Malala Yousafzai, Bill Gates, Michael Jordan, Picaso, Oprah Winfrey, Humphry Bogart, Muhammed Ali. What do these people have in common? They are all icons. They are all individuals who represent an idea or philosophy, an attribute or position, a symbol or aesthetic. More than just a celebrity, more than just one who has talent, but rather, a persuasion. A persuasion that makes people want to take action based on emotional need to be associated with them and what they stand for. For they are the most pure form of a value proposition the marketing world has at its disposal. It’s no wonder icons and their associated images are so prevalent in marketing content today.
Icons and their brands embody a myth. The Harvard Business Review once wrote, “Iconic brands embody not just any myth but myths that attempt to resolve tensions people feel between their own lives and society’s prevailing ideology”. Take for example successful entrepreneurs. There are many entrepreneurs in society today, but most of them have not yet become successful by their own definition. Most entrepreneurs are in constant search for guidance and successful role players that act to perpetuate their ideas of success. Forbes says 90% of entrepreneur efforts fail. There are many reasons for this, but one of them is a lack of focus on what the customer actually wants, needs or aspires to be. The most successful are those that have based their efforts on the populists’ ideas and values, not on what other successful people are doing. Understanding your audience’s ideas and values means having a firm grasp of ever changing cultural knowledge and acting on it by creating content that speaks to it.
An icon disrupts the status quo by creating motivation to move people out of their comfort zone and into a position of potential success. This is done through emotional attachment icons have with their audience. This is how they build their brand. Icons over their lifetime have built a body of work that contains related values, depth of significance and shows a level of struggle they have gone through to get to where they are now. Malala Yousafzai suffered immeasurable pain in a failed assassination attempt, but was able to overcome both physically and mentally to become a leading human rights and female education advocate and receive a Nobel Prize. Oprah Winfrey overcame adversity in a white male dominated industry to become a media mogul, actress, producer and philanthropist. The same level of effort and struggle should go into any individual looking to build a brand. It should start with content that works to build trust and attention. That content should have a depth of significance and strongly relate to the needs and values of a large swath of individuals. This is how an Icon is made.