When we describe good brands, we often think of them as timeless or iconic and there’s nothing more iconic than superheroes. If we examine what makes these characters so memorable, we’ll see the same fundamental principles that empower good brands as well. While, it’s easy to focus on each hero’s distinctive symbols and colours, it goes well beyond just capes and masks. A brand’s identity is not defined by the brand itself but is a collective idea shared by its creators and followers. To unmask the secrets of building a good brand we can examine one of the most beloved characters in fiction today.
Igniting the Bat Symbol
Everyone knows the famous bat symbol whether it’s featured on the titular man himself or lighting up the night sky. It’s one of the most recognizable icons in pop culture and has retained that title after decades of evolution. The symbol is simple and unlike its Justice League counter parts, don’t contain any words or letters. While the bat logo has been tied to a selection of colour schemes in the past from yellow to various shades of blue and gray, it is just as iconic in black as well. Now you may think that the bat symbol works because it’s simply a bat and that any bat will suffice but there is a throughline that ties every iteration of the symbol together. If you squint your eyes at a grid of bat symbols, you’ll see that the majority of them share the same visual language and invoke a sense of action as if swooping directly at you. It’s a fearsome image and one that is a cornerstone of the bat brand.
A Symbol for What?
In Christopher Nolan’s 2005 film, Batman Begins, we dive deeper into Bruce Wayne’s thought process as he manifests his alter ego. As we watch the birth of Batman, we also witness the emergence of an iconic brand. It is in this film that we hear this poignant quote: “As a man, I’m flesh and blood, I can be ignored, I can be destroyed; but as a symbol… as a symbol I can be incorruptible, I can be everlasting.” The purpose of Batman is to be a brand that people can stand behind. A good brand has within its core an ideal that people can internalize and become attached to. They use this brand to represent and communicate to the world who they are. By the end of the Nolan trilogy, we see the power of the Bat symbol fully realized as it ignites the city of Gotham to fight back against its villainous oppressors. We literally see people in the streets rallied behind Batman in the climatic battle. While you may not be gathering the masses to partake in a life-or-death battle, your brand can mobilize your fans to advocate for it and have them fighting tooth and nail to defend it.
The Man Behind the Mask
The symbol is just the tip of the iceberg or you can say it’s the tip of the spear. It’s the point of contact; your entry way into the world. What comes after that is the hard stuff. Batman doesn’t become a superhero overnight and the real-world character wouldn’t be an icon if it wasn’t for his decades of popularity among dedicated fans. You need consistency in everything that you do. The Adam West incarnation notwithstanding, Batman has been mostly consistent in his many reinventions. Sure, some variations were “more gritty” than others but who Batman is as a person is well established. When you think about brand consistency you should ask yourself if your brand was a person how would they act? Is this something they would say? Bruce Wayne doesn’t act like Batman and Batman never acts like Bruce Wayne. When you act out-of-character people know. Zack Snyder’s take on Batman was seen as controversial by some fans because of this inconsistency. Batman’s one rule is that he never kills but seemingly does so vagrantly throughout his film. As we mentioned earlier Batman is a beacon of justice and as such believes that any criminal no matter how dangerous should be tried. While Batman has survived the fan backlash how well would your brand fair if its actions were to come into question? Will people want to stand behind your brand if they no longer shared the same ideals?
Dawning the Suit
A brand starts with a powerful symbol that represents a relatable principle and is accepted after repeated consistent actions. A hero’s work isn’t finished once they have their suits designed; that’s when the job starts! They put on that suit and go out every single night. A brand is often only thought of as a logo or a set of colours and fonts. In reality a brand is everything that your company does. Just like Bruce Wayne becoming Batman wasn’t an overnight occurrence. What the bat symbol represents isn’t just something he told people but earned through his actions. You can’t tell people what your brand is; they need to experience it. Maybe at some point down the road once you’ve cultivated a devoted fan base then you can be like Bruce Wayne sipping espresso in a French café.