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The Pontiff of Brand

AcxiomOctober 21, 2015

It’s been an exciting fall for some brands, and a stunning failure for others. I’m not referring to our beloved Gecko or Budweiser’s golden lab. (Note, that first example needs no brand recognition.) I digress. Anywho, I think you know where I’m going. The Pontiff of Rome. Truly, he occupies the most elevated brand plane these days, and against that backdrop of our Presidential election, the contrasts have been both fun to watch and sad to consider. Today, let’s consider the Pope Francis brand. Next post, those crazy (honestly… some seem to be) presidential candidates, and their winning, and in some cases perplexing, brands.

So… The Pope, or as known to some “The Rock”. Indeed this moniker was first given to the Pope (seriously, look it up), but for entirely different reasons. I myself am a lapsed Catholic, but as we’ve all seen recently, this Pope’s appeal (his brand) extends far beyond the 1.2 billion Catholics in the world (lapsed or otherwise). Why is that?

Regardless of your politics. Let’s consider the following:

  • Pope Francis exudes authenticity
  • He leads by example
  • Has unparalleled recognition across the world
  • From the size of the crowds that came out for his visit to the states it’s fair to say he delivers on value
  • “The Rock” is off the charts on the trust factor

People trust Pope Francis means what he says and says what he means. Isn’t this the Holy Grail (forgive the term… I couldn’t resist) for brands. To go beyond simply establishing ephemeral preferences for your brand’s SUV, cola, credit card perks, shoe department etc., to creating an emotional connection that not only establishes loyalty, but a visceral feeling that they feel compelled to share. Now let’s bring it to the Promised Land, imagine THESE customers are social influencers. You’ve now recruited your customers as your TOP evangelists. Pope Francis has excelled in the social sphere, and it’s an important consideration because we know marketers can’t do this alone. Ah, so much opportunity here for metaphor…

It goes beyond brand loyalty, Pope Francis could teach marketers a lot about acquisition marketing. Think about how much he’s extended the reach of his brand in less than three years. He’s been incredibly smart and intuitive in his approach. It’s as if they brought him in to save the brand, and like all those brought in to save a brand, Pope Francis understands you cannot simply shore up loyal customers, you must expand the brand by acquiring new customers that look different from your base. Pope Francis has built a bigger tent, but one with a concrete foundation and features that are not malleable. The latter is important because it’s nearly impossible for a brand to have mass and deep appeal in equal measure. A brand must put a stake in the ground, and while that stake can expand it must have its limits. Yes, the Pope’s brand has expanded and feels very much “Big Tent”, but he has focused his time, good works, and passion on a limited set of issues that matter across the globe, and allowed him to create that bigger tent. He’s passionate and focused. What a winning combination for any brand.

Also, Pope Francis is a savvy purveyor of his audience and the times. He clearly understands how to curate his message based on the audience, channel, and with a laser focus on the Zeitgeist. He not only curates the message, he represents it. Think about it, The Pontiff declined to live in the posh papal residence, opting to co-habitat with the clergy in a simple residence. So back to curating, Pope Francis understand the message he sends to the U.S. Congress on the environment and immigration, and his manner of communicating it (large crowd, more grand environment) will be vastly different than how he  speaks to migrants from Syria or those living in the Favelas across Brazil.

Marketers should be taking note of this one man brand, and how he’s achieved platinum status, without sacrificing reach. That is a marketer’s dream, to have a well-defined and loved brand that resonates across different audiences. Even those brands that cater to a supposed niche audience, e.g. BMW, must understand that the way to appeal to a suburban upper middle class father of three is vastly different then what might appeal to a 20-something Silicon Valley female tech entrepreneur. The key is to appeal to those different audiences with a message that feels highly personalized. The Pope has perfected this, and the most amazing feat is that he makes it look effortless. Think about it, consumers don’t want to feel like they are being marketed to, they want to feel that visceral connection. They want to feel like they made the choice in loving your brand. So with the exception of the few brands that know how to tell us what we want (only Apple comes to mind), the rest of us marketers must figure out how to drive brand appeal by creating personalized, meaningful, and highly valued connected experiences with our audience(s).

When you have a U.S. congressman crying on the podium or stealing your glass to savor your backwash. You’ve arrived!