In 1936, long before mp3 files and digital books, a German named Walter Benjamin wrote an essay titled, The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction. In it, he discussed the difference between an original work of art and a copy so perfect that it was indistinguishable. He suggested that the original work possessed an “aura” based on its provenance, its rarity, the direct association with the artist, etc.
In his book Trade-Off, Kevin Maney suggests that products and brands, can have an aura. A Harvard education, a bespoke suit from Savile Row, and a copy of a book inscribed by the author all have an aura that distinguishes them from functionally similar items. Products with a positive aura fall at the “high fidelity” end of the spectrum in the fidelity/convenience tradeoff.
Maney notes that auras can be created by marketing. In particular, he cites the high performance aura surrounding Monster Cables. Although blind tests by Engadget showed that audiophiles couldn’t tell the difference between connections made with Monster Cables or coat hangers, Monster’s marketing has built them a profitable niche based on a perception of high fidelity (in both senses!).
These marketing-driven auras are subject to change, though – a restaurant that is hot one day may be replaced by another a month later.
I like the idea of thinking in terms of product and brand auras, because those perceptions may spell the difference between success and failure. The most powerful auras are those built up over decades or even centuries, but I think some auras can be created practically on the fly. Look at the J Peterman catalog, for example. They can take a newly made apparel item and, with clever copy writing, create a sense of history and adventure around the product. Here’s ad copy for a leather jacket:
The U.S. Army Air Corps issues the summer A-1 Flight Jacket.
Made originally in capeskin (a light leather) to be worn in open cockpit airplanes.
Soon, airmen realized it was effective even out of an airplane.
Something to do with, perhaps, that silhouette that makes anyone in it look more capable…
There’s more, but I’m sure you get the idea.
DON’T hire a new age psychic to check out your brand’s aura, but DO take a hard look at it and see if you can turn up its intensity!