Branding for Builders

Updated: Apr 5, 2018

How Netflix defined a brand that helped it to build a great product, and vice-versa.

I grew up in marketing, switched over to product, and became interested in branding after success building Sesame Street, Schoolhouse Rock, and Madeline software. I signed well-established brands to long-term relationships, then brought the brands to life within children’s educational software.

Here’s my definition of a brand:

1.) The positioning model describes the first three components of the brand definition: positioning, customer benefit, and personality.

2.) The brand pyramid adds the two remaining elements: aspiration and emotion.

3.) The evolution of Netflix shows how the non-member homepage — the “store window” of the site— evolved in tandem with the brand over twenty years.

You’re already an expert in positioning and don’t know it yet. Want proof? What’s the first word that pops into your head when I mention the car brand, “Volvo?” For most, the response is “safety.” This example demonstrates Volvo’s ability to place an idea in your head, relative to competitors, and that’s the definition of positioning.

To apply the first model, ask yourself three questions:

1.) In simple terms, how do you describe your product or company?

2.) How does it benefit customers?

3.) How do you define its personality? (The question behind the question: how do you want your product to relate to customers?)

Here’s the model applied to Netflix:

If you try this positioning model on your own, here are some tips:

  • Use clear, precise sixth-grade language. Consumers are busy and don’t have time to parse complicated ideas.

  • Be brief. Most teams begin with lots of complicated ideas. The key is to simplify and focus on a few, easy-to-communicate ideas.

  • In answering the “personality” question, ask yourself, “If someone met my company or product at a cocktail party, how would I like folks to describe him or her?” Defining the personality of your product describes how you want your brand to relate to customers.

Volvo is a ninety-year-old company. They have spent billions of dollars on advertising and have consistently invented new safety features to own the word “safety.” Netflix is only twenty-years-old, but my guess is decades from now the one word they will own is “entertainment.”

In the long-term, what’s the one word you’d like to own for your product or company?

This framework builds on the positioning model and “ladders up” to define emotional benefits for customers as well as the “something bigger” that inspires your team. For this exercise, think long-term.

Why does the brand model incorporate emotion? The simple answer: it makes things memorable. Think for a moment about your childhood memories. My guess is they all have emotional elements. The joy of a surprise birthday party? The sorrow of losing a grandparent? Maya Angelou describes this phenomenon best:

Acknowledging emotion in the brand framework helps make products memorable.

The brand pyramid has four levels, and the intent is to read it from bottom to top. The base contains product attributes or features and the other elements ladder up from this foundation.

Below, I explain each level of the pyramid along with advice on how to approach the exercise on your own. Again, start at the bottom, with the product attributes as the foundation.

Product attributes:

What are the product features that deliver benefits to customers?

Product benefits: