A great brand is like religion

by Tony Fannin, President, BE Branded

Great brands are much like religion. When objectively broken down to it’s core elements, they end up being very similar in how people engage with them. There is also neurological research that scientifically backs up the concept. Through these neurological scans, researchers have found that when the volunteers are asked to think about different aspects of their spirituality, such as their fondest spiritual memory, it created a lot of activity in a specific area of the brain that controlled the emotions of reward, pleasure, loyalty and even love. Then they were asked about their favorite brands in the same manner and the result showed the brain activity was in the same area. I found this fascinating.

Brand managers and religion use some of the same terminology such as evangelists and convert. Here are some of the key principles great brands and religion share:

• They have a great story to tell – almost all religions have a dramatic story to tell that is usually miraculous and aspirational. Great brands have the same qualities in their story. Unfortunately, many companies don’t have an emotional story to tell or even a story at all. Most of the time it is to provide stuff to make money. Religion wouldn’t win over too many converts with a pitch like that and neither would a product or service.

• They have a mission – religions have a mission that goes beyond the mere physical. Great brands also have an emotional and powerful mission. Google is to give us power by delivering the world’s information with just one click. Starbucks is to provide daily inspiration to their customers. Great brands, like religion, gives people a sense of doing something great.

• They have mystery – there is a sense of mystery with both religion and great brands. It is the “magic” or secret sauce that makes them special far above the crowd of me-too’s. Like Coke’s well guarded secret formula, Unilever’s shampoo with the X9 Factor or Google’s unique algorithm for search. Many of these “mysteries” make the brand more desirable and thus consumers perceive them as more valuable.

• They have symbolism – religion, like great brands, have strong, iconic symbolism. These icons generate emotion within us, not just a graphic we identify a company or religion by. The Geico gecko, the simplicity of Apple’s apple and white backgrounds or Coke’s swirl and bottle shape. These symbols create strong emotion while non-brands generate no emotion at all.

• They are for members only – belonging is something that humans have an innate need for. Belonging to a religion gives us identity within ourselves and with those who believe as we do. Great brands also provide a feeling of belonging. We all want to be a part of something great. Great brands gives us that ability. Carrying around an iPhone tells people we belong to a unique “tribe”. If you drive a BMW, you feel like you share a common bond with the person next to you who pulled up in their BMW. It also works internally. Google employees call themselves “Googlers” and feel they belong to an esprit de corps.

As you see, religion and great brands generate passion, emotion and loyalty that goes beyond intellectual reasoning. It’s soul deep and, if it’s soul deep, they are less likely to leave your brand just because they can save a dime or two. You also become almost irreplaceable, and isn’t that what we strive for our brands to be to our customers?



About Be Branded

Tony Fannin is of President of BE Branded, an integrated marketing firm who helps clients BE Somebody to their customers. If you aren't somebody, then you are commodity.


  1. Branding Religion | Spirituality in Writing - May 5, 2013

    […] I found this interesting blog that stated ‘a great brand is like religion‘. […]

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