lot of the “% of profits go to charity!” I see seems pretty lazy and generic. I’m sure the charities appreciate it, but from a branding perspective it falls a little flat. Which charity? I guess the key here is alignment with the customers dreams and values.

Conclusion

And that’s it folks! There were a few sections that didn’t really resonate with me, and rather than picking at it and explaining why I decided to leave them out and include only the sections I found valuable and eye-opening.

As mentioned in the opening, this book served to provide some good inspiration, but also to remind me what type of brand strategy I like.

OK, why not. The pillars of branding I didn’t like were those relating to heritage, customisation, and delight. I guess I just like the deeper alignment and more meaningful branding efforts.