Silva Brand

A Note about Brand Relevance

Mar 16, 2021 | by Tom Silva
Man speaking at conference.
5 min

A while back, I saw a stirring brand strategist from the UK speak at a conference for global business leaders. He was everything a speaker should be—energetic, wry, and passionate. After a full onslaught of anecdotes about “Tipping Points” and “Greater Whys”, a young business owner asked him the following question: “Sir, this is very interesting but I sell screws for a living—Phillips, Flatheads and Clutch-Drive screws. They are boring and nobody wants to hear about them. What do I do?” After some shifting, the brand maven who had spent the hour showing Go-Pro commercials and quoting Steve Jobs, bravely admitted that he didn’t have an answer.

The CEO was asking about screws but he could just as easily have been asking about how to brand debt financial instruments or big-box distribution buildings. It’s a tough one, but branding and marketing people rarely address the un-sexy areas of our economy—the things that either never face the customer because they are hidden behind other brands (think of microprocessors) or remain forbiddingly complex (financial products like commercial mortgage backed securities, for example).

So what do you do? It’s an issue of brand relevance. The fundamental problem is that people don’t feel your product at an emotional level and that’s why they are liable to skip your ad or video. In order to reverse this aura of dullness, it’s important to consider the equation that forms brand relevance:

Brand Relevance = User Imagery + Usage Imagery. User Imagery is the type of person who uses or is affected by your product and Usage Imagery is the situation in which your product is used or ultimately has an impact.

How many screws does it take to hold up an 800 lb operating table?

So, to go back to the maker of screws. What should he do? My brand exercise with him would begin with a list of all the products that are fashioned with his screws. From there, we would work through the Brand Discovery and Brand Definition processes to craft a narrative around the user and usage imagery. For example, let’s imagine an ad showing an operating theater where a doctor and her medical team are performing bypass surgery. The tagline and body copy might tell a story of how many screws it takes to hold up an 800 lb operating table—each one with small custom thread drives and advanced polymer coatings.

The image would command attention but also regard for the work done by the plucky product, making it clear the impact that these small objects have in the world. The brand idea would be built around the idea of “support” (like SAP’s “clarity” or Volvo’s “safety”) which would open up the campaign to all sorts of arresting images. And therein lies relevance—when done correctly it becomes the lifeblood of a product moving us from form and function to feeling.