Connie Williams, CMO & CKO, Synecticsworld

By Connie Williams

What are the key metaphors that your brand or category stands for in the eyes of your customer? I believe if you can answer this question, you can unlock the keys to the kingdom…that you can truly understand how your customers look at your products and brands. You can discover how to understand the unfulfilled – and even the unarticulated – wants and needs of those customers.

Years ago, exploring opportunities for a client in the rather ordinary business of “to-go” packaging for restaurants and food service operations, chefs offered up metaphorical images of makeup and cosmetics. My first thought was one of wonder and curiosity, and maybe some skepticism: How could makeup relate to paper containers?

As we talked it through, our client suddenly saw an Aha! – that makeup was absolutely the perfect metaphor. It represented that packaging was much more than a container: It is the frame or foundation for the beauty of the meal. Nice packaging showed off the chef’s food with a more attractive appearance to bring the specialness of the restaurant dining experience home. It was an opportunity to obsolete the ugly styrofoam container!

For a battery company, the simple consumer verbatim, “my digital camera eats batteries” during a client ethnography visit to a consumer at home, was one of the keys to understanding how consumers see batteries: They are more than a source of power; at a deeper level, they are akin to food for your camera or toy. Using the metaphor of food to speak back to the consumer was key to re-positioning a poorly portrayed battery product: By switching from the original attempt, shown as a source of power for “high-drain devices” (whatever they are!) to an energy “bar” for your camera, the new product took off.

I have asked different financial services companies and other clients many times, what is the main metaphor for MONEY? They guess things like time or food. But if you look at the roots, you will find that the dominant metaphor for money is water: Cash flow, currency (from current), under water, run dry, being flush, throw it down the drain, etc.

Our customers know this and use this metaphor, usually unconsciously, but it gives us the clues to how they see it, cognitively….money slipping through your fingers, draining savings, getting a bailout. The more you can understand how your customers see a subject, the more you can speak back to them in the same “language”. Metaphors can be a great untapped resource for brands to achieve greatness and for insight-led companies to find the unfulfilled wants and needs in the marketplace.

What is the dominant metaphor in your business?


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