Buying the Brand You See in the Mirror


How do you become the number one brand in your marketing category? What does it take to become the Coca-Cola, the Apple, the Tim Horton’s, the Budweiser, the Honda (all leading brands in their respective Canadian markets)?

Aside from producing a great product or service and the millions of dollars each sink into marketing, there is one particular feature of all of the above brands that stands out in my mind:

They are all excellent at enabling the consumer to see themselves reflected in what they sell.

While there are many products and services out there that sell because  they are better at solving problems than their competitors, arguably none of the top brands (at least in Canada) come out on top because they are objectively the best. Honda doesn’t make the best-made cars, Budweiser doesn’t make the tastiest beer, Tim Horton’s certainly doesn’t make highest-quality coffee, and Coke exists in a market where what is “best” is so subjective as to be meaningless (all competitors to Coca-Cola are, chemically speaking, virtually identical).

Instead, these brands have risen to the top not by selling based on what their products are, but based on the image and promise of what their products can do, or could do, for their buyer.


One of the earliest examples in the world of this approach to marketing is Coca-Cola’s main market rival, Pepsi. In the 60’s, Pepsi, in its pursuit of trying to gain market share from Coke, came upon the ingenious strategy of marketing the image of the kind of person who should be buying it, instead of marketing the product itself. The people drinking Pepsi were young, energetic, and full of life, so the advertising told. The message was : If you want to be young, energetic, and full of life, you should be consuming this product, or even if you only WISHED you were those things.

So it is with the other brands: Apple sells the image of being a creative and forward-thinking individual; Coke, a person that loves to relax and share with their friends and family; Budweiser, a traditional, hard-working man who likes sports and the simple pleasures of life; and Tim Horton’s and Honda, both sell on the image of what it means to be classically Canadian (if the Honda part surprises you, keep in mind that they have been the best-selling car-maker in Canada for the best part of the two decades and was the first Japanese car-maker to open a factory in Canada).