Suddenly Marketing

Brand Messaging | Content Strategy | Writing

Beyond Branding – Marketing that Really Matters

Getting brand right is critical. I don’t write a single word for a client without first doing some brand discovery. However – as much as I love branding – I have to admit that there is something more important to your long-term success.

Your brand is what attracts customers and gives you the chance to make a first impression. Without the right brand, your ability to identify and connect with the right audience is severely handicapped. But it’s important to realize that just because you have the right brand doesn’t mean you’ve got the marketing thing all wrapped up. Good marketing starts with great branding, but its territory extends far beyond that initial foundation.

Your brand is your promise. How you fulfill that promise is the marketing that matters.  click to tweet

Wait. What? You might argue that the fulfillment of your brand’s promise is your product or service. You might say that the fulfillment is about the features and benefits you deliver. I won’t say you’re wrong. The quality of your products and services is tantamount to customer satisfaction. But, you can do better than just satisfaction.

My beau and I have several favorite restaurants that we return to again and again. Every other Friday, we make our TGIF way down to the local pub where we share an order of steak fries, lively conversation with other regulars, and friendly banter with the barkeep. Almost as frequently, we drive a couple of towns over to a fabulous open-air bar that serves nouveau cuisine with a focus on seafood and steamed shellfish. The place has an island feel, good karma, and a bartender with quick feet and wits. Our newest hangout is an inviting but refined destination that serves all organic and locally sourced foods prepared on the premises by the inspired husband and wife chef team. Dark wood and brick, port wines and decadent desserts, jazz music and cool art prints, all complemented by charming service and small talk from the snappy young barman.

A pub, a beach bar, and an upscale restaurant – did you catch what they all have in common?

Though the food of each establishment is excellent (did I mention the pub’s killer pizza?) and the atmosphere delightful, the “thing” that keeps us coming back week after week, year after year is neither what we’re eating nor where we’re eating it. The “special sauce” behind the success of each of these brands is our connection to the bartender – who is, for us, the physical embodiment of the restaurant’s brand.

When we go out, we expect good food and prompt service. Those are the minimum requirements, but they won’t necessarily win us over to become loyal and raving regulars. Take another lovely, local restaurant that is dripping with upscale New England charm (including a bar made from the wood reclaimed of an antique barn) and has the best sweet potato fries I’ve ever tasted. All the pieces seem to be there, but we didn’t make a return trip because we didn’t feel any connection to the people.

How you deliver your brand experience is the marketing that matters in the long run. click to tweet

Discover and define your brand. It is the bedrock upon which you build your business. But (and this is a big “but”), don’t stop there. Bring your brand to life by going beyond your tag line and logo to give your customers an experience they’ll want to talk about. Surprise and delight them. Over-deliver on your brand’s promise.

It’s not enough to say who you are, you have to prove it by your actions. click to tweet

Don’t fall into the trap of thinking about marketing in a purely conceptual way – colors, mission statements, cool ad creative, even content for blogs and ebooks and other consumer resources. Those are all important marketing elements, but the marketing that matters isn’t about talk. It’s about walking the walk – delivering on the promise your mouth made.


How are you delivering on your brand’s promise? How could you over-deliver? 


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  1. Jamie, so what you are saying is that you dig the bartenders, huh (wink)? Kidding.

    Great story but I have to ask. You are suggesting that service makes the difference alone for you, right? Taking the brand (look + feel) and extending that to service which in the end makes the brand relevant?

    I wonder because I have been to some of the most mediocre places that have blown my mind as far as the experience. For example, we went to Picton, ON this past weekend on a wine tour and ended up at a winery, Norman Hardy, that didn’t look like much but the food, wine and more specifically the service and attitude of the staff was incredible. The place was basic and utilitarian which I suppose gave it some of its charm but the way we were treated was awesome.

    We frequent a resto called Gusto here in Toronto where its all about the food and decor. The staff are almost non-existent as far as the experience goes because their attitude is to let the food do the talking. Love that place and the $1/ounce house wines – maybe that’s it).

    I think I am generally agreeing with you.

    Just trying to understand it better as in the Architecture & Design industry the ONLY thing we have is the experience of the people who are in front of the client that makes the brand what it is. Sure, we get in the door with relevant project work but that’s not necessarily the brand. It’s the attitude of the people that make it what it is.

    Whattya think?

    • Jamie Lee

      Hey, Ralph!

      I think we’re tracking with each other.

      I believe in strong branding to attract customers, but once you have landed those customers your “marketing” is no longer what you say, it’s what you DO. It’s no longer about the anticipation and expectation, it’s about the experience.

      Each of the restaurants that I mentioned have reputations for good food and you can easily see that each one offers its own unique ambiance. all of that is “nice,” but there are literally dozens of restaurants within driving distance that offer the same product and service. What makes us return again and again to these few favorites is the “feeling” that we get from being there.

      For a professional service like yours, the same would apply. There are probably a number of places a prospect could go to get great design – capable, courteous, timely. But, what does your brand offer above and beyond that? What’s it like to work with Ralph Dopping? How do you make people feel when you’re in the thick of it on a project?

      Those three restaurants I mentioned are not only the ones we frequent on a regular basis, they are also the ones we send people to. From friends and family to strangers we meet while out and about, we’re always sending new patrons to these great places. We feel like we are a part of something – something we want to share.

      … which is, perhaps, a topic for another post.

      Thanks, as always, for coming by. Love hearing from you!

  2. Jamie,

    Hey there! Killer writing with your usual concise and charmingly transparent message in full force.

    Some fabulously vivid images sprinkled generously throughout the piece.

    One might say that, while your design, content, and navigational ease are indeed exemplary, your writing style is what constitutes the secret sauce of your blog.

    Way to go!



    • Hmmmmm….thanks. Now, there’s some blog fodder. What’s it like to work with me?

      I do, naturally agree, that the people behind the brand make it what it is. Sort of like the Apple retail experience. Maybe someone should tell Banana Republic about that (not kidding). They could use your help in this strategy.

      Thanks a ton for this. Valuable piece.

    • Jamie Lee

      Hello, Peter!
      Many apologies for the seriously belated response.
      I was on vacation the week this posted, and never quite caught up!

      Thank you so much for the lovely compliments … and, of course, for stopping by. Always nice to “see” you.


  3. Yes to all this Jamie!
    I know a lot of my subscribers are shocked to get replies back from emails they send me – I often give away personalised tips and advice just because I can.

    A glossy brand isn’t enough, it’s what you do with it that counts!

    • Jamie Lee

      Exactly, Ameena.
      I know we haven’t known each other long, but I can easily see that you’re the kind of person who routinely goes the extra mile.

      TKS for coming by!

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