Symbolic Value and Real Value.



I was listening to the Sweathead podcast interviewing Ana Andjelic, chief branding officer at Esprit, and she mentioned a branding notion of “assigning symbolic value.” It immediately gave me pause.  My brand-o-babble alert went off. Buttttt, the more I thought about it the more I appreciated the idea.

I am a brand strategist. I make words. And those words are about positioning products and services in the minds of consumers. Symbols, not so much. Symbols I leave to creative parties.  My business has always been anchored by strategies tied to “real” values. Endemic values. Coke is refreshment. Real and endemic. Swallow a big gulp of cold Coca-Cola and you are refreshed.  

Butttt…Ana isn’t wrong when dabbling in symbolic value. Symbolic value can be part of an organizing principle. But it’s best worked on a mature brand.

A strategy I wrote for Zude, a drag and drop web authoring tool, positioned it as “the fastest, easiest way to build a web page.”  The creative/tag line was “Feel Free.” Freedom was ancillary yet endemic inside the category. Freedom was symbolic. For those not experiencing the brand within the category or never having heard of Zude, “Feel Free” was meaningless.

Branding is first about real value, then about symbolic value.  It’s a serial thing. A less expensive thing. A commercial thing. Nobody knew who Zude was, so “Feel Free” was a bridge too far. Had we $20 million in the budget the bridge would have been closer.

Build a bridge (to consumers) first with materials then with dreams and symbols.