Superheroes are brands made human. One only needs to look at the logos on their chests, some of which are the most consistently recognized symbols around. What’s more, these walking, talking brand ambassadors have millions of fans all over the world. They tap into our innate desire to experience dramatic storytelling at its best, and being well-rounded characters with backstories and relatable personality traits, they create a meaningful connection with their audience. There are valuable lessons that brands and ad agencies can learn from superheroes – here are some you won’t want to forget.
A boring brand that remains consistent and true to itself is more powerful that a sleek-looking brand that it constantly reinventing itself. Of course, styles and fashion trends change over time, and superhero costumes rarely remain exactly the same. However, they do retain the crucial, recognizable components of their look that make them who they are – such as their symbol and signature colors. If they changed too drastically, they would lose the essence of their character. Superheroes update their look perhaps once every 10 years to keep in-line with the times, and the same is a good rule of thumb for brands.
Observe below the evolution of the Batman symbol over time. There are differences yes, but ultimately, it’s all a variation on one (very strong and recognizable) theme. Without that recognition, you risk losing the relationships forged with your audience.
So the lesson here is to stay consistent and true to your original brand, but to subtly adapt with the times as and when necessary. If a new symbol or costume change doesn’t seem to be working out for a superhero, the creators can simply scale it back. To do so as a brand is to waste a lot of time, money and publicity.
You have probably already heard of Stan Lee: the comic book writer, editor, and publisher behind Marvel Comics. Stan Lee is pretty much a brand unto himself at this point, and through Marvel created an abundance of superheroes, including Spider Man, Captain America, and The Hulk. In recent years the Marvel Comics franchise has made a huge comeback with several hit TV shows on Netflix, such as Daredevil, Jessica Jones and Luke Cage.
What’s remarkable about the Marvel stories is that they all take place within a shared universe, which has been built up steadily and intricately over several decades. The consistency of this universe, along with the distinctive Stan Lee editorial style, enabled the franchise’s audience to feel part of a larger story. It got them invested. This essential component is what’s helped this multi-billion dollar franchise to stand the test of time and remain just as popular more than 50 years after its conception.
Every popular superhero has their own tale to tell, almost all of which include some kind of trial, challenge or hardship that they’ve had to endure to get to where they are, whether that’s parental death, imprisonment, or attack from mysterious cosmic rays. These compelling superhero origin stories are part of what people love most about these charismatic characters – you start to feel like you know them.
Marketers and business owners have since come to realize the importance of having an intriguing brand story. We love tales that involve overcoming hardship or failure. Arianna Huffington got rejected by 36 publishers before founding the Huffington Post empire. Walt Disney was told that he ‘lacked creativity’. Steve Jobs was even ousted from his own company. All are now considered some of the most influential entrepreneurs – and indeed personal brands – of our time.
Comics have it right when they emphasize the heritage of their prominent figures, and brands should do the same.
As we know, most superheroes happen to be particularly talented at one thing. There are very few ‘jack of all trades’ superheroes. They tend to specialize in one skill, whether that’s wall-crawling, super strength, telekinetic powers or omniscience. On top of that they may also have one or two finely honed human skills, such as being an excellent lawyer or a scientific prodigy.
As businesses, we all do well to know what our main strengths are. There is less value in being average at everything, than there is in being the best at something. Doing your research to become an expert in your niche is one of the most powerful ways to become a must-follow business. It doesn’t matter what that specialism is – these days, there is a niche market for almost everything. Even vortex breath.
The beauty of running an online business without the overheads of a brick-and-mortar shop is that you can really dig down into specialist items. Pipsnacks sells all-natural popcorn. Death Wish Coffee sells only the world’s strongest (super strength?) coffee. Great George sells simple, square-faced watches. All of these online stores, which were created using Shopify’s handy ecommerce store builder — do as the superheroes do and stick to what they do best.
Let’s give credit where credit is due – our favorite superheroes are of course the product of their creators’ wild imaginations. Without their creators’ innate understanding of what makes an iconic character and a gripping story, superheroes wouldn’t enjoy anything like the longevity they’ve had. Somehow these worlds, characters and stories have stayed alive, through innumerable upheavals and plot twists. If you want to build a brand that stands the test of time, you’ve got to have creative minds on board.
How can you as a brand continue to creatively add value, and do so time and again? Customers can easily encounter brand fatigue if their favorite businesses fail to remind them why they loved them in the first place. It’s important to have a deep understanding of your audience and what bores them, as well as excites them. In an ideal world, they should feel just as excited to hear about a new product in your range as they should on hearing that Jessica Jones has been renewed for another season.
As consumers, we relate to brands in much the same way we relate to people – emotionally. The job of a brand or ad agency is to help foster an ongoing relationship between consumer and brand, but rarely are we interested or capable of forming a bond with a faceless entity. So it can be helpful to think of your brand as a person – or indeed a superhero! If your brand were a superhero, what would they look like? What would their origin story be? What is their special power, and what are their flaws? This is the essence of your brand – and if you can bring it to life, your chances of engaging with your audience are considerably improved.
Victoria Greene: Brand Marketing Consultant and Freelance Writer
Victoria Greene is a freelance writer and ecommerce marketing expert who works with brands both local and international to extend their online reach. She loves to share her knowledge with other like-minded entrepreneurs and small businesses.
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