The Iceberg Theory

Hemingway once said, “The dignity of movement of an iceberg is due to only one-eighth of it being above water.” In the context of marketing, this relates to the tip of the iceberg being what we see (the tangible elements of a campaign) and the bigger part beneath is what we feel (intangible brand values and strategy).  

It is important to remember that although investing spend into the products, tactics, and messaging, this will only result in short term gains. Whereas, putting in effort for the intangible elements with increase your brand growth and strengthen the relationship with your consumers resulting in long term benefits. Like most metaphors with a peak, the base must have a solid foundation in order for the whole thing not to crumble or melt in this case. If there are strong strategy and values, this will be reflected in the above-water parts that are immediately viable to your target audience.  

Byron Sharp highlights the key methods to build brand growth which all contribute to the ‘bottom of the iceberg’. Firstly, his theory dictates that rather than investing money into brand loyalty, it is much more effective to recruit new customers with a higher penetration level and a broader reach. Secondly, making sure your brand is in the right place at the right time – making it easily available for potential buyers. Thirdly, being an easy to remember and distinctive brand with sensory cues and emotional content that create memory structures. However, whilst being memorable, the marketing communications must also be fresh. There is a balance between retelling the story in a new way but only staying consistent with messaging.  

Another aspect to a strong iceberg base is having a clear direction and place for the brand within the business. To achieve this, one must consider the brand’s essence, personality, benefits and values. The brand’s purpose premise is the vital role that the brand plays in the lives of your consumer. Within this, it is thought that having a clear brand archetype can help develop a fuller story to a brand and connect more with their audience. However, some industry experts believe that there is no proof that having a brand ideal will guarantee success. One consultant points out that there are many flaws to this approach including that brand propositions are malleable and could be made to fit any brand in the same category. 

Having a solid foundation with powerful, emotive brand values is vital for a brand and that all comes down to neuroscience. Humans are most likely to pick a brand that requires little mental effort and relies on emotions, experience, and bias (System 1 according to Daniel Kahneman). Therefore, if your messaging and brand can tap into the less rational side of the brain then consumers are more likely to engage with it instinctively. Some examples of cognitive biases that help consumers choose a brand include loss aversion, complimentary elements, framing choice, mutual gain, habits, crowd power, chunking, price cues, identity relation and immediacy. 

Resilient brands have strong roots with a solid, well thought tactics. This is through building brand growth, having a strong archetype, a solid brand positioning strategy and tapping into consumers’ innate biases. This will then be reflected in positive tangible results. 

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