All Good Brands Divide


As leaders, we know that not every decision we make will create perfect harmony. In fact, many of our decisions stand a good chance of dividing rather than uniting. Why? Because not everyone likes our decisions and not everyone will agree with us. But we also know we have to do what is right, what we feel is best for the people that we’re committed to.

The same principle applies to branding. It’s my personal philosophy that all good brands divide and in a good way. Good brands are clear with the audience they want to attract. Think about it: consumers today are overwhelmed with choice in almost every brand category and the differences between products are becoming narrower all the time. This is especially true in established categories such as cars, soft drinks, clothes, mobile phones, etc. The quality and features to aid in their intended purpose are very similar. As a result, one of the strategies behind branding is tapping into the human experience of social belonging in order to create purchase behaviour and loyalty.

To understand that concept, we have to travel back a couple of millennia to the Paleolithic era, a time when our ancestors were picking up stone tools and evolving into the social creatures we are today. In order to survive in that unforgiving environment, they had to find ways to work together. Tribes would hunt and gather as a group, protect each other and create shelter together. Common languages and behaviours allowed them to adapt faster and stay alive longer.

So what’s that mean in today’s context? At their most basic level, products and services are designed to help us live and thrive in society. And, whether or not we agree with the notion, two million years later, we still like to be part of a tribe (group). The bigger question is, what tribe do you belong to and who’s in the group with you? What tools is your tribe using to adapt faster and stay alive longer? It’s a heck of a concept but it’s critical to marketing because it forms the basis of brand loyalty. How? In order to understand our tribe we, as individuals, look to our peers, families, neighbours, and others in a similar socio-economic class to help us understand what we believe we should be doing, thinking, saying or buying. This is the essence of brand loyalty and, once you bridge a product/brand with a self-identifying tribe, you are doing a deep dive into the loyalty concept.

Think of major brands and the most effective advertising that has come from them in the last ten to twenty years. The Mac vs. PC ads that showed the type of personalities that belonged to each of those products. Pepsi wanted to own the “Next Generation” and created the taste challenge against Coke. Sports advertising is aimed at creating rivalries in order to deepen ties with your favourite team (tribe) who is up against the visiting team (arch enemy tribe).

This strategy can also work for small brands. The key is to show people or a lifestyle that fit the target audience in both advertising and communication. Help your consumers see themselves with your product and use language that creates a sense of belonging. For example, when we started the advertising for Hardbite Potato Chips (, we focused on West Coast lifestyle imagery on the packaging with the campaign of “You Live Here”. The idea was to align our “Made in BC” chips with BC residents to help them see this product as the chip of choice for people who love the outdoors, enjoy an active lifestyle and/or who live in BC (or have positive associations with BC).

Does this mean we alienated people who may not have resonated with that brand but still liked the product? Yes, and that’s okay because the market segment we wanted was large enough to sustain growth and yet meet our objectives. Most brands don’t want to alienate potential consumers so they sit on the fence and never make a choice. They might get people trying their product but I feel this fails to help the audience build an emotional connection, which is the foundation for brand loyalty and the surest route to a successful brand.

Have the courage to allow your brand to divide. As the old saying goes, “if you don’t have enemies, there’s a good chance you’ve never actually stood up for something.”