Branding Lessons from Santa

santaI had the most extraordinary experience the other day. I accompanied Santa Claus on a visit through Toronto’s hip West Queen West neighbourhood, singing and playing Christmas songs on the guitar behind him as he handed out candy canes and had his photo taken with shoppers and passersby.

Witnessing the instant effect Santa has on people is incredible. They break into smiles. They nudge their friends with their elbows to see him also. They sing along. They laugh. Their eyes literally light up. They even look up from their cellphones! Of course sometimes that’s just to get a selfie. But I digress.

It got me to thinking about how good Santa’s branding is and what could be learned from it. 

1. The look is totally consistent, never changes. Red suit. White hair and beard.  Other people have branded themselves with similar recognition factor: Steve Jobs, Donald Trump, Mark Zuckerberg, Fran Lebowitz. Johnny Cash may have done it best, simply being known as The Man In Black. 

2. There are sounds equally strongly associated with the Santa look. HO! HO! HO! Bells. Santa Claus is Coming to Town. 

3. These triggers tell you exactly what to expect, and Santa always delivers (pun intended). My ex-client David Kincaid defines a brand as “a promise consistently kept” which is probably the best definition I’ve ever heard. (You can buy his book »» here.  You’re welcome, David.) Santa is the walking embodiment of a promise consistently kept.

What I found most extraordinary about walking with Santa is that everybody  knew who it was immediately and everybody loved him. Young, old. Parents, singles, male, female. Every colour of person. People with Canadian accents, people with foreign accents. Everybody. Even people doing their best to be Scrooge let little smiles slip onto their faces as we passed and they realized Santa wasn’t asking for anything, just giving.

He seems (at least in this brief and short research project) to have transcended Christmas and simply seems to stand for kindliness and giving.

Of course, he has spent who knows how many years delivering the message, but my point is he always delivers it in the same way, which has become immediately recognizable and immediately communicates the whole experience. 

Simple. Memorable. Consistent. Branding at its best. 

Photo: Stefan Lialias, Imagine The Reality