Core metaphors span cultures, languages, dialects and countries. They are universal to all human beings. They’re the building blocks of our communications.
Every great brand is built on a core metaphor. Chevy Trucks offers control, and that’s reflected in their tagline, “Like a rock”. Coca-Cola offers transformation. Coke replenishes energy, hydrates and refreshes. And Coca-Cola brings out the idea of transformation in their campaigns like “Open Happiness” or “Twist the cap to refreshment”.
LEAPJob’s core metaphor is journey, and their tagline is “LEAP for it”. LEAPJob is a sales and marketing recruiting agency based in Toronto, Canada. They help organizations find and hire the right sales and marketing talent.
I have an intimate knowledge of LEAPJob’s brand, because I helped create it. LEAPJob was founded in 1989 by my parents, Donna and Marcus, and I joined the firm in 2004. One of my first major initiatives was to rebrand and reposition the business.
In developing the identity, I strategically embedded a core metaphor in the brand’s architecture.
Build your brand on a metaphor
A core metaphor is the linchpin of a brand experience.
Gerald Zaltman wrote in How Customers Think, “Marketers who wish to influence the stories that consumers create must build stories around archetypes, not stereotypes. A story built around an archetype involves a universal theme, that is, a core or deep metaphor simultaneously embedded in a unique setting.”
Zaltman found that there are seven core metaphors, which he refers to as the “Seven Giants”: balance (or imbalance), transformation, journey, container, connection, resource and control.
Zaltman’s research was very influential on me when I was developing LEAPJob’s identity. I did a lot of research on career transitions and job hunting, and found a career is like a journey. We move towards destinations like retirement, or towards predictable outcomes like earning a promotion. Some steps on our career journey come quickly, others take us in different directions, and some stop us dead in our tracks.
Journey is an archetype of career development, and we’re naturally drawn to journey metaphors when thinking about or discussing careers. This led me to take a piece of the journey metaphor, leap, and bake it into the LEAPJob brand, from the company name to the tagline to the brand imagery to the language we used.
Create a three dimensional experience
In the brand building process we looked for a visual shorthand to convey the journey metaphor.
The goal was to demonstrate the ideas of journey and leaping without overtly talking about them. The company name is the primary cue of the metaphor, and the content, services and brand identity create the experience.
To enhance the experience, LEAPJob commissioned Daren Crigler to design a character for the brand. Internally he is referred to as “Leapy the frog”. (Yes, our creative juices definitely failed us on naming the mascot.)
Daren developed a character that was always in motion. Our guidelines were Leapy had to be in the air, and never touching the ground. The illustrations are bright and fun, and they have a sense of energy.
The combination of bright colors, fun scenes and a leaping character work to enhance a job seeker’s sense of journey as they take the step in their career.
Metaphors are experienced
Features and benefits have to be explained, but metaphors are experienced. This is a primary advantage of working with core metaphors, because they’re universally understood. When your brand is anchored on a core metaphor you don’t have to explain what makes it unique, because your customers can experience it and intuitively understand it.
LEAPJob doesn’t talk about its core metaphor, or explain why it’s relevant. Rather their customers experience it and get it.
When job seekers call LEAPJob they’ll often say, “I’m ready to leap to my next job.” The metaphor resonates with them, and it creates a heightened sense of engagement and excitement about looking for their next job.
A core metaphor goes deeper than any sales pitch or marketing campaign could ever reach, because it speaks to your customers’ inner desires and beliefs — it engages their soul.
Move from superficial to deep meaning
Zaltman writes in Marketing Metaphoria, “marketers often focus on relatively inconsequential differences when segmenting markets and positioning products. Even though a difference may be statistically significant, it may be substantively inconsequential and unlikely to influence consumer behavior.”
Zaltman is pointing out a natural trap in marketing. We can get too close to our products and services, and focus on the minor differences that separate us from the competition. The little things may seem relevant, but they lack the human connection to influence your customers’ beliefs about your company and brand.
Core metaphors take you from sales pitches and campaigns to deep connections.
Every brand has an opportunity to find a core metaphor. The challenge is to move beyond the superficial differentiators, and look deeply and purposefully for which of the Seven Giants fits your company and its mission.
What core metaphor will you use to make your brand stick?